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[p. 119]

The Royall House loan exhibition.

April 19 to April 29, 1899.

ON Patriots' Day the Sarah Bradlee Fulton Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution opened in the Royall House a loan exhibition, which continued for ten days. It was a most successful attempt to bring the Medford of to-day in closer touch with its historic past.

Not the least interesting part of the exhibition was the house itself, which still remains one of the finest examples of the old-colonial mansions of New England. The exact date of the building of the house is lost in obscurity. Tradition says it was built by John Usher, afterward lieutenant-governor of New Hampshire, but there is evidence that a house stood on the site when Usher bought it of the heirs of Governor Winthrop. In 1737 Isaac Royall, Senior, remodelled and embellished the house, and one year after, his son Isaac brought his bride there and took possession. Henceforth the house became one of the notable social centres of colonial life. Through the massive gateway and into the paved court to the west door rolled the stately carriages of the Vassals and other noted families of Boston and vicinity, and Colonel Royall returned the visits in the only chariot which was owned for miles on the north side of Boston. His slaves lived in the old brick building standing just back of the mansion. His stables were on the north side of the driveway, on the site now occupied by No. 21 Royal street. Around him in all directions stretched his fertile acres, reaching to Mystic river on the north and to Winter hill on the south. His garden was crowned by an artificial mound on which stood an artistic summer house with arched windows and bell-shaped roof, surmounted by a figure of Mercury. The broad paths from the garden gate to the summer house and from the east door to the street [p. 120] were bordered with box, and over the driveway waved English elms. A high brick wall surrounded the homestead except directly in front, where there was a low wall surmounted by a wooden fence with panelled gate and posts. The hall, staircase, drawing-room, and guest chamber are elaborately carved; the recessed windows on either side of the fireplaces are especially effective. The panels over the mantels are without seam. The open fireplaces have been bricked up except in the third story; the tiles which surrounded them are scattered, and the leather hangings which adorned the walls have been destroyed. Otherwise the house is much as Colonel Royall left it.

During the siege of Boston the house was the headquarters of the New Hampshire division of the Continental Army. There is no authentic tradition that it was occupied by Washington, although an old record says that prisoners were taken to ‘Washington's Headquarters at Royall's.’ Stark and his staff occupied the house until after the battle of Bunker hill. The riderless horse of Major McClary, of Epsom, N. H., found his way back to the Royall stables, and doubtless his dead master lay in state in one of the parlors until he was carried forth to his unknown grave. There is a tradition that a council of war was held in the summer house on the eve of the battle of Bunker hill. General Lee and General Sullivan later occupied the house, and the former named it ‘Hobgoblin Hall.’ When the property passed into the hands of the government, Col. Richard Cary, of Charlestown, occupied the house for some years.

In the early part of this century the estate was bought by a syndicate, chief among whom were Samuel Dexter, of Roxbury, and Benjamin Hall, of Medford. They sold the mansion-house and gardens to William Welch, who bought for investment. One Thomas Hughes was a tenant until the estate was bought and refitted by Jacob Tidd, Esq., in 1815. His family remained in possession for nearly sixty years. [p. 121]

In that mansion used to be
Free-hearted Hospitality.
His great fires up the chimney roared,
The stranger feasted at his board;

From that chamber, clothed in white,
The bride came forth on her wedding night;
There, in that silent room below,
The dead lay in his shroud of snow.

the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

After the death of Madam Tidd the walls and fences were removed, the outlying land was sold for house lots, and streets were laid out until the old house was left, with its slave quarters and summer house, in the midst of a two-acre lot. Later the summer house was removed, but happily not entirely destroyed. It is now the property of the Sarah Bradlee Fulton Chapter. Parts of it were on exhibition during the festival week.

Beautiful spring weather, budding trees, and springing flowers made the outside of the house attractive during the exhibition, and in the evening the soft candlelight from the muslin-curtained windows seemed to bid the visitor welcome. As he passed under the Stars and Stripes which waved over the doorway, and was greeted by ladies in the gowns of their foremothers, he felt that time had turned backward in its flight. The rooms did not suggest an exhibition. They were furnished with ancient furniture, mostly mahogany, loaned by present or former residents of Medford. Some pieces had been in town a century or more. The ‘thousand-leg’ table, which was the centrepiece in the drawing-room, was brought to this country in 1680. General Stark's clock stood at the head of the stairs, which its distinguished owner had often trod.

Scattered about the house were chairs which belonged to Dr. David Osgood, the young preacher of Medford [p. 122] in the days of the Revolution. His daughter's cradle was in the kitchen. A chair which stood in the square pew of Nathan Wait in the third meeting-house was in the hall. Beside it was a chair which was blown out of a house in West Medford during the tornado of 1815. A chair which belonged to Governor Brooks was exhibited, which was bought for a trifle from a woman who was using it for a wash-bench. The good governor's effects went under the hammer, hence the ignoble fate of this piece of mahogany. Four chairs had belonged to Rev. Edward Brooks, an ancestor of Phillips Brooks. On April 19, 1775, the ‘Patriot Preacher’ shouldered his musket and went, a volunteer, to Concord fight, and later was chaplain of the frigate Hancock. His warrant, signed by John Hancock, hung in a conspicuous place. Chairs which belonged to the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, to the father of Benjamin Franklin, and to Thomas Jefferson, attracted attention. A chair which came to this country in the ‘Anne,’ in 1623, was exhibited by a direct descendant of the original owner. Thus were presented good examples of typical colonial furniture.

Other household belongings were family treasures loaned by members of the Kidder, Blanchard, Polly, Symmes, Le Bosquet, Porter, and Hall families—names known and honored in Medford from colonial times. Several articles were shown which were considered genuine Mayflower relics. A china nappy which had been handed down to the eldest daughter of each generation of the owner's family and a lamp which is vouched for by the family of Rev. Charles Brooks, historian of Medford, were among the number.

Several mementos of Sarah Bradlee Fulton, the ‘Chapter Mother’ were shown; among them a punch bowl and ladle which were used when General Washington visited her to express his thanks for her services as bearer of despatches when, if discovered, her life would have been the forfeit. Two of her descendants [p. 123] wore gowns which had been worn by their honored ancestress. Her wedding gown has descended from her eldest daughter to the present owner, who is the eldest daughter of the fourth generation.

The tavern sign of Jonathan Porter, emblazoned with the British coat-of-arms, was considered priceless by several visitors. It hung in Medford square, on the corner of Main street and Riverside avenue. The ancient tavern was removed in 1785 and the present structure erected. Mr. Porter was by some suspected of being in sympathy with the Tories, but, as he was a lieutenant in the militia during the Revolution, this charge was evidently unfounded. The sign has a bullet-hole through it, which it is said to have received from an irate patriot who could not bear the sight of its device.

Experts pronounced the china exhibit very valuable, yet it was mainly made up of bits of family treasures valued by their owners for love's sake. A cake basket of silver wire was brought to the Royall House in 1815 by Madam Ruth Tidd, and was used there as long as she lived. A silver porringer was owned by her father, William L. Dawes. He was a descendant of William Dawes, who rode through Roxbury to alarm the country, April, 1775. Among Revolutionary relics was the kettle in which Mrs. Abigail Brooks, wife of Rev. Edward Brooks, made chocolate for returning minute-men. Descendants of the Russell family loaned pewter plates which had been buried in Menotomy woods to save them from the British, April 19, 1775. Muskets which were once aimed at each other in deadly conflict hung side by side. A relic of colonial wars was the blanket on the high-posted bedstead. It was homespun, and bore the sign of the broad arrow, which is the mark of English government supplies, and the initials C. R. (Canada Reserves).

One of the bedsteads was made in France for Rev. Aaron Warner, the first Trinitarian minister of Medford. [p. 124] All the beds were made up with homespun sheets, blankets, and coverlids. The ‘high boys’ and ‘low boys’ and quaint bureaus stood in the chambers as they might have done a hundred years ago, and the air of homelikeness made one love to linger there. In the guest chamber stood the cradle of Gov. Joseph Dudley. It was brought from England, and he and his descendants have been rocked in it. In another room was a letter written by him in 1702. Over the mantel in the parlor hung a piece of needlework, the faces of the figures represented painted by Copley. On the opposite wall hung another picture in needlework which was exquisite.

A few of the tiles which were once around the fireplaces in the Royall House, and a fragment of leather hanging, may be guides should restoration of the house be attempted.

The uniform, cocked hat, and pistols of Gov. John Brooks suggested the gallant soldier of the Revolution, while his lancet-case recalled the physician whom his townsmen loved. Among the portraits were those of Governor Brooks, Nathaniel Polly (a Medford soldier in the Revolution), Lucy Dudley, the wife of Dr. Simon Tufts, Andrew Hall, whose home in 1800 was the present 43 High street (the third frame house built in Medford), and Turell Tufts, who died in 1842, son of Dr. Simon Tufts. A print of the Blanchard Tavern was shown. Here the New Hampshire troops were mustered in, and public meetings were held after the meetinghouse ceased to be town property. Hezekiah Blanchard was the tavern-keeper in Revolutionary times. He and his son both served in the army. His name is on the roll of minute-men.

A warrant for Isaac Royall, Senior, issued in 1734, a pair of spectacles inscribed ‘The gift of I. Royall to Simon Tufts, Esq.,’ and a silver communion plate bequeathed to the ‘Church of Christ in Medford’ were all the exhibits which referred personally to the ancient [p. 125] owners of the house. A special act of the General Court was necessary before the plate could be accepted by the church in Medford. There were interesting letters from Revolutionary soldiers in camp and in prison, the diary of Deacon Benjamin Willis, a prominent Medford citizen before the Revolution, and a few old love letters, among them one written by Parson Turell. Autograph letters of Samuel Sewall, Thomas Jefferson, Governor Brooks, Dr. Osgood, and other papers of especial interest to students of Medford history, over one hundred in all, made a valuable collection.

From far and near visitors came to see the historic edifice, and one and all were charmed with the artistic arrangement of the house and marvelled that such an effect could be produced in such limited time. There were nearly two thousand articles exhibited, but six days sufficed to put everything in place, and three days after the exhibition closed everything had been safely taken from the house. March 6, 1899, the chapter voted to hold the exhibition, and Mrs. C. H. Loomis, the regent, was made chairman of the committee of arrangements. She divided the chapter, of fifty members, into five sub-committees for special work, and the members were a committee of the whole to solicit loans. The people of Medford responded generously. To the regent the highest praise is due for unremitting effort and close personal attention to detail from the inception of the affair until every loan had been returned to its owner. On Saturdays the doors were open at nine o'clock in the morning for the benefit of school children, and some of the pleasantest remembrances of the exhibition are tours through the house with these bright-eyed, eager little people. The exhibition closed April 29. It was with feelings of real regret that the ‘Daughters’ turned away from the ancient door-stone, but hope is cherished in their hearts that some day the mansion can be refurnished permanently, and remain a monument to the days of old.

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