Mayor Michelle Wu last week cut the ribbon on the City of Boston’s new exhibit, “Slavery in Boston.” This exhibit – located in Faneuil Hall – provides an opportunity to discuss Boston’s role in enslavement and shares the stories of the enslaved and freed people in Boston through research and archaeological artifacts found under Faneuil Hall. The development of the exhibit was led by the City of Boston’s Archaeology Department within the Office of Historic Preservation. Mayor Wu was joined by Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space Rev. Mariama White-Hammond; Elizabeth Solomon, Massachusett Tribe; City of Boston Archaeologist Joe Bagley; Former State Representative Byron Rushing; members of the City’s Reparations Task Force; and community partners. This exhibit is one part of the City of Boston’s work to deliberately confront Boston’s history of slavery, to take accountability, and educate residents and visitors of slavery’s multilayered and painful past, which still has impacts today.
“This exhibit lays a crucial foundation for Boston to address our legacy of enslavement and support the healing process for our descendant communities,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I am also grateful to have Murray Miller join the City of Boston and bring his decades worth of expertise to help foster an intersectional approach to historic preservation that helps uplift all of our communities, particularly those who have had their histories suppressed.”
The “Slavery in Boston” exhibit was funded by a Community Preservation Act grant in addition to support from Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR) administered by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Throughout the exhibit’s development and curation process, the Archaeology team gathered community feedback from over 200 residents through community meetings and a digital survey to garner suggestions and feedback. The project is co-curated by the City Archaeologist Joe Bagley, Historian Dr. Jared Ross Hardesty, and Kyera Singleton, the Executive Director of the Royall House and Slave Quarters, supported by a Community Advisory Board of nine community leaders and experts on Boston’s history. This robust community engagement process tailored the refinement and cultural competency of this exhibit to ensure it included content that the community wanted to uplift and learn.
“As we continue our work to combat racial and economic inequity, it is essential to address our past in ways that create space to process grief, uplift resilience, and repair the harm,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space. “Today and every day moving forward, we must lift up the unheralded layers of Boston’s history and memorialize the enslaved people who contributed to the building of our city.”
“Everything you see in this exhibit is a direct response to the ideas and requests we heard from the community,” said Joe Bagley, Archaeologist for the City of Boston. “I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude for all of the community members who participated in this process and helped to turn the idea of this exhibit into a reality.”
The first step in the exhibit development included the digitization of over 42,000 artifacts found during archaeological surveys at Faneuil Hall in 1991 and 2010 through the project contractor, AECOM. The City of Boston has made these digital artifacts accessible online through a searchable online catalog with artifact photos and details. Several of these artifacts that can tell the story of enslavement in Boston are featured in the exhibit.
Key highlights of the “Slavery in Boston” exhibit include text from the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, the 1641 document that legalized slavery, making Massachusetts the first English colony in North America to make slavery legal. Legalized enslavement in Boston would continue for nearly 150 years. Additionally, the exhibit discusses the enslavement of Tribal communities and features 16 stories of enslaved people in Boston, which focuses on their efforts to resist enslavement while being catalysts for change. Faneuil Hall was built with funds from Peter Faneuil, who profited from the sale of enslaved people. The “Slavery in Boston” exhibit lists over 1,300 enslaved people in Boston with a link to a digital list.
“Boston has not one, but three founding histories,” said former State Representative Byron Rushing, Community Advisory Board Member and Director of the Museum of African American History. “The histories of the indigenous peoples who arrived here tens of thousands of years ago, the imperial Puritans who attacked and invaded these lands, and the Africans whom the Europeans stole and brought here as property, chattel, to supply and supplement the labor for the Europeans to exploit the vast resources of these lands. What is both unique and exciting about this exhibit is that the stories of all three are told factually and honestly.”
In addition to the ribbon cutting of the new exhibit, Mayor Wu also announced Murray Miller as the first-ever Director of the Office of Historic Preservation which was created last summer. Murray joins the City of Boston with over three decades of experience in historic preservation with a recent focus on uplifting marginalized histories to share a more holistic and intersectional story. In Miller’s work, he has developed a reflective, responsive and forward-thinking vision for historic preservation that supports economic development, environmental sustainability, and affordable housing objectives through an equity lens.
The Office of Historic Preservation works to ensure that Boston’s history is inclusive, honest and elevates every community to have the tools and resources to research, preserve, acknowledge, and celebrate their history. The office includes the Boston Landmarks Commission, the City Archaeology Program and the Commemoration Commission.
“I am thrilled to join the City of Boston and support the ongoing efforts to preserve and uplift Boston’s history through an intersectional lens,” said Murray Miller, Director of the Office of Historic Preservation. “I am grateful to Mayor Wu and Chief White-Hammond for their support and I look forward to working with the Boston community to elevate its rich and multifaceted history.” Last year, Mayor Wu and the Boston City Council designated Highland Park as Boston’s newest Architectural Conservation District. Additionally, the Boston Landmarks Commission designated seven local landmarks, the most in a single year since 1983. Any ten registered Boston voters can petition the Boston Landmarks Commission to designate a historic neighborhood, building, landscape or object as a protected Boston Landmark or District. Local historic districts carry the ability to regulate change in historic neighborhoods, unlike National Register districts, which advocate for their protection. Individuals can learn more about designating a landmark in Boston by emailing