33 Shirley Street, Roxbury
In late 1755, ships carrying French-speaking deportees, from what are now Canada’s Maritime Provinces, began arriving in Boston Harbor. Known as the Acadians, some 2,000 of them would resettle in Massachusetts. Their expulsion, what many Acadian descendants still refer to as “Le Grand Dérangement” (Great Upheaval), paved the way for the occupation of their lands by “New England Planters”—about 8,000 New Englanders heeding a British call to replace the Acadians.
Although the treatment of the Acadian diaspora is much debated, responsibility for their expulsion and the expropriation of their lands is not in doubt. Massachusetts Colony Governor William Shirley, who spent at least part of each year living in his mansion on a 33-acre Roxbury estate, ordered their removal during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763). Although a civilian, Shirley also briefly served as commander of all British forces in North America.
Prior to his governorship, Shirley’s title was that of the “Surveyor of the King’s Wood.” In this role he inventoried New England’s natural resources and engaged with frontier settlers whose antipathy toward the indigenous people and their French allies he shared. Shirley also served on a commission to determine boundaries between New England and New France (part of present-day Canada). As such, Shirley was very familiar with the region.
Although Le Grand Dérangement was but one instance of ethnic cleansing related to the wars, it is especially interesting because Acadian interactions with the indigenous population was far less destructive than those of the English: living in relatively small settlements, the Acadians established stable relations with the Native people, intermarried, and often borrowed indigenous cultural practices. The mass deportation severed those relations. (In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II issued a formal apology to the Acadians for the “wrongs committed in the name of the English Crown.”)
The French and Indian Wars profoundly reconfigured relations between and among indigenous people, the British and French governments, and their respective colonial subjects, the settlers. Ultimate British victory in the wars proved expensive; the taxation associated with the war debt exacerbated tensions between the crown and its colonists. These created incentives for the latter to seek independence and to further plunder native lands notwithstanding the British Crown’s war-ending pledges to protect and “not molest” the indigenous people.
Built between 1746 and 1749 as Governor Shirley’s summer residence, the historic, three-story house is part of Shirley-Eustis Place. (The name reflects that it was also at one point the home of William Eustis, a Massachusetts governor, 1823-1825, and U.S. congressman.) The larger entity, now an official City of Boston Landmark, incorporates a carriage house and the grounds. It also includes an outbuilding (at 42-44 Shirley Street) that is now a private residence.
Archeological research demonstrates that servants and enslaved Africans worked in the mansion and on the lands during Shirley’s ownership of the estate. It also suggests that some of the enslaved people may have lived in portions of the then-outbuilding, probably a barn. If true, it would make the building one of the last free-standing slave quarters (along with the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford) in the U.S. Northeast. None of this would have come as an embarrassment to Governor Shirley who went on to serve the British Crown as Governor of the Bahamas at the peak of its slave trading years.
Today the Shirley-Eustis House Association, founded in 1913, owns and operates the renovated and restored mansion and grounds. The landmark is open for tours from June through September.
Commuter Rail to the Newmarket Station. 0.3 mile (5-minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass close by.
To learn more:
William M. Fowler Jr., Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2005.