Mary Polly Johnson

silhouette of Mary "Poly" Johnson

Mary "Polly" Johnson

As a free African American woman, Mary J. "Polly" Johnson was devoted to assisting those in slavery. The Johnson home at 21 Seventh Street sheltered Frederick Douglass (1838-1839), as well as others seeking freedom.In the early 19th century, Polly established a confectionary business in her home. The New Bedford community was rich and prosperous due to the lucrative whaling industry. People had money to spend on extravagances, such as entertaining guests, providing the ideal environment for Polly’s catering business. By 1835, Polly had established herself as a prominent confectioner. Her skill as a candy and pastry maker helped support her family during the years her husband was purchasing properties on Seventh and Spring Streets.In the 1840s, several of Nathan’s business endeavors failed. He traveled to California during the gold rush in an attempt to reverse his fortunes. While Nathan was away Polly took responsibility for the family home and other properties. She was a strong and independent woman. Polly died in 1871, beloved within the African American community as a steadfast abolitionist, and within the larger community as a successful confectioner.

 

Last updated: January 12, 2021

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