It is not an accident that the 54th Massachusetts formed in Boston. In the decades prior to the American Civil War, Boston’s free African American community spearheaded a social revolution, leading the city and the nation in the struggle against slavery and injustice. Key leaders, such as Lewis Hayden, proved instrumental in the formation of the 54th and the African Meeting House, the center of Boston’s free African American community, served as a major recruitment post for the regiment. To learn more about this neighborhood, and the critical events in the decades prior to the Civil War, please explore the resources below.

Boston Middle Passage Project

Learn about the Middle Passage and Port Marker Boston Partnership and the installation of a permanent marker on Long Wharf. This marker acknowledges Boston as a port of entry for enslaved Africans and formally honors and remembers the Africans who died and those who survived the transatlantic voyage known as the Middle Passage. Additionally, it recognizes the vital role that Africans and their descendants played in the development of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the United States of America.

Smith Court Stories

Tucked away off today’s Joy Street in Beacon Hill, Smith Court served as a center for Boston’s African American community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Explore how the Smith Court community contributed to both local and national history.

Boston: An Underground Railroad Hub

This digital exploration dives into Boston’s long history as a center of Underground Railroad activity. Through an evolving array of interactive maps, videos, articles, and other features, visitors can learn about the freedom seekers who escaped to Boston and the people here who assisted them.

A Man Kidnapped! The Rendition of Anthony Burns

This film explores the story of the rendition of Anthony Burns, a twenty-year-old freedom seeker arrested in 1854 under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law in Boston.

Fighting for Freedom: Lewis Hayden and the Underground Railroad

This 18-minute film, sponsored in part by the National Park Service Network to Freedom, details the life and accomplishments of Lewis Hayden. Lewis Hayden was born enslaved in Kentucky and escaped with his family on the Underground Railroad. He settled in Boston and became one of the most active fighters for freedom in the abolition movement.

Upon the Hill: The Beacon Hill Community

Perhaps no neighborhood has defined the history of Boston more than Beacon Hill. Its residents, their homes, and their gathering spaces played a transformational role in Boston’s unique social, cultural, and political history. Throughout its history, Beacon Hill has served as home for wealthy merchants and poor immigrants, industrialists and skilled artisans, social reformers and activists, political and religious leaders, writers, artists, and laborers.