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, 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.


G. Lovely said...

Could the 'lady' in question have been one of Royall's daughters? It would seem the ages might work, asumming the "beautiful and accomplished daughters" were his young grandchildren. Certainly there are many 18th and 19th Cen. examples of daughters stepping up to the role of 'lady of the house' upon their mother's passing.

J. L. Bell said...

I thought about that, but the Royall daughters appear to have been with their Loyalist husbands. They also didn't have daughters of the sort that wouldn't be safe around the New Hampshire soldiers (unless those soldiers are even more dangerous than we like to think).

G. Lovely said...

It's not how dangerous WE think NH soldiers are, it's how dangerous Royall thought they were, and after all, they were revolting!

J. L. Bell said...

For Stark’s descendant, the point of the anecdote was how noble the future general was. For an American audience, that message would be a bit spoiled by an implication that seven-year-old girls weren’t safe around the provincial army!