PRESERVATION MAGAZINE - Museum of African American History

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PRESERVATION MAGAZINE
May 17, 2005
NANTUCKET'S OLDEST AFRICAN AMERICAN HOUSE
DISCOVERED
By Margaret Foster
Two years ago, the National Trust, through a partnership with the Museum of AfroAmerican History, added the museum's Boston African Meeting House and Abiel Smith
School to its collection of historic sites. The 200-year-old Boston African Meeting House,
the oldest structure built as a church for a black congregation, is undergoing a
restoration. Waite & Associates, which is overseeing the project, plans to complete it next
year.
Architects have discovered that a house on Nantucket Island was built by African Americans
around 1774, making it one of the oldest such houses in the country.
Boston's Museum of Afro-American History, which owns
the Florence Higginbotham House, announced the
discovery last week at the building next door,
Nantucket's 1827 African Meeting House, which it also
owns.
Except for an eight-month period, the Florence
Higginbotham House was owned by black families for
more than 200 years.
"It's absolutely incredible," says Jack Waite, senior partner at John G. Waite & Associates, based
in Albany, N.Y. "It really changes perceptions of what life was like for freed blacks on Nantucket
before the Revolution."
A former slave and weaver named Seneca Boston built the house and passed to his son in 1802.
Florence Higginbotham bought the house in 1920 and lived there until she died in 1972. The
museum acquired her house from her son 17 years later. Higginbotham also owned the meeting
house and its two outbuildings next door.
"We have only just learned of this remarkable family homestead and have already begun to think
about a symposium on black life and domesticity," Beverly Morgan-Welch, the museum's
executive director, said in a statement.
Two years ago, the National Trust, through a partnership with the Museum of AfroAmerican History, added the museum's Boston African Meeting House and Abiel Smith
School to its collection of historic sites. The 200-year-old Boston African Meeting House,
the oldest structure built as a church for a black congregation, is undergoing a
restoration. Waite & Associates, which is overseeing the project, plans to complete it next
year.
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