ABSTRACT

To enter the everyday material world of antebellum black Bostonians, the archives in the Suffolk County Courthouse were searched to locate probate records for known members of the Afro-American community in Boston before the Civil War. Three sources guided the identification of documents for black decedents: Boston directories of the period, Carter Woodson’s exegesis of the 1830 federal census, and a list of prominent black Bostonians (rosters 1 and 2). This controlled rather than random method yielded probate information about 113 decedents spanning from 1806 to 1895. Given the sources, it is not surprising that sixty-four of the decedents are clustered between 1830 and 1860, whereas only fifteen decedents preceded and thirty-four followed these three decades.