The Royall House and Slave Quarters: the only surviving slave quarters in the Northern USA

Oct 3, 2005
The Boston Sunday Globe had a big story on a mansion in Medford, Mass., the Royall House, an 18th century mansion, once at the heart of a vast 500 + acre estate a few miles north of Boston.

What is remarkable about the Royall house is that the lost contains an extant 18th century slave quarters building a mere 35 ft. from the opulent mansion. The slave quarters is a two story, barracks like building. The Royalls had some sixty slaves in 40 + years they lived in Medford, but not all at one time. This makes them the owners of the largest number of slaves in Massachusetts.

The Royall house is a small museum, with the hand to mouth existence of a lot of these institutions, especially during covid. But they have an active board and a real live wire as a director, and have created a lot of online resources and conducted digs on the site. Among the artifacts is a gameboard with pieces chiselled out of broken plates.
Oct 3, 2005
Isaac Royall, the founder of the estate was born in Dorchester, Mass, but lived as a young and middle aged adult as a sugar plantation owner on Antigua. Besides raising sugar cane, he was involved in the Atlantic Slave trade. He moved back to Massachusetts and built the mansion in 1737. Settling in Medford wasn't an accident, it was a center of rum distilling, the destination of a lot of the slave produced sugar from the Caribbean.
Oct 3, 2005
When the Revolution came, the Royalls supported the King, and left their estate for England as Massachusetts moved decisively to the Patriot side.

Weird aside, Isaac Royall donated a big sum to Harvard University, and had a professorial "chair" named in his honor. Recently Harvard moved the slave trader's crest from its branding. Ironically however, Harvard didn't start using the Royall crest(bundles of wheat on a blue field) until the 1930s, and then didn't make any emphasis of it until the 1990s. Like a lot of "tradition" it doesn't have the roots it implies.
Oct 3, 2005
The Medford Historical Society, a separate group discovered and restored a large collection of Civil War glass negative photographs recently. Not bad for a small town.
Oct 3, 2005
The headline caught my eye because I lived in Medford about 30 years ago. Despite, even then, teaching history, I never visited the Royall mansion or had any idea of its history!

My one brush with history in Medford was my landlady. Like a lot of Medford folks, she was Italian-American, immigrating with her family in the 1930s. She told me, as a very little girl, she once had met Mussolini. What did she remember, I asked.

He had a really big chin, she recalled.
Oct 3, 2005
This document is from the wonderful resources collected and made available by the Royall House and Slave Quarters Museum, in Medford, Massachusetts.
Belinda Sutton’s 1783 Petition (full text)
The following is a transcription of Belinda’s Petition to the Massachusetts General Court, February 14, 1783 (Original manuscript, Massachusetts Archives). You can also view images of Belinda Sutton’s 1783 Petition and related documents.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

To the Honourable the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled.

The Petition of Belinda an Affrican, humbly shews:

That seventy years have rolled away, since she on the banks of the Rio de Valta received her existence—the mountains Covered with spicy forests, the valleys loaded with the richest fruits, spontaneously produced; joined to that happy temperature of air to exclude excess; would have yielded her the most compleat felicity, had not her mind received early impressions of the cruelty of men, whose faces were like the moon, and whose Bows and Arrows were like the thunder and the lightning of the Clouds. – The idea of these, the most dreadful of all Enemies, filled her infant slumbers with horror, and her noontide moments with evil apprehensions! – But her affrighted imagination, in its most alarming extension, never represented distresses equal to what she hath since really experienced – for before she had Twelve years enjoyed the fragrance of her native groves, and e’er she realized, that Europeans placed their happiness in the yellow dust which she carelessly marked with her infant footsteps – even when she, in a sacred grove, with each hand in that of a tender Parent, was paying her devotions to the great Orisa who made all things – an armed band of white men, driving many of her Countrymen in Chains, ran into the hallowed shade! – could the Tears, the sighs and supplications, bursting from Tortured Parental affection, have blunted the keen edge of Avarice, she might have been rescued from Agony, which many of her Country’s Children have felt, but which none hath ever described, — in vain she lifted her supplicating voice to an insulted father, and her guiltless hands to a dishonoured Deity! She was ravished from the bosom of her Country, from the arms of her friends – while the advanced age of her Parents, rendering them unfit for servitude, cruelly separated her from them forever!

Scenes which her imagination had never conceived of – a floating World – the sportingMonsters of the deep – and the familiar meetings of Billows and clouds, strove, but in vain to divert her melancholly attention, from three hundred Affricans in chains, suffering the most excruciating torments; and some of them rejoicing, that the pangs of death came like a balm to their wounds.

Once more her eyes were blest with a Continent – but alas! how unlike the Land where she received her being! here all things appeared unpropitious – she learned to catch the Ideas, marked by the sounds of language only to know that her doom was Slavery, from which death alone was to emancipate her. – What did it avail her, that the walls of her Lord were hung with Splendor, and that the dust troden underfoot in her native Country, crowded his Gates with sordid worshipers – the Laws had rendered her incapable of receiving property –and though she was a free moral agent, accountable for her actions, yet she never had a moment at her own disposal!

Fifty years her faithful hands have been compelled to ignoble servitude for the benefit of an Isaac Royall, untill, as if Nations must be agitated, and the world convulsed for the preservation of that freedom which the Almighty Father intended for all the human Race, the present war was Commenced – The terror of men armed in the Cause of freedom, compelled her master to fly – and to breathe away his Life in a Land, where, Lawless domination sits enthroned – pouring bloody outrage and cruelty on all who dare to be free.

The face of your Petitioner, is now marked with the furrows of time, and her frame feebly bending under the oppression of years, while she, by the Laws of the Land, is denied the enjoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, apart whereof hath been accumilated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude.

WHEREFORE, casting herself at the feet of your honours, as to a body of men, formed for the extirpation of vassalage, for the reward of Virtue, and the just return of honest industry – she prays, that such allowance may be made her out of the estate of Colonel Royall, as will prevent her and her more infirm daughter from misery in the greatest extreme, and scatter comfort over the short and downward path of their Lives – and she will ever Pray.

Boston 14th February 1783 the mark of Belinda

This petition is preserved by the
Oct 3, 2005
Belinda is one of the sixty enslaved people at the Royall House estate. When Isaac Royall fled Medford for England with the outbreak of the Revolution, he offered Belinda, then probably in late middle age the option of remaining with Royall's daughter or freedom. Belinda chose freedom. Royall promised 30 pounds per year, for 3 years to Belinda.

However actually getting that money proved to be a somewhat difficult process, and Belinda Sutton petitioned the General Court(state legislature) of Massachusetts five times. This first petition quoted in full above describes her youth in Africa, being captured by slavers, shipped across the ocean and her life in servitude. We know from other records she was married, had two children and was widowed.

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
What an awful bio- because that's what's in the petition. 12 years old!

There's a goodish- strip running between Harrisburg and through to Schuylkill, turns to wins up into Berks. Harrisburg end is a place at least marked as something historical although they miss what was actually there. It's weirdly mostly forgotten now- you drive it and there are still a few ancient stone houses, Google Earth show some of what was there. Pre-Revolution and after, uber wealthy staked out land there. For whatever reason no one called them plantations. Mills and farms, exotic trees, interesting stuff. A lot of the tiny towns through there are named for them, others just forgotten and it's very, very weird.

Anyway, there's at least one documented cemetery where enslaved are buried. Pretty sure I know where another is plus a small stone house near an old mansion's foundation was probably an enslaved home. This stuff is around 100 yards off what's now the main road, used to be another road. It'seerie as heck that all this history is there and the bones of the enslaved who built it, too, and poof- vanished. Not even into memory.