John J. Smith House

86 Pinckney St Boston

Boston Black Heritage Trail/John J. Smith 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.

The younger years

Born free in Richmond, Virginia, on November 2, 1820, John J. Smith moved to Boston at the age of twenty-eight. Smith went West for the 1849 California Gold Rush but returned to Boston no richer than when he left.

He became a barber and set up a shop on the corner of Howard and Bulfinch Streets. His shop was a center for abolitionist activity and a rendezvous point for fugitive slaves. When abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was not at his home or office, he was usually found at Smith's shop.

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Politician and military man

During the Civil War, Smith stationed himself in Washington, D.C., as a recruiting officer for the all-black 5th Cavalry. After the war, Smith was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1868, 1869 and 1872. In 1878, the year he moved to this house, he was appointed to the Boston Common Council. John J. Smith lived at 86 Pinckney Street until 1893. He died on November 4, 1906.

{Cover photo from from National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons.}

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