BOSTON

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MUSEUM STORE



The Museum of African American History is dedicated to preserving, conserving and accurately interpreting the contributions of African Americans in New England from the colonial period through the 19th century.

 

 


Site 9


African Meeting House

29 York Street (Five Corners)


The African 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.

The small 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, and abolitionists.

Frederick 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.


 

In 1933, 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 in 1989.

The 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.

Today, 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 special events.

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