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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Showing posts with label Isaac Royall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Isaac Royall. Show all posts

Monday, September 09, 2013

The Transformation of the Royall House

Last week the Boston Globe reported a story long in the making: the transformation of Isaac Royall’s mansion in Medford, one of many surviving Loyalist-owned Georgian houses built in the towns outside Boston, into the Royall House and Slave Quarters, a unique site exploring the history of slavery in New England.

The article said:
Working with a board member named Julia Royall — an eighth generation descendant of Isaac Royall — he [co-president Peter Gittleman] began the cumbersome process of refashioning the 105-year-old museum from “just another rich person’s house,” as Julia Royall puts it, to a historical house that tells the intertwined stories of wealth and bondage in New England, and enables the voices of the enslaved to be heard.

Slowly, the board of directors was reshaped and the museum’s mission statement rewritten, shifting from one that was focused on the lives and wealth of the Royall family to one that explored the meaning of freedom “in the context of a household of wealthy Loyalists and enslaved Africans.”

An archeological dig was commissioned in 1999 in collaboration with Boston University. It discovered a wealth of household items used by the Royalls and their slaves, some of which are now exhibited in the museum. Museum staff — almost all volunteers — began to approach foundations and granting agencies for money to help bring the story of slavery to life.

This summer has been a turning point. In June, the Royall House and Slave Quarters received the prestigious 2013 Massachusetts History Commendation from Mass Humanities. The museum also received a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation to develop programs for elementary schoolchildren focused on Northern colonial slavery.

“This has been a story that was forgotten,” said Pleun Bouricius, assistant director of Mass Humanities. “How many 18th-century house museums are there? Many. There was a huge interest about two-thirds of the way into the 20th century in preserving these houses. But the study of history has changed. The way we think about society has changed. And it’s become really important to tell the stories of many more people, to show what the economy floated on, who did the work.”
This weekend the Globe editorialized:
With good reason, tourists from New England roll their eyes when they visit Southern plantations, only to hear tour guides rhapsodize about hoop skirts and parasols but say little about the slaves who also lived there. It’s only right to apply the same critical eye to landmarks closer to home.
Which means visiting the Royall House and Slave Quarters and making field trips there.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Two Talks at the Royall House & Slave Quarters

This spring the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford is hosting two lectures on slavery in the early republic.

On Wednesday, 15 May, Henry Wiencek will speak on his book Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.
In his provocative study, Wiencek argues that the author of the Declaration of Independence shifted his position on slavery for financial reasons, after becoming convinced that the only way to make a success of his debt-ridden plantation was through what he called the “silent profits” gained from those he enslaved.
Wiencek is also author of The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White and An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. He is a son of Dorchester and graduate of Boston College High School.

This talk starts at 7:30 P.M. It costs $5, or free for Royall House and Slave Quarters members.

On the afternoon of Saturday, 8 June, literary historian Lois Brown offers a presentation titled “Marked with the furrows of time”: Belinda, the Royalls, and Accounts of Freedom. The Medford Historical Society explains how Belinda, enslaved to the Loyalist Isaac Royall, petitioned the Massachusetts legislature in 1783 for a pension from his confiscated estate.

Brown is a professor in the African American Studies Program and the Department of English at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution.

Brown’s talk is part of an annual benefit for the site that runs from 3:00 to 5:00. It will include tours and exhibits, music, and refreshments. Tickets are $35 for members, $45 for non-members.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Von Hoffman on Colonial Country Homes, 20 Mar.

On Wednesday, 20 March, the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford plays host to a lecture on “The Social Significance of Boston’s Colonial Country Houses” by Alexander von Hoffman, lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

The event description says:
Dr. von Hoffman will explore how the members of Boston’s eighteenth-century elite expanded their social lives into the town’s suburban and rural environs. Fashionably designed country houses are among the most notable and long-lasting artifacts left by these leading Bostonians.

The stately homes that still ring Boston include not only the Isaac Royall House in Medford but also the Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House in Cambridge, the Loring-Greenough House in Jamaica Plain, and the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury.

The presentation will feature a close look at the architecture of these buildings and the social context in which they were built, offering lively and accessible insights into this important, but often overlooked, aspect of Boston's history.
One interesting analysis of the Revolutionary political turmoil points out that many of the leading Whigs—James Otis, William Molineux, Dr. Thomas Young, Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. Benjamin Church, John Adams, Joseph Greenleaf—had moved into the town after growing up elsewhere. In contrast, some leading supporters of the royal government—Thomas Hutchinson, Andrew and Peter Oliver—were emulating landed gentlemen in Britain by leaving the urban environment to build country estates.

That analysis leaves out Boston natives who remained in town, such as Samuel Adams, James Bowdoin, and Samuel and William Cooper, and Loyalists who didn’t grow up there or never left. But it does connect to what those monumental mansions signified.

Alexander von Hoffman is a Senior Fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University and author of House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods.

Dr. Von Hoffman’s talk begins at 7:30 P.M., with the door opening an hour earlier. This event is free to Royall House Association members, $5 for others. On-street parking is available, and there might be punch and cookies afterward.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Occupy the Royall Estate

Maj. Andrew McClary of New Hampshire was the highest-ranking American officer killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. After his death on 17 June, the New Hampshire Provincial Congress received an expense account from his estate that included payment “To Horse-keeping six weeks at Colonl. Royall’s.”

That’s one contemporaneous source showing that Col. John Stark’s New Hampshire regiment started using Isaac Royall’s estate in Medford within a short time after arriving at the siege lines outside Boston.

In his Memoir and Official Correspondence of Gen. John Stark, published in 1860, Caleb Stark told this story of how his ancestor had come to use that mansion:
a gentleman named “Royal,” who, on retiring to the city [Boston], had left his lady, with a family of beautiful and accomplished daughters, in possession of his abode. The mansion being conveniently situated for his “head quarters,” Colonel Stark called upon the family, and proposed, if agreeable to them, his occupancy of a few rooms for that purpose; to which Madame Royal most cheerfully assented, being well aware that the presence of an officer of his rank would afford her family and premises the best protection against any possible insult or encroachment
That all sounds mighty chivalric, doesn’t it?

The problem with that story is that Isaac Royall (1719?-1781) was a widower. His “lady” Elizabeth had died in 1770. Their daughters Mary, Elizabeth, and Miriam (the first two shown above, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts) had all married before the war.

Col. Stark probably just invoked military necessity and moved into the house that Isaac Royall had left behind in April. Later in the siege, Gen. Charles Lee and Gen. John Sullivan also slept in the Royall House until Gen. George Washington firmly suggested they should be closer to the front lines. Today it’s maintained by the Royall House and Slave Quarters Association and often hosts events of the Medford Historical Society.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“Speechless in the face of its errors of fact”

In a discussion of sources and previous studies on page 297 of Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, C. S. Manegold wrote:

By contrast, the almost bizarre piece, “An ‘Animadversion’ upon a ‘Complaint’ against ‘the Petition’ of Belinda, an African Slave,” by Vincent Carretta, published in Early American Literature in 1997, left me literally speechless in the face of its errors of fact (he posits that Isaac Royall was “an American invention” cooked up as a “slur against the avariciousness, Jewishness, and royalist sympathies of the ‘master’”). I can only say here, what was he thinking?
In fact, those phrases come from a previous paper by E. W. Pitcher that Carretta was quoting and refuting. Carretta’s two-page communication in the journal explained that Royall was a well-documented Medford slaveholder, and that Belinda’s original petition is preserved in the Massachusetts state archives. He stated, “The written account of Belinda’s petition [that the previous author doubted] is almost certainly fictionalized, but that does not render Belinda and her petition fictions.”

Criticizing someone for saying something he was actually quoting to debunk—that’s the sort of thing Mitt Romney does. Except I think Manegold made an honest mistake.

In fact, the previous paper was itself a response to an earlier paper by Joanne Braxton and Sharon M. Harris, so there were multiple levels to keep straight. For the record, this posting is my response to Manegold’s response to Carretta’s response to Pitcher’s response to Braxton and Harris.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

John Raymond’s Lost Son?

As I looked into the death of John Raymond, I found somewhat contradictory statements about his wife and children.

The genealogies published with Charles Hudson’s history of Lexington in 1913 say that Raymond was born on 5 Sept 1731. Genealogies of the Raymond Families of New England, 1630-1 to 1886, gives no birth date, but says he was baptized on 19 Sept 1731, which is consistent. Both books say he was born in Beverly shortly before the family moved to Lexington.

The Hudson volume says that John Raymond married Rebecca Fowle, born in Medford in 1743, and that they had five children between 1763 and 1773. Hudson left out that, according to Medford records, that couple married on 12 May 1763, less than seven months before Lexington records say their first child came along on 24 November. The details of those five births appear here. Similar information appears in Descendants of George Fowle (1610/11?-1682) of Charlestown, Massachusetts, published in 1990.

Genealogies of the Raymond Families (1886) adds another son, born in 1775 after his father’s death and before his mother’s death in October: Isaac Royal Raymond. According to that book, he was raised by an uncle named Royal Tilestone. (That uncle’s surname may have led this genealogist to say that Rebecca was a Tilestone before her marriage, not a Fowle. But he could have been an uncle by marriage, a great-uncle, or simply a guardian.)

There are two striking details about that baby’s name:
  • John and Rebecca Raymond had had a son named Isaac in 1770, and there’s no record of him dying in Lexington. Of course, vital records from this time have a lot of holes.
  • The baby’s name appears to come from the prominent Medford landowner Isaac Royall. On the same day the baby’s father was killed, Royall was reportedly fleeing into Boston as a Loyalist, which left him a somewhat controversial figure. (The picture of Royall above comes courtesy of PrawfsBlawg, which discusses a more modern controversy: should the Harvard Law School do more to acknowledge that Royall’s founding bequest was amassed from slavery?)
There was definitely an Isaac R. Raymond in upstate New York in the early republic. He shows up in newspapers of Salem, New York, in 1817 declaring bankruptcy, and he died in 1853 or 1854 in East Waverly. The 1879 History of Tioga, Chemung, Tompkins, and Schuyler Counties, New York mentions this man in a profile of his descendants, and states that his father, “John Raymond, a captain of militia, was shot by the English at the very beginning of the engagement” in Lexington.

That sounds like what a child separated from his immediate family and community might come to believe about his dead father, preserving core facts (father killed at Lexington) but exaggerating details (as a captain). The New York tradition is obviously not based on the accounts being written in Massachusetts at the time, which portrayed Raymond as old and crippled.

The New York county history names Isaac’s childhood guardian as “his uncle, Thomas Tilestone, of Boston.” A man of that name, son of Onesiphorus Tileston, died in Boston in June 1794 at age fifty-nine. However, I haven’t found any links between John and Rebecca (Fowle) Raymond and the Tileston family. (In more distant branches, John Tileston of Dorchester and Rebekah Fowles married on 21 Jan 1730; their son John, born five years later, taught school in Boston for many years.) Nor have I found anyone named Royal Tilestone.

So did John Raymond’s widow Rebecca have a child after he was killed in April 1775? Was that child named after a Loyalist who had recently fled from his mother’s home town? Was that infant, orphaned by his mother’s death, given to a relative named Tilestone to raise? As an adult, did he move to New York and raise a family there, passing on misty lore about his father being killed in the first battle of the Revolution?

Undocumented as that story is, it seems a little more plausible than the main alternative—that Isaac R. Raymond seized on a bare report of John Raymond’s death in Lexington on 19 Apr 1775 and spun out the story of that man being his father. But there’s definitely a mystery there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lectures on “Hidden Gems” of Georgian Architecture

Next month the Paul Revere House is sponsoring and Old South Meeting House is hosting a series of free lectures on “Hidden Gems: Historic Georgian Houses in the Boston Area.” Each talk will take place on a Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 7:30 P.M.

7 September
“Liberty Road: Boston’s Georgian Landmarks of the Revolution”
This year marks the 300th anniversary of the construction of the Pierce-Hichborn House, one of the earliest Georgian buildings in Boston. Like that house, many of Boston’s Georgian landmarks have undergone significant transformation over the years. Key civic and religious landmarks, like the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and the Old North Church, looked quite different in the 18th century than they do today. In addition to discussing surviving Georgian-era buildings, architect and preservation planner Frederic C. Detwiller will also consider such long-vanished buildings as the Province House, the Brattle Street Church, and the Clark-Frankland and Hutchinson mansions in the North End.

14 September
“Freedom and Independence in Colonial Massachusetts: The Royall House and Slave Quarters of Medford”
The Royalls were one of New England’s wealthiest families, having made their fortune from their Antigua sugar plantations. In 1732, they retired to Medford where they lived in lavish style in an early Georgian mansion supported by 25 to 35 slaves. Tom Lincoln, Executive Director of the Royall House Association, will consider the architecture and history of the Royall House mansion and site in the broader context of a slavery regime whose existence and outlines have been well hidden until recent years. He will also discuss recent efforts to re-interpret the slave quarters, and show how the site and its history teach powerful lessons about life in the 18th century.

21 September
“‘A Constant Round of Entertainments’: The Life of the William Brattle House”
Built in 1727 for militia general William Brattle, reputedly the wealthiest man in Massachusetts at the time, the William Brattle House is one of seven Georgian mansions on Cambridge’s Brattle Street known together as “Tory Row.” After the Brattle family was forced to leave following the “powder alarm” of 1774, the house served as base for the Quartermaster General of the Continental Army during the siege of Boston. Wendy Frontiero, architect and historic preservation consultant, will discuss the entire history of the building, including its use as the home of writer and feminist Margaret Fuller, as the residence of numerous Harvard students, and as headquarters of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

28 September
“Rediscovering the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House”
In 2008, the Cambridge Historical Society embarked on an innovative and exciting exploration of the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, a late-17th-century building later modified into a Georgian mansion. Because the house was already closed to the public for repainting and electrical work, and because a recent paint study raised questions that could not be answered, the organization seized this rare opportunity to carefully open Georgian casings and discover what might remain of the original first period structure. Cambridge Historical Society Executive Director Gavin Kleespies will show how the paint analysis, a small amount of dendrochronology, and information gathered from a number of strategic openings in the skin of the building answered some questions and provoked many more.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

General Lee Slept Here

As I described back here, when Gen. Charles Lee first came to Cambridge, he and Gen. George Washington shared the Wadsworth House near Harvard College for about a week. On 7 July, a Massachusetts Provincial Congress committee talked with Lee alone about housekeeping needs, suggesting he was about to set up his own quarters.

Lee probably didn’t need much. Since landing in America in October 1773, he had lived as if he were on a permanent campaign, traveling from one colony to another with his dogs, books, and Italian manservant, Guiseppi Minghini.

Lee’s letters in early July came from “Head-Quarters,” and on 20 July he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush from “Cambridge.” Washington split his army into brigades two days later, assigning Lee to command the northern wing.

Lee’s next surviving letter, dated 27 July, went to Robert Morris from “Winter Hill.” From 12 August to 9 December, he datelined his letters from the “Camp on Winter Hill.” Is that change significant? It might suggest a move closer to camp, or it might mean nothing.

Our best clue about where Lee lived in late 1775 actually comes from after he left Massachusetts to design defenses for New York. On 19 Feb 1776, Washington wrote to Gen. John Sullivan, one of Lee’s brigadiers:
I am a little surprizd, and concern’d to hear of your Moving to Colo. [Isaac] Royals House. I thought you knew, that I had made a point of bringing General Lee from thence on Acct. of the distance from his Line of Command, at least that he should not Sleep there. The same reasons holding good with respect to yourself, I should be glad if you could get some place nearer, as I think it too hazardous to trust the left Wing of our Army without a General Officer upon the spot in cases of immergency. I do not wish you to return to your old House, any other tolerably convenient will satisfy me, and I am sure be pleasing to yourself, as I know you would not easily forgive yourself if anything wrong shd. happen for want of your presence on any sudden call.
Unfortunately, there’s no documentation of when Lee moved out of the Royall House in Medford, or where he moved next. Instead, we have tradition and guesswork.

Lee didn’t help by referring to his quarters only with a facetious nickname. In October, the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap recorded hearing about a letter the general had written from “Hobgoblin Hall.” On 10 December, Lee invited Abigail Adams to dine with him at that “Hobgoblin Hall.” (She declined.) And on 21 Jan 1776, Lee’s other brigadier, Gen. Nathanael Greene, wrote to him that
Mr. Eustace lodges at Hobgoblin Hall, he says by your Order—should be glad to know your pleasure in the matter.
(Someday I’ll write more about young John Skey Eustace, and what brought him to Cambridge.)

Nineteenth-century authors said that Lee’s “Hobgoblin Hall” was the Royall House. If so, the general must have continued to use that mansion for work and dinner parties, perhaps because of “the distance from his Line of Command,” but he slept closer to the front. Alternatively, the house where Lee moved after the Royall House might have been his “Hobgoblin Hall,” and the historians guessed wrong.

That building closer to Winter Hill, nineteenth-century histories said, was the old farmhouse now called the Oliver Tufts House in Somerville. During the Revolution, it was reportedly the home of John Tufts (1754-1839) or his father Peter (1728-1791). The old photograph above shows that building about a century ago, after it had been expanded and moved “a few rods” from its original location. Charles Bahne alerted me to this new photograph. And here’s a whole website about the house, based on those later histories.

Similarly, Greene was said to have used the house of Samuel Tufts (1737-1828) as his headquarters. (That man’s wife was, incidentally, a half-sister of little Joel Adams.) That building doesn’t survive. I don’t think anyone’s identified where Sullivan lived before he moved into the Royall House so briefly.

I wish I could find contemporaneous documents confirming that the Tufts men arranged for the generals, the Provincial Congress, or the Continental Army to use their houses. But the best information available suggests that Gen. Lee slept in, in turn, the Wadsworth House in Cambridge, the Royall House in Medford, and the Oliver Tufts House in Somerville.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Encountering Slavery in Newton

Historic Newton is sponsoring two talks this month on the theme of “Encountering Slavery and Race in New England,” both free to the public.

On Thursday, 7 October, at 7:00 P.M., Tom Lincoln will speak on “The Royall House and Slave Quarters of Medford.”

Lincoln, Executive Director of the Royall House, will present an illustrated talk on this National Historic Landmark and highlight the oft-neglected history of colonial slavery in Massachusetts through archaeological artifacts, architecture and narrative.
Many rural New England mansions of the 1700s had rooms or outbuildings for enslaved workers, but the Royall House is the only one where such a structure has been preserved and interpreted for the public.

On Thursday, 21 October, at 7:00 P.M., Joanne Pope Melish, Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, will speak on “The Worm in the Apple: Slavery, Emancipation, and Race in New England.”
She will address the amnesia New Englanders experience about slavery in their own region and its consequences for the development of racial ideologies.
Melish’s 1998 book Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780–1860 helped to start the current movement to reexamine slavery in the American northeast.

Both talks will take place at Myrtle Baptist Church, 21 Curve Street in West Newton.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ten Hills Farm Book Launch, 3 Feb.

C. S. Manegold’s Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North uses the history of a 600-acre grant of land in modern Medford and Somerville to trace the development of slavery in Massachusetts, from Native American war captives and early African prisoners to the enslaved servants of Isaac Royall, last colonial owner of one part of the farm.

Longfellow National Historic Site and the Friends of the Longfellow House are hosting a book launch for Ten Hills Farm on Wednesday, 3 February, at 6:30 P.M. in the Sherrill Library on the Lesley University/Episcopal Divinity School campus in Cambridge. Manegold will speak and sign books. The event is free; to reserve a space, call 617-876-4491.

Here’s an article about the book from the Somerville Journal. In an opinion essay for the Boston Globe, Manegold wrote:

In the several times I have presented these unpleasant truths in talks at major universities, I have inquired afterwards—who knew this history of slavery in the North? Usually only about three hands go up of 30. And most of these people are professors. Among non-professors the void is even deeper. Students, stumbling on this news, tend to ask with some aggression: “Why didn’t they teach us this?’’
To which I think the answer is: because you weren’t paying attention. I heartily doubt that history textbooks on any level leave out the fact that slavery existed in all thirteen original U.S. states before and during the Revolutionary War, or that slavery endured in some northern and/or Union states well into the nineteenth century, or that some people in the antebellum north benefited economically from slavery and supported its continued existence.

What we’re missing is a mental picture of how slavery functioned in northern households, farms, and ports. Movies and histories have given us a crisp and familiar picture of large cotton plantations in the antebellum south (a picture that in turn leaves out a significant amount of the experience of slavery in the antebellum south, but that’s another story). Because we don’t have details about enslavement in the north firmly in our minds, we don’t feel ready for the quiz.

And that’s the benefit of books like Ten Hills Farm, using specific details to make that history more vivid, emotionally rich, and memorable. And I fully understand the need to market a history book as revealing a completely untold or forgotten story.

But when the book’s website asks, “Who, in this century, knows that slavery persisted in Massachusetts longer than it did in Georgia?” I can’t help noting that Boston 1775 pointed that out in 2006.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Upcoming Revolutionary Events of Note

On Monday, 9 November, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston will host the launch of Prof. Woody Holton’s new biography, Abigail Adams. Woody has in particular studied Adams’s fiscal management of her family, a lesser-known aspect of her life. Jeremy Dibbell of PhiloBiblos has been posting raves about this book. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 P.M., and Woody will start his talk at 6:00. Copies of the book will be available for sale and autographing.

On Thursday, 12 November, Minute Man National Historical Park will host a talk by Don Hagist, author of the British Soldiers, American Revolution blog. He’ll offer a detailed look at the demographics of the garrison in Boston, focusing on His Majesty’s 22nd Regiment of Foot. How old was the average British soldier during the Revolution? Where in society did those men come from, geographically and economically?

We don’t have many personal accounts from redcoat soldiers, and many descriptions of them are, well, less than sympathetic. Exploring a solid sample of those men through primary sources seems like the best way to get solid information and bust some myths. Don’s talk starts at 7:30 P.M. in the Visitor Center along Route 2A at the Lincoln-Lexington line, and is free and open to the public.

Finally, on next Wednesday, 18 November, the Royall House Association will present its free fall program, “The Minuet: A Brief History and Demonstration”:

The minuet was established in the 17th-century French court, took on a ceremonial and “class status” life of its own that prevailed through the 18th century and lingered to the 19th century.

Isaac Royall, Jr., of Medford, was a young and energetic host who considered himself a consummate gentleman. Although we do not have direct evidence, it is not unreasonable to assume that he and his peers danced the minuet at the Royall House.

For this program, Veronica McClure has gathered dance and music friends for a lively lecture and demonstration of this most essential of 18th-century social dances. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to try the steps yourself!
The Royall House is at 15 George Street (off Main) in Medford. It will open its doors at 6:30 P.M. so people can visit the Archaeological Exhibit and expanded Gift Shop. The program will start promptly at 7:30. For more information, call 781-396-9032 or email. This program is free, but seating is limited and donations are always welcome.