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Fri, 10.17.1794

Thomas Dalton, Abolitionist and Education Advocate, born

Thomas Dalton

*Thomas Dalton was born on this date in 1794. He was a free Black abolitionist and education advocate.

Thomas Dalton was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His father was Thomas Dalton. Thomas Dalton married Patience Young in 1818. She died in 1832. In his second marriage, Dalton married Lucy Lew Francis in 1834. Dalton worked as a bootblack, waiter, tailor, and clothing store owner at various times. His "prosperous" clothing store was on Brattle Street. Dalton was one of the marshals of the 1820 annual "African celebration," so named by newspapers, of the ending of the African slave trade by the United States and Great Britain. This was an important annual event that began about 1808, with participation from prominent black community leaders.

In 1823, Dalton worked as a bootblack and lived on Botolph Street, Boston. He purchased land from the Thomas Paul estate and was one of the more successful blacks living in Boston's West End (Charlestown) before the American Civil War. Dalton was a trustee of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Boston, and he and his wife strongly believed that integrating schools and improving education for the colored children of Boston was the best avenue "to remove the prejudice which exists against the people of color." In the spring of 1833, the year before they were married, Thomas Dalton and Lucy Lew Francis were among a small group of women and men who formed the Boston Mutual Lyceum on West Central Street to sponsor educational lectures for the colored citizens of the Boston area. He was treasurer, and his wife was one of the managers.

He joined the Prince Hall Freemasonry Lodge in 1825 to build a network that could improve the lives of African Americans.  David Walker, Dalton, and other members of Prince Hall Lodge met in 1826. He established the Massachusetts General Colored Association "to promote the welfare of the race by working for the destruction of slavery." In January 1833, he led a successful petition for the Massachusetts General Colored Association to join the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Together they organized Anti-Slavery conventions and speaking programs throughout New England. Dalton, Charles V. Caples, and George Washington founded the "Infant School Association," which was approved on February 20, 1836, by the governor of Massachusetts. The organization's purpose was "receiving and educating children of color preparatory to their entering higher schools," setting up a kind of kindergarten. The act is chapter 9 of the 1836 state statutes.

The efforts to create a separate but equal school system in Boston failed. In the mid-1840s, through successful lawsuits, the towns of Nantucket and Salem were forced to integrate their schools. Dalton led other citizens in a renewed effort to gain access for their children to the white public schools of Boston. Together with William Cooper Nell and attorney Robert Morris, they sent petitions imploring the Boston School Committee: "It is very hard to retain self-respect if we see ourselves set apart and avoided as a degraded race by others. Do not say to our children that however well-behaved their very presence is in a public school is contamination to your children." 

They said that black schools were not providing the same level of education as the multiple forms of white schools, including "primary, grammar, Latin and high schools." Lucy Lew Dalton died on April 12, 1865. At the time of her death, the couple was living at 29 South Russell Street. Thomas Dalton died on August 30, 1883. He left an estate of $50,000 to his three nieces.

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