When we hear about slavery, the Southern American states or the sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean are what come to mind, but slavery also was very much an institution in New England. Among the New England states with the largest populations of enslaved Africans included Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. I recently went on a tour of the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, MA as part of the Tufts Dialogue Project—an initiative of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University.
Located on what was once a massive 504 acres estate in Medford, the Royall House and Slave Quarters is not only considered— architecturally-speaking—one of the finest colonial-era houses still standing in New England, but also one of the most unique due to its Slave Quarters, the only remaining structures of its kind anywhere in the northeast. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the architecture of the Royall House not only reflects the tastes and high fashions of the time, but also the wealth and power of the Royalls—a family considered amongst one of the richest in the colonies. During the family’s 40-year tenure in the estate, an astounding number–more than sixty according to on-going research on the house—men, women and children lived in bondage, affording the family with the riches and luxurious lifestyle the Royalls were known for.
The Royall House and Slave Quarters has been a museum for 100 years, but it was not until the last 10 to 15 years that a concerted effort was made to change how the narrative of the story was told. Thanks in part to this effort, we’re now learning that slavery in New England was the same institution it was anywhere else.
Visiting the Royall House and Slave Quarters is always an eye-opening experience, regardless of how many times one visits. The museum offers a robust program of lectures and tours as well as a highly-engaging and informative Facebook feed and for this alone, it should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Massachusetts.