Black History Month 2022
Places of Black Heritage on Nantucket
This Black History Month (February 2022), you are encouraged to visit spaces that represent Nantucket’s black heritage. Bask in the historical memories of each location and reflect on how life and choices were different back then.
African Meeting House | 29 York Street
The African Meeting House on Nantucket is the island’s most vivid reminder of its black heritage. “On March 26, 1825, Jeffery Summons conveyed for the token price of $10.50 a piece of land ‘in Newtown on Pleasant Street in West Monomoy Shares to the Trustees of the School Fund for the Coloured People’ provided that the trustees would build and maintain a schoolhouse there ‘and a school to be kept in it forever.’” The African Meeting House was built on land purchased from Summons and it was used as a church, school, and gathering-place for the people of New Guinea/Newtown.
Today, the African Meeting House is owned and operated by the Museum of African American History, Boston & Nantucket. The site is used for a myriad of reasons: author talks, concerts, lectures, and weddings are hosted on the site year-round. The Museum’s Nantucket campus at Five Corners, which also includes the Seneca Boston – Florence Higginbotham House, is the community’s most known landmark and representation of the island’s black history.
Arthur Cooper Monument | 16 Candle House Lane
Reflect on the life and legacy of Arthur Cooper at the monument established in his name in 2021. Arthur Cooper and his wife, Mary, were enslaved by David Ricketts of Virginia. Arthur and Mary liberated themselves and arrived on Nantucket in 1820. The story of Arthur Cooper’s potential re-enslavement is probably one of Nantucket’s most famous stories on race relations in the nineteenth century.
According to Nantucket historian Barbara Ann White, “In 1822, several lawmen arrived on Nantucket with slave catcher Camillus Griffiths… Their presence was no secret on the island.” When Griffiths and his companions reached the Cooper’s house they found “a crowd of blacks waiting for them… These men [including whites] successfully delayed the slave catchers, demanding to see the arrest warrant that the slave hunters had left at their boarding house... Meanwhile, some white Nantucket men when into the Coopers’ house and exchanged clothes were Arthur Cooper. With the coast clear, the Coopers quietly left through the rear door with their children, including an infant son. They were hidden by various people for weeks. One house they stayed in was that of Oliver Cromwell Gardner, father of Anna Gardner, who became a leading abolitionist [and] a teacher at the African School [inside the African Meeting House].”
The Chicken Box | 16 Dave Street
The Chicken Box on Nantucket Island has been a minority-owned business since it was established. Founded by William “Willie” House, the Chicken Box opened in 1949. “House bought a large parcel of land along then-empty Pleasant Street and renovated a small shack into a restaurant he called the Chicken Box. [It was named] for his signature honey-fried chicken…”. After over a quarter century of ownership, Willie House sold the Box to Robert ‘Cap’n Seaweed’ Reed in 1977. Reed owned and operated the Box for nearly another quarter century before selling the business. “In 2000, after 23 years of ownership, Reed sold the Chicken Box to three former Box employees… Reed valued the former employees’ affiliation with the Chicken Box and their desire to continue its legacy.”
As for the “Founder of the Chicken Box,” as engraved on his headstone, House passed away in 1995. He is buried in the Newtown Cemetery, only feet away from the well-known island establishment he started. By the time of his death, Willie House, who was born in Kentucky was famously known as the “black Colonel Sanders of Nantucket.”
The History of the Chicken Box by Katie Greene
The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars by Frances Karttunen
A Line in the Sand: The Battle to Integrate the Nantucket Public Schools, 1825 – 1847 by Barbara Ann White