This Old Pew: #10 and #11 – The Vassalls
By Mark Hurwitz
Major Leonard Vassall, the owner of pews #10 and 11, was born in Jamaica in 1678. Before he moved to Boston in the early 1720s, he owned several large sugar plantations with enslaved labor in his native Jamaica. He was a staunch Episcopalian, became a member of Old North, and was elected warden in 1727. In that same year, he built a house on present day Summer Street in Boston. In 1730 he bought several parcels of land in Braintree (now Quincy) to build a home, which was later purchased by John and Abigail Adams. It is today known as the Adams National Historical Park. By the early 1730s, Vassall helped establish Trinity Church in Boston by selling land to build the church. He died at the young age of 59, leaving behind his two grown sons, Col. Henry Vassall and John Vassall Sr.
In 1759, Major John Vassall Jr. (grandson of Major Leonard Vassell) built what is now known as the Craigie-Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge. He demolished the structure that previously stood there and built a new mansion. The home became his summer residence with his wife Elizabeth and their children until the 1770s. Interestingly, his wife’s brother, Thomas Oliver, then Royal Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, fled Boston with his family in 1774 as Loyalists.
In the days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the Craigie-Longfellow House was used as a temporary hospital. Col. John Glover and the Marblehead Regiment occupied the house as their temporary military barracks in June, and General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, moved in that July to establish his military headquarters until he left in April of 1776. Into the 19th century, the house served a variety of boarders (including Josiah Quincy and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) due to its proximity to Harvard. In 1843, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife Fanny were given the house as a wedding present.