1st Female, Black Home & Property Owner

In 1670, Zipporah Potter Atkins, as a free black woman, took the remarkable step of purchasing a home and the land it sat on in Boston’s North End neighborhood, yes in colonial Boston in the 1600s – a woman who was black.

Atkins’ purchase was remarkable for many reasons – not the least of which was that by buying the house, Atkins (her maiden name was Potter and married name in 1670 was Atkins) did become the first American-American to purchase a home in the city.

Zipporah, was born July 4, 1645 in Sussex (Massachusetts colony). The meaning of Zipporah is ‘a little bird’. A little known fact at the a time, children born to parents who were slaves in Boston at that time, were considered free upon birth.

When she was 25 years old she was able to purchase the house and land on Salem Street because her father, who was a slave, had received a small inheritance from his owner, Captain Robert Keayne.

Over the next few years Zipporah also learned some basic writing, so she could write her initials. She did just that when in 1699 she sold the house, she signed the deed in Massachusetts writing out her initials.

She died January 8, 1705 in Boston. The house remained, different owners over the decades and still stands today.

In 1783, a century after Atkins lived in her home, Massachusetts’ highest court would rule that slavery violated the Constitution, making Massachusetts the first state to abolish the slave trade and making it a hotbed of the abolitionist movement – although the state and Boston would struggle with racism and racial tensions for centuries.

Photos: Drawing of Zipporah Potter Atkins’s house and photo of the house more recently.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Old Boston

Music of Colonists


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