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In the final episode of Illuminating the Unseen, Jaimie reviews some of the key themes from her previous videos, discusses the crisis facing history and social studies K-12 teachers today, and considers how our learning together can illuminate our collective journey toward a more equitable future.

See below for the video, primary sources, and episode transcript!

Primary Sources

Rev. Dr. Timothy Cutler’s Sermon to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (1754)

Baptism of Elizabeth, “An Indian of Adult Age” (1733)

Crequi Family Tax Records (1776,  1781, 1795, 1797, 1798, 1800)

Marriage Record for John and Ann; John Phillips and Jenney Beard (1755)

Beulah Rogers (née Speene) Warned Out of Boston (1767)

Last Will and Testament of Alderman Crankey (1741)

Ruth Humphries Indenture Contract (1757)

Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Illuminating the Unseen. I am Jaimie Crumley, the Research Fellow at Old North Illuminated. My year as Old North’s Research Fellow is winding down which means that sadly, this will be our last Illuminating the Unseen video. To conclude the series, this video will review some of the key themes from my previous videos, discuss the crisis facing history and social studies K-12 teachers today, and consider how our learning together can illuminate our collective journey toward a more equitable future. As usual, I have some images of primary sources to show you. We will display images on your screen, but please visit our website to see the images up close and read a transcript of this video. 

My initial objective for Illuminating the Unseen was to create a series that allowed you to follow my research. The job description for this fellowship called for a researcher who would focus on the experiences of Black parishioners at the Old North Church from the church’s founding in 1723 through the 19th century. As a scholar who had already spent years studying the experiences of free Black Christian women and their contributions to the abolitionist movement in the urban North, I was confident that I knew exactly how to proceed. I was quickly reminded that archival research rarely yields the results we expect. Yes, Black people worshipped at the Old North Church from the very beginning, but the church’s records often yielded only their first names and their status as slave or free. This was no way to construct full stories of rich human experiences. 

Further, I quickly pivoted to tell a more capacious story of the history of race in the North End than the one that I had originally set out to tell. When the Old North Church was established in 1723, its builders and the church’s members contributed to the further displacement of the Massachusett people who were Indigenous to this land, but much like the other English churches in colonial New England, my research findings demonstrate that the church also attracted Indigenous peoples, including the Massachusett, Nipmuc, and Wampanoag peoples. It is likely that Old North also attracted people from other Indigenous nations. 

We learn about the church’s treatment of African and Indigenous peoples through the words of the ministers and pew proprietors. Because no first-hand accounts written by African and Indigenous peoples about their experiences at Old North have survived, we are left to speculate about what might have attracted them to participate in this faith community. 

In one of my first videos, I discussed the sermon that Old North’s first minister, Rev. Dr. Timothy Cutler, gave before a gathering of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in 1754. He described the Indigenous peoples, whom he called the “Indians” as being nearly impossible to convert to join the Church of England. He blamed other European colonists, presumably Congregationalists, who he said distorted Indigenous peoples’ understanding of the theology of the Church of England. He also blamed Indigenous peoples themselves. He wrote that they lived, “without any notion of the true God or his laws, in a state of savage liberty.” He explained that their “Indian manners” were an impediment to their conversions. However, he hoped that some might be open to Christianity. If they could be Christianized, he believed they could be true friends to English settlers. Native peoples had a sizeable presence in 18th-century New England, and some of them, like a young woman named Elizabeth who was baptized here in January 1733, we can presume found meaning in the rituals that were practiced here. 

On Illuminating the Unseen, we have also discussed the spectrum of freedom in 18th and 19th-century Boston. We have discussed the reality that the abolition of slavery throughout the late 18th and early 19th century North did not prevent white Northerners from profiting off the continuation of slavery in the South. Likewise, some of Old North’s members continued to hold people as unfree laborers in their homes here in New England. Still others continued to participate in trafficking enslaved people on their ships. Others maintained plantations in the Caribbean. The process of Black freedom has never been linear and in some ways continues to be incomplete.1 

In one video, we looked at this list of marriages that took place in Boston in the spring of 1755. In March of 1755, John, an African man enslaved by Jacob Royall, Esq., and Ann, an African woman enslaved by Dr. Cutler married. In April of 1755, John Phillips married Jenney Beard. John and Jenney were free Africans. Both weddings were at Old North. This document reminded us of the importance of tending to the intra-racial dynamics between people of African descent during slavery. We can only imagine that even free Black people like John and Jenney could not rest in their freedom while other people who shared their skin color remained in bondage. 

We also know that free people of color were often not welcome in Boston unless they were deemed sufficiently valuable to the city’s robust market economy. Free Black men like Alderman Crankey who married Lydia Woodby at Old North in 1742 turned to life at sea to make a living. These men went to sea to earn the financial resources they needed to care for their families. However, free Black people were not physically safe in colonial Boston. Some free women of color like the Nipmuc woman Beulah Speene, who we met during an Illuminating the Unseen video, were either intentionally or unintentionally misidentified as “negroes.” Three months after her 1767 wedding to an enslaved African man named Saul Rogers at Old North, Beulah was warned to leave the city. African and Indigenous women’s names appeared with some frequency in the city’s warning out books. If a person, after being warned to leave Boston, refused to do so, they could face physical punishment or incarceration. 

Many of us have incorrectly conflated the idea of legal freedom with safety from physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual harm. In 18th and 19th-century Boston, Black and Indigenous peoples faced joblessness, homelessness, prison, sexual abuse, and physical brutality.2 Safe, they were not. As we learned in one of our more recent videos, age made people of African descent even more vulnerable to societal harm. Free children of African descent often became indentured servants if their parents could not afford to support them financially. Free Black families lived with the fear that their children would be kidnapped as so-called fugitives from labor and sold into Southern slave markets. Similarly, in old age, Black people could not depend on homes for the aged to support them as most of the homes were racially segregated.3 Therefore, as they aged and could not work to support themselves, many Black people found themselves destitute. At times, Old North was a source of support to people of color who suffered from poverty. The church’s members gave alms to impoverished Black children and taught literacy. However, the free Black community was its own source of social support. Members of the community were each other’s support network in good times and bad. 

If you have been following our work at Old North Illuminated, you know that we are a public history site. Public history, according to the National Council on Public History, includes all work in the field of history that happens beyond the walls of a traditional classroom.4 Public historians are collaborative. Public historians must engage with their community to do the work of remembering the past, using lessons from the past to inform the present, and creating a more equitable future for all living creatures. 

We are living in a time when K-12 educators must navigate political structures that are opposed to teaching that promotes diversity and inclusion. The teachers struggle to proceed because there has never been a national consensus about what should be taught in history and social science classrooms.5 Although this problem is not new, it becomes especially concerning in times like these that are fraught with political tension. K-12 educators are on the frontlines, trying to resolve this problem, and we must commit to supporting them. We are living in times when books that empower young people who are marginalized because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation are banned. When we become a society that bans books, we begin to devolve into a culture where people forget how to think for themselves. When we fail to raise a new generation of critical thinkers, we have no meaningful culture. 

Across this country, there are political leaders who fear the implications of teaching primary and secondary school students about the horrors of slavery, colonialism, racial violence, the history of women and gender, and the movement for LGBTQ rights. These leaders fear that when we learn about the times when the United States failed to live up to its promises to be a beacon of liberty and justice for all people, it leads students to conclude that the United States is not an exceptional nation. They fear that when students question the long-held sentiment of American exceptionalism, they are worse citizens of this nation. As you can see, the leaders on both sides of this debate genuinely believe that if they achieve their desired outcome, they ensure this nation’s future. 

This debate about what history is, what should be taught in history class, and how history should be taught is not new. It is up to us to continue the work of previous generations of historians who insisted that historical education was not complete if it did not teach the stories of all the people who have called the land today called the United States their home.6  

I hope these videos and some of the other resources that are freely available to you on our website compel you to keep learning. Most of the stories we tell are about people who were connected to the Old North Church, but the stories of people who were active in shaping their communities for the better and for the worse are not unique to this place. I hope these stories about real people from American history help you connect to your own humanity. More importantly, I hope our work helps you to invest in the important work of remembering the past. You do not need a history degree to be a public historian. Whenever you use documentary evidence, including family recipes, clothing, instruments, historical maps, wills, letters, or census data to engage with the history of the communities you love and share what you have learned, you are doing public history. 

However, historians are nothing without sources. If you are part of a community you love, commit to conscientiously maintaining the ongoing stories of that community. I call the people who do this kind of work citizen archivists. As a scholar who studies, among other things, the history of Black people of all genders, I often encounter a paucity of sources. There are lots of reasons for this lack of sources. One reason is that these groups could not keep written records about their lives. Another reason is that perhaps they did keep records, but that their lives were considered to be irrelevant. It is possible that some records were intentionally discarded or destroyed. However, I am holding firmly to the fantasy that there is so much more to recover. I imagine that some of the records I seek have been quietly maintained by a descendant in a private home. I hold onto the hope that there are sources that we have yet to imagine and that, if found and used properly, will change the discipline of history forever. 

I imagine a future with an abundance of sources that are maintained in archival repositories like the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, the repositories where I have done my research during this fellowship. However, I also imagine the archives that we can create and maintain in our homes and on our computers. It is our civic responsibility to be the keepers of historical knowledge for future generations. We can only hope that they will continue to build on the good things we have done and that they will learn from our many mistakes.  

Thank you for joining me for Illuminating the Unseen, a research video series that has shed new light on the histories of the many people of African and Indigenous descent whose lives have intersected with the stories of this faith community. It has been a joy to look at primary sources with you, to consider the information we thought we fully understood from a new perspective, and to uncover new information about the Old North Church and the North End neighborhood. If you have missed any of our previous videos or you want to see one of your favorite videos from the series again, please go to our website,

Before I sign off, I want to thank the staff here at Old North Illuminated for allowing me to spend this year with them. Thank you to the congregation of the Old North Church for being our partners in this work. Many people have been part of making this fellowship year at Old North a great one for me. However, I would be remiss if I did not offer my thanks to Emily Spence and Catherine Matthews for their contributions to these research videos. Thank you to Jason Fishman for editing the videos and making them accessible to our audience of history lovers. Goodbye for now. I hope you will continue to allow history to illuminate your path toward a more justice-filled future. 

End Notes

1. See Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998) for more on this subject. 

2. Jacqueline Jones, No Right to an Honest Living: The Struggles of Boston’s Black Workers in the Civil War Era, (New York: Basic Books, 2023).

3. Esther MacCarthy, “The Home for Aged Colored Women,” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 21, no. 1 (Winter 1993): 55–73.



6. Gary B. Nash, “The History Standards Controversy and Social History,” Journal of Social History 29 (1995): 39–49.