Boston Courthouse

The top of the Boston Courthouse, including the top of Corinthian columns.
Site of the Boston Courthouse

NPS Photo/Pollock

Quick Facts
26 Court Street
Site of the Boston Courthouse and protests against the arrests of freedom seekers.
City of Boston

Though not the original structure, this is the site of the Boston Courthouse that played a prominent role in many fugitive slave cases in the city.

It served as a federal courtroom where freedom seekers faced hearings that determined whether or not they would be returned to slavery. It also functioned as a federal jail cell after the Personal Liberty laws of Massachusetts barred the use of state facilities for fugitive slave cases. Protesters often gathered in and around the courthouse when authorities held freedom seekers here. In February 1851, Lewis Hayden and other Black men successfully rescued Shadrach Minkins in a brazen daytime rescue from this courthouse. A few months later, slave catchers arrested Thomas Sims and held him here. Authorities thwarted abolitionist plans to have Sims leap to freedom from his jail cell window by installing iron bars across it and heavily guarding the courthouse, which they draped in chains. In 1854, Hayden and others attempted to rescue Anthony Burns from this courthouse in a daring nighttime assault, killing one of the deputy marshals in the melee. Despite their best efforts they could not rescue Burns and authorities remanded him to slavery.

Sketch of the Boston Court House, with crowds of people outside.

"Boston Court House" in chains to prevent a rescue of Thomas Sims. (Courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum)

Boston National Historical Park, Boston African American National Historic Site

Last updated: January 8, 2023