History Cambridge plans a celebration Saturday for its ‘Forgotten Souls of Tory Row’ installation

“Forgotten Souls of Tory Row: Remembering the Enslaved People of Brattle Street” at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House draws a visitor June 2.

History Cambridge put out a call in February to artists to create a temporary installation on the lawn of our headquarters, the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, 159 Brattle St., West Cambridge. With support from Cambridge Arts and the Mass Cultural Council, this project’s goal was to honor the enslaved people who lived and worked on Brattle Street. Many of the area’s wealthy homeowners made their wealth through enslaved labor in Jamaica and enslaved people at their homes and estates in Cambridge. Joseph and Rebecca Lee, owners of the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, were complicit in this economy. We know of at least five individuals – Cesar, Prince, Caesar, Mark Lee (or Lewis) and a woman whose name we do not know – who were enslaved by the owners of the house. Although we have no direct surviving evidence that an enslaved person ever lived there, we know other white Tory Row families enslaved people at their Brattle Street mansions. History Cambridge strives to use its headquarters in a way that recovers and shares the stories of the enslaved people of this land and acknowledges that chattel slavery was a Northern as well as a Southern system.

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Cambridge’s Caribbean connection runs deep

A close up photograph of the bottles on one of the blue bottle trees in the "Forgotten Souls of Tory Row" art installation, with a "Black Lives Matter" sign in the background

“Forgotten Souls of Tory Row: Remembering the Enslaved People of Brattle Street,” the installation of bottle trees now on view at the History Cambridge headquarters (159 Brattle St.), was inspired by a custom that originated in Congo in West Africa long ago. The tradition of bottle trees was brought to the Caribbean and the Southern United States by enslaved people and passed down through generations. While bottle trees signify different things to different people, there is agreement that the bottles are placed on tree branches to destroy evil spirits and to capture the energy, spirit and memories of ancestors. 

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‘Forgotten Souls of Tory Row’ art installation remembers enslaved people of Brattle Street

Several blue bottle trees on a green lawn in front of a three story building against a blue sky

Cambridge and slavery are not often paired in the public imagination. Most think of the enslavement of people of African descent as a Southern phenomenon from which the North, particularly New England, was exempt. But slavery was a very real, ever-present institution in Northern colonies and, later, states – including Massachusetts. Recent efforts by academic and public historians to emphasize the role slavery played in the Cambridge area include the re-centering of Medford’s Royall House and Slave Quarters to focus on the experiences of enslaved people on that estate, as well as Harvard University’s recent release of the “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” report. History Cambridge has also been engaged in this important work through our research and public programs, including our Tory Row Antiracism Coalition

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Cambridge Historical Commission

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The Cambridge Historical Commission is the city’s historic preservation agency. In their research library you’ll find books on the history of Cambridge and surrounding towns, local community groups, historic preservation, biographies and memoirs of Cambridge people, and more. They have records of all 13,000+ Cambridge buildings, thousands of photographs, and occasionally offer guided tours for…

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Cambridge Forum

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Cambridge Forum’s purpose is to inform, explore, entertain and challenge preconceptions on a wide range of current and timeless subjects. Forums are recorded live with audience participation, and freely distributed through NPR, WGBH, Forum Network, and CF podcasts. The outcome is a community better informed to understand and appreciate what affects life and the planet.…

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Cambridge Community Television

Cambridge Community Television nurtures a strong, equitable and diverse community by providing tools and training to foster free speech, civic engagement, and creative expression while connecting people to collaboratively produce media that is responsive, relevant, and effective in a fast-changing technological environment. CCTV has archival film and video footage of Cambridge dating back to the…

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