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The Royall house people of a century ago.

In 1810 the Royall House was owned by William Welch, who resided there in much state with his family. Because that over fifty years ago a native and former resident of Medford, after his removal to New York, took a lively interest in its history, we are enabled today to know something of them, perhaps more than of any who dwelt there in the half century succeeding Colonel Royall's departure. That interest led him to many inquiries, the preservation of letters of answer, and his own written conclusions. A touch of romance runs through it all, and the perusal of the papers referred to gives an interesting peep into the past, as well as into the ancient mansion, an object of interest in our city.

Mr. Welch was a dry goods merchant of Boston, having a store on Cornhill near the Brattle street church, and a residence on Franklin street, in the famous Tontine buildings.

In his earlier youth he is said to have been an auctioneer, and boarded in what the writer styled ‘a private boarding house in Park street.’

Among those living there was an invalid lady, to whom a Mrs. Jarvis of Watertown frequently sent parcels and delicacies by her daughter.

The young men there domiciled were not slow in noting her visits or observing her attractive personality, and urged their hostess to invite her into the parlor.

It chanced that at her next errand to the invalid (remember, this was fifty years before the advent of railroads) [p. 63] she was not in evening dress, but wearing ‘a quilted petticoat and short gown.’ She accepted the invitation, however, and ‘went in, not knowing so many were there, and spent an hour very pleasantly’ and with ‘no embarrassment,’ as the story reads.

Mr. Welch attended her to her home, and after their long walk of course went in to rest, ere he returned.

The narrator says ‘he staid so long that her father told him it was time all honest people were at home.’

How much embarrassment (if any) he experienced is not stated, but evidently in leaving the Jarvis residence he left his heart in the keeping of the perruquier's daughter Elizabeth, or Betsy, as she was sometimes called.

Wig-making was a considerable business in those days, as even boys of ten years wore wigs of various colors on special occasions and Sabbath days. They afforded some diversion during the long sermons, and the boys in the upper galleries of the meeting-house found more or less of it in the interchange and comparison of them. (Query. Did the old (third) meeting-house in Medford have double galleries?)

Mr. Jarvis plied his trade in Boston, and his daughter persuaded her mother ‘to open a small shop’ there, for the sale of needles, pins, laces and ribbons. Mrs. Jarvis was not at first sanguine as to this scheme, but Elizabeth urged it strongly, saying she would bring custom; and sure enough she did. She applied for assistance to a ‘Painter in Boston’ (presumably an artist) frankly confessing her inability to pay cash on delivery, for a portrait of herself.

He readily consented to paint the picture ‘as she told him, at full length, making her very handsome, and with three black boys holding up her train.’

When finished, it was carried to the shop, which was on the north side of Washington street (Cornhill then), between Court and School streets. It was placed opposite the entrance door, in full view from the street, and reached from floor to ceiling. As she told her mother [p. 64] it would, it attracted much attention from passers, and people coming in to see it remained to make purchases. The above occurrences must have been before the years of Washington's first term as president, and soon after, Mr. Welch and Elizabeth Jarvis were married. Their home in the buildings designed by the noted architect of the State House, Charles Bulfinch, was in the most aristocratic and residential part of the town of Boston, a section now entirely devoted to business.

While Mr. Jarvis, the wig-maker, ‘was dependent on his own earnings for support,’ he had a merchant brother, Leonard Jarvis, of the firm of Jarvis & Stone.

The partner, (Moses) Stone, was the owner of a large estate bordering on Charles river, his orchard and park being the territory now known as Mount Auburn Cemetery.

One of the papers alluded to in commencing was dictated or written by the daughter of Mr. Stone, and gives a graphic account of her first visit to Mrs. Welch's home in 1798. This writer (Mrs. Ann Orne) was then but four years of age. Her childhood impressions were strongly fixed, and nearly sixty years afterward graphically written.

Arriving at the Welch home late in the afternoon she was put in bed in the nursery, when, after a nap, she awoke with the vision of ‘a little cherub, with face of ivory and pink beneath his curls,’ looking at her over the side of the crib, who soon ran to the staircase and cried out, ‘Oh, mamma, Mary has come back from Heaven!’ then returned to gaze in delight till the shadows deepened.

This was Mrs. Welch's son John, or ‘Jack,’ as he was called (they had lost their first-born of the same name). But a few months before, they had lost two daughters, Betsy and Mary, by scarlet fever, and little Mary's memory was, doubtless, fresh in the boy's mind.

The visit was prolonged for a week, and at its close the little girl was taken to her home by the Charles river by Mrs. Welch in her carriage, which also made a lasting impression on her mind. [p. 65]

Doubtless, Mrs. Welch missed her little visitor, for ‘after an earnest entreaty’ the Welches left their Boston home to reside with the Stones at Watertown for over a year.

Mrs. Stone had a relative, Major Jackson, who was commandant at Fort Independence, and during the summer the ‘castle barge,’ gaily decorated and with musicians, came up the river and took gay parties to the major's residence at Watertown bridge. Sometimes they would spend a day at the fort, returning by moonlight. Quoting from the lady's writing:—

‘At other times, when the sweet new-mown hay filled the breeze with perfumes, and the marshes draped with the richest green velvet, they would cross the river to join their friends assembled in a cool, green grove sloping down to the water. Here they would hold their happy festivals. The pop of the rifle would be heard all the morning, furnishing birds for the busy cooks to make into peep pies for their dinner. The long tables were spread with covers white as snow, and I could see from the house the white dresses of the ladies gleaming out from the graceful green foliage, as they glided around among the trees, till all was ready for the sylvan repast. In winter they had sleigh-rides, whist parties and suppers.’

It was during this year (December, 1799) that General Washington died, and in very many places the national grief found expression in public funeral services. One was held in Dr. Elliot's church, then the only one in Watertown. The women wore black ribbons, and the men black crape upon their arms. Mr. Welch sent his servant boy, who wore a livery of bright scarlet, and his mourning band presented a somewhat ludicrous appearance to the mind of this little girl. She does not mention that he was himself colored, but Mr. Swan has made a pencil note, thus—‘black boy’—upon her manuscript.

The Welches next resided in Waltham for a few years and visits were interchanged by both families, and the little girl had ample chance of observation.

In 1806 Mr. Welch bought of Benjamin Hall and Charles Sumner the Royall estate in Medford (comprising about six acres) for $12,500. [p. 66]

During his six years residence there they kept up much the same style of living as Mrs. Orne describes as at Waltham. Nothing is known of any excursions by water, though the Mystic river provided equal facilities. The pleasure excursions on the Middlesex canal (that skirted the estate) had not then attained the celebrity they did a few years later, but possibly they availed themselves of the opportunity of inland trips.

But the parties and suppers were frequent, as the Welches were very hospitable. Dr. Swan said he once drew Mrs. Welch as his partner at a Medford whist party, and the custom was for the losers to go out at the end of every game. They were winners in eighteen successive games ere they lost and had to retire, and the good doctor did not claim proficiency for himself.

It was said that Mrs. Welch, though uneducated, conversed with much animation, though not very grammatically. She had a high opinion of Bonaparte, whom she called ‘Bony,’ and was always ready to speak in his favor. It must be recalled that the first Napoleon's star was then in the ascendant, and attracted notice in the young American republic. She was of a happy disposition, delighted to make her guests and acquaintances at ease, and was very fond of children. Having lost all but ‘Jack’ she idolized him, and made many presents to those she knew best.

This same little girl was the recipient of a gold locket in which a ruby was set. Its deep, beautiful color attracted her childish curiosity, and she tried what she called ‘a philosophical experiment to extract the color.’ It is needless to say that the pounding of it on a stone was not only ‘unsuccessful’ as to color, but ruinous to the keepsake.

The mistress of the Royall house was fond of rich and fashionable dress, jewels and equipage. While at Medford she gave large parties, and on such occasions the trees about the house and along the walks were hung with parti-colored lamps. [p. 67]

She tolerated nothing like familiarity on the part of her servants, and took one of her nieces as such, only on condition that she should never call her ‘aunt.’ This was not at Waltham, probably at Medford, and after her leaving Medford her brother John served her in capacity of servant, much to the indignation of other relatives.

About the servant boy, John Hart (he of the scarlet livery), we quote the entire statement as written:—

‘They kept a small boy as a waiter, and they used to make bread particularly for him. One morning, on my first visit, I watched my opportunity and slipped past the kitchen door, hoping to get some of 1 John's bread, which I fancied must be especially excellent. I saw it; a loaf of coarse meal dough on a gridiron over some coals to bake. Presently the cook turned it bottom upwards on a plate, and with a knife sliced off the burnt outside and called John to breakfast, setting the loaf aside to be cooked the same way again and again. She left the kitchen, and I stole in and snatched a coveted morsel of this same bread and ran into the garden to eat it, but as quick as I took it into my mouth I ejected it with loathing.’

It seems that her experience with ‘John's bread’ belied Solomon's proverb.

While at Waltham, Mrs. Welch had in her parlor a very beautiful full-length portrait of herself when her beauty was at its climax. Whether or no this was the one already referred to cannot now be said, but it is more than likely that it graced the wall in the Royall house, and would now be a desirable acquisition in the recently restored parlor.

Our informant secured this last information from Mrs. Stone through a letter from his niece, Caroline Orne, who interviewed her at her home in Cambridge in 1858.

He made note, ‘Caroline has never seen this picture, but has seen those who have.’

Mrs, Stone said, ‘Mrs. Welch was very handsome, [had] black eyes and glossy, raven-black hair more than a yard long and thick as my two hands could clasp and not a gray hair in it.’ When nearly eighty her hair was thinner but black still. [p. 68]

This so interested him that he evidently consulted the Biblical account of Absalom's luxuriant hair and noted the same in pencil on the letter, ‘200 shekels [=] 3 lbs. 2 oz.’

Future visitors at the Royall house (now that the ancient fireplaces with their tile setting and quaint fire backs are opened) may be interested in this extract:—

‘I fancy I can see Mrs. Welch as there, seated in a luxurious arm chair, richly dressed before a bright wood fire in a handsome parlor reading; the canary birds singing, and rare exotics shedding a delicate fragrance through the room.’

Though about the same age as Mr. Welch's son John, Mr. Swan makes no mention of him as a Medford boy. Being the only son of a wealthy man, he probably was placed under the tutelage of Dr. Stearns at the select academy near his home, instead of being taught by Master Kendall in the more democratic town school.

Mr. Welch was described as ‘a very handsome man, rather tall, fair, and with a fine color and handsome hair which he wore in a club queue.’

He was not popular in Waltham, where there was much petty spite shown him. This was probably because their mode of life was in such marked contrast to that of their neighbors, they having fine gardens, summer-houses, greenhouse, horses, and plenty of servants. In their rides ‘in a dashing phaeton, with the top turned back, they looked very showy.’

Nothing appears in these papers of ‘petty spite’ being shown them in Medford, though Mr. Swan writes that Mr. Welch was not as popular here as was his wife, as he had not her affability.

In 1812 they removed to Philadelphia, having sold the Royall place to Royal Makepeace of Cambridge. There they lived for many years, though during the war with England, according to Mr. Swan, he sold flour of a counterfeit brand and had to leave the country (about 1814).

This may not have been entirely the reason. His [p. 69] only son, ‘their idol,’ the ‘little cherub’ of the Tontine building, had married a Miss Hunt, a farmer's daughter. Though she was a worthy girl, this so aroused his father's ire that he disinherited him (for a time), and on leaving for England willed most of his property to his nephew, John Larrabee.

His absence was so prolonged he was supposed deceased. Steps were being taken for settlement of his estate when he suddenly reappeared and resumed the management of his affairs. In the meantime his son John had become successful as a farmer, and father and son became reconciled. Later, Mr. Welch returned to Boston, resuming his residence in Franklin street.

After a time (date not given) he went to the McLean Asylum at Charlestown (Somerville), and while there fell from a bench and broke his hip bone. (Mrs. Stone said he was no more insane than many others, but was always odd.)

He was taken to the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died, September 20, 1832, aged 73 years.

He was buried from his home in Boston, where his wife continued to live until her passing away in 1846, in her eightieth year.

Such is the story the Register gleans from the papers and letters referred to. Much more might be written. Doubtless, among the papers and correspondence of old Medford people is similar matter that would throw much light on the doings of olden days. In perusing the observations of Mr. Swan and the papers he preserved, one cannot fail to be impressed with the sterling qualities of many of the old-timers.

There is nothing to show that this mistress of the Royall house used her opportunities for the help and betterment of any but her immediate circle of friends, and that only in the channels of gaiety and pleasure.

Some useful lessons may be had by a comparison of her story with that of that earlier lady of the Royall house [p. 70] (Elizabeth Usher, who was satisfied with one black boy to carry her train), the mother of Marm Betty. It is very doubtful if the Royall house, during the six years that the ‘perruquier's daughter,’ Elizabeth Welch, was its mistress, had as beneficent influence upon Medford as did in the same years that humble room near Medford Square, where lived Elizabeth Francis, better known as ‘Marm Betty.’

From the New York Observer of September 21, 1868.

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