Located at 15 George Street in Medford, the Isaac Royall House is a historic house and non-profit museum listed as a National Historic Landmark. Known for possessing the only surviving slave quarters in Massachusetts, the house was originally built by Governor John Winthrop in 1637. Today, the Isaac Royall House is available for public visits between June 1st and the last weekend in October.
The History of the Isaac Royall House
The history of the Isaac Royall House dates back to 1637, though the house that currently stands on the property is not the one that was originally built by Governor John Winthrop. In fact, this house was replaced around 1692 by a more imposing 2½-story brick structure. Isaac Royall, Sr. went on to purchase the property on December 26, 1732. A slave trader and rum distiller Royall was a wealthy merchant of Antigua who also purchased 504 acres of land along the west bank of the Mystic River.
Royall went on to complete extensive remodeling of the property, including adding a third story, ornamenting the exterior and encasing the east façade in clapboard. He also constructed outbuildings, one of which was the aforementioned slave quarters. Royall went on to bring 27 enslaved Africans from Antigua to the property, effectively doubling the enslaved population within the community.
Following the death of Isaac Royall, Sr., the property went on to be owned by Isaac Royall, Jr. Royall, Jr. further expended the size of the home while also adding the false ashlar siding on the western façade and inserting Doric pilasters in the corners. He also redid the interior with Georgian wooden paneling and trim. Today, several of the rooms within the house remains unchanged since the time that he changed them.
The Isaac Royal House and the American Revolution
The Royall family were British Loyalists during the American Revolution, with the family leaving Medford and sailing to Nova Scotia as British soldiers were marching to the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Royall never returned and the Massachusetts General Court confiscated the estate. General John Stark went on to make the house his headquarters. The house was later used during the early months of the Revolution by General Lee, Stark, and Sullivan. Legend also has it that George Washington interrogated two British soldiers in the house, while Molly Stark is said to have watched the movements of the British troops from a lookout from the roof of the house.
Preserving the Isaac Royal House
In 1806, the Isaac Royal House was returned to the Royal family, whose heirs went on to sell it. As part of Isaac Royall’s will, a portion of the estate was also donated to Harvard University, which went on to be used to found the Harvard School of Law.
It wasn’t until 1898 that the Daughters of the American Revolution sought to preserve the house. It was then restored by Joseph Everett Chandler, who opened the house to the public in 1898 on Patriots Day. By 1960, the home was designated a National Historic Landmark.