Not a lot is known about Lucretia Leonard's early life. Of African-American descent, it is believed that she was born in Marshfield, Massachusetts in June of either 1817 or 1818. She received some education, as she could read and write. As an adult, she worked as a servant in the home of Eliza, Catherine, and Anna Thaxter, three unmarried sisters living in Hingham.
Slavery became illegal in Massachusetts in 1780, but segregation was still enforced in many public places in the 1800s, including at New North Church in Hingham. Lucretia attended services there with the Thaxter sisters and for some time had to sit alone in the slave galleries, as she was the only African-American in the church. (see the picture on the right for more information about the galleries).
By 1840 the Thaxter sisters had become very involved in the abolitionist movement, as did New North Church's new pastor, Rev. Oliver Stearns. The four became very good friends. In 1841, at Rev. Stearns' urging, the Plymouth County Anti-Slavery Society unanimously decided to end segregation. This meant that Lucretia was no longer required to sit in the gallery, and her employers invited her to sit with them in the family pew. It created a great deal of controversy, with at least one parishioner threatening to leave the church. Not to be deterred, the Thaxters stated that if Lucretia could not sit with them, all four women would worship from the front steps of the church. They stood firm and weathered the cricticism until eventually the complaints died down. Lucretia was able to sit with the Thaxters in the family pew, and continued to occupy it even after all three sisters died.
Lucretia was devoted to the Thaxters, taking care of them in sickness and old age. She survived all three of them, as well as their brother Norton Quincy Thaxter. She became impoverished in her later years when she received assistance from women at the New North Church and from the town. Despite her poverty, she was well-known and liked by the people of Hingham and attended many parties and funerals. . An unknown sponsor arranged for her photograph (seen above) to be taken. Lucretia died in 1904 of abdominal cancer and is buried in Hingham Cemetery.