Advisory: This story includes descriptions of abuse and oppression of Black people, which were the norm in colonial-era Boston.
The Park Street Church, founded in 1809, stands out on the Freedom Trail for its connection to abolition. While other historic sites on this route were funded by people whose fortunes came from the slave trade or built with materials enslaved people harvested, Park Street Church pushed back against the entire institution of slavery.
Founded over two decades after Massachusetts outlawed slavery, the church’s congregation was among the first to address anti-slavery on a national level. Many notable figures helped give the church this recognition, including Edward Beecher. An abolitionist like his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, he became pastor of the church in 1826. Another figure to note is journalist William Lloyd Garrison, who gave his first anti-slavery speech at Park Street Church in 1829.
Taking place on that year’s Independence Day, Garrison’s “Address to the Colonization of Society” called out the irony of such a holiday being celebrated while millions of African Americans were still struggling to attain freedom from slavery. In his speech, he characterizes slavery as an evil, “a gangrene preying upon our vitals.”
Garrison also mentions four convictions, or “defensible propositions,” in his address. One of the convictions puts the spotlight on free states, saying they are “constitutionally involved in the quilt of slavery.” Therefore, they are obligated to help in its overthrow.
But even at this forward-thinking church on the corner of Park and Tremont streets, allegations of racism still were a problem. An 1857article in The Liberator, a Boston-based weekly newspaper printed and published by Garrison, refers to an incident in 1830, when a Black man purchased a pew that would seat him among the congregation’s white members, but he was forcibly removed. A staff member at the congregation’s archives was unable to shed any light on this incident.
This story is part of the project Enslavement History of the Freedom Trail, a collaborative effort between GBH News and Boston University students to detail the mostly hidden history behind some of Boston's most well-known sites.