Gilbert Walker

Photo from the American Antiquarian Society

Gilbert Walker was born into slavery in Maryland around 1817. He escaped and made his way to freedom in Worcester, MA. By 1850, he was living and working in the city. He was a barber and had his own shop on Main Street.

While on his way to Massachusetts, Gilbert’s daughter Sarah E. Walker was born in New York. In Massachusetts, he married a Nipmuc woman, Sarah Phillips/Boston before 1850. As a Hassanamisco Nipmuc, Sarah inherited land in Grafton after her mother’s death. The couple did not move to Grafton but instead sold the land and remained in Worcester.

In 1859, Gilbert and Sarah filed a petition with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for monetary aid for the burial expenses of Sarah’s uncle, Benjamin Phillips. At that time, the state held in trust funds for Hassanamisco Indians but the trustee, Charles Brigham had only given the Walkers $10 for expenses.

Gilbert was a prominent citizen of Worcester, well-respected and the person who aided other Black refugees to the city. He was politically astute and associated with the city’s leading Black residents including Amos Webber, Ebenezer Hemenway, and William Brown.

Gilbert died in December of 1890 at the age 73. Both his wife and daughter preceded him.

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