Annie Mattie Nahar

Raw Courage

Annie Mattie Nahar first appears in 1855 as a ten-year-old in the York Street household of Abraham and Elizabeth Nahar. She was either the daughter of Suriname-born Abraham and Falmouth-born Elizabeth, or she had been placed under their protection by Elizabeth’s brother, the Rev. Charles B. Ray, who was active in the Underground Railroad.

Back in 1845, entrepreneur Abraham Nahar and his seamstress wife Elizabeth had joined 102 other members of Nantucket’s New Guinea community in signing a petition to the Massachusetts legislature seeking relief from segregation of Nantucket’s public schools. The success of the struggle to integrate the island’s schools meant that Annie Mattie was educated along with white and non-white children at the South School on Orange Street. One of her contemporaries recalled that. “To one unacquainted she would, unquestionably, have passed for a white girl, yet she was of African parentage, was true to and dwelt with colored people. She was a young woman of rare character and attractiveness.”

Annie attended Nantucket High School during the years of the Civil War, and then she took a step that demonstrated that rare character, to say nothing of raw courage. Quaker teacher Anna Gardner, who had been a leader in the fight to integrate the public schools, urged Nantucketers to join her in going south to establish schools for people newly freed from slavery. Several young Nantucketers responded to her call, including Annie, the only person “of color” to do so.

In 1865 there was a reunion of everyone who had attended Nantucket High School since its founding in 1838, and a booklet was published listing them all and where they were in 1865. Anna Gardner is listed in New Bern, North Carolina, and Annie is listed in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she had been teaching freedmen since June 1864.

Whereas other Nantucketers, including Maria Mitchell’s younger brother, William Foster Mitchell, had gone to North Carolina and Virginia under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Annie had gone to New Orleans with the Union Army. There she taught from 1864 until 1868, when riots broke out in New Orleans.

For two years she went to teach in San Antonio, Texas, and then she returned to New Orleans to resume her work there. Eventually she was named principal of her school. Five years later she became principal of one of the McDonogh Schools that had been established from a bequest by a wealthy slave owner who left his estate for the support of free schools for children regardless of color.

In July 1877 the Whaleman’s Shipping List, a newspaper much read by Nantucketers, reported that “Miss A. M. Nahar, formerly of Nantucket, was married to Andrew Fitch Mangin of New York.” The Inquirer and Mirror repeated the news item. Annie was thirty-three years old at the time of her wedding.

After her marriage, Annie relinquished her position in the New Orleans schools. Although her husband was listed as “of New York,” the Mangin family of New Orleans were French Quarter businesspeople, and Annie took over management of one of their enterprises in the recently-built Bazaar Market. Two years after their marriage, Annie and Andrew had a son whom they named after his father.

In 1900 the family left New Orleans and moved to Queens, New York. Ten years later, Annie was widowed and had returned to teaching in Queens. Andrew Jr., employed as a piano tuner, was unmarried and living at home with her.

By 1920, the previously black neighborhood of Woodside, Queens, had tipped to white, and mother and son moved to Brookfield Connecticut. Annie died in Connecticut in 1931 at the age of 86, and her remains were taken to the Mangin family plot in Queens for burial.

There is not a word in her brief obituary about her teaching career or the courage and dedication she had shown in going from a tiny, safe island off the coast of Massachusetts to teach children of color in New Orleans and Texas in the dangerous aftermath of the Civil War.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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