George Middleton House in Boston, Massachusetts

Within Beacon Hill in Boston there are no shortage of historic homes but within the sea of red brick buildings, a dark gray wooden house stands out among the rest. This historic residence carries great significance as not only is it the oldest extant home on Beacon Hill, but also once belonged to a respected African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War who became one of the earliest activists for civil rights within the newly created United States.

George Middleton was born around 1735 and much of his early life is not known and whether he was a freeman or former slave. During the American Revolution he was one of roughly 5,000 African-Americans to fight for the Patriot cause and was the commander of a Black militia company called the Bucks of America. The company served as an auxiliary unit providing security to the city of Boston during the war and most likely did not see direct combat with British forces. Middleton served as the company’s Colonel which was an exceptionally high rank for an African-American soldier and almost unheard of at the time. The next Black American to hold the rank of Colonel in the United States Regular Army would not be until 1917 with Charles Young almost 150 years later. The company was presented an honorary flag by Founding Father and Massachusetts Governor John Hancock around the conclusion of the war in recognition and gratitude for their service to the city.

After the war Middleton married Elsey Marsh in 1781 and helped build a two-family home with his friend Louis Glapion around 1786-1787. Middleton was very active in the local community advocating for rights on behalf of the Black population within the city and helped form the Boston African Benevolent Society in 1796, a charitable organization dedicated to community service and education. In 1808, he co-authored an anti-slavery pamphlet in which he wrote, “Freedom is desirable, if not, would men sacrifice their time, their property and finally their lives in the pursuit of this?” He would remain a respected individual throughout the later years of his life and was appointed as the Grand Master of the African Masonic Lodge in 1809. Middleton died in 1815 and apparently not survived by his wife or any children.

Although the George Middleton House may look like a fairly ordinary historical home, it belonged to a very prominent member of Boston’s Black community who helped pioneer the civil rights movement within the United States. Middleton’s legacy would be followed by individuals such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and many more. It is an important and essential stop to see along Boston’s Black Heritage Trail. 

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