Henry Vassall purchased the land on which this house now stands from his older brother, John Vassall, in 1746. (Henry’s nephew, also a John Vassall would build what is now the Longfellow house just across the street.)
Henry and his wealthy wife, Penelope Royall, were loyalists. Henry is said to have died a lonely death in his house in 1769, and Penelope was one of those forced to flee her home on Tory Row after the Powder Alarm of 1774. Penelope was allowed to remove some of her personal effects from the house when she fled, but was required by Congress to leave behind her “provisions and her medicine chest.”
In 1775, the house became the medical headquarters for the Continental Army, then drilling on Cambridge Common a block away. The army’s surgeon general, Dr. Benjamin Church, was caught sending suspicious letters to General Thomas Gage of the British army, then stationed in Boston. This revelation led to Church’s imprisonment in the house and later deportation and disappearance. Was he really as spy? Come take a walk with us and find out!