Lewis Hayden was a prominent member of the black community of Beacon Hill in Boston. Born enslaved in Kentucky, Lewis escaped and eventually ended up in Boston, where he ran a clothing store and was active in the abolitionist movement and politics. He served for many years as a legislative messenger at the Massachusetts State House and in 1873 he was elected as a representative in the Massachusetts legislature.
Hayden actively hid fugitive slaves in his Beacon Hill home. It was rumored that he kept dynamite under his doorstep and would not be afraid to use it if slavecatchers showed up at his door. Hayden was involved in the successful rescue of captured fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins in 1851, as well as in the violent but failed attempt to free Anthony Burns in 1853; Burns was returned to slavery, the last fugitive slave to be returned to slavery from Massachusetts.
Hayden was friends with Governor John A. Andrew and George L. Stearns. In 1862, Andrew had Thanksgiving dinner at Hayden’s home. Hayden helped Stearns recruit for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first black regiment in the North. Hayden’s only son, Joseph Hayden, served in the Union navy and was killed in the Civil War.