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The Royall house and farm.1

by John H. Hooper.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, Feb. 19, 1900.]

it is not my purpose to go into a general history of the Royall estate, but I shall confine myself principally to the changes that have taken place in the construction of the mansion house, speaking briefly of the farm and of some of its earlier owners.

The greater portion of the Royall farm was part of a tract of 600 acres of land granted by the Court of Assistants to Governor John Winthrop, and known as the ‘Ten Hills.’ The records of the court say that, ‘Sept. 6, 1631, the Court of Assistants grant to Mr. Governour 600 acres of land, to be set forth by metes and bounds near his house at Mistick to enjoy it, to him and his heirs forever.’ There are two suggestions as to the origin of the name of ‘Ten Hills;’ one is that ten hills were comprised within its limits, and the other that ten hills could be counted around it. The latter suggestion is the one adopted in R. C. Winthrop's edition of the life and letters of John Winthrop. The governor's house was situated on the way leading from Charlestown to Mistick ford (now Broadway in Somerville and Main and South streets in Medford), and near the junction of Broadway and Main street, within the limits of the city of Somerville. Prior to this grant by the Court of Assistants, the governor had taken possession of a portion of the land and had built himself a house. July 4, 163, he launched his bark, called [p. 134] the ‘Blessing of the Bay,’ which was built near his house on the banks of the Mistick river. The whole country hereabouts was covered with a heavy growth of timber, except in such places as had been burnt over by the Indians for the purposes of cultivation.

An illustration of the condition of the country is afforded by an incident that happened to the governor, and which is related in Winthrop's history of New England: ‘Oct. 1, 1631, the Governour being at his house at Mistick, walked out after supper, and took a piece in his hand, supposing he might see a wolf (for they came daily about the house and killed swine, calves, & etc.), and being about half a mile off, it grew suddenly dark, so as in coming home, he mistook his path and went till he came to a little house of Sagamore John, which stood empty. There he stayed, and having a piece of match in his pocket, (for he always carried about him, match and a compass, and in the summer snake weed), he made a good fire near the house, and lay down upon some old mats, which he found there, and so spent the night, sometimes walking by the fire, sometimes singing psalms and sometimes getting wood, but could not sleep. It was (through God's mercy) a warm night, but a little before day it begun to rain, and, having no cloak, he made shift by a long pole to climb up into the house. In the morning there came thither an Indian Squaw, but perceiving her before she opened the door, he barred her out, yet she staid there a great while, essaying to get in. At last she went away, and he returned safe home. His servants having been much perplexed for him, and having walked about, and shot off pieces, and hallooed in the night, but he heard them not.’ The dwelling-place of Sagamore John, as shown on Wood's map, published in 1635, was on the westerly slope of Walnut Tree hill (now College hill), not far from where the Indian remains were found a few years ago, by employees of the Mystic Water Works in building a street. These remains were found where new [p. 135] Waterworks street (now Capen street) connected with old Waterworks street (a part of which is now called Emery street, and the part connecting with the new street being now discontinued); and in all probability the reason why the governor could not hear the shouts and guns of his servants was because Walnut Tree hill with its heavy growth of walnut trees was in a direct line between the house of Sagamore John and his own house. Governor Winthrop died in 1649, and the farm came into the possession of his son, John Winthrop, Jr., of Hartford, Conn. John, Jr., died in 1676, and his heirs sold the farm, May 1, 1677, to Mrs. Elizabeth Lidgett, for the sum of 3,300 pounds. Mrs. Lidgett sold to her son, Lieut.-Col. Charles Lidgett, Oct. 13, 1677, one undivided half part of the farm, and Feb. 10, 1685, the remaining half part. Prior to the sale to Mrs. Lidgett, John Winthrop, Jr., sold in 1670, to Benanuel Bowers, about four acres of marsh land, now situated in Medford, and known as Labor In Vain point. It was through this piece of marsh land that the highway or canal was cut in 1761.

Lieut.-Col. Charles Lidgett was the friend and adherent of Sir Edmund Andros, the first royal governor of New England during the ‘Inter-Charter Period.’ The assertation of Governor Andros that the abrogation of the first Colonial Charter reinvested all land titles in the crown, caused widespread consternation. Some proprietors endeavored to strengthen their titles by procuring deeds from the Indians, which acts brought forth from the governor a criticism of the Indian signatures, ‘That their hand was no more worth then the scratch of a Bears paw.’ He confirmed his friend Colonel Lidgett in his title to the ‘Ten Hills’ and also granted him the ‘Stinted Pasture.’ (The Stinted Pasture was a tract of land containing about 300 acres, bounded southerly on the Menotomy road (Broadway); westerly on the Menotomy river (Alewive brook); northerly on Mistick river and easterly on the [p. 136] Ten Hills.) Colonel Lidgett then began to prosecute the rightful owners of this pasture for cutting wood and other alleged trespasses. After the downfall of the Andros administration, in 1689, Colonel Lidgett was arrested and thrown into prison, from which he was released on bail. He went to England in February, 1689-90, and died there in 1698.

In 1692 (there are reasons for fixing this as the date, although there is no record of the transfer) that portion of the Ten Hills now situated in Medford came into the possession of Lieut.-Gov. John Usher by his wife Elizabeth (Lidgett) Usher, sister to Col. Charles Lidgett. Mr. Usher was a counsellor and treasurer under the Andros administration, and was afterwards called to an account upon charges of raising money in an arbitrary manner during his term of office.

In 1692 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of New Hampshire. He held the office five years, and at the expiration of the term, in 1697, removed from Portsmouth, N. H., to his Charlestown (now Medford) farm, where he died Sept. 5, 1726.

Mr. Usher added to his estate by purchasing parts of the Stinted Pasture that adjoined his farm. It will be remembered that this pasture was granted by Governor Andros to Colonel Lidgett, but the grant became void upon the downfall of the governor's administration. In the Middlesex South District Registry of Deeds, Book 14, p. 227, may be found a mortgage deed (also a plan of the estate) to John Wainwright, signed by John and Elizabeth Usher, an abstract of which is as follows: ‘Part of the farm called Ten Hills, now partly in the tenure, occupation, or improvement of the said John Usher . . . and partly in the tenure or occupation of Joseph Whittemore, tenant of the said John Usher. Containing 454 acres of land, or 309 acres of upland and 145 acres of marsh . . . together with the brick house in which the said John Usher now dwells, and the house in which the said Joseph Whittemore, [p. 137] the tenant now dwells.’ . . . The brick house mentioned above was the Royall house (in part), and the house of Joseph Whittemore the tenant stood where the Mystic house now stands. In February, 1732-3, Elizabeth Usher and others, heirs of John Usher sold to Col. Isaac Royall their estate in Charlestown (now Medford) containing 504 acres 3 roods and 23 rods, for the sum of 10,350 pounds 7 shillings and 9 pence. Colonel Royall came to reside upon his estate in 1737, and died there in 1739. (He was born in 1672, at North Yarmouth, Maine.) His son, Col. Isaac Royall (born in Antigua, in 1719), succeeded to the estate, which he enlarged by various purchases, and continued to reside thereon until the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, when he became a refugee. (He left Medford April 16, 1775, and died in England in 1781.) The Royall estate was confiscated by the General Court, and the Commonwealth held possession until 8006, when it was released for a nominal consideration ($1) to Mr. Robert Fletcher, who purchased the rights of the Royall heirs for the sum of 16,000 pounds. Since that time it has been laid out into house lots and sold to various owners. All that now remains intact of this magnificent estate is the mansion house and slave quarters, with about four acres of land.

For plans of the Winthrop and Usher farms see Vol. I., No. 4, pages 123-5, of the Medford Historical Register.

The evolution of the Royall house.

The first step in the evolution of the Royall house was a building forty-five feet in length and eighteen feet in width, two stories in height; two rooms upon each floor, making, including the garrets, a six-roomed house.2 The floors of the garrets being about three feet below the top of the plate made these rooms fairly good ones. Two dormer windows on the east slope of [p. 138] the roof furnished light and air for the garrets, and in the centre of the building, over the stairway, as high up as the ridge of the roof, was another dormer window, which furnished light and air for the upper entry and staircase; the position of the entries or hallways was in the middle of the building as at present. There were two chimneys, one at each end of the building. The rear and end walls were of bricks every other course of brick being a course of headers; the front or east wall was of wood; the position of the door and windows in this front wall were as in the present building (see old sketch). In the cellar may be seen what was once an opening through the rear wall. This was the doorway leading to the outside; its position and its use are

Sketch of building from old plan dated October, 1732, recorded in Middlesex South District Registry of Deeds.

plainly visible (see a, cellar plan).

The original rafters of the west slope of the roof are still in place and can be seen in the garret (see a, section). All but two of them have been cut off above the ceiling of the third story so as not to interfere with the finish of the rooms in that story. The two that still remain entire are built into the partitions on either side of the entry way (see A and B, third-floor plan); their positions can be easily traced.

The old west wall, except such portions as have been [p. 139] removed to allow of doorways and staircases, still remains. The old plate on the top of this wall upon which the rafters rested can be seen in the closets of the third story (see a a a, thirdfloor plan).

The date of the construction of this building is unknown. It is far more ancient than it has generally been supposed to be, and was probably built for the use of the tenant who occupied the westerly portion of the Ten Hills farm, very likely during the ownership of the Winthrops.

Col. Charles Lidgett, writing from England to his agent, Mr. Francis Foxcroft,

Third floor.

under date of Nov. 5, 1690, speaks of his tenant, Thomas Marrable, who occupied a portion of the Ten Hills farm. [p. 140] From the correspondence between Colonel Lidgett and his agent it is inferred that Thomas Marrable occupied the westerly portion of the Ten Hills farm on which the Royall house now stands. No doubt he lived in the old house we are now considering. Mr. Wyman in his ‘History of Charlestown Estates’ says ‘that Thomas Marrable lived at Usher's farm.’

Such was probably the building that stood here at the time Lieutenant-Governor Usher took possession of the estate in 1692. It is probable, however, that before or soon after he removed here from Portsmouth, N. H., in 1607, he made an addition to the

First floor.

building, as the old structure must have been entirely unsuited to a family of the wealth and social standing of Governor Usher's. The addition supposed to have been made at this time enlarged the ground floor to its present dimensions. The end walls were of brick and the west wall of wood. As a matter of course, the cellar was enlarged at the same time. In excavating for [p. 141] this new part of the cellar, the stone foundation of the old part of the building was exposed, and in order to support the floor timbers of the new part, and to strengthen and cover up the irregularities of the old wall, it was lined up with brick (see b b, cellar plan), thus making the division wall between the two cellars of great thickness. The roof was a single pitch, running from the eaves of the old building down to the height of a single story on the back or west side (see This is the old familiar style so common in those days, and known as a leanto. This addition was twenty feet in width and forty-five feet in length. A single window in the south wall that lighted the back stairway, and also the low chamber under the roof, can still be seen (see


A, second-floor plan, also a, south end). In this south wall can also be seen a perpendicular line showing where the brickwork of the addition was butted against the old building. In fact, the whole outline of the original building can be plainly seen on the south elevation of the present structure.

I am free to admit that the foregoing description of [p. 142] what is assumed to be the second step in the evolution of this building is largely problematical, but I shall submit the evidence upon which this assumption is drawn, and ask of our readers a careful analysis of the same. First, I will refer to the window already spoken of in the south elevation that shows just above the roof of the porch, a part of which was originally below the roof of this porch. It is not in line with the other windows in the stories above (see b b, south end), and there

South end, showing the several Stages of construction.

appears to be no reason whatever why all these windows should not have been placed in line with each other, provided that they had all been constructed at the same time. It will also be noticed that this lower window has a straight head, while those above have segment-heads, thus indicating a different period of construction. The probabilities are that this lower window was placed on one side of the stairway, so as to throw as much light as possible into the room under the roof of the leanto, while at the time the windows in the stories above were constructed no [p. 143] such reason for thus lighting the chambers existed, as they had plenty of light from the rear or courtyard side of the building, and they were therefore placed near the centre of the stairway so as to light both the upper and lower parts of the same.

Second, If an examination be made of the large cracks that exist on each side of the doorway in the west or courtyard side of the building, caused by the shrinkage of the finish around this doorway, it will be found that underneath the panel work that now forms the outside building can be seen the ends of clapboards that once formed the outside of a former building. It is believed that this clapboarded wall was the wall of the leanto, and that when the building was enlarged to its present dimensions at a still later period, the present panel A work, pilas-

Second floor.

ters, and other finish were put on over the old clapboarded wall.

Third, Second-hand timber, or timber that had been used in some former structure, was used in framing the [p. 144] roof of the present building. It is hardly possible that when the building assumed its present shape, with timber as cheap as it must have been in those days, the builder purchased old material for its construction. Without doubt this old material came from the roof of the leanto, the timbers of which would have been long and large enough to have made the present roof timbers.

I have said that in all probability LieutenantGov-ernor Usher made this addition. Yet there is no positive evidence of it. It may have been done by Colonel Royall at the time he raised the east half of the roof, as will be hereinafter described. Tradition (not always a safe guide) says that Governor Usher built the house, and it was afterwards enlarged by Colonel Royall.

This, then, was possibly the condition of the building at the time of its purchase by the senior Colonel Royall in 1733. Colonel Royall came to reside upon his estate in 1737 and died here in 1739. It is probable that between the time of the purchase and the time of the taking up of his residence here he made additional changes in the dwelling-house, and also built a portion of the house called the ‘slave quarters’ for the use of his slaves.

The third step in the evolution of this building consisted in raising the east slope of the roof (see C, south end) so as to give an additional elevation to the east or front wall of the building, and to allow of upright windows in the third story, giving the front of the building its present appearance. There was no other apparent change. The thickness of the extra height of the brickwork in the end walls occasioned by this change was less than in the old wall. This can be seen in the closet in the south-east room of the third story (b). We are fortunate in possessing a plan of this estate made just previous to and while negotiations for its sale to Colonel Royall were in progress. This plan is on record in the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds, and shows the front elevation of the building as it then [p. 145] existed. We are also fortunate in possessing evidence in the building itself that this was the only change that took place at that time in the main part of the house.


This alteration will be more fully described in the next and final step of the evolution of the mansion house.

In the fourth and final stage of construction the building assumed its present fine proportions, and also its elaborate finish both inside and outside. I am quite sure that this was done during the ownership of the second Colonel

The framing of the roof: a a a, old rafters; b, Brace inserted to relieve strain after end rafters were cut off; c c c, front rafters of the third stage of construction. d d d, Splice made to continue c c c, and shape the front slope of the present roof.

[p. 146] Royall. As has been before stated, the first Colonel Royall lived but two years on his Charlestown (now Medford) estate. And it is hardly possible that after making the changes previously described he should in so short a time have proceeded to make another and a still greater change in the appearance and size of the building. In this last stage of construction the end walls and chimneys were carried up to their present height (see D, south end), as was also the west or rear wall; the front slope of the roof remained as it was left by the previous stage of construction; the roof timbers in the new part of the east slope of the roof were spliced on to the old ones (see illustrations), the pitch of the roof remaining the same. The roof timbers on the west slope of the roof are of second-hand materials and in one piece. The boarding of the roof runs from the ridge to the eaves, and at the point on the east slope of where the roof timbers are spliced the boarding of the new part is butted against that of the old part throughout the entire length of the building. A part of the old ridge-board is still attached to the boarding (b, section). Three new windows appeared in the south end of the building, one of which was in the wall above the roof, and was used as a lookout from


the cupola that was on the south end of the roof directly over the back stairway. This cupola is shown in sketch. As a matter of course, this suggestion as to its appearance is largely ideal, there being no positive evidence to guide us. Granted the [p. 147] existence of a cupola, of which there is undoubted evidence, there must have been windows on the north, east, and west sides as well as in the south side through the brick wall. There are marks on the east side of the southwest chimney that would seem to indicate that the pitch of the roof was as shown in the drawing, that is, at a right angle with that of the main building (see a, sketch). The stairs leading to the cupola arestill in position. The lookout window has been closed up(its position can be seen at the present time, see c, south end), and the cupola has disappeared. The north end of the building is. covered with clapboards. These clap-


boards have a moulded edge, while those upon the front and rear of the house have a square edge. The lower windows in this north end are furnished with heavy outside shutters, and those in the upper story and garret are hung on hinges and swing outwards. The walls in the northwest rooms of the first and second stories are about six inches higher than the [p. 148] remaining rooms in the same stories. I have entirely ignored the wooden addition on the north end of the


mansion house, believing it to be of more modern construction.

I am inclined to believe that the porch upon the south side was built by the second Colonel Royall.

The evolution of the ‘slave quarters.’

Standing to the left and slightly in the rear of the mansion house is a building familiarly known as the ‘slave quarters.’ This building, like its more aristocratic neighbor, has been evolved from a very small beginning. The first step in its evolution was a brick and wooden building twenty feet in width, its length unknown (from [p. 149] an examination of the south foundation wall it appears to have been about eleven feet, see b, sketch), one story in height, the west wall only being of brick. The chimney was built against and into this west wall, and what is believed to be a portion of this chimney can be seen above the roof of the present building (see c, sketch). The use to which this building was put is unknown, and although it is not like the mansion house and stable shown upon the plan of the estate made in October, 1732, still it is probable that it was in existence at that time. It is quite likely that the senior Colonel Royall built some portion of the present building. Bringing with him from the island of Antigua twenty-seven slaves, he must have required more accommodations for

Slave quarters.

them than this first building would furnish. The next step in the evolution of the slave quarters was the brick portion of the present building. This building is two stories in height and contains two rooms, with a deep cellar under the whole. The lower room, with its ample fireplace and brick oven, was the kitchen, where tradition says the food of the slaves was prepared. The upper room was probably used as a sleeping-apartment. It will be seen that in the construction of this addition the brickwork on the north and south sides was butted [p. 150] against the brick end of the first building, thus making the old brick wall a part of the new addition (a, sketch). The brickwork in the south side and west end of this structure has in every fourth course a course of headers. This is the same construction as appears in the new part of the mansion house. The bond in the north brick wall is the old Flemish bond, every course alternate headers and stretchers. The third step in the evolution of this building is the wooden portion of the present building. There is little of interest in this addition except that a small portion of the cellar has been partitioned off by a solid stone wall and lighted by two small windows, one on each side. A doorway connects it with the cellar under the brick addition. This cellar may possibly be the dungeon tradition speaks of as a place that once existed for the punishment of the slaves. The chimney of this addition (this may be the original chimney) is laid up against the chimney of the brick addition, and the two united at the top so as to give the appearance of a single chimney. On the west side of the brick portion of the building was at one time a wooden addition two stories in height, length unknown, the only visible proof of this addition being the mortar that still adheres to the brick wall on the north and south sides, where the outside finish lapped over on the brick building, and the joints of which were plastered over to keep out the weather (see d, sketch). This is the same arrangement that exists in the present building, where the brick and wooden parts are joined together. As has been before stated, the dates of the construction of these several additions are unknown. I have endeavored to show what this building is and has been, and will leave our readers to draw their own conclusions. Taken altogether it is one of the most interesting relics of slavery in Massachusetts that can be found within the limits of the Commonwealth.

The aspect of the place is thus described by Samuel Adams Drake, author of the ‘History of Middlesex [p. 151] County.’ (This description was written many years ago. Changes have taken place since then; a portion of the inside embellishments have been removed, and the summer house torn down.)

The brick quarters which the slaves occupied are situated on the south side of the mansion and front upon the courtyard, one side of which they enclose. These have remained unchanged, and are, we believe, the last visible relics of slavery in New England. The deep fireplace where the slaves prepared their food is still there, and the roll of slaves has certainly been called in sight of Bunker hill, though never on its summit.

At either end of the building the brick wall, furnished with a pair of stout chimneys, rises above the pitched roof, the cornice and corners are relieved by ornamental woodwork, while the west face is panelled, and further decorated with fluted pilasters. On this side, too, the original windows are seen.

The Royall house stood in the midst of grounds laid out in elegant taste and embellished with fruit-trees and shrubbery. These grounds were separated from the highway by a low brick wall, now demolished. The gateway opening upon the grand avenue was flanked by wooden posts. Farther to the right was the carriage drive, on either side of which massive stone gate-posts, as antique in appearance as anything about the old mansion; seventy paces back from the road, along the broad gravelled walk, bordered with box, brings you to the door.

Behind the house, as we view it, was an enclosed garden of half an acre or more, with walks, fruit-trees, and a summer house at the farther extremity. No doubt this was the favorite resort of the family and their guests.

This summer house, a veritable curiosity in its way, is placed upon an artificial mound with two terraces, and is reached by broad flights of red sandstone steps.

It is octagonal in form, with a bell-shaped roof, surmounted [p. 152] by a cupola, on which is placed a figure of Mercury.

Without lingering in the hall of entrance farther than to mark the elaborately carved balusters, and the panelled wainscot, we pass into the suite of apartments at the right hand, the reception-rooms proper of the house. These were divided in two by an arch, in which folding-doors were concealed; and from floor to ceiling the walls were panelled in wood, the panels being of single pieces, some of them a yard in breadth. In the rear apartment, and opening to the north, were two alcoves, each flanked by fluted pilasters, on which rested an arch enriched with mouldings and carved ornaments. Each recess had a window furnished with seats, so inviting for a tete-à--tete, where the ladies of the household sat with their needlework; these windows were sealed up in winter. The heavy cornice formed an elaborate finish to the truly elegant saloon.

The second floor was furnished with four chambers, all opening on a spacious and airy hall. Of these the northwest room only demands special description. It had alcoves similar to those already mentioned in the apartment underneath, but instead of panels the walls were finished above the wainscot with a covering of leather on which were embossed in gorgeous colors flowers, birds, pagodas, and the concomitants of a Chinese paradise. On this side the original windows, with the small glass and heavy frames, still remain.

It seems desirable that this old historic mansion should be acquired by some society which would restore and preserve it as one of our most valued landmarks. Unless something of the kind is soon done, it is feared by those who are interested in its preservation that it is doomed to destruction. It requires even now extensive repairs, and it is only as a matter of sentiment that the expense of such repairs would be justified. The Medford Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution have for some time been considering ways and [p. 153] means for its purchase. It has already acquired the material of which the summer house was constructed, with the view of its restoration at some future day. The object this Society has in view should have the hearty endorsement and support of every person who is interested in the preservation of our old colonial landmarks, not only those who reside in the city of Medford, but also those from other parts of the Commonwealth, as this subject is of more than local interest.

1 drawing and plans were made by Charles E. Hooper, of New York City.

2 The original house is shown on plans in solid black.

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