Thomas H. Perkins (1764-1854) was one of the Boston area’s wealthiest individuals during the 19th century. He and his brother were the namesakes of James and Thomas H. Perkins and Company, a Boston-based trading company established in 1792.*
In 1799, Perkins purchased 53 acres of land on Heath and Warren Streets. Soon the property expanded to 70 acres. This was a time when a number of affluent Boston-area merchants were moving to the “countryside” of Brookline.
Known as “the Merchant Prince,” Thomas H. Perkins originally called his new landholding Brookline Farm. In the early years of Perkins’s ownership, it had domesticated animals, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, the purpose of which was to provide food for his Boston establishments. Soon, Perkins had the house that already stood on the property torn down and a large, plantation-style summer house built in its place. Over the years, greenhouses and other buildings—including a gardener’s cottage, a guesthouse, and a billiards pavilion—were erected. Perkins had a team of gardeners, reportedly spending more than $10,000 per year (an amount, in 1825, worth about $320,000 today) to build and maintain a beautiful landscape that included ponds, winding paths, huge lawns, and flowers and shrubs from all over world.
What makes Thomas H. Perkins’s estate noteworthy—apart from its size and the wealth it reflects—is how the merchant trader accrued the money that paid for it. (James Perkins built a lavish summer home, which no longer exists, at Pinebank, overlooking Jamaica Pond, in Jamaica Plain.) Prior to the establishment of Perkins and Company, the two founders’ business activities included slave-trading in Haiti. Their new company, with its base of operations along Boston’s waterfront and its fleet of ships that transported goods around the world, gained much of its tremendous wealth from smuggling opium into China. In this fashion, Thomas H. Perkins contributed to widespread drug addiction in China and to the imperialist Opium Wars that devastated the country. At “home,” Perkins employed his wealth in a more beneficent manner to fund key local institutions—from the Boston Athenaeum to the Massachusetts General Hospital. Perkins also donated one of his homes (and his name) to what became known as the Perkins School for the Blind.**
The Perkins family retained the property at 450 Warren Street until the 1950s. What remains of the estate is today a property of about 22 acres that (according to a 1983 inventory) includes 11 buildings. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the property, which is still privately held, has an estimated value (in 2024) of $47 million.
Green Line (D Branch) to Reservoir station or Green Line (C Branch) to Cleveland Circle. 1.5 mile (35 minute) walk. MBTA buses pass much closer to the site.
Established in 1846, Harmony Grove was a commercial pleasure park. It had a lawn area for games, a dancing pavilion, and, as it sat on the edge of Farm Pond, a boathouse. It also had an amphitheater of sorts, in a natural depression, with benches that sat about a thousand people and a platform below.
Soon after Harmony Grove’s opening, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society began to hold an annual Fourth of July rally at the roughly 4-acre venue. It was a time of greatly heightened tensions surrounding the question of slavery and growing opposition, particularly in states such as Massachusetts, to what South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun first referred to as “the peculiar institution.” The year 1850 saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, for example; in 1852, John P. Jewett & Company*, a publisher in Downtown Boston, released Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and, in 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
In this charged context, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society held its most well-known and controversial gathering at Harmony Grove on July 4, 1854. Hundreds of abolitionists—one newspaper estimated the crowd at 2,000—gathered at the site. Decorating the platform was an upside-down U.S. flag bordered in black, a banner that showed Massachusetts chained to Virginia, and anti-slavery slogans. Speakers included Lucy Stone, a not-yet-famous Henry David Thoreau (Walden came out the next month), and Sojourner Truth, who warned the crowd that God “would yet execute his judgments upon the white people for their oppression and cruelty.”
William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator newspaper, opened the event. He called the U.S. Constitution “the source and parent of all the other atrocities—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.” He ended his speech by burning a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law as well as one of the Constitution, leading to many cheers but some boos as well from those in attendance.
Political gatherings continued at Harmony Grove for a decade following the end of the Civil War, but with a growing focus on women’s suffrage and temperance. In the 1870s, with the spread of railroads to new destinations, the popularity of Harmony Grove declined, leading to its closure in 1875. By the 1890s, the land was sub-divided into dozens of housing lots.
Today, the area that was once Harmony Grove is populated by houses and commercial buildings. At 156 Franklin Street, at the corner with Henry Street, there is a small marker with a plaque, placed there by the Framingham Historical Society in 1913, commemorating Harmony Grove. On the other side of Henry Street, at 166 Franklin, there is a Harmony Grove Welcome Arch. Dedicated on September 6, 2020, the arch sits on the front lawn of a private home. The result of a collaboration between Downtown Framingham Inc. and student organizations at Framingham High School and Framingham State University, the arch, which visitors are welcome to approach, contains sketches of historical scenes and of the landscape associated with Harmony Grove.
Commuter Rail from South Station to Framingham. 0.5 mile (nine-minute) walk.
Pleasant Street (between Green St. and Titcomb St.), Newburyport
On May 31, 1836, the Essex County Antislavery Society held its first meeting at Brown Square. Among the speakers was the famed poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Established in 1802, the square was named after Moses Brown (1742-1827), the land’s donor, and, at the time, Newburyport’s second wealthiest individual and largest property owner.
Brown Square features an imposing statue of Newburyport’s most famous son: William Lloyd Garrison. On the base of the statue, which was erected in 1893, are engraved some of his most famous, hard-hitting words. The monument is located very close to what was the North Church, whose pastor, in 1830, invited Garrison to deliver a lecture about slavery. Many in the audience so disliked what the firebrand abolitionist had to say that he was uninvited to speak on a second night.
That the house of worship (the Central Congregational Church now occupies the site) at the western end of Brown Square treated Garrison poorly is related in some ways to the square’s namesake. Moses Brown was a merchant and shipbuilder, and an investor in the sugar, rum, and molasses trade. As such, like many in Newburyport, his wellbeing was tied to slavery. As an informational panel on the green notes, “Brown became wealthy and helped the development of Newburyport based on his profits from the ‘Triangle Trade,’ the economic engine that drove much of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.”
In addition to Newburyport’s City Hall, various commercial establishments sit along the perimeter of Brown Square, including the Garrison Inn, a small hotel. Originally known as the Brown Square House, it was built (or commissioned) by Moses Brown.
Commuter Rail from North Station to Newburyport. Brown Square is 1.3 miles away (about a 26-minute walk). You can traverse most of the distance via the Clipper City Rail Trail, which connects the Commuter Rail station to Newburyport’s Harborwalk, along the city’s waterfront.
To learn more:
Susan M. Harvey, Slavery in Massachusetts: A descendent of early settlers investigates the connections in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Fitchburg State University, June 2011.
Among Brookline’s enslavers was Edward Devotion (1688-1744), who owned four landed properties, the largest of which is today the Coolidge Corner neighborhood. In his will, Devotion left a portion of his estate to Brookline and requested that it be used to build a school near the center of town. While the Town of Brookline never acted on this wish, it did honor Devotion’s bequest almost 150 years after his death when, in 1892, it opened a new school directly behind his house, and named it after him.
In early 2018, two Brookline residents, Deborah Brown and Anne Greenwald, launched a campaign to drop Edward Devotion’s name from the school due to his being an enslaver. In May of that year, Brookline Town Meeting (Brookline’s legislative body) voted to temporarily rename it the Coolidge Corner School.
A subsequent public process overseen by the Brookline School Committee resulted in 119 different proposals for a new, more permanent name from community members. A committee of students, guided by parents and school staff, then deliberated and opted to recommend that the school be named after Florida Ruffin Ridley, a prominent suffragist and civil rights leader. On November 20, 2019, the Town Meeting, by a vote of 195 to 15 (with 13 abstentions), approved the committee’s recommendation. The school’s new name officially went into effect on September 1, 2020.
Born and raised in Boston, Ridley was the second Black teacher in that city’s history. Along with her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, she helped found the Women’s Era Club, an advocacy group for Black women in the Boston area; she also served as an editor of the organization’s newspaper, The Women’s Era. In 1896, Ridley moved to Brookline with her husband and purchased a home (which still stands, at 131 Kent Street). Together, they became either the first, or among the first, Black homeowners in Brookline.
The Edward Devotion House remains standing on Harvard Street, with the U-shaped Florida Ruffin Ridley School surrounding it on three sides. The Devotion House was built around 1740 and contains a house frame which dates to approximately 1680. It is today owned by the Town of Brookline. It serves as the headquarters of the Brookline Historical Society, which administers the historic building and has been meeting there since 1901.
Green Line (C Branch) to Coolidge Corner station. 0.3 mile (6 minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass by the site.
Consisting of two residential buildings, the Royall House and Slave Quarters are what remain of the huge eighteenth-century estate owned by Isaac Royall, Sr. (1677-1739). Royall purchased the 500-acre property, a larger version of which had been previously known as Ten Hills Farm*, in 1732. Later that same year, Royall and his family moved into a what had been an already large house, one that he had had expanded. Royall also oversaw the construction of a large outbuilding to house the twenty-seven enslaved people he brought with him from his sugar plantation in Antigua.
The Africans enslaved by the Royall family in Medford (at the time part of Charlestown) engaged largely in domestic and agricultural work. Their labor enabled the gentlemanly lifestyle of Isaac Royall Jr., his lively civic engagement, and his entertaining of the Massachusetts ruling class. Royall Jr. served on the Governor’s Council and on the Board of Overseers of Harvard College.
The presence of slaves on the Royall estate reflects the fact that Greater Boston was an important center of slavery. In the 1740s, in what was then the Town of Boston, for example, there were more than 1,600 enslaved people—between 10 and 15 percent of the overall population, according to historian Jared Hardesty—many of whom were highly skilled and thus central to the area’s economy. This translated into about one out of every four Boston households having slaves.
Most enslaved people in the Boston area lived in the homes of their “owners.” In this regard, the Royall family, with its separate quarters for their enslaved workers, was exceptional.
Royall Jr.’s suspected Loyalist sympathies saw him flee Massachusetts during the American Revolution and live out his life in London. He bequeathed a portion of the proceeds from his original fortune and from land speculation in western Massachusetts to Harvard University. These funds helped to establish Harvard Law School.
In October 2015, a dynamic student movement inspired by the South African and British #RhodesMustFall activism emerged at Harvard Law School. Organized under the name “Royall Must Fall,” the students argued that the school’s seal, which contained the crest of the Royall family, endorsed a slaveholding legacy. The students’ efforts resulted in the Law School announcing, in March 2016, that it would drop the seal and replace it with a new one.
Once home to the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts and the individuals they held in bondage, the Royall House and Slave Quarters, the latter being the only such remaining structure in the northern United States**, is now a museum. The museum seeks to educate its visitors about both the Royall family and the struggles of the Africans whose enslavement helped to create the family’s fortune. In addition, the museum seeks to highlight how the legacies of slavery inform systemic inequalities in the present. It is open to the public for tours on weekends from May through October.
The site is a half-hour (1.3 mile) walk from the Red Line’s Davis Square station; MBTA bus lines also have stops nearby.
Ivory Bean was a mason. In 1855, he purchased a piece of land at what is today 47-49 Monmouth Street in Brookline’s Longwood neighborhood for the price of $11,400. The person from whom Bean bought the property was Amos A. Lawrence, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. It is thought that Bean might have worked for the Lawrence family.
Noteworthy is the restrictive language contained in the property deed. In addition to banning various forms of economic activity—including that of a soap boiler brewer, tanner, distiller, sugar baker, or brick maker—it also forbade the property’s “occupation by any negro or negroes” and “by any native or natives of Ireland.”
That Amos Lawrence had antipathy toward people of Irish descent is not especially remarkable as such sentiment was common among non-Catholic Greater Bostonians during the time. His hostility toward Black people, however, is somewhat striking as Lawrence was a prominent abolitionist. This seeming contradiction manifests, in addition to his own idiosyncrasies, the complexities of the society in which the textile merchant lived and his position with it.
As historian Catherine Devlin explains, Lawrence criticized “slavery without recognizing his own dependence on it.” He also “[opposed] its spread on political grounds rather than championing the end to an unethical practice.” As such, Lawrence “was both culpable for profiting from slavery and admirable for trying to prevent its spread, a man who was both racist and a self-proclaimed abolitionist.”
Also noteworthy about the racially restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean property is its date. Historians typically trace the origins of racial covenants in the United States to the late 1800s. The 1920s marked a period of intense growth in their use—an outgrowth of a combination of factors: the Great Migration of Blacks from the U.S. South; a U.S. Supreme Court decision (in 1917) that outlawed the use of racial zoning by municipalities; and anti-Black race riots in many cities in the years 1917-1921. On the national level, racial covenants usually targeted Blacks, but, depending on the part of the country, also people of Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Mexican backgrounds. In Massachusetts, covenants barred people identified as Black, Irish, Italian, Polish, and the non-white broadly.
One cannot say with certainty when the first racially restrictive covenant came to be in the United States. (Many have mistakenly attributed the first racial covenant to a Brookline subdivision—“The Lindens”—created by Thomas Aspinwall Davis in 1843.*) But it is safe to say that the one Amos Lawrence imposed on the property of Ivory Bean is the earliest known instance of a racist property deed in Greater Boston and in the United States as a whole.
In approximately 1857, Ivory Bean built the house that now stands on the property. Today it is a private, multi-unit dwelling.
Green Line (D Branch) to Longwood station (0.3 miles, about a 6-minute walk), or Green Line (B Branch) to St. Mary’s Street (0.2 miles, about a 4-minute walk).
Anne Wardwell, “’Longwood’ and ‘Cottage Farm’ in Brookline,” in Pauline Chase Harrell and Margaret Supplee Smith (editors), Victorian Boston Today: Ten Walking Tours, Boston: New England Chapter, Victorian Society in America, 1975: 58-69.
Nearby site of interest:
Longwood Mall, Kent and Beech Streets. The mall is a two-and-a-half-acre linear park linear park with historic beech trees. It is thought to contain the oldest grove of European Beech trees in the United States.
Anne Wardwell (see above) is the first author known to have written about the restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean house. A history Ph.D. dissertation completed at Boston University in 1981 was the first scholarly source to do so. The author, Ronald Dale Karr, wrote:
“Before zoning, the primary protection against attempts to lower the class status of a development was the restrictive covenant. Restrictive covenants were written into deeds at the time of the original sale, enforceable in court by other landowners. Nearly every Brookline subdivision aimed at the upper-middle-class market employed these controls. For example, the deeds received by buyers at Linden Place in 1843 required that all buildings be erected at least thirty feet away from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected or placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses and their appurtenances exclusive of all yards, shops, or other conveniences for manufacturing or mechanical purposes.’ In Longwood, deeds from the Sears and Lawrence families commonly forbade commercial uses of the land for twenty years from the time of sale, and some varied detailed restrictions on the type of buildings that could be constructed. One even prohibited buildings to be occupied ‘by any negro or native of Ireland.'”
In the footnote associated with this text, Karr said that “This is the only example I uncovered of a restrictive covenant aimed at a racial, ethnic, or religious group.”
Historian Kenneth Jackson drew on Karr’s dissertation in his award-winning book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Here’s the relevant excerpt:
“Meanwhile, the use of uniform setback lines and the preference for centering a house to equalize both side yards created a homogeneous statement that enabled residents to eradicate many vestiges of the heterogeneity that characterized the cities they had fled. For example, in 1843, deeds for the lots in the Linden Place subdivision in Brookline, Massachusetts, included the provision that houses be erected at least 30 feet from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected and placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses.’ As the century progressed, deeds forbade sales to ‘any negro or native of Ireland.’”
Note that the excerpt implies that the racially restrictive covenant was associated with the Linden Place subdivision and also suggests that such covenants were multiple in number (i.e. “deeds forbade sales”). Jackson’s work thus distorts what Karr wrote in his dissertation. (Karr turned the dissertation into a book in 2018–see above.)
Subsequent authors have drawn on Jackson’s influential book regarding the origins of the racial covenant and have thus reproduced the original misrepresentation.
Finally, it is important to note that racial covenants stand out because of their formal nature. There were (and are), of course, all sorts of other, less formal means, by which homeowners, neighborhoods, and real estate interests have excluded negatively racialized individuals to maintain relative homogeneity in particular locales. (See, for example, here and James Loewen’s Sundown Towns.)
Thanks to Jesus MacLean and Camille Arbogast, curators at the Brookline Historical Society, and to Ken Liss, President of the Brookline Historical Society, for their assistance. Thanks as well to Stephanie Call, the Associate Director of Archives and Education, Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
A vibrant and complex cluster of abolitionists emerged out of Haverhill in the 1800s. They included Sydney Howard Gay, future editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard and partisan of the Underground Railroad. Perhaps the best known was John Greenleaf Whittier, who gained national prominence as the author of Snow-Bound, a bestselling poem. Published in book form in 1866, the poem celebrated the disappearing New England family farm.
Whittier, born in 1807, was educated at a local Quaker school led by an influential abolitionist minister, Joshua Coffin. It was in a newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison (see our entry on Rockledge), the Newburyport Free Press, in which Whittier’s first published poem appeared, in 1826.
Whittier was ambivalent about his hometown’s best-known contribution to abolitionism, the famous Haverhill petition. In 1841, John Quincy Adams, the former president and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, presented the petition to Congress. It called for the dissolution of the United States, in effect Northern secession, claiming that taxpayers in the North were footing the bill for the defense of slavery in the South. Whittier was quite troubled by this tactic, fearing that if it were to succeed, slavery would remain intact. Despite this difference, Whittier remained a strong advocate of using formal political institutions to challenge slavery.
Built in 1688, Whittier’s birthplace still stands; today, it is a museum dedicated to the poet. The Whittier family homestead is open to the public from May until October via guided tours. The neighboring properties retain much of the bucolic character of Whittier’s time.
The home is 4.2 miles from the Haverhill Commuter Rail Station.
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.
In 1864, William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist and publisher of the Boston-based, anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, moved to the “Boston Highlands” of Roxbury with his family.
Rockledge was the name given to the half-acre estate. Due to the declining health and limited mobility of Garrison’s wife, Helen—an active abolitionist as well—it was thought best to move to what was then a relatively bucolic suburb. (The City of Boston did not annex Roxbury until 1868.) The Garrison family held onto the property until the deaths of both Helen (1876) and William (1879).
In an area today known as both Highland Park and Fort Hill, the original building, altered somewhat over the decades, and a later addition still stand. Beginning in 1904, Rockledge served as a nursing home, one run by the Episcopal Sisters of the Society of St. Margaret for low-income African-American women and children. Today, Rockledge, a National Historic Landmark, is part of Emmanuel College’s Notre Dame campus, where the 30 or so student residents dedicate themselves to community service and social justice.
Orange Line to Jackson Square Station. (0.6 mile, about a 14-minute walk.) The Emmanuel campus is accessed from Highland Avenue, a small street above and behind Rockledge.
William Lloyd Garrison birthplace and family home, 3-5 School Street, Newburyport. (We explore this site in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.)
Highland Park, former home of a Revolutionary War fort and the site of Fort Hill Tower, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It affords a beautiful view of much of Boston.
To learn more:
Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.
An historic African Methodist Episcopal congregation, the Charles Street AME Church began in 1818, when a group of formerly enslaved people began meeting in a house on Beacon Hill and established the First African Methodist Episcopal Society. Leading up to the Civil War, the church served as a major meeting place for abolitionists and a key organizing site in the Boston abolitionist community’s fight against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.
Over its first several decades of existence, the church was located in various buildings in Beacon Hill. In 1876, its growing congregation, due in significant degree to a doubling of Boston’s Black population following the Civil War, led the church to move to the Charles Street Meeting House (at 70 Charles Street, on the corner of Mount Vernon Street) and take on its current name.
However, by the 1890s, the African American community in Beacon Hill was declining as families moved to the South End and Roxbury due to an influx of European immigrants to Boston and growing competition in both housing and employment. In order to accommodate its congregation, the church eventually decided to leave Beacon Hill, the last African American institution to do so, and move to Roxbury. Retaining its name, Charles Street AME bought the former St. Ansgarius Church property on 551 Warren Street and has resided there since 1939.
MBTA buses pass on Warren Street very close to the church.