Exhibit written and curated by Sean Connolly

Overall African American Population in Boston (1800, 1820, 1840, 1850)

Boston's African American population in the first half of the 1800s was relatively small, staying consistently in the lower thousands.

The 1800 Census, pictured below, does not clearly mark African Americans. Instead, it marks free white persons, slaves, and has one section for "All other free persons, except Indians not taxed." For Boston in 1800, there were 1,174 individuals in this category, out of a total population of 24,937, meaning colored persons made up about 4.7 percent of Boston's population. [i]

U.S. Census 1800

Over the following years, while Boston's colored population generally increased its percentage, its percentage of the city's total population decreased.

By 1820 the colored population was 1,726 out of a total population of 43,940, making up about 3.93 percent of Boston's population.

The 1820 census also, interestingly, has both a colored category and a category for "All other persons expect Indians not taxed." The relative lack of "all others" (50 in all) leads to the presumption that, in the 1800 census, the majority of those in the "all others" were the same as those who would have fallen inside of a "colored" category. [ii]

U.S. Census, 1820

U.S. Census, 1840

U.S. Census, 1840

The 1840 census shows a colored population in Boston of 2,438, out of a total Boston population of 93,390, making up about 2.6 percent of Boston's population. The terminology has changed again, with the only category other than white being "Free colored persons." [iii] The 1850 City Census, interestingly, shows a lower colored population than the 1840 National Census, even as the total population of the city vastly increased. This increase (from 93,390 to 138,788) was primarily the result of European immigrants.[iv]

These immigrants were incorporated in this census as a completely new category: "foreigners".  Divided between Ireland, Germany, and "Other Countries;" this is reflecting an increased concern over the influx of immigrants to Boston during this time period. Indeed, the authors directly note that "The foreign population has increased 26,117 since 1845. This subject is one of great importance to the city". [v]

In this census, the total black population of Boston is 2,085, out of Boston's total population of 138,788. Meaning, the colored population is 1.502 percent of Boston's total population. [vi]

U.S. Census, 1850

The 1850 Boston Census provides detailed information of the city's population, down to the street level. For the purpose of defining the living areas of Boston's African American Population as of 1850, the information pertaining to each ward is shown below, with breakdowns of African American population for each ward.

The following map shows the distribution of the city's wards at the time of the census. The numbers and borders in black are the ones relevant for 1850 (the map seems to have been drawn over at a later period in red to show a different distribution of wards).[vii]


According to this 1850 census, the African American population per ward breaks down as following:

Ward 1:Total Population: 16,829      Colored Population: 191      Colored Percent of Population: 1.13%

Ward 2 (East Boston, The Islands in the Harbor): Total Population: 9,851      Colored Population: 31     Colored Percent of Population: .315%

Ward 3: Total Population: 11,798      Colored Population: 34      Colored Percent of Population: .288%

Ward 4:Total Population: 8,578      Colored Population: 87      Colored Percent of Population: 1.02%

Ward 5:Total Population: 9,756      Colored Population: 247      Colored Percent of Population: 2.53%

Ward 6:Total Population: 10,224      Colored Population: 1,246      Colored Percent of Population: 12.187%

Ward 7:Total Population: 17,104      Colored Population: 16      Colored Percent of Population: .093 %

Ward 8:Total Population: 11,479      Colored Population: 25      Colored Percent of Population: .218 %

Ward 9:Total Population: 8,927      Colored Population: 34      Colored Percent of Population: .381%

Ward 10:Total Population: 10,453      Colored Population: 26      Colored Percent of Population: .249%

Ward 11: Total Population: 10,480      Colored Population: 108      Colored Percent of Population: 1.030%

Ward 12 (South Boston): Total Population: 13,309      Colored Population: 40      Colored Percent of Population: .300%

Ward 6, comprising Beacon Hill, is by far the ward with the highest colored population. The exact breakdown of ward 6 is shown below:

U.S. Census, 1850 Ward 6 [viii]

Populations by Street (1850)

As the 1850 census gives data down to the street level, it shows which streets contained the highest numbers of African Americans.

The only four streets with colored populations above 100 are all in Ward Six. They are as follows:

Southac st. (Modern day Phillips Street) Total Population: 761      Colored Population: 480     Colored Percent of Population: 63.075%

Belknap St. (Modern day Joy Street) Total Population: 648      Colored Population: 274     Colored Percent of Population: 42.284%

May st.,ct.,&pl. (Modern day Revere Street) Total Population: 754      Colored Population: 167     Colored Percent of Population: 22.146%

West Centre st. (Modern day Anderson Street) Total Population: 410      Colored Population: 120     Colored Percent of Population: 28.268%

Southhac St. seems to be the only street in Boston that had a majority colored population. Alone, these 4 streets contained 1,041 colored individuals, which accounts for 83.547 % of the colored population in Ward 6, and 49.93% of the colored population of Boston as a whole. Almost half of the entire black population of Boston concentrated into four streets.

The following map depicts these four streets within the Beacon Hill neighborhood [ix]:


If we look at the population threshold to 30 African Americans per street (a relatively low number, but there were not many streets with even this many) we see specific areas of population concentration arise. Many of these streets remain within the Beacon Hill area, including:

Butolph St: 44

Garden St: 40

South Grove St: 39

West Cedar St: 34

Mapping out these streets shows a clear concentration of the African American community within Beacon Hill [x]:


However, there are also several other streets outside of the Beacon Hill area with over 30 colored persons.

These include:

Ann St: 77

Second St: 63

Robinson Alley: 60

Fruit St: 33

Suffolk St: 33

Brighton St: 32

South May St: 30

All these streets are depicted below [xi]:


Along with Beacon Hill, these streets show other areas that seemed to have concentrations of African Americans within Boston.

Decreasing the population threshold number to 20 gives us three more streets which seem to reinforce the overall trend. These streets include:

Richmond St: 28

Bridge St: 25

Poplar St: 24

The addition of these streets is depicted below [xii].


Stimpson's Boston Directory: African American Jobs in Boston (1840)

The 1840 Boston Directory separated colored persons from the rest of the directory. While this is troublesome on several levels, it provides a resource for looking at the African American population at this time. The directory specified the jobs of all the individuals within it, providing an overview of the types of employment many African Americans engaged in. This document is not as detailed as census data, as it only gives the heads of households. These figures were generally men, potentially obscuring the number of African American women who were working at the time. However, the directory still provides a helpful overview.

Page out of Stimpson's Boston Directory [xiii]
The professions depicted within this document, along with the number of individuals claiming the profession, are as follows [xiv]:

Laborer: 46

Mariner: 37

Hairdresser/ Barber: 35

Clothes misc. including tailors: 30

Waiter: 12

Bootblack/Shoeblack: 7

Boarding: 4

Teamster: 3

Blacksmith: 3

Cordwainer: 3

Along with many jobs which only one person reported having, including: Handcartman, Basketmaker, Soapboiler, Blacking Maker, Window Cleaner, "Fruit," Cook, Chimney Sweep, Preacher, Cigar Maker, and Sawyer 1.

Clothing presents an interesting issue for classification. It is clear that a significant number of African Americans in Boston were employed in some relation to clothing, but it often vague exactly what these jobs entailed. Seven individuals reported being clothes dealers, five reported being tailors, and one individual reported each of the following: "Clothes Cleans. Store," "Clothes Shop," and "Clothes Cleaner." However, ten reported "clothes" and five reported "clothing," making it unclear what their exact professions were.

The distribution of the six most common professions as percentages, along with all other under "Misc.," is displayed below.[xv]


Prevalence of Barbers 

The high amount of barbers among the African American community is not a phenomenon limited to Boston. In his book "Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom," Douglas W. Bristol argues that "Barbering, in short, was one of the few skilled trades open to African Americans in the North."[xvi] Discrimination in most forms of skilled labor prevented the rise of African American workers. This is also part of the reason why "laborer" is the most common job description, because for many African Americans skilled work was unavailable. But barbering was unique, partly because it was a type of service job; it was arguably a way in which blacks continued to serve whites outside of the confines of slavery. Yet many African Americans were able to turn this into an avenue of success. Bristol shows that in 1855 in New York, there were more black barbers than the total number of black butchers, tailors, shoemakers, and carpenters combined. He also shows that in many northern cities, black barbers vastly outnumbered white barbers. For example, in 1850, 79 percent of barbers in Philadelphia and 81 percent in Baltimore were African Americans.

However, this job did not come without issues. Bristol claims that many black barbers excluded other African Americans from their shops. Their success relied, to a large degree, on serving white patrons. Barbering was often not seen as a job for whites, at least until European immigrants started arriving en masse, many of whom would take up barbering and push out African Americans from these same jobs.[xvii]

While many served only black customers, some became hubs for African American community and abolitionist effort. Peter Howard's barbershop, which appears in this directory, was a place which attracted both white and black abolitionists, and may have played a role in the Underground Railroad.[xviii]

 Prevalence of Mariners

According to The Freedom Trail Foundation, by the 1830's 20% of all American maritime workers were African Americans.[xix] Similar to barbering, the prevalence of African American mariners may simply be because it was one of the few professions not explicitly barred to them by racism. Perhaps partly due to the relative danger of the profession, mariners seem to have been in large demand both in private sectors and in the navy, and this need seems to have partly overcome the barriers of racism. Whatever the cause, marine jobs at large seemed to have less discrimination than most others. A notable example is that, unlike the army, the American navy recruited African Americans from the beginning of the Revolutionary War.[xx] Perhaps one of the most famous early African American sailors is Crispus Attucks, who led the attack against British Soldiers that led to the Boston Massacre. Though in trademark American hypocrisy, some of these African Americans helping the fledgling nation fight for freedom were slaves.[xxi]

Works Cited

[i] Massachussetts. Census ID, 1800 U.S. Census, population schedule. Digital images. United States Census Bureau. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/1801/dec/return.html
[ii] Massachussetts. Census ID, 1820 U.S. Census, population schedule. Digital images. United States Census Bureau. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/1821/dec/1820a.html
[iii] Massachussetts. Census ID, 1840 U.S. Census, population schedule. Digital images. United States Census Bureau. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1840/1840v3/1840c-02.pdf
[iv] Massachussetts. Census ID, 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule. Digital images. Hathi Trust. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.28848546;view=1up;seq=34
[v] Ibid, 16.
[vi] Ibid, 30.
[vii] E.P. Dutton Firm. "A new & complete map of the city of Boston, with part of Charlestown, Cambridge & Roxbury," [map]. 1861. Scale not given. Boston Public Library. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/9s161b54c
[viii] Massachussetts. Census ID, 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule. Digital images. Hathi Trust. p 23. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.28848546;view=1up;seq=27
[ix] Hales, John Groves, John Ritto Penniman, Thomas Wightman "Map of Boston in the state of Massachusetts" [map]. 1814. ca. 1:4,400. Boston Public Library. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/x059cc38s
[x] Boynton, George W., Nathaniel Dearborn "A new & complete map of the city of Boston, and precincts including part of Charlestown, Cambridge & Roxbury" [map]. 1850. Scale not given. Boston Public Library. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/9s161b14d
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. "Stimpson's Boston directory; containing the names of the inhabitants, their occupations, places of business, and dwelling houses, and the city register, with lists of the streets, lanes and wharves, the city officers, public offices and banks, and other useful information." New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 7, 2018. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/stimpsons-boston-directory-containing-the-names-of-the-inhabitants#/?tab=about
[xiv] Ibid.
[xv] “1840 Boston Job Distribution” Digital Graph. Personal photo.
[xvi] Bristol, Douglas Walter. Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2009. Print.
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Mills, Quincy T. Cutting along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2013. Print.
[xix] Odle, Cliff. Black Jacks: African American Mariners in Early America. The Freedom Trail Foundation, Accessed June 7, 2018. https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/educational-resources/article-black-jacks.shtml
[xx] "Black Revolutionary seamen, 1775-1783." Africans in America, PBS.org Accessed June 7 2018. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p51.html
[xxi] Ibid.