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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Self-Guided Tour: The Work of Revolution in Cambridge

Laundresses at a Revolutionary Army camp, circa 1780.

Introduction For many, the first image that comes to mind when thinking of Cambridge during the Revolutionary Era is that of General George Washington taking command of the Continental Army on Cambridge Common in July of 1775, under what would come to be known as the Washington Elm. Although we now know that this tale…

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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 Center for Adult Education

Cambridge Center for Adult Education is a non-profit organization providing a wide range of high-quality, low-cost educational experiences in Cambridge, Boston, and surrounding area since 1870. Contact CCAE via email or at 617-547-6789

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A Brief History of “Ten Ten”

 By Elizabeth af Jochnick Before Ten Ten was Ten Ten, it was an in-patient infirmary for Harvard students, located next to Mount Auburn Hospital, known as the Stillman Infirmatory.  When the University moved its student health facilities to Harvard Square, they put the Infirmary up for sale.  Harvard offered to sell the building and the…

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1986 Neighborhood Trivia Hunt

Cambridge Trivia Hunt

Cambridge has certainly changed over time, and our 1986 trivia hunt shows just how true that is. It serves as a kind of time capsule of our city. Take a trip back in time with this self-guided tour to see how many of these sites are still around. Which ones do you recognize? Which ones…

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Self-Guided Tour: Stories from the Early African American Community of Old Cambridge

Black and white photo of a three story house with tree in front

By Jules Long, Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, 2018 | Edited by Eshe Sherley, History Cambridge, 2021 Slavery in Pre-Revolutionary Cambridge The oldest existing mention of slavery in Massachusetts was recorded in 1638, when African prisoners arrived in the colony on the slave ship Desire, built in Marblehead the previous year. In…

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Early Black Cambridge Resource Hub

Lit up bottle tree grove with blue bottles against a twilight blue sky, with a building in the background

Are you interested in learning more about the history of race, slavery, and African American life in the Cambridge area? This guide highlights many of the resources available that touch on these topics, including primary, secondary, and public-facing sources (such as self-guided tours and websites). While this hub is focused on material related to the…

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