Brattle Street

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Today the residence of Harvard University presidents, Elmwood, was once a sprawling estate that stretched along the Charles River. There, the family of Thomas Oliver (Isaac and Penne Royall’s nephew through their half-sister Ann), hosted the Royalls, the Vassalls and other wealthy New England families that made their fortunes in the Caribbean before establishing themselves in Massachusetts. At Elmwood, formal gardens, winding gravel paths, huge stables, and various outbuildings -- all tended by a host of slaves “seasoned” in the Caribbean – provided a life of leisure and culture for which Cambridge became known. Given the extensive ties to the Royall and Vassall families, logic would have it that slaves who worked for Thomas Oliver at this estate knew and perhaps were related to slaves up and down Brattle Street and several miles to the north at the Royall House in Medford. Here again, the tight culture of wealthy New England families was mirrored by the tight and equally intermingled culture of men and women whom they owned.


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