Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House (1759)


The Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House has important associations with both the Revolutionary War and nineteenth century American literature. This impressive Georgian-style mansion was built in 1759 by Maj. John Vassall on what is now Brattle Street in Cambridge. The area was known as Tory Row because of the many houses built there by loyalists, like Vassall. When anti-Tory sentiment rose during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1774, Vassall and his wife, who was the sister of the royal lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, fled to Boston and eventually left for England. The abandoned house was occupied by the Marblehead Regiment in 1775 and then became the headquarters of General George Washington from July 1775 to April 1776 (during the Siege of Boston).

After the war, the house came into the possession of Andrew Craigie, who had been the Continental Army’s first Apothecary General. He added porches to the sides of the house and an extension on the back. When he died, in 1819, he left his wife, Elizabeth in debt. Over the next two decades, she would take in boarders to make ends meet, including many Harvard students. In 1837, one of her boarders was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, then a professor of modern languages at Harvard. In 1843, when Longfellow married Fanny Appleton, her father, the wealthy industrialist Nathan Appleton, acquired the house to give the newlyweds as a wedding gift. Longfellow would live there until his death in 1882, passing the property on to his children. His daughter, Alice Longfellow, later commissioned a new garden in the Colonial Revival style.

In 1913, his surviving children established the Longfellow House Trust to preserve the house as a monument to their father and George Washington, as well as to Georgian architecture. In 1962, the house became a National Historic Landmark and the Trust donated it to the National Park Service and it is today open to the public as the Longfellow National Historic Site.

5 Responses to Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House (1759)

  1. While researching family history, specifically Reuben Colburn (a 4th great uncle), I have discovered that Mr. Colburn visited this home in 1775 with Benedict Arnold prior to the failed Quebec Expedition and offered his services as a shipbuilder (Pittston, Me) to General Washington, those services being accepted. The Colburn House in Pittston is now the historic headquarters of that Arnold Expedition. Mr. Arnold and Mr. Colburn are the only two characters not fictionalized in Kenneth Roberts’ ARUNDEL.

    thank you,

    Albert E. Stone

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  3. Kate Klein says:

    That’s so cool Albert! I wish I knew more about my family’s history. It’s amazing to know so much about them and events of their lives and that you can visit a tangible place where an ancestor once spent some time. I’m in the process of gathering information about my own family tree. One side of my family came here during the 1850’s from Ireland during the Great Famine. The other side has been here for much longer. I was able to go as far as early 1820’s but the trail has sort of died out. Who knows what I will find! Wish me luck!

  4. Cecolia Vestal Mihalevich says:

    I am a direct descendant of the Vassall’s. The name was changed years later to Vestal. In Sept. 2015 my son took me on an expense paid driving trip to the New England Colonies, including Jamestown Colony. Jamestown is much changed from when I first saw it. At that time they had not started doing anything with it. There was a glass blowing shop and a replica of one of the ships. There is much more to see now and history to be told. In Boston we took a tour of the Vassall home. We saw many cemeteries and took lots of pictures of the Vassall families stones and on our last day before heading home we spend the day whale watching which was a wonderful way to end our trip.

  5. Dana T says:

    The Longfellow House and others on this side of Brattle once had views out over the Charles River and the Brighton marshes. It’s nice to think of how bucolic it all was. Longfellow Mall, built sometime in the 20th century opposite the house, between Brattle and Mt Auburn Streets, is a small approximation of the original open setting of this house.

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