Issac Royall was a man of great wealth. He had a flourishing sugar plantation business on the British West Indian island of Antigua when he moved his family to Massachusetts and bought property in Medford, MA. on land just outside of Somerville. He brought with him 27 enslaved people. They all lived together in separate houses on the 500 acres estate. The Royal house stands just off the road facing the street and Medford’s Mystic River. The enslave were housed behind the mansion in a no frills home built in his backyard. I walked through the house where the slaves lived. And I toured the Issac’s elegant estate home to get a feel for both places. Paintings and personal belongings, furniture and things are still in the mansion. Quilt covered beds and simple room furnishings are there in the slave’s house. The entire estate has been significantly downsized to just a bit under an acre or two. The original stone wall is there and you can see the important Mystic River off to a distance. One upon a time, its waters came up to the estate property. A boat was the best way to travel from Medford to Boston Harbor in the period.
Back on Antigua, 88 enslaved men were executed between October 20, 1736 and March 8, 1737 for conspiracy to exterminate the white population and take over the island. Whites put down the uprising with force. Five reputed leaders of the revolt were broken on the wheel, six men were gibbeted, and 77 were burned at the stake. Much of the killings were ordered by Mr. Issac Royall.
About today’s Royall House & Slave Quarters
If you were standing in front of the Massachusetts State House at Park Street and Tremont St., you would be 27 driving minutes away from the Royall House Slave Quarters. There is public transportation to the site. You could jump on The Red Line at the MBTA Park Street and travel West across the Charles River, through Cambridge until you get to the Somerville Porter Square T stop. Get off there. Punch 15 George St, Medford, MA 02155 into your smartphone app and follow it for 20 minutes until you get there. The Royall House Slave Quarters site is surrounded by Tufts University campus buildings. There is also a bus that runs the route if you want to catch it, but I recommend the walk because no matter what you may have heard about Somerville, you’ll get a pretty good flavor of what its like to be at its most popular town square which is where you are when the longest escalator in Massachusetts public transportation brings you up from train tracks to the street.
Royall House staff conducts guided tours of the family home and the building where slaves lived. The facility has been restored to perfection. When I toured in 2019, they kept the lights out when we entered the slave quarters because the slaves had no light bulbs. Candles lit the rooms and entrances.
The plantation was something else to behold in these parts. Issac was an entertainer who had clout, both political and financial. The important people wanted to visit him and hang out at the home and we was one of the most welcoming host these parts had ever seen.
People came from miles around by boat, horseback and carriage to visit the Royalls. He ordered the slaves to take excellent care of the guests. This visitor activity kept the slaves busy around the clock. Issac Royall was main founder and financier for the Harvard Law School. His family’s crest image hung on campus and classroom walls up through 2019, when student activists decided it needed to come down because of Royall’s role in the slave trade.