Monday, March 4, 2013

Massachusetts Legislators: John James Smith

John James Smith (1820-1906) was an African American legislator who served as a Republican in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1868, 1869, and 1872.  Although he wasn’t the first to be elected to the legislature (Edwin Garrison Walker and Charles Lewis Mitchell both served in 1867), he was the first black legislator to be elected to more than one term in Massachusetts.  He was born in Richmond, Virginia as a free citizen, and moved to Boston in 1848.  After spending a year in Boston, he moved out west to participate in the California Gold Rush.  Not long after, he returned to Boston and set up his own barbershop at the corner of Howard and Bulfinch streets, which quickly became a meeting place and focal point for Boston-area abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Lewis Hayden.  Hayden, an ex-slave who was actively involved in the Underground Railroad, was himself elected to the House in 1873.  During the Civil War, Smith was stationed in Washington D.C. where he worked as a recruiting officer for the all-black 5th Cavalry.  In 1878, six years after his final term in office, he was appointed to the Boston Common Council.

For more information on the history of the black legislative caucus, please visit:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department