Much the way we navigated the twentieth century by using phonebooks, nineteenth-century Bostonians used printed directories to locate individual households and businesses within the city. Directory listings tend to reflect head of household and may list the dwelling place, place of business, or both. Boston directories in the early nineteenth century included segregated listings of “People of Color” that allow us to track individuals on Belknap Street (the site of Walker’s first residence and African American neighborhood) during non-census years. This is particularly useful in Walker’s case since he only appears in the federal census for 1830, around the time of his death. The state censuses from Walker’s time in Boston, which were taken every 10 years in years ending as “5,” have not survived.
David Walker first appears in the city directory for 1825. His last appearance is in 1830. His address appears differently in each directory, so we’d like to break down what you might find in a directory through his example.
It’s probable that Walker arrived in Boston sometime around 1824; city directories took time to prepare for publication, so Walker likely had to set up shop in the city prior to 1825 in order to appear in the city directory for that year. Frustratingly, there appears not to have been a city directory issued for 1824, so there’s no way to tell if Walker may have arrived in late 1823 or early 1824. He is not listed in the 1823 directory. But in 1825, Walker is operating (likely out of a stall) at the City Market, which refers to the area near Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market, which is the adjacent building, was being built around this time as well, to accommodate an expanding number of vendors. This directory doesn’t provide information about where Walker was living that year, though it’s not uncommon for Bostonians to just list a place of business.
By 1826, Walker has a store front on Brattle Street; several other Black merchants sold clothing on this block.
In 1827 we get quite a different entry. Walker was still selling clothes on Brattle Street, but at a different address. This may indicate that he moved to a different store front, but it also could indicate construction and subsequent renumbering of buildings on the street. We’re trying to do more research to work this out. The “h.” stands for house, which later had the address “8 Belknap,” but for much of the 1820s Belknap Street may have had no formal numbering system, which was not unusual for the time. In addition to being a clothes dealer, Walker is an agent for Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American newspaper in the United States.
In 1828, his household is omitted from the directory.
And there’s no change to the listing in 1829.
In 1830, however, Walker has moved his family to Bridge Street, a site that is no longer extant but has been incorporated into the Massachusetts General Hospital campus. In August Walker dies. The census for 1830 tells us that the household was quite large; in addition to Walker, his wife Eliza, and their daughter Lydia Ann, there was another adult woman and several children. Because the 1830 federal census only lists household heads by name, we’re currently trying to figure out who these other occupants might be.