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Susan Paul Residence

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36 West Cedar Street
Boston, MA 02108 United States

The works of Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl are often considered the first published works by African Americans in the United States. Such an assessment, however, overlooks a slim volume written by the schoolteacher Miss Susan Paul, which was published in the early 1830s—nearly thirty years before Jacobs’ autobiography. The Memoir of James Jackson, the Attentive and Obedient Scholar, Who died in Boston, October 31, 1833, Aged Six Years and Eleven Months did, in fact, record the brief life of James Jackson, but also used his life as a platform from which to speak about the education of black children in Boston and to depict the African American community as a whole. With the incorporation of catechisms and accounts from the community, Paul spoke to black and white audiences alike, to children and their parents.

Paul was born in Boston to the Reverend Thomas Paul, who had helped to found the African Baptist Church, and his wife, Catherine Waterhouse Paul. Both were active in the abolitionist community, and following Thomas Paul’s death, his daughter continued in his footsteps. Paul had a dream to open a school for African American children that would offer a practical, Christian education. The choir she was able to form there—with children ranging from toddlers to ten year olds, singing primarily patriotic and anti-slavery songs—got the attention of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, members of which had come to visit her classroom. She was afterward invited to attend an NEASS meeting.

Paul eventually became an officer of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and served as a representative to the New York Anti-Slavery Convention. Her memoir, however, was considered her most important work. It opened,

“The design of this Memoir is, to present the incidents in the life of a little colored boy.”

His final words, according to Paul, were “I must go.”

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Did You Know?

Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.