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Tory Row

Circling the Square

By Frank R. Safford

Bermuda shorts and pedal pushers jauntily navigate what was once a grassy lane, called Tory Row, now Brattle Street. Tory Row in the seventeenth century was the home of many of Massachusetts' foremost leaders, members of the General Court and men of that ilk. In the eighteenth century, however, the grandsons of these leaders came to grief, for their vested interest in the Crown government estranged them from their more patriotic brothers.

Typical of this situation were the Brattles themselves. The Reverend William Brattle was, with his cohort, John Leverett, the spiritual and intellectual leader of both Cambridge and Boston societies, gaining membership even in the Royal Society of London. His son, General William Brattle, was bound to be a success. First, he married a Saltonstall. Then, in 1771 he was made major-general of all the Royal militia in the province, although he had espoused the revolutionary cause only two years before. Upon his promotion, Brattle for some reason became deeply devoted to the mother government. When it was discovered in 1774 that he was supplying General Gage with information, he found it expedient to retire to Boston.

Another group of strong Tories on the Row was the Vassall family. Colonel John Vassall and Penclope, the widow of Colonel Henry Vassall, both fled with their families rather than live with the rabble of rebellion. A relative by marriage, Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Oliver, who was a member of the infamous (to revolutionaries) Mandamus Council, also moved to Boston, at the request of a mob of 4000. Another mob, composed of "boys and negroes," persuaded Chief-Justice Stephen Sewall to take his "soft, smooth, insinuating eloquence" elsewhere.

When the patriots took over Cambridge in 1775, the abandoned Tory Row homes were put to various uses, but most of them seem to have been hospitals, especially after Bunker Hill. Others housed the Continental Army. Major Thomas Mifflin, Washington's aide-decamp, lived in the old Brattle mansion, where everyone seems to have dropped in for tea, including generals, Indians, and John Adams, who stopped in just before signing the Declaration of Independence. The John Vassall, Jr. home at one point contained a whole company of Glover's Marblehead militia. This motley crew, however, was turned out in favor of General Washington, who had found it uncomfortable with the President of Harvard. General George found it even more uncomfortable at the Vassall's, for the evicted Marbleheaders proved no end of trouble. Not only did they protest violently, but even after they were finally dislodged the Continental Congress was at great expense to clean the place up. Washington's correspondence at this time indicated that his stay in Cambridge was not a completely happy one.

After being captured at Saratoga, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne and his staff stayed in Tory Row. While there, they are said to have pricked a negro servant boy to death with their sword points, just for after-dinner amusement. There's nothing like a good parlor game.

After the war, patriot owners took over the abandoned Tory homes, and a distinguished lot they were. One was Nathaniel Tracy, who had made a fortune off privateering. Another was Elbridge Gerry of mander fame. And, although H. W. Longfellow once lived along Brattle Street, the situation has not really changed. Of late, Al Capp has resided in this area.

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