Boarding Houses and Bakeries

A Good Boarding House Greatly Needed

"A Good Boarding House Greatly Needed." Provincial Freeman, 6 Dec. 1856. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

Boarding house proprietors, bakers, confectioners - these were only a few of the vocations Black Philadelphians established and maintained in the nineteenth century, but these were particularly useful in aiding Black activism and uplift. Often, owners and business people used these spaces to build personal and community capital, sending proceeds to Black infantry, hosting guests of reknown, or making their services affordable to the community through competitive pricing. By and large, to be active in business was also to be active in racial uplift, for, as many of these business people's lives testify, the personal was ever the political, and business blurred with activism.

The map below shows the locations of hotels, boarding houses, and bakeries that catered to African Americans visiting Philadelphia. Please scroll down to further explore the locations on the map. To read about each place, click on the pictures above.   

For more on the activist nature of Black boarding houses and bakeries, please visit "What did they eat? Where did they stay? Black boarding houses and the Colored Convention Movement" and African American Women's Economic Power and the 1830s Colored Conventions in Philadelphia

The resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia

Above is an illustraton of Henry Box Brown being helped out of a box by William Still after he escaped from Virginia.

Peter Kramer. "The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia." 1850. Image Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia

William Still and Letitia George Still

Author of the Underground Railroad Records (1872) William Still lived close to Robert Purvis. In 1855 the Stills opened their home as a boarding house; some of their boarders included Mary Ann Shadd Cary and William Wells Brown. At the same time, Still was working with Purvis and Harriet Tubman in aiding the escape of fugitives, using the same home to harbor runaways. Still decided to record their harrowing experiences after a fateful encounter with a fugitive who turned out to be his brother. The Stills were devoted to philanthropy and would frequent The Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored Persons, which was located nearby their home.

Still’s coal and ice yards produced a lot of wealth, enabling the Stills to contribute handsomely to the Home and also to educate all of their four children. Their eldest child, Caroline Virginia Matilda Still eventually became a doctor. William Wilberforce Still practiced law, Robert George Still a journalist and printer, and Frances Ellen Still a teacher. William Wilberforce and Frances Ellen would share their parents’ home on South St. below Ninth. Still died in the same home in 1902.

  • 1855 Location: 374 South Street below 9th & 832 South St.
  • Current Location: 244 South 12th St.
  • Advertised in Frederick Douglass' Paper and The Liberator

La Pierre House

La Pierre House was a new hotel that welcomed African American guests. In 1872, John M. Langston, the dean of Law School at Howard University, visited Philadelphia and stayed at La Pierre. The establishment was expanded and renamed La Fayette Hotel. In 1855, The National Era listed La Pierre as one of the leading hotels in Philadelphia, in which the newspaper’s readers (mostly people of color) can stay. The National Era also indicates that the hotel along with others like it have raised their prices, with “breakfast for 75 cents; breakfast and dinner $1.75; breakfast, dinner, and tea, $2, for tea, 50 cents; for tea, lodging, and breakfast, $2; for lodging and breakfast, $1.75; for lodging, $1. For board and lodging, per day, $2 to $2.50.”[1]

[1] “Miscellaneous Items.” The National Era, June 7, 1855. Accessible Archives.  (Accessed April 1, 2016).  


"Mrs. Ann Turner's Boarding House." Frederick Douglass' Paper, 9 Nov. 1855. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

Ann Turner

Ann Turner operated a boarding house in Pine Ward. Records show that in 1850, Ann Turner lived with her husband, Alexander Turner, and two children, Charles and Clementina. Alexander Turner passed away in 1856, leaving Ann to run the business by herself. 

  • 1855 Location: 195 South 7th St. between Spruce and Pine
  • Advertised in Frederick Douglass' Paper



"DELEGATES, ATTENTION! The Delegates to the NATIONAL CONVENITON.Frederick Douglass' Paper, 12 Oct. 1855. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

Mrs. L. Reddon

Mrs. L. Reddon specifically welcomed delegates as boarders at her home, which is across the street from Mother Bethel Church. Mrs. L. Reddon’s engagement in political activism is not limited to hosting convention goers. In 1865, she served as president of the Ladies’ Sanitary Association of St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church (LSASTC). She is a member of Philadelphia’s African American elite. Along with the wives of Samuel Van Brackle, Stephen Smith, and Ulysses Vidal, Mrs. L. Reddon raised funds to aid African American soldiers in the Civil War.


  • 1855 Location: 197 South 6th St.
  • Advertised in Frederick Douglass' Paper


Emily H. Stockton

  • 1855 Location: 161 Chestnut St.
  • Advertised in The National Era


Charles Jones

Charles Jones advertised heavily in Frederick Douglass’ Paper and put emphasis on North Star House’s central and convenient location. Apart from being a boarding house host, Charles Jones is also a dedicated writer and reader. He was a devoted supporter of the Philadelphia Library Company for Colored Persons, which met at St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church nearby. In the company of John C. Bowers, William Price, and others, Jones celebrated the Company’s 27th anniversary (in 1861) by reading his self-composed poetry and prose. A year later, he would read his essay with Isaiah Wears to begin a debate session. 

  • 1855 Location: North Star House, 26 North St. between Arch and Market Sts.


Girard House

Frederick De Bourg. "Girard House Hotel." 1858. Image Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia.

Girard House

Girard House was a grand hotel that hosted anti-slavery politicians such as Joshua Reed Giddings and John Parker Hale. While staying at Girard House in 1859, Giddings sent a card to be published in The National Era addressing the irresponsible conduct of the men in charge of John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry case. In 1852, abolitionists and other individuals welcomed the arrival of Hale to town and escorted him to Girard House. While Hale is in Philadelphia, Frederick Douglass’ Paper reports that his address was attended by numerous ladies and gentlemen. An 1855 issue of The National Era also indicates to its readers that Girard House is one of possible options for those travelling to Philadelphia. Its prices are the same as that of La Pierre and Jones’ Hotel.

  • 1855 Location: 823-835 Chestnut St.


Eagle Hotel

T. Sinclairs Lithographs. "Eagle Hotel." ca. 1855 Image Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia


















Eagle Hotel

This professional establishment welcomed African American guests. In 1855, The National Era provided its readers with Eagle Hotel’s scale of prices. Compared to other hotels in the area, it offers relatively cheaper meals. 

  • 1855 Location: 227–229 N 3rd St.














Jones Hotel

This professional establishment took in African American guests. In 1855, The National Era listed Jones’ Hotel, along with La Pierre, as one of Philadelphia hotels that will accommodate the newspapers’ readers. Jones’ Hotel’s scale of prices is the same as La Pierre’s.

  • 1855 Location: 616-620 Chestnut St.
Woman vendor

Selling food items in public areas is one of the few ways to earn a living in 19th-century Philadelphia. Above is a picture of an unnamed African American vendor. 

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Woman vendor" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 - 1960. 

Cake and Pie Peddlers

  • Run by Devonshire and Grace Williams
  • Lived at 721 Lisle St.

Devonshire and Grace Williams lived in Lisle St. for more than 40 years. Grace was born in Delaware around 1825; her husband is from West Indies and was born around 1813. As a young man, Devonshire worked as a waiter. The couple had a series of tragedies: in 1843, their 17-year-old passed away. Ten years later, their infant daughter died and another infant would follow in 1861. The Williams were left with a son and a daughter, both of whom were conceived later in the couple’s lives (Grace was in her early forties and Devonshire in his fifties). To make ends meet, Grace worked as a laundress and Devonshire sold cakes and pies around Philadelphia.


Old houses, on the north side of Arch St.

Frederick de Bourg. "Old houses, on the north side of Arch St." ca. 1859. Image Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia.

Asbury Denny's Bakery

Asbury Denny is an African American baker originally from Delaware. He ran a bakery with his wife on Lombard St. In 1863, he also enlisted as a soldier, serving in the 3rd U.S. Colored Infantry.

  • 1855 Location: 712 Lombard St.

Ellis Peer

Confectioner Ellis Peer ran his business on South St. with his wife Eliza Peer. In the same household lived a saddler named Moses Wheeler. An 1860 census values his estate at 900 dollars. 

  • 1855 Location: 16 Rodman







Written and researched by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware. Introductory note by Jessica Conrad, PhD Candidate, University of Delaware.