John J. Smith House
86 Pinckney Street
Born free in Richmond, Virginia, on November 2, 1820, John J. Smith moved to
Boston at the age of twenty-eight. Smith went West for the 1849 California Gold Rush but
returned to Boston no richer than when he left.
He became a barber and set up a shop on the corner of Howard and Bulfinch Streets. His
shop was a center for abolitionist activity and a rendezvous point for fugitive slaves.
When abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was not at his home or office, he was usually
found at Smith's shop.
During the Civil War, Smith stationed himself in Washington, D.C., as a recruiting
officer for the all-black 5th Cavalry. After the war, Smith was elected to the
Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1868, 1869 and 1872. In 1878, the year he moved
to this house, he was appointed to the Boston Common Council.
John J. Smith lived at 86 Pinckney Street until 1893. He died on November 4, 1906.
Photo credit: Massachusetts Historical Society
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