African Meeting House
29 York Street (Five Corners)
Meeting House on Nantucket is the island’s most vivid
reminder of a thriving nineteenth-century African American community. Erected
in the 1820s by the African Baptist Society (of which Captain Absalom Boston
was a trustee), it is the only public building still in existence that
was constructed and occupied by the island’s African Americans during
the nineteenth century.
post-and-beam building dates from about 1827, when it was a church, a
school for African children, and a meeting house.
This segregated community, south of Nantucket Town, touched the lives
of escaped slaves, Native Americans, Cape Verdeans, Quakers, educators,
Baylies, a white itinerant preacher, is recorded as the first teacher
in the African school. The first full-time teacher was a “Miss
Thomson”. By 1829, there were forty pupils of all ages. The Rev.
Jacob Perry was the first black teacher, but could not afford to stay on
the island on schoolmaster’s pay. He was succeeded by Eliza Bailey
and, two years later, by Anna Gardner (1816-1901) (see Site 6).
After the schools were integrated in 1847, the building housed the Pleasant
Street Baptist Church, whose minister, the Rev. James Crawford (see Site
7) served for forty years- the longest island ministry before or since.
Mrs. Florence Higginbotham, an African American who owned the house
next door, purchased the meeting house and its two outbuildings The
meeting house continued to be used as a social center, but after
World War II it was rented out as a garage, and then a storage shed
and bicycle repair shop.
Mrs. Higginbotham died in 1972, leaving as her sole heir her son, Wilhelm, who
honored her request to retain the meeting house property, underscoring what she
recognized as its historic significance. The businessman who had stored his bicycles
there began research that led to its inclusion in the National Register of Historic
Places. Her heirs sold these historic sites to the Museum of African American History
building was in danger of collapse and in dire need of restoration.
A 1990 survey by the Society for the Preservation of New England
Antiquities found that the building retained “a high degree
of historic integrity and significance.” The façade
had undergone considerable change during the twentieth century, but
nearly three quarters of the material in the African Meeting House
was original, although deteriorating. Ten years after acquiring the
building, thanks to matching grants from the Massachusetts Historical
Commission (MHC), and donations from businesses, individuals, and
foundations, the museum completed a comprehensive restoration, reopening
on August 28, 1999.
the Museum of African American History presents cultural programs and
interpretive exhibits on the history of African Americans on Nantucket,
and makes the African Meeting House available for ceremonies and
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