Welcome to Footprints, a neighborhood walking tour of Indigenous history in support of the reparations mission of First Parish in Brookline. It has also become a story about Susanna Backus. There isn’t a lot we know about Susanna, but what we know, and even some of what we don’t, tells a story of this neighborhood. So follow along on Footprints, and let us introduce you to Susanna Backus, who may be the only Indigenous person buried at Walnut Street Cemetery, in a neighborhood where memory of Native people has been largely erased.
Correction: An earlier version of the Footprints Walking Tour episode of the podcast said that Nathaniel Hill owned property in 18th century Brookline. This was in error and has been deleted from the current version. Hill was a resident of what became Brookline, but there is no record of Hill owning land in Brookline. We regret the error.
You can also find the tour using any podcast app or service by searching “First Parish in Brookline Podcast.”
You can walk the route while listening to the tour or just listen at home. Those physically taking this tour should know that it is about a mile in length, includes hills, some of them steep, and that while it is mostly on sidewalks, there are a few curbs and stairs, two short but narrow trails through the woods, and a hilly cemetery. Depending on your pace and how long you stop at each place, the tour should take about hour. The recording, played without stopping, is 34 minutes.
A warning: There are brutal aspects to this story that might be uncomfortable to hear. The erasure of Native Americans here involves kidnapping, slavery, genocide, colonizing, and land theft. We won’t wallow in that language, but we can’t avoid it.
This podcast tour is based on the research of Ann Gilmore, Barbara Brown and Hidden Brookline and also many Indigenous authors. It was assembled and recorded by Jody Leader and Paul McLean, members of First Parish in Brookline, Unitarian Universalist. The walk takes us through the grounds of Lincoln School, down the length of Hedge Road, and then proceeds a block west on Boylston Street, to the Brookline Reservoir. There we turn around and walk through the woods of Friedman Park, then across Walnut Street to First Parish church. We will end at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut Street. This street, long before it was paved and named for the food-producing tree, was a path used by the Massachusett and other Native people to travel east to west. Algonquian was their language. Massachusetts took its name from the tribe.
Related Links and Videos
First Parish in Brookline “Facing Our Heritage: A Service of Lamentation and Healing”
“The Theft of Indigenous Land and The Enslavement of Indigenous and African Peoples in Brookline” Webinar