Property and its ownership in America served as the most significant component of establishing wealth, status and recognition in Colonial times connected to citizenship and civil rights. The 18th and 19th Century Black residents of Boston and Cambridge, free and enslaved, framed their existence and built their communities with the purchase of land and established their physical and intellectual occupation of space.
Henry Vassall moves from Jamaica to Massachusetts following his father Leonard, a wealthy sugar planter, and several of his brothers, who attend Harvard University. He brings an enslaved coachman named Anthony (Tony) with him from Jamaica.
Henry Vassall marries Penelope Royall, and Abba, Cuba, and Cuba’s siblings Robin, Walker, Nuba, Trace, and Tobey are moved, as property, to the Vassall’s new home at 94 Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Tony and Cuba marry.
John and Penelope Vassall and their families are forced to flee the colony with other Loyalists during the American Revolution. Tony and Cuba and their children are able to reunite and move into a building on John Vassall’s abandoned property. Tony tends land on the Vassall estate and is paid for work on the Royall property in Medford. He also receives compensation for caring for his wife and children, or “supporting a Negro woman & 2 children,” citing Middlesex probate records.
Tony petitions the Massachusetts Legislature for ownership of ¾ acres of John Vassal’s abandoned property.
Primus Hall, Prince Hall’s son, and leader in the free Black community in Boston, opens the African School for Black children.
Darby and Cyrus are taxed for property in Beacon Hill, indicating they have purchased property there.
Lewisville, Harvard Square, Harvard Hill, and Lower Port are all known as communities of color in Cambridge.
Primus Hall’s African School is moved to the schoolroom in the basement of the African Meeting House.
The Abiel Smith School is established in the basement of the African Meeting House.
The city of Boston begins construction on the Abiel Smith School: the first public school for free Black children.
The Abiel Smith School opens next door to the African Meeting House.
Darby visits his birthplace, the John Vassall House, now the home of the famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Lunsford Lane, American Anti-slavery Society member, and author of a memoir about his former enslavement in North Carolina, is also present, and sits so long with Wadsworth that Darby is eventually "driven away."
Enoch Lewis, brother of Adam and Quaku, form the Cambridge Liberian Emigrant Association. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow donates $10.00 for “Negroes to Liberia.”
Tony and Cuba purchase property and house in 1786 at Shepard Street and Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge
In 1816 Darby’s sister Catherine and husband Adam Lewis (abolitionist) purchased triangular lot in Cambridge at Garden Street and Concord Street contribution to establishment of Cambridge Black Community “Lewisville”
In 1843 Darby is presented with “pass” for burial in the tomb of Henry Vassall under Christ Church in Cambridge
In 1739 Henry Vassall and Penelope Royall marry and bring Abba, Cuba and Cuba’s four sibling as property to new home in Cambridge (94 Brattle Street)
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1. 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties excerpt. State Library of Massachusetts.
2. Jefferys, Thomas. "Antigua." Map. London: s.n., [1775?]. Digital Commonwealth
3. Feke, Feke. 1741. "Isaac Royall and Family".
4. Henry Vassall Oil on canvas by Joseph Blackburn, 1757
5. Penelope Royall Vassall (Mrs. Henry Vassall) Oil on canvas by Joseph Blackburn
6. Abdalian, Leon H. "Vassall House, 94 Brattle Street at the corner of Hawthorne Street." Photograph. July 31, 1930. Digital Commonwealth
7. Pelham, Henry, and Francis Jukes. A plan of Boston in New England with its environs, including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin, Cambridge, Medford, Charlestown, parts of Malden and Chelsea with the military works constructed in those places in the years and 1776. London, 1777. Map.
8. Nell, William Cooper "The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, with sketches of several Distinguished Colored Persons: to Which is Added a Brief Survey of the Condition and Prospects of Colored Americans Frontispiece" Book. 1855.
9. Harris, Thaddeus Mason, et al. A discourse delivered before the African Society in Boston, 15th of July, on the anniversary celebration of the abolition of the slave trade. Boston: Printed by Phelps and Farnham, 1822. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress
10. Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions; Massachusetts Archives Collection. v.186-Revolution Petitions, 1779-1780. SC1/series 45X. Massachusetts Archives. Boston, Mass.
11. Hastings, Lewis M. "Map of Cambridge." Map. Boston: W.A. Greenough & Co., 1895. Digital Commonwealth
12. Hayward, James. "A map of Cambridge, Mass." Map. Boston Mass.: Eddy's Lith., 1838. Digital Commonwealth
13. H.F. Walling, civil engineer ; engraved on stone by Friend & Aub. "Map of the city of Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts." Map. Boston Mass.: 1854. Harvard Map Collection digital maps
14. The African Meeting House, 1843 EngravingThe Boston Almanac for 1843
15. Christ Church, Cambridge MA. Photography by Kevin Grady/Harvard Radcliffe Institute.
16. Lunsford Lane; or, Another helper from North Carolina by Hawkins, William G. (William George), 1823-1909. Archive.org
17. Coyle, Randolph. "Map of Liberia." Map. Baltimore Md.: Lith. by E. Weber & Co., 1845. Digital Commonwealth
18. Christ Church, Cambridge MA. Photography by Kevin Grady/Harvard Radcliffe Institute.