William Brown & The Boston Saloon: Uncovering a Hidden Gem In Black History

In 1863, a free black man named William Brown moved to the mining boomtown Virginia City, Nevada, from his hometown of Massachusetts. While there, he founded the Boston Saloon, a drinking house that catered to the African-American community.

Initially, the saloon stood right outside of the city until brown moved it to the busier business district which was home to several forms of entertainment including its own red-light district, brothels, theaters, Opera houses, and several other saloons. Brown’s saloon is an important piece of history because his business was especially significant based on the era in which it was established.

Historically, when we look at cowboy movies or any form of entertainment that depicts the “Wild Wild West”, we rarely to see Melanated people. Upon an archeological excavation of the site that held the Boston Saloon, a lot of key elements were recovered that sheds light on the type of establishment Mr. Brown ran. For instance, several things were recovered that lets us know he not only ran a successful business, but it was also upscale.

During the excavation, archeologists recovered drinking bottles, tobacco pipes, clothing buttons, dress beads, remnants of gas lights, and crystal drinkware. In addition to that, analysis of animal bones found at the site indicated the saloon served higher-quality meat cuts than some of their counterparts. This paints the picture of an upscale drinking establishment which differs from the narrative we are typically told about Melanated people of that time.

The mere fact that he was able to run the business successfully for nine years also shows his business acumen, keeping in mind this was at a time when businesses in the area didn’t last long based on their dependency on the mining business which fluctuated. This is another shining example of how great we can be when given an equal playing field.

















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