Lewis and Harriet Hayden House

Lewis and Harriet Hayden House 66 Phillips St

Boston Black Heritage Trail/Lewis and Harriet Hayden 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.

Lewis Hayden: from slave to politician.

Lewis Hayden was born a slave in 1816 in Lexington, Kentucky. After escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad to Detroit, he moved to Boston with his wife Harriet and soon became a leader in the abolitionist movement. In Boston Hayden's political activities were based in the clothing store he owned on Cambridge Street, and in his home here on Phillips Street (then Southac Street).

The house that harbored "fugitives"

The house was built in 1833, and Hayden moved in as a tenant around 1849. Francis Jackson, treasurer of the Vigilance Committee, a radical abolitionist organization, purchased the house in 1853, possibly to assure that Hayden would not be harassed in his Underground Railroad activities. (Jackson's estate sold the house to Harriet Hayden in 1865.)

In 1850, Southern slave owners were given legal sanction by the Fugitive Slave Act to retrieve their runaway slaves. Boston ceased to be a haven for escaped slaves. Hayden and his wife, Harriet, turned their home into an Underground Railroad station. William and Ellen Craft, a fugitive couple who masqueraded as master and slave, were sheltered here as were countless other fugitive blacks.

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The Haydens reputedly kept two kegs of gunpowder under their front stoop. They greeted bounty hunters at the door with lit candles, saying that they would rather drop the candles and blow up the house than surrender the ex-slaves in their trust. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the Hayden's home in 1853 and said this about the visit:

"When, in 1853, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe came to the Liberator Office, 21 Cornhill, to get facts for her "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," she was taken by Mr. R.F. Wallcutt and myself over to Lewis Hayden's house in Southnac Street, thirteen newly-escaped slaves of all colors and sizes were brought in into one room for her to see. Though Mrs. Stowe had written wonderful "Uncle Tom" at the request of Dr. Bailey, of Washington, for the National Era, expressly to show up the workings of the Fugitive Slave-Law, yet she had never seen such a company of 'fugitives' together before." - Harriet Beecher Stowe

The end of an era, the beginning of a legacy

During the Civil War, Hayden was a recruiting agent for the 54th Regiment. The Hayden's only son died serving in the Union Navy. In 1873, Hayden was elected to the state legislature. From 1859 until his death in 1889, he held the position of Messenger to the Secretary of State. Harriet Hayden survived her husband. In her will she established a scholarship fund for "needy and worthy colored students in the Harvard Medical School."

{Cover photo from National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons}

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