Celebrating friendships, stories and discoveries along the way

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Isaac Royall House and Jason Russell House Tours

On Saturday I visited two historic homes in the Greater Boston area with a group of genealogy friends and colleagues from the Boston University Genealogy program. Our first stop was the Isaac Royall House and Slave Quarters, a designated National Historic Landmark, located at 15 George Street in Medford. Our tour began at the Visitor's Center inside the Slave Quarters.

The historical marker near the front door of the Slave Quarters details the marvelous history of the house, its inhabitants, and its environs.

In 1732 Colonel Isaac Royall Sr., the wealthy owner of a sugar cane plantation in Antigua, purchased the house and property, originally part of Governor John Winthrop's Ten Hills Farm. He rebuilt and enlarged the house, adding the Slave Quarters to the property in 1732, and moved his family into the new home in 1737. He died two years later, leaving the property to his son, Isaac Royall Jr. Isaac Jr. lived in the home and entertained wealthy friends and associates until the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, when Loyalists fled from New England. Isaac Jr.'s sister Penelope, who married Henry Vassall of Cambridge in 1742, lived with her husband and family in one of the seven "Tory Row" houses along Brattle Street. Henry Vassall died in 1769. At the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775 Penelope was forced to flee from her Cambridge home and she returned to Antigua.

Our tour continued to the lavish Mansion House and grounds. Photographs were not permitted inside the home, but in each room we observed the trappings of a wealthy eighteenth-century lifestyle. The Mansion House was the headquarters of General John Stark in 1775 and 1776. Stark held meetings in this house with Generals George Washington, Charles Lee, and John Sullivan.

Our next stop was the Jason Russell House and the adjoining Smith Museum in Arlington. The Smith Museum is the home for the Arlington Historical Society.

Our tour guide Alice began our tour of the Jason Russell House with a short genealogical chart of the Russell family.

The current house was built in 1745 by Jason Russell (1717-1775), the third generation to live on the property. On April 19, 1775, the house and property was the site of the severest fighting on that historic day. As the British Regulars retreated from Concord to Boston through Arlington, known then as Menotomy, they savagely attacked homes and citizens along the road through Arlington. Minutemen companies had established a defense breastwork near the Jason Russell House and were surprised by British Regulars who swarmed the house from two sides. Jason Russell and several Minutemen ran for shelter in the house, but were overpowered by the British Regulars who shot and bayoneted Russell and the Minutemen. Jason Russell died inside the doorway of his house. After the savage attack, twelve men, including Jason Russell, were laid out on the kitchen floor in ankle-deep blood. Twenty-five men died in Arlington that day. Twelve of the twenty-five men are buried in the Old Burying Ground nearby. Their names are: Jason Russell, Jason Winship, and Jabez Wyman of Arlington; Elias Haven of Dedham; William Flint, Thomas Hadley, Abednego Ramsdell of Lynn; John Bacon, Nathaniel Chamberlin, Amos Mills, and Jonathan Parker of Needham; and Benjamin Peirce of Salem. At least thirteen others were killed, including Reuben Kennison of Beverly; Samuel Cook, Benjamin Deland, Jr., Ebenezer Goldthwait, Henry Jacobs, Perley Putnam, George Southwick, and Jotham Webb of Danvers; Daniel Townsend of Lynn; William Polly and Henry Putnam of Medford; Elisha Mills of Needham; and Jacob Coolidge of Watertown.1 The seven Minutemen from Danvers were killed at or near the house, and their bodies were returned to Danvers for burial after the fight.2 Their names are memorialized on a Revolutionary War monument on Washington Street in Peabody, which was known as South Danvers in 1775.

As at the Royall House, photographs were not permitted inside the Jason Russell House, which is a fine example of Colonial architecture. The interior and exterior of the home is riddled with bullet holes from the fateful battle and are still visible today.

I was honored and moved to be a visitor at the Jason Russell House, where two of my husband's ancestors fought and died on April 19, 1775. Henry Putnam of Medford, my husband's sixth great-grandfather, and Perley Putnam of Danvers, my husband's fifth great-granduncle, gave their lives for the cause of liberty at the Jason Russell House.

After the tour my genealogy friend and colleague Liz Loveland and I walked a short distance to the nearby Old Burying Ground, where twelve of the men killed in Arlington on April 19, 1775 are buried.

We visited the monument erected to honor the Revolutionary War dead near the spot where the twelve slain men were buried in a mass grave shortly after the April 19, 1775 battle in Arlington.

There are two legible plaques on the monument to commemorate the men who died in Arlington on April 19, 1775 and all known veterans of the American Revolution buried in the Cemetery.


A transcription of the first worn plaque reads:

The gravestone of Jason Russell is located adjacent to the monument:


His tombstone reads:
barbarously murdered in his own house
by GAGE’S bloody Troops
on ye 19 of April 1775 AEtats 59.
His body is quietly resting
in this Grave with Eleven
of our friends who in Like
manner with many others were
cruelly Slain on that fatal day.
Blessed are ye dead who die in ye Lord.

The two additional men not named on the worn plaque are Jason Winship and Jabez Wyman, who were killed at nearby Cooper's Tavern during the fateful battle.

I wish to thank our tour guides Tom Lincoln at the Isaac Royall House and Sara Lundberg and Alice at the Jason Russell House, and Liz Loveland for organizing and coordinating the tours.

For additional information about the Isaac Royall House please visit http://www.royallhouse.org.

For additional information about Penelope Royall Vassall and the Henry Vassall House on Brattle Street in Cambridge please visit my blog post Brattle Street "Tory Row" Walking Tour.

For additional information about the Jason Russell House please visit http://www.arlingtonhistorical.org/visit/jason-russell-house/.

For additional information about the Arlington Historical Society at the Smith Museum please visit http://www.arlingtonhistorical.org/.

For additional information about the Seven Men of Danvers please visit my blog post Seven Men of Danvers.

1Frank Warren Coburn, The Battle of April 19, 1775: In Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown, Massachusetts (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Historical Society, 1922), 143-44.
2Salem Gazette, 5 May 1775.
3Old Burying Ground (Arlington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts), Revolutionary War Veterans monument, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 4 October 2014.
4Old Burying Ground, Jason Russell marker, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 4 October 2014.

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