Charles A. Battiste, Sr.


An advertisement for Battiste's boarding house in The Liberator, a leading abolitionist newspaper published in Boston.

The orphanage's admittance records do not mention that the Battiste family came from Boston, but other documents confirm that a Charles A. Battiste from Boston matched the description provided by the orphanage.


Massachusetts death records show that Charles A. Battiste, Sr. died in Boston of consumption on December 13, 1848 at the age of 28.

The orphanage admittance card identified Charles, Sr.'s profession as  "shipping master" and states that he "kept a boarding house," but the orphanage was silent on the location of that boarding house.

Advertisements in The Liberator, however, provide a location. As seen in the image at the top of this page, Battiste advertised in the abolitionist newspaper for his boarding house on Sun Court in Boston. He offered lodging for "colored seaman" in an atmosphere guided "by temperance principles."

According to David Neal Keller, American shipping masters in the nineteenth century were "charged with producing a crew, depended primarily on the boarding master, or boardinghouse keeper, for his supply of sailors. The boarding master provided food, shelter, liquor, and entertainment for men awaiting berths. At times the two vocations overlapped." Indeed, Battiste combined the two positions in one.

Moral reformers at the time insisted that sailors needed an alternative to seedy boarding houses that plied their customers with alcohol and often exploited boarders through unethical contracts with ship captains. Temperance reformers, including associates of McCune Smith, built a colored sailors home in New York City that was very similar to Battiste's Boston house. Given how he described his enterprise in  advertisements, Battiste joined these other reformers in the hopes of countering the power of dishonest shipping masters and less reputable boarding houses known for drink and disorder. Perhaps he corresponded with or interacted with like-minded New York reformers.

The Battistes of Boston

Charles, Sr.'s young life can be pieced together from scattered sources.

It appears he already lived in Boston as a young child, as William C. Nell tells the story of how he and Charles (when Charles was 9) endured discrimation in 1829. Both Nell and Battiste attended a school for colored children located at the famed African Meeting House on Belknap Street. Both pupils passed their examinations with distinction, meaning they were eligible for a Franklin Medal awarded to students in Boston schools. While distinguished white pupils did receive awards and an invite to a luncheon for honorees, Nell and Battiste only received vouchers to purchase a biography of Benjamin Franklin from a bookstore.


Battiste married Martha A. Sumner on October 1, 1840 in a ceremony conducted by Jehiel C. Beman, who was the preacher of Boston's first African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a temperance advocate, and a common participant in anti-slavery events and colored conventions in New England.


Battiste may have change demoninations at some point, as he later appears as a member of the First Independen Baptist Church of Boston. The young couple had four children. Josephine Amelia was born in 1841. Sarah Adelade in 1843. Charles Augustus in 1845. And, Edward in 1846.


Given that Battiste apparently applied in 1848 for naturalization as an American citizen, it is possible that he was born in Haiti or another French caribbean island.

The Sons and Daughters of Freedom