Uriah Boston’s date of birth is not known. In the federal census, he and his family usually were recorded as "black" or "mulatto." The 1900 and 1915 census takers, however, identified Sarah and her sister, Violet, as "white."
Apparently, the family may have attempted to pass as white after Uriah's death. In 1889, after the Poughkeepsie Eagle published an obituary for Uriah that described him as a former slave, the family demanded a correction from the paper. They denied that he had been slave and insisted that "he had no negro blood in his veins." His family claimed that their father was a mixture of Native American and Irish and that his mother was from Pennsylvania with a German descent who could not speak any English. They further described Uriah's wife as "not a negro, her father being a West Indiaman, and her mother a Nova Scotian."
Uriah Boston worked and was around barbershops all his life. He apprenticed himself to a man well known as “Barber Grey”. In the beginning, he also sold clothes and other fashions he collected in New York City. Later, he emphasized "scientific haircuts" and hair loss remedies in his advertising. His wife, Violet, ran her own hair salon in a separate building. She also advertised her supply of the fashionable wigs from the leading New York suppliers.
Barbershops played a very important role in African American social and political life. In the barbershop, customers could talk freely about politics and organize self-protection. They would also tell stories about their past and could let important information off their chest without being judged.
Late in life, Uriah suffered from poor health. He was committed to the Hudson River State Hospital for "mental derangement" just before his death in 1889.
1. Poughkeepsie Eagle, June 19, 1889.
2. Quincy T. Mills, Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Douglas W. Bristol, Jr., Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2015).