John Coburn House

2 Phillips St Boston

Boston Black Heritage Trail/John Coburn House
Museum of African American History
Written By Museum of African American History

The Museum of African American History inspires all generations to embrace and interpret the authentic stories of New Englanders of African descent, and those who found common cause with them, in their quest for freedom and justice. Through its historic buildings, collections, and programs, the Museum expands cultural understanding and promotes dignity and respect for all.

A man, a house, and a shop

John P. Coburn was born around 1811 in Massachusetts and died in 1873. After working as a housewright in the 1820s, Coburn established a clothing business from his small house in the cul-de-sac off of Phillips Street.

Resort of the upper ten

Coburn later commissioned Boston architect Asher Benjamin to design a house for his new property on this corner between 1843 and 1844. Coburn, his wife Emmeline, and their adopted son Wendell lived here. Coburn embraced Garrisonian principles in the 1830s and went on to become treasurer of the New England Freedom Association, a petitioner in the Boston desegregation campaign, and a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee.

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In the last capacity he was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the 1851 rescue of the fugitive slave Shadrach. Later in the 1850s, Coburn was co-founder and captain of the Massasoit Guards, a black military company. Coburn also established a gaming house here with brother-in-law Ira Gray. It was described as a "private place" that was "the resort of the upper ten who had acquired a taste for gambling." John Coburn died in 1873. He left the bulk of his estate to his adopted son.

{Cover photo from National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons}

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