J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saving Caesar Robbins’s House

Earlier this week, following stories in the local press, the Boston Globe reported on an effort in Concord to preserve the house of Caesar Robbins. The paper said:

the brown shingled house on Bedford Street, built in the 1780s by the town’s first freed slave, is the last of its kind, a crucial but long-forgotten link to the town’s early black community and abolitionist movement. With the house in danger of being demolished, its history has emerged from obscurity, and advocates have mounted a spirited campaign to stave off its demise.

The owners, who were bequeathed the property, had applied for a permit to level the one-story house in hope of selling the land, while the town wants to save the house for posterity. A six-month stay issued by the town expired Saturday, and while there are no immediate plans to level the house, advocates are scrambling to raise $30,000 for moving costs to keep it from harm.
I’m not sure what the “first freed slave” phrase refers to. John Jack of Concord bought his freedom before dying in 1773; that part of his life is told on a famous gravestone (actually a replica of the original) in the Concord cemetery, erected by Loyalist lawyer Daniel Bliss as a way to stick it to liberty-loving Patriots. Here’s an old paper about Jack and Bliss.

Robbins became free in 1780 after serving in the Revolutionary War, and built the house about that time. Three years later, the Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that the state’s new constitution outlawed slavery. Robbins and his wife Rose raised their family in the house, dying within two days of each other in 1822. His age was then recorded as seventy-six, hers as eighty-one.

Caesar Robbins passed the house to his descendants, and then to other African-American families. In the mid-1800s it was home to Peter Hutchinson, a butcher Henry David Thoreau wrote about; Hutchinson’s name is on the structure’s current historic sign. The house was moved to its present spot in 1870, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A house lot in Concord is worth a lot more than an old house today, and the people who inherited the property most recently are hoping to build something new on that land. So folks have undertaken to raise funds to move the Robbins house again and make it a museum. The Globe says:
The town hopes to relocate the house to property it owns near the Old Manse, a 1770 house on the Concord River near the Old North Bridge. The town leases the land to the Minute Man park, which has expressed strong interest in adding the house as a destination.
Donations for this effort are being collected at:
Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council
P.O. Box 744
Concord, MA 01742
If you choose to donate, put “The Drinking Gourd Project” on the check’s memo line.

The photograph above is by Ann Ringwood for the Concord Journal.


Anonymous said...

Housing prices in Massachusetts are absurd even in this bad economy.

Clearly the state is only interested in keeping the rich and shoving everyone else out.

So much for the common wealth.

J. L. Bell said...

I think the state has only limited influence on real estate prices, anonymous.