Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions; Senate Unpassed Legislation 1812, Docket 4522, SC1/series 231. Massachusetts Archives. Boston, Mass.

Massachusetts Archives; Digitized by Harvard Library

Original Record


Early in the history of Massachusetts, organizations who wanted to be incorporated into a legal body had to petition the state legislature. In 1812 Primus Hall and five other men of color living in Boston petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to be incorporated into the “African School Association.” The petition did not pass, and so the association did got gain legal status. However the document provides valuable clues into the origins of the African School. In the petition, the petitioners mention that they have acted as an association for several years. They also note how they have relied on voluntary subscriptions and charitable donations to operate.

Questions to consider:

  • What benefits or recognition do you think the petitioners hoped to realize through legal incorporation?
  • What challenges exist for the association and the African School if they rely on subscriptions and donations?

To the Hon[orable] Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in General Court assembled, the petition of the Subscribers, citizens of Boston, humbly represents, that the blessing s of education have been extended to the children of themselves and other people of color in this town, but not in general a manner as is believed to be practicable; that they, and others, their associates, have been several years united as an African School association, and have provided an instructor, from whose labours much benefit has resulted to the town; that their expenses have been chiefly defrayed by a few benevolent gentlemen in Boston, and partly by subscription of the association, but that they think voluntary subscription less likely to afford permanent support to such a valuable institution, than the same might receive by an act of incorporation, wherefore they pray that they and their associates may be incorporated into a Society by the name of the African School association, with such privileges and under such restrictions as to your Hounours may seem good.

Primus Hall

Fortune Simes

Abel Barbadoes

John Gray

John Brown

Cyrus Vassal


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About Smith Court Stories

This online digital classroom is a collaborative project of the Museum of African American History and Boston African American National Historic Site – a unit of the National Parks of Boston.

Smith Court Stories relates a digitally curated collection of archival documents and archaeological artifacts to lived experiences of African Americans in 19th century Boston. Two historic structures in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood formed the center of this community: The African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School. The 1806  African Meeting House is the oldest extant black church in the United States of America, and the neighboring 1835 Abiel Smith School is one of the first public school buildings for African American children in the country. Both of these buildings, situated on Smith Court, served as the epicenter for a free black community that led the nation in the fight against slavery and injustice. Smith Court stories will help foster a deeper understanding of the African American experience in 19th century Boston and connect the past with students’ lived experiences.