Harmony Grove

156 and 166 Franklin Street, Framingham

Established in 1846, Harmony Grove was a commercial pleasure park. It had a lawn area for games, a dancing pavilion, and, as it sat on the edge of Farm Pond, a boathouse. It also had an amphitheater of sorts, in a natural depression, with benches that sat about a thousand people and a platform below.

Undated illustration of Harmony Grove. Source: Historic Framingham blog.

Soon after Harmony Grove’s opening, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society began to hold an annual Fourth of July rally at the roughly 4-acre venue. It was a time of greatly heightened tensions surrounding the question of slavery and growing opposition, particularly in states such as Massachusetts, to what South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun first referred to as “the peculiar institution.” The year 1850 saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, for example; in 1852, John P. Jewett & Company*, a publisher in Downtown Boston, released Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and, in 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Poster for the July 4, 1954 gathering. Source: Massachusetts Historical Society.

In this charged context, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society held its most well-known and controversial gathering at Harmony Grove on July 4, 1854. Hundreds of abolitionists—one newspaper estimated the crowd at 2,000—gathered at the site. Decorating the platform was an upside-down U.S. flag bordered in black, a banner that showed Massachusetts chained to Virginia, and anti-slavery slogans. Speakers included Lucy Stone, a not-yet-famous Henry David Thoreau (Walden came out the next month), and Sojourner Truth, who warned the crowd that God “would yet execute his judgments upon the white people for their oppression and cruelty.”

William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator newspaper, opened the event. He called the U.S. Constitution “the source and parent of all the other atrocities—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.” He ended his speech by burning a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law as well as one of the Constitution, leading to many cheers but some boos as well from those in attendance.

Political gatherings continued at Harmony Grove for a decade following the end of the Civil War, but with a growing focus on women’s suffrage and temperance. In the 1870s, with the spread of railroads to new destinations, the popularity of Harmony Grove declined, leading to its closure in 1875. By the 1890s, the land was sub-divided into dozens of housing lots.

Plaque at 156 Franklin Street. Source: Historic Framingham blog.

Today, the area that was once Harmony Grove is populated by houses and commercial buildings. At 156 Franklin Street, at the corner with Henry Street, there is a small marker with a plaque, placed there by the Framingham Historical Society in 1913, commemorating Harmony Grove. On the other side of Henry Street, at 166 Franklin, there is a Harmony Grove Welcome Arch. Dedicated on September 6, 2020, the arch sits on the front lawn of a private home. The result of a collaboration between Downtown Framingham Inc. and student organizations at Framingham High School and Framingham State University, the arch, which visitors are welcome to approach, contains sketches of historical scenes and of the landscape associated with Harmony Grove.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from South Station to Framingham. 0.5 mile (nine-minute) walk.

To learn more:

“Downtown Framingham Inc. Plans to Install Harmony Grove Welcome Arch,” Framingham SOURCE, February 22, 2020.

Framingham History Center, “A Brief History of Framingham’s Harmony Grove,” August 27, 2021.

Stephen W. Herring, Framingham: An American Town, Framingham: The Framingham Historical Society and the Framingham Tercentennial Commission, 2000.

Massachusetts Historical Society, “’A Covenant with Death and an Agreement with Hell,’” July 2005        .

*Regarding John P. Jewett & Company, see the site entry in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Brown Square

Pleasant Street (between Green St. and Titcomb St.), Newburyport

Postcard of Brown Square, 1913. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On May 31, 1836, the Essex County Antislavery Society held its first meeting at Brown Square. Among the speakers was the famed poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Established in 1802, the square was named after Moses Brown (1742-1827), the land’s donor, and, at the time, Newburyport’s second wealthiest individual and largest property owner.

Brown Square features an imposing statue of Newburyport’s most famous son: William Lloyd Garrison. On the base of the statue, which was erected in 1893, are engraved some of his most famous, hard-hitting words. The monument is located very close to what was the North Church, whose pastor, in 1830, invited Garrison to deliver a lecture about slavery. Many in the audience so disliked what the firebrand abolitionist had to say that he was uninvited to speak on a second night.

That the house of worship (the Central Congregational Church now occupies the site) at the western end of Brown Square treated Garrison poorly is related in some ways to the square’s namesake. Moses Brown was a merchant and shipbuilder, and an investor in the sugar, rum, and molasses trade. As such, like many in Newburyport, his wellbeing was tied to slavery. As an informational panel on the green notes, “Brown became wealthy and helped the development of Newburyport based on his profits from the ‘Triangle Trade,’ the economic engine that drove much of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In addition to Newburyport’s City Hall, various commercial establishments sit along the perimeter of Brown Square, including the Garrison Inn, a small hotel. Originally known as the Brown Square House, it was built (or commissioned) by Moses Brown.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from North Station to Newburyport. Brown Square is 1.3 miles away (about a 26-minute walk). You can traverse most of the distance via the Clipper City Rail Trail, which connects the Commuter Rail station to Newburyport’s Harborwalk, along the city’s waterfront.

To learn more:

Susan M. Harvey, Slavery in Massachusetts: A descendent of early settlers investigates the connections in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Fitchburg State University, June 2011.

Dyke Hendrickson, “The Economics of Slavery,” Daily News (Newburyport), April 14, 2014.

Ivory Bean House

47-49 Monmouth Street, Brookline

Ivory Bean was a mason. In 1855, he purchased a piece of land at what is today 47-49 Monmouth Street in Brookline’s Longwood neighborhood for the price of $11,400. The person from whom Bean bought the property was Amos A. Lawrence, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. It is thought that Bean might have worked for the Lawrence family.

Noteworthy is the restrictive language contained in the property deed. In addition to banning various forms of economic activity—including that of a soap boiler brewer, tanner, distiller, sugar baker, or brick maker—it also forbade the property’s “occupation by any negro or negroes” and “by any native or natives of Ireland.”

That Amos Lawrence had antipathy toward people of Irish descent is not especially remarkable as such sentiment was common among non-Catholic Greater Bostonians during the time. His hostility toward Black people, however, is somewhat striking as Lawrence was a prominent abolitionist. This seeming contradiction manifests, in addition to his own idiosyncrasies, the complexities of the society in which the textile merchant lived and his position with it.

Portrait of Amos A. Lawrence, 1922. Public domain.

As historian Catherine Devlin explains, Lawrence criticized “slavery without recognizing his own dependence on it.” He also “[opposed] its spread on political grounds rather than championing the end to an unethical practice.” As such, Lawrence “was both culpable for profiting from slavery and admirable for trying to prevent its spread, a man who was both racist and a self-proclaimed abolitionist.”

Also noteworthy about the racially restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean property is its date. Historians typically trace the origins of racial covenants in the United States to the late 1800s. The 1920s marked a period of intense growth in their use—an outgrowth of a combination of factors: the Great Migration of Blacks from the U.S. South; a U.S. Supreme Court decision (in 1917) that outlawed the use of racial zoning by municipalities; and anti-Black race riots in many cities in the years 1917-1921. On the national level, racial covenants usually targeted Blacks, but, depending on the part of the country, also people of Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Mexican backgrounds. In Massachusetts, covenants barred people identified as Black, Irish, Italian, Polish, and the non-white broadly.

One cannot say with certainty when the first racially restrictive covenant came to be in the United States. (Many have mistakenly attributed the first racial covenant to a Brookline subdivision—“The Lindens”—created by Thomas Aspinwall Davis in 1843.*) But it is safe to say that the one Amos Lawrence imposed on the property of Ivory Bean is the earliest known instance of a racist property deed in Greater Boston and in the United States as a whole.

In approximately 1857, Ivory Bean built the house that now stands on the property. Today it is a private, multi-unit dwelling.

47-49 Monmouth Street, October 2021. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Getting there:

Green Line (D Branch) to Longwood station (0.3 miles, about a 6-minute walk), or Green Line (B Branch) to St. Mary’s Street (0.2 miles, about a 4-minute walk).

To learn more:

Catherine Devlin, “Free Markets or Free People: Amos A. Lawrence and the Limits of the Abolitionist Movement,” Apollon Undergraduate Journal, Vol. 10, 2020: 8-29.

Catherine Elton, “How Has Boston Gotten Away with Being Segregated for So Long?” Boston Magazine, December 8, 2020.

Michael Jones-Correa, “The origins and diffusion of racial restrictive covenants,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 115, No. 4, 2000: 541-568.

Ronald Dale Karr, Between City and Country: Brookline, Massachusetts, and the Origins of Suburbia, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2018.

Ken Liss, “Thomas Aspinwall Davis, Amos Lawrence, and Brookline Racial Covenants,” Brookline Historical Society website, undated, circa 2021.

Simon Ríos, “Racist covenants still stain property records. Mass. may try to have them removed,” WBUR, January 22, 2022.

Anne Wardwell, “’Longwood’ and ‘Cottage Farm’ in Brookline,” in Pauline Chase Harrell and Margaret Supplee Smith (editors), Victorian Boston Today: Ten Walking Tours, Boston: New England Chapter, Victorian Society in America, 1975: 58-69.

Nearby site of interest:

Longwood Mall, Kent and Beech Streets. The mall is a two-and-a-half-acre linear park linear park with historic beech trees. It is thought to contain the oldest grove of European Beech trees in the United States.

*Note

Anne Wardwell (see above) is the first author known to have written about the restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean house. A history Ph.D. dissertation completed at Boston University in 1981 was the first scholarly source to do so. The author, Ronald Dale Karr, wrote:

“Before zoning, the primary protection against attempts to lower the class status of a development was the restrictive covenant. Restrictive covenants were written into deeds at the time of the original sale, enforceable in court by other landowners. Nearly every Brookline subdivision aimed at the upper-middle-class market employed these controls. For example, the deeds received by buyers at Linden Place in 1843 required that all buildings be erected at least thirty feet away from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected or placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses and their appurtenances exclusive of all yards, shops, or other conveniences for manufacturing or mechanical purposes.’ In Longwood, deeds from the Sears and Lawrence families commonly forbade commercial uses of the land for twenty years from the time of sale, and some varied detailed restrictions on the type of buildings that could be constructed. One even prohibited buildings to be occupied ‘by any negro or native of Ireland.'”

In the footnote associated with this text, Karr said that “This is the only example I uncovered of a restrictive covenant aimed at a racial, ethnic, or religious group.”

Historian Kenneth Jackson drew on Karr’s dissertation in his award-winning book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“Meanwhile, the use of uniform setback lines and the preference for centering a house to equalize both side yards created a homogeneous statement that enabled residents to eradicate many vestiges of the heterogeneity that characterized the cities they had fled. For example, in 1843, deeds for the lots in the Linden Place subdivision in Brookline, Massachusetts, included the provision that houses be erected at least 30 feet from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected and placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses.’ As the century progressed, deeds forbade sales to ‘any negro or native of Ireland.’”

Note that the excerpt implies that the racially restrictive covenant was associated with the Linden Place subdivision and also suggests that such covenants were multiple in number (i.e. “deeds forbade sales”). Jackson’s work thus distorts what Karr wrote in his dissertation. (Karr turned the dissertation into a book in 2018–see above.)

Subsequent authors have drawn on Jackson’s influential book regarding the origins of the racial covenant and have thus reproduced the original misrepresentation.

Finally, it is important to note that racial covenants stand out because of their formal nature. There were (and are), of course, all sorts of other, less formal means, by which homeowners, neighborhoods, and real estate interests have excluded negatively racialized individuals to maintain relative homogeneity in particular locales. (See, for example, here and James Loewen’s Sundown Towns.)

Acknowledgments:

Thanks to Jesus MacLean and Camille Arbogast, curators at the Brookline Historical Society, and to Ken Liss, President of the Brookline Historical Society, for their assistance. Thanks as well to Stephanie Call, the Associate Director of Archives and Education, Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Joshua Bowen Smith Catering Business

City Hall Plaza (formerly 16 Brattle Street), Downtown

Photo of Joshua Bowen Smith cropped from a larger photo showing ten Massachusetts state representatives in 1874. Public domain.

In 1861, as Massachusetts rallied for the Civil War, abolitionist Joshua Bowen Smith, one of just five Black restaurateurs in the state, fed the state’s 12th Regiment for a period of three months, incurring a sizable outlay, $40,378. On presentation of the bill to the governor, John Andrew, himself an abolitionist, the state refused to pay. However, it did reimburse white restaurateurs. Such discrimination was the norm. According to a historian of the period, Black business people operated in “constant fear” that white clientele would not pay. Eight years later, following a lawsuit, Smith received partial compensation, insufficient however to save his business and rendering him indebted until his death in 1879.

Prior to those events, Smith grew a lucrative catering and then restaurant business serving both Harvard University and the abolitionist movement. His staff included formerly enslaved people, many living as fugitives from the South. Their employment was thus in defiance of federal law. Such a stance was consistent with Smith’s commitments. He was a leader of the Boston Vigilance Committee and founder of the New England Freedom Association, a fugitive slave assistance group founded by African Americans.

After the Civil War, Smith enjoyed enough public support to be win election to the state legislature in 1873. His many legislative activities included persuading the state to erect the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial across from the Massachusetts State House and advising his close friend Senator Charles Sumner on the federal Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Smith’s home at 79 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, is today part of that city’s African American Heritage Trail. Smith harbored people fleeing enslavement in his home, which served as stop on the Underground Railroad in the years preceding the Civil War.

Map of Scollay Square, circa 1851. Red area is center of the square. Source: And This Is Good Old Boston.

As for the former site of his catering business, the City of Boston eradicated Brattle Street as part of the larger razing of Scollay Square in 1962. The business would have stood on what is today the southern end of City Hall Plaza. In Smith’s time, the area was home to key institutions associated with the abolitionist movement. Located one block away, on Cornhill Street, for example, were the offices of the famed abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, and John P. Jewett and Company, publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Getting there:

Blue Line or Green Line to Government Center station.

To learn more:

Kelly Erby, Restaurant Republic: The Rise of Public Dining in Boston. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.*

Related site:

Smith is buried at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

*The book mistakenly reports that Joshua Bowen Smith’s catering business was located on Brattle Street in Cambridge, instead of Boston.

Richard Plumer House

79 Federal Street, Newburyport

Richard Plumer (1812-1881) was the postmaster of Newburyport, as well as the owner and operator of a dry goods store at 46 State Street, a few buildings down from the post office. In 1830, he bought a home on Federal Street, one that would serve as a station on the Underground Railroad.  Plumer and his family members housed and clandestinely transported an untold number of individuals fleeing slavery to other stations or agents of the “railroad” as they headed to Canada. In 1841, Plumer hosted Frederick Douglass at his home.

Built around 1700, Richard Plumer’s house, currently a private residence, still stands. A plaque on the front of the building commemorates Plumer’s abolitionist activism.

Richard Plumer House, 79 Federal Street, Newburyport.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from North Station to Newburyport. The house is located between High Street and Horton Street.

To learn more:

William Hallett, Newburyport and the Civil War, Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2012.

Rockledge (Home of William Lloyd Garrison)

125 Highland Street, Roxbury

William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879. Source: Library of Congress (public domain).

In 1864, William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist and publisher of the Boston-based, anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, moved to the “Boston Highlands” of Roxbury with his family.

Rockledge was the name given to the half-acre estate. Due to the declining health and limited mobility of Garrison’s wife, Helen—an active abolitionist as well—it was thought best to move to what was then a relatively bucolic suburb. (The City of Boston did not annex Roxbury until 1868.) The Garrison family held onto the property until the deaths of both Helen (1876) and William (1879).

Rockledge, circa 1898. Source: Boston Public Library, Arts Department, via Digital Commonwealth.

In an area today known as both Highland Park and Fort Hill, the original building, altered somewhat over the decades, and a later addition still stand. Beginning in 1904, Rockledge served as a nursing home, one run by the Episcopal Sisters of the Society of St. Margaret for low-income African-American women and children. Today, Rockledge, a National Historic Landmark, is part of Emmanuel College’s Notre Dame campus, where the 30 or so student residents dedicate themselves to community service and social justice.

Getting there:

Orange Line to Jackson Square Station. (0.6 mile, about a 14-minute walk.) The Emmanuel campus is accessed from Highland Avenue, a small street above and behind Rockledge.

Related site:

William Lloyd Garrison birthplace and family home, 3-5 School Street, Newburyport. (We explore this site in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.)

Nearby:

Highland Park, former home of a Revolutionary War fort and the site of Fort Hill Tower, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It affords a beautiful view of much of Boston. 

To learn more:

Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.

National Park Service, National Registry of Historic Places nomination application, 1965.

Rocheleau, Matt. “Emmanuel College has lofty mission at quiet Roxbury site,” The Boston Globe, September 22, 2014.

The Charles Street AME Church

551 Warren Street, Roxbury

The Charles Street AME Church when housed at the Charles St. Meeting House on Beacon Hill, circa 1889. Source: Boston Public Library, Digital Commonwealth.

An historic African Methodist Episcopal congregation, the Charles Street AME Church began in 1818, when a group of formerly enslaved people began meeting in a house on Beacon Hill and established the First African Methodist Episcopal Society. Leading up to the Civil War, the church served as a major meeting place for abolitionists and a key organizing site in the Boston abolitionist community’s fight against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.

Over its first several decades of existence, the church was located in various buildings in Beacon Hill. In 1876, its growing congregation, due in significant degree to a doubling of Boston’s Black population following the Civil War, led the church to move to the Charles Street Meeting House (at 70 Charles Street, on the corner of Mount Vernon Street) and take on its current name.

However, by the 1890s, the African American community in Beacon Hill was declining as families moved to the South End and Roxbury due to an influx of European immigrants to Boston and growing competition in both housing and employment. In order to accommodate its congregation, the church eventually decided to leave Beacon Hill, the last African American institution to do so, and move to Roxbury. Retaining its name, Charles Street AME bought the former St. Ansgarius Church property on 551 Warren Street and has resided there since 1939.

The Charles Street AME Church on Warren Street, 2014. Photo by Eleni Macrakis.

Getting there:

MBTA buses pass on Warren Street very close to the church.

To learn more:

Charles Street AME Church. “About the Historic Charles Street A.M.E. Church.”

Hayden, Robert C. Faith, Culture and Leadership: A History of the Black Church in Boston. Boston: Boston Branch NAACP, 1983.

National Park Service. “Charles Street Meeting House.” March 9, 2021.

Lucy Stone House

45 Boutwell Street, Dorchester

Lucy Stone, circa 1840-1860, public domain

The first woman from Massachusetts to receive a college degree, Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was a leading abolitionist and a pioneer in the struggle for gender equality. She played a key role in the first National Women’s Rights Convention (which took place in 1850, in Worcester, Massachusetts), and helped to set up the anti-slavery Woman’s National Loyal League. Along with her husband, Henry Browne Blackwell, she also founded the Women’s Journal, a national weekly newspaper based in Boston, in 1870.

It was that same year when the couple, along with their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell (who would become a prominent feminist, suffragette, and humanitarian), moved to the 17-room house on Boutwell Street. Although the house was demolished in 1971, two pillars at the end of the driveway remain from Lucy Stone’s home, one of them adorned with a plaque honoring her.

Lucy Stone’s ashes are interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. There is a statue of her (along with ones of Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams) at the Boston Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue. The first U.S. woman to retain her name after marriage, she once famously said that “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.”

Getting there:

Red Line to Ashmont Station. Exit to Dorchester Avenue and go right (north) until Ashmont Street (about 200 feet). Take a right and continue on Ashmont past Adams Street. Take a left on Train Street, and take the third right onto Boutwell. Number 45 is on the left. (0.9 miles, about an 18-minute walk.) A bus from Fields Corner Station also passes nearby.

To learn more:

“Lucy Stone, 1818-1893,” Dorchester Atheneum website.

Sally G. McMillen, Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.