Longfellow House

Overview: The Longfellow House’s archival collections are made up of materials ranging in date from 1659 to the 1950s and are primarily organized around the papers of multiple generations of the Dana and Longfellow families. The collection is rich in material both from the era of the American Revolution and related to its commemoration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the house itself is thought to have served as a hospital following the Battle of Bunker Hill and was General George Washington’s headquarters while stationed in Cambridge during the Revolutionary War (July 1775-April 1776). There are also some documents connected to the history of the family during the colonial period in the Wadsworth-Longfellow family papers.

In addition to Colonial and Revolutionary America, the collection addresses numerous nineteenth- and twentieth-century topics. The Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow (1817-1861) papers and the Reverend Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892) papers provide a glimpse into life in nineteenth-century Boston with a particular focus on the literary and philosophical culture of the era. The Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893) papers include Charles’s journals from the Civil War, as well as images and documents related to his subsequent travels around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, Japan, and the Pacific. The collection also includes papers relating to the Lowell textile mills, historic preservation, educational reform, the women’s rights movement, the rights of African Americans and American Indians, art and architecture, travel, and the rise of communism.

American Revolution Materials: The collections at the Longfellow House related to the American Revolution are spread through a number of different files: many members of the Longfellow-Dana family were amateur historians, and materials from the Revolution-era are sorted mainly by the individual who obtained them. The three major collections that include Revolutionary America-related materials are the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana papers, the Dana Family papers, and the Wadsworth-Longfellow Family papers.

The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana papers contain materials from the Revolution that Dana used in his research. In addition to secondary source material on Thomas Paine and Lafayette and a scrapbook of primary and secondary documents connected to the Revolution, there are letters by George Washington (1775) and an honorary degree presented to the General by Harvard College in 1776. The collection also hold primary and secondary materials connected to the siege of Boston and George Washington’s presence in Cambridge in 1775-1776.

The Dana Family papers include a collection of letters written by William Bollan, Massachusetts representative in London, to Edward Towbridge in the years leading up to the American Revolution (1759-1775). The letters address the political climate of the era, including the growing enmity with Britain.

The Wadsworth-Longfellow family papers include materials associated with Stephen Longfellow (1723-1790) and Peleg Wadsworth (1748-1829). Longfellow’s paper consist of a number of letters discussing various aspects of the Revolution-era, many of which connect to his loyalism: his support for Parliament’s right to tax the colonies in 1775, his desire for peace in 1779, and a letter from Governor Thomas Hutchinson supporting the Crown. There are also letters discussing Longfellow’s son’s reluctance to fight, an account of damages at Falmouth caused by burning in 1775, and materials related to the proceedings of the First Continental Congress (1774). The letters related to Peleg Wadsworth offers a patriot perspective on the Revolution: a critique of Thomas Hutchinson (1771) and copies of letters written to his wife while he was held captive on a British ship (1781). There are also materials discussing the Early Nationalist period including an account of dining with George and Martha Washington while a delegate to Congress in Philadelphia (1791) and two accounts of Washington’s birthday celebrations in Philadelphia, the latter of which took place soon after his death (1794, 1800).

The Longfellow House archives also include a variety of individual items connected to the American Revolution. Foremost among these holdings is the diary of a Revolution War soldier (1775-1776), thought to be Moses Sleeper, who described his service in New York State and Cambridge, including a visit to the Longfellow House while it was Washington’s Headquarters. There are also numerous letters from the Revolution-era written by individuals including Edward Quincy (daily life and the status of the war in 1775 Boston), Miles Greenwood (absence of lead in 1776 Salem), George Washington (payment of bills while in Cambridge, hosting at Mount Vernon in 1793), Stephen Hooper (Bunker Hill after the battle and the state of the war in 1776), General Joseph Reed (the state of the army in 1776), Lafayette (supplies in 1778 and the journey from Baltimore to Richmond in 1781, including disagreements amongst American generals), Nathaniel Greene (tactics in the South in 1781), John Quincy Adams (John Adams’s travels to St. Petersburg in 1781), Henry Knox (wartime mementos and the Society of the Cincinnati in 1784), Thomas Jefferson (his schedule, 1801), and John Trumbull (writing in 1843, he described the way in which George Washington used the Longfellow House).

The archives also contain a collection of a materials related to commemorations of the American Revolution and Washington’s time in Cambridge. It includes numerous nineteenth-century prints of the Longfellow House, emphasizing its role as Washington’s headquarters, as well as books, letters, and photographs documenting major anniversaries: the Revolution War centennial in 1876, the sesquicentennial of the Longfellow House in 1896, and the tercentenary of Cambridge in 1930. The house itself also contains several artifacts from the Revolution: busts and paintings of Washington, a cannon ball, a bayonet, a chair thought to have been used by Washington while at the Longfellow House, and a rock that was supposedly from the Boston Lighthouse destroyed during the Revolution.

Key Words: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, artifacts, William Bollan, books, Boston, Bunker Hill, Cambridge, commemorations, Continental Army, First Continental Congress, diaries, Falmouth, Nathaniel Greene, Miles Greenwood, Harvard College, Stephen Hooper, houses, Thomas Hutchinson, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, Lafayette, letters, London, Stephen Longfellow, Loyalists/Tories, Mount Vernon, New York, Thomas Paine, portraits/paintings, photographs, prints, Edward Quincy, Joseph Reed, research notes, Salem, scrapbooks, Siege of Boston, soldiers/militia, Society of the Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, John Trumbull, Peleg Wadsworth, George Washington

Collection Policies: Finding aids are available both in paper and online. The Longfellow House does not actively purchase materials for its collections, but does take donations and is particularly interested in expanding their collections associated with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana. The Longfellow House is willing to lend materials for appropriate exhibits and has participated in exhibits in the past.