Dream Kitchen!

Ms. Florence’s Stove

Soon, we all will be able to have a more in-depth look at the Higginbotham House, owned by the Museum of African American History (MAAH) in Boston.  This house is part of the complex on York Street that includes the African Meetinghouse.  The MAAH has been working hard to conserve and restore Ms. Florence’s house, as well as the outbuildings associated with the property.  On Nantucket today, we have lost most of these outbuildings that were once (and still can be) important components of the running of a household – and sometimes a home-run business or two.

The house may look a bit later nineteenth/early twentieth century but it actually was built sometime not long after 1774 when Seneca Boston purchased it.  Seneca had been a slave and purchased this lot long before slavery was abolished in the Commonwealth.  He and his wife, Thankful Micah, who was Wampanoag, would raise six children here including the famed Absalom Boston.  Absalom would captain the all-black crewed whaleship the Industry and play a leading role in the integration of the island’s schools – and in building the Meetinghouse next door to his birthplace.

Ms. Florence purchased the property in the early twentieth century and would also purchase the Meetinghouse which would help to preserve it.  The image you see here is post-restoration work.  One room is believed to be largely in its eighteenth century condition but the rest of the house saw a renovation by Ms. Florence as she did take in boarders and wanted to accommodate such an arrangement.  MAAH worked to keep the house mainly at Ms. Florence’s inhabitance.  And from a preservation standpoint it is important to show the evolution of a house – not to always bring it back to what you “think” it looked like – even if based on testing.  (The Mitchell House has a myriad of things that are late nineteenth century and very early twentieth century – before it became a museum and during Maria’s uncle’s family’s inhabitance of the House.)

Front sitting room likely in 18th century condition. Ms. Florence removed the chimney mass to make a full front staircase.

The room I show here is her kitchen – with her original re-built stove (it was in pieces in an outbuilding but she saved it!).  My immediate reaction when I saw it – and the entire house –I’m moving in!  This is my dream kitchen though my stove is a bit later – think the stove in the Connecticut house in “Christmas in Connecticut” or some of the stoves seen in several early Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films.  The cabinets are wonderful, the sink and counters gorgeous.  Now, if they’d let me cook in it and stay awhile.

Congratulations MAAH!


In Celebration of Black History Month

The steamship ISLAND HOME. Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

The steamship ISLAND HOME. Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Frankly, every month (read day) should be Black History Month and every month (read day, again) should be Women’s History Month. In my travels through island history, and particularly island women’s history, I have never ceased to be amazed by the remarkable people who have called Nantucket home. Maria Mitchell would want you to know about each and every person – likely saying they did more than she. One woman who has fallen through the cracks is Hannah Cook Boston. Many are familiar with the name Absalom Boston. Among many of Boston’s accomplishments, he was the well-known black captain of the all-black-crewed whaleship Industry, as well as a successful businessman, abolitionist, and one of the founders of the African Meetinghouse and School. Twice widowed, Boston married Hannah Cook in 1827 a woman with whom I would like you to be familiar. Born in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in 1795, Hannah Cook Boston instantly became a mother to Absalom’s three children. Hannah was an equal partner in her marriage, just as all Nantucket women were. She became the mother of five children, helped with the creation and running of the African Meetinghouse, and supported her husband in his work with desegregation of the island schools. When Absalom died in 1855, he left Hannah a sizable estate. However, over a short time, the estate dwindled to almost nothing because of the economic downturn on the island due to many things, including the Great Fire of 1846, the demise of whaling, and the Gold Rush, which lured so many away from Nantucket.

Faced with having to find a means to support herself, Hannah looked for work outside the home. Unlike many other black island women however, Hannah did not become a domestic servant. Instead, she went to sea – following in the footsteps of her own family and her husband – by becoming the stewardess on the steamship Island Home, the first female steamship stewardess in fact. She was not serving a family, but working for the Nantucket Steamboat Company – taking care of its female passengers in the Ladies Cabin. Hannah passed away in 1857 after only a short time serving on board the steamer, but her taking this position encouraged other island women to follow suit, for several others were later employed as stewardesses on Nantucket steamships.

Now here is another thing, Maria Mitchell traveled on board the Island Home in 1857. She likely knew Hannah already but even more exciting to me is that Hannah likely was the stewardess during Maria Mitchell’s trip – the beginning of Maria’s trip to the southern United States and later Europe as a young lady’s chaperone. Now, how interesting is that?!