Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1818. She grew up on a plantation that was one of the largest and wealthiest plantations in North Carolina. Her mother was a seamstress and caretaker for the plantation mistress, and she grew into that role as a seamstress and caretaker for the daughters of the plantation.
In 1848, Walker fled to freedom while accompanying a daughter of the plantation owner on a trip to Philadelphia.
There she got help from Susan and Peter Lesley, and two years later, after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, they helped her flee to Massachusetts. Walker lived in Milton before settling in Cambridge, where she earned wages as a caretaker and seamstress.
After a long search, Mary was reunited with her two youngest children, and in 1870, she purchased the Dexter Pratt house on Brattle street from Pratt’s daughter. She knew that a house would be an important thing to keep her family together and to keep them from being uprooted again.
She wrote a will on July 4, 1872 that provided that the house had to remain in the family’s hands until the youngest grandchild was 21.
Walker died later that year. The property remained in her family until 1912, when it was sold by that youngest grandchild.