Walker Lewis, an ardent abolitionist, operated a barbershop at the Merrimack House Hotel (present-day Speedway Gas Station) in the 1830s. This barbershop was co-managed by Lewis and his brother-in-law John Levy. Lewis was also one of the founding members of the Massachusetts General Colored Association (MGCA), the first all-black organization in the country. Lewis (with the support of the MGCA) arranged for Boston to print David Walker’s 76-page Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World in 1829, demanding unconditional and immediate emancipation of all slaves in the USA.
Walker’s son, Enoch ran a used clothing store, mainly to assist escaping slaves to change their appearances with new and better clothing. Walker would cut and style their hair to assist in their disguise.
Lewis died on October 26, 1856, in Lowell of tuberculosis. He was buried in the family lot in the Lowell Cemetery.
More of the Story
At the corner of Merrimack and Dutton Streets, on the site of the modern gas station there was once a grand hotel called the Merrimack House, which opened in 1836. Similar to Mechanics Hall, this hotel was also home to several small businesses.
Starting in the 1830s, Walker Lewis (1798-1856) operated a barbershop in the Merrimack House. When he moved to Lowell in the 1820s, Lewis was already an ardent abolitionist. He was a founding member of the Massachusetts General Colored Association (MGCA) and was critical to the printing of David Walker’s Appeal, a text that called for immediate abolition, with no conditions: “America is more our country, than it is the whites – we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from our blood and tears … Will they drive us from our property and homes, which we have earned with our blood?”
Notably, when Nathaniel Booth (a fugitive from slavery) came back to Lowell from Canada, it was the Lewis family who sheltered him from “manstealers” trying to return him to slavery.
(Thanks Lowell National Historical Park)