Ten Hills Farm

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The Royall Mansion

The Royall House was purchased by architectural conservationists in the early 1900s and is preserved in its original condition. Even today it has neither electricity nor heat. The original structure was a two-story brick house, the outlines of which can be seen in a faint outline on the dwelling’s southern façade. That relatively humble brick building served as a country residence for the merchant and slave smuggler John Usher, the farm’s second owner. (John Winthrop’s two houses on the farm were built further south, near Winter Hill, in what today is the busy city of Somerville.)

Ten Hills Farm was sold to the slave trader Isaac Royall upon Usher’s death. From 1732 until 1737, while Royall still tended to business at his sugar plantation in Antigua, the house and grounds were expanded into one of the most elegant estates in New England. A third story was built. A slave quarters and various other out building were put up as well. The wood siding of the mansion was carefully carved to resemble stone. It likely made the home more familiar to Royall who, though born in Maine and raised in Dorchester, Ma., had lived for 40 years in the West Indies building a fortune in the trade of sugar, molasses, rum and slaves. Among Royall’s buyers were wealthy merchants and important politicians in Boston. Royall’s brother Joseph, a merchant near Long Warf, handled the New England end of such sales.

In Isaac Royall’s day, the mansion would have overlooked sweeping lawns and the unsullied Mystic River, a powerful estuary (now tamed by a large dam downriver) with tides that surged and fell eight feet – enough to float seagoing vessels. Isaac’s sister Penelope married the son of a wealthy planter from Jamaica. That couple moved to Cambridge where their neighbors included relatives and friends – and relatives’ and friends’ slaves – who were also neighbors on plantations in the Caribbean.

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