About the Book
The Henry Vassall House
This home, (today, two private condominiums), was built by one of John Usher’s business partners. The property changed hands several times in its early history until it was sold at something of a discount to Henry Vassall, the fourteenth of eighteen children born to the owner of a sprawling sugar plantation in Jamaica.
Penne and Henry Vassall lived at #94 Brattle Street with a handful of slaves. Among them were Henry’s driver, Tony, a black worker who had come in bondage with Henry from Jamaica, and Cuba, Penne’s enslaved maid who likely came with the Royalls when they moved north from Antigua. Cuba and Tony married and bore several children after their masters moved in together. But after Henry’s death, his wife, struggling for cash to keep the much-mortgaged riverside estate afloat, sold Cuba and her children down the block to live with Henry’s relatives at what is now the Longfellow House. Tony, she kept for herself to serve at #94. Contemporary scholarship involving slavery at the Longfellow House begins to fill in the stories of the lives of these enslaved workers but that research is difficult since the reams of material available regarding every detail of the lives of whites is nowhere matched by archival data filling in the details of the lives of unfree blacks.