Hayden was himself a slave who had escaped from Kentucky in 1816 and settled in Boston. He made his large, four-story home on Beacon Hill a station stop. When William and Ellen Craft made their daring escape in 1848 from Macon, Georgia, they were forwarded to Hayden’s home. Upon recovering the Crafts, Hayden placed himself by two kegs of gunpowder and stood with a candle, grimly determined to blow up his home, the Crafts and himself, rather than surrender his guests if slave hunters came to his door.
In 1851, Hayden led by a group of Boston African-Americans in liberating, by force, a fugitive slave named Frrederick Jenkins (known also as Shadrach) from federal officers. Hayden operated his station with his wife Harriet, and assisted his friend Harriet Tubman when she passed through Boston. He was elected to serve in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1873. After his death in 1889, a scholarship fund at Harvard University was established by his widow.