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Royall House - Exterior West View of the Isaac Royall House, photo courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Board Member of the Royall House Association
Exterior West View of the Isaac Royall House, photo courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Board Member of the Royall House Association
During the beginning
of the Revolutionary War, it must have been a difficult decision for a colonial person to decide who to support, the Loyalists or the Revolutionaries. It was equally more painful if the person had high social status and reputation along with a substantial amount of property in America. A person could decide to sit out the war, but what would happen to their belongings and their families' fear of hostilities and harassment they would most likely endure. How could a Loyalist with such wealth not side with England?

Royall House - Isaac Royall Jr, John Singleton Copley, 1769, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Isaac Royall Jr, John Singleton Copley, 1769, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
One such Loyalist who had to make this agonizing decision was Isaac Royall, Jr. of Medford, Massachusetts. His decision was not based on his devotion to King George III but more on trying to save his own life. Three days prior to the first shot being fired in Lexington, Isaac Royall was in Boston having dinner with his older daughter Mary and her husband George Erving. Isaac attended church at King's Chapel in Boston on Sunday, April 16. General Gage placed one of his British officers at the church door who told the leaving parishioners that they would not be allowed to return to their homes until the uprising with the Revolutionaries was solved. Isaac noted years later the events on that Sunday:

"I packed up my Sea Stores and Cloathes for the passage and came to Boston after attending the public Worship on the Lord's Day Evening before the Battle of Lexington to take leave of my children and Friends intending to have gone thence to Salem to embark for Antigua but unfortunately staid in Boston two or three Days and din'd with the Hon'ble Captain Erving the very Day the battle happen'd after which it was impossible to get out of Town for Gen. Gage had issued Orders to prevent any one coming in or going out upon which I thought it most prudent as my affairs call'd me to the West Indies and a good opportunity offering."

Royall House - Exterior Slave Quarter, Wikipedia, Daderot
Exterior Slave Quarter, Wikipedia, Daderot
Isaac Royall's decision was to flee to Halifax, Nova Scotia whereby he hoped to meet up with a vessel bound towards Antigua. A year later he left Nova Scotia and went to England. It was in Antigua where his father Isaac Royall Sr. began his lucrative business career. At the age if 28 Isaac began operating a sugar cane plantation in the West Indies. He was involved in the Triangle Trade by transporting slaves, exporting sugar, and manufacturing rum.

For Isaac Royall Sr. 1734 was the most lucrative year in the slave trading industry. He sold 121 slaves and twenty pounds of sugar. However, years of drought, disease, and a possible slave revolt led to a change in the atmosphere by 1737 which made the business quite risky.

On December 26, 1732, Isaac Royall Sr, purchased a house and 504 acres along the west bank of the Mystic River for £10,350. The 600 acre estate was originally called Ten Hills Farm because ten hills could be seen from the windows of the house which was on the prpoerty. The land was originally granted to John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, on September 6, 1631. It is unclear as to when the first house was constructed on the estate. Some writers believe the house was built around 1637 as a summer home for Governor Winthrop. John Winthrop, Jr. sold the place to Mrs. Elizabeth Lidgett. Lieutenant Governor Usher married a Lidgett, and owned the estate until he lost it through business reverses. Around 1692 Lt. Governor John Usher enlarged the house to a two and one-half story brick house with dormer windows on the roof with a lean-to addition.



Royall House - Isaac Royall and family, Robert Feke, 1741, Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library
Isaac Royall and family, Robert Feke, 1741, Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library
On July 27, 1737 Isaac Royall Sr. and his family moved to Ten Hills Farm with 27 slaves. It was not long after due to failing health that Isaac died in 1739. Prior to his death, Isaac began a series of remodeling projects to change the appearance of the existing house. He was inspired by a nobleman's mansion he had admired in Antigua.

The house for the next five year was expanded upwards and outwards through a succession of additions including extending it to a full three stories on the east side and extending it from a single pile addition from 1692 to a double pile addition. Wide clapboard panels which connected the windows vertically helped to enhance its height. Between 1747 and 1750 the saltbox was eliminated, the end brick walls were extended, and twin chimneys and connecting parapets at both ends of the house were added. The exterior was embellished with classical ornamentation and continuous strips of spandrel panes were added.

Royall House - Interior View of the Isaac Royall House, Marble Chamber, photo courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Board Member of the Royall House Association
Interior View of the Isaac Royall House, Marble Chamber, photo courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Board Member of the Royall House Association
The rooms on the interior were paneled and finished with carved detail in the high Georgian style. The central entrance hall of the Royall House was divided midway by a paneled elliptical arch resting on scrolled capitals. The stairway has its double-spiraled newel, twisted balusters, and paneled and scrolled step ends. The "Marble Chamber" room has wooden pilasters flanking the the fireplace with wood painted to resemble richly veined marble. It it believed to be a nearly identical look to detail in two rooms in the Thomas Hancock House of nearby Boston which leads historians to conclude that the craftsman was most likely William Moore.

The two story, six bay frame and brick dwelling known as the Slave Quarters was built for 27 slaves in 1732. Other outbuildings built during this time included an out kitchen, stables, two old barns, one new barn, a pigeon house, corn house and coach house.

When the twelve room Georgian mansion was completed, it was valued at £50,000 with the land at £37,000 making Isaac Royall Jr. at the age of twenty a very wealthy man in America. The Royall House was one of the grandest and most expensive houses built in New England. Isaac was active in the community as member of the Provincial Governor's Council for twenty-two years, deputy to the General Court in Boston, Justice of the Peace for Suffolk and various times as moderator of the Medford Town Meeting. Isaac gained a reputation as a popular figure in society and a generous host.

Royall House - Interior View of the Isaac Royall House, Upstairs Hall, note the double-spiraled newel, twisted balusters,  photo courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Board Member of the Royall House Association
Interior View of the Isaac Royall House, Upstairs Hall, note the double-spiraled newel, twisted balusters, photo courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Board Member of the Royall House Association
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Royall left his properties and business affairs in the hands of a friend, Dr. Simon Tufts, hoping that he would be able to return to Medford at the war's end. From Halifax, Royall instructed Tufts to sell his slaves or find suitable homes for them:

Please to sell the following negroes: Stephen and George; they each cost £60 sterling; and I would take £50, or even £15, apiece for them. Hagar cost £35 sterling; but I will take £30 for her. I gave for Mira £35, but will take £25. If Mr. Benjamin Hall will give the $100 for her which he offered, he may have her, it being a good place. As to Betsey, and her daughter Nancy, the former may tarry, or take her freedom, as she may choose; and Nancy you may put out to some good family by the year.

The next year, the estate was confiscated by the Commonweath of Massachusetts but was not sold. The home was used as headquarters by General Stark and officers who commanded the New Hampshire troops during the siege of Boson. The evacuation of Boston took place March 17, 1776. Generals Lee and Sullivan also used the home and were visited by General Washington. Legend states that two British soldiers were interrogated in the Marble Chamber.

Royall House - Interior of the Slave Quarters, Arthur C. Haskel, Photographer, 1935.
Interior of the Slave Quarters, Arthur C. Haskel, Photographer, 1935.
In Isaac Royall's will of 1779, he left land to Harvard College to establish the first professorship in the law at the school. 200 acres were to be sold to fund a professorship at Harvard College in Physics and Anatomy or Law.

After the Revolutionary war, Colonel Cary, General Washington's secretary lived in the house for two years. In 1790 it was used as a boarding and day school by William Woodbridge. The heirs of the Royall family regained possession of the property in 1805 and subsequently sold it to Robert Fletcher for 16,000 pounds. It was sold again in 1810 to Francis Cabot Lowell and in 1812 it lost value and sold to Jacob Tidd for $9,000.

After the passing of Jacob in 1821, his widow, Ruth lived in the house until 1861. Various owners let the property go into disrepair on the coming years. Had it not been for the Sarah Bradlee Fulton Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, the house might not have survived. They decided to preserve the house "for the sake of its history and aesthetic value." The house was opened to visitors on Patriots Day in 1898 for an exhibition of colonial furniture.

Royall House - Exterior, Rear and Side Looking Southeast, Isaac Royall House, Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer, May 6, 1941.
Exterior, Rear and Side Looking Southeast, Isaac Royall House, Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer, May 6, 1941.
The Royall House Association was formed in 1907. Their goal was to raise $10,000 to purchase the home, the slave quarters, and three-quarters of an acre. The goal was reached and the property was bought in April 1908. The Royall House is included in the White Pine Series because of the use of white pine in its construction.

Isaac Royall emerges as a significant figure in colonial life. His home was adorned with two early portraits completed by two American master painters. In 1740, Isaac Royall began seeking the best artist in the region to paint him and his family. He wanted John Smibert of Boston to paint the portrait, but Smibert was failing in health. Instead he chose Robert Feke who was an active portrait artist in the 1730's and 1740's in Newport, Philadelphia, and Boston. The portrait which brilliantly records the economic and social status of the wealthy Tory family was completed in 1741. The portrait was given to Harvard College in 1879 by Dr. George Stevens Jones.

Royall House - Mary and Elizabeth Royall, John Singleton Copley, 1758, Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Copley seldom painted children.
Mary and Elizabeth Royall, John Singleton Copley, 1758, Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Copley seldom painted children.
The other portrait was completed in 1758 by one of the most important and sough after artists in New England, John Singleton Copley. The portrait was of the two young Royall daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Copley was so successful as a painter that Isaac asked him to paint a self portrait of him and his wife. Copley could only finish the face of Mrs. Royall when she died in 1770. It wasn't until 1778 when Royall and Copley met up in London that the portrait of his wife was completed. The portrait of Isaac Royall Jr. was completed in 1769. After the death of Isaac in 1781, the portrait was bequeathed to his grandson, WIlliam Pepperrell.

The narrative of the Royall House has changed in the past ten years. As noted by Gracelaw Simmons, Corresponding Secretary of the Royall House Association, they are "broadening the story beyond the Royall family to talk about those they enslaved, who made up the majority of the estate's population." From the Royal House Reporter Summer 2010 newsletter, Thomas Lincoln, Executive Director stated, "During my tenure here, we have undertaken major changes that have moved us from a traditional house museum to a site with a primary focus on the stories of colonial slavery."

The Royall House and Slave Quarters will be open for regular house on Saturdays and Sundays from May 25, 2013 until November 3, 2013. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1960.

Source: Text and Photos by Bryan Wright

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Comments (1) 
bwright
01/29/13
Gracelaw Simmons, Corresponding Secretary of the Royall House Association, sent the following information regarding the original construction of the house:

"The history of the house is tricky. Here's what the museum believes: John Winthrop's house was on the section of the property that was not sold to Isaac Sr. in 1732. We believe the Lidgett family constructed the original brick farmhouse sometime after purchasing the property in 1677, then John Usher (married to Elizabeth Lidgett) expanded it to be a 2.5 story house with dormers and a lean-to addition on the west side. The 1732 plot plan for IR's purchase calls it a "mansion house," so it was already substantial. We think Isaac Sr. enlarged the house to it present size, and oversaw the design of the east front. Then Isaac Jr. added his touch around 1750, covering the clapboard of the west facade with faux rusticated stone and fancying up the interior.

There's no evidence that the Out Kitchen, the original part of the Slave Quarters, was there in 1732; it's not in the plot plan of IR's purchase, but it shows up in the 1739 inventory at the time of his death. We believe it was built 1732-1737, and then enlarged on Isaac Jr's watch between 1750-60."
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