The Royall House and Slave Quarters and its owners and residents have been the subject of important research and reflection over the course of several generations. Early scholarship focused heavily on the mansion, long recognized as architecturally significant, and the wealthy Royall family. More recently, the experiences of the enslaved have generated provocative and sophisticated historical and archaeological scholarship. What follows is a selective overview of some of the most significant interpretive work on the people and the property that make the Royall House and Slave Quarters such a distinctive site. Most of these works are widely available in libraries or from booksellers, and contain references to relevant primary sources and earlier secondary literature.
The most comprehensive introductions to the site and its history are Alexandra A. Chan, Slavery in the Age of Reason: Archaeology at a New England Farm (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007) and C. S. Manegold, Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). Each of these books recognizes the critical role played by the enslaved Africans who lived and worked on the property while it was under the Royalls’ ownership. Both are available for purchase in the shop at the Royall House and Slave Quarters.
A comprehensive recent study of the enslaved experience in eighteenth-century Boston in Jared Ross Hardesty, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston (New York: New York University Press, 2016). David Barry Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels: A Study of Master-Slave Relations in Antigua (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985) charts the complex social landscape of the island where enslaved laborers laid the basis for Isaac Royall Sr.’s fortune.
The discussion of the Royall mansion in the second issue of the pioneering White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs was just one marker of the esteem in which its design was held in the wake of the Colonial Revival. The most recent overview of the design and construction of the mansion is Arthur L. Finney, “The Royall House in Medford: A Re-evaluation of the Structural and Documentary Evidence,” Architecture in Colonial Massachusetts, Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts (Boston, 1979): 23-41.
There is no full modern biography of either Isaac Royall Sr. or his son. Older treatments include Edward Doubleday Harris, “The New England Royalls,” New England Historical Genealogical Register 39 (1885): 348-58; James H. Stark, The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the Other Side of the American Revolution (1910; rpt., Clifton, N.J.: Augustus M. Kelley, 1972), 290-94; and Gladys N. Hoover, The Elegant Royalls of Colonial New England (New York: Vantage Press, 1974), which remains helpful for its quotations from primary sources.
Colin Nicolson and Stuart Scott discuss Isaac Jr. as a Loyalist in “A ‘Great National Calamity’: Sir William Pepperrell and Isaac Royall, Reluctant Loyalists,” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 28 (2000). Daniel R. Coquillette and Bruce A. Kimball discuss the role of his bequest in the establishment of the Harvard Law School in On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015). Janet Halley, the current holder of the School’s Royall Professorship of Law, reflects on its historical background in “My Isaac Royall Legacy,” Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 24 (2008): 117-131.
The meaning and legacy of Belinda Sutton’s first petition have been assessed in a number of studies. The most thorough recent historical overview is Roy E. Finkenbine, “Belinda’s Petition: Reparations for Slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts,” William & Mary Quarterly 64 (2007): 95-104. Ta-Nehisi Coates brought her to national attention in his article, “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic. The essential study of the complicated process of emancipation in New England remains Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).
The experiences of Africans and African Americans in eighteenth-century New England have been the subject of increasingly intensive research. Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000) provides an overview. Important regional studies include William D. Piersen, Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988); James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Catherine Adams and Elizabeth H. Pleck, Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
On the origins of New England slavery in the seventeenth century, the new standard treatment is Wendy Warren, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (New York: Liveright, 2016). There is increasing scholarly attention to the history of Native as well as African and African American enslavement in New England; the most comprehensive study is Margaret Ellen Newell, Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015).
Further suggestions for readings and online resources are available in Slavery and Emancipation in New England: A Bibliography, compiled by Jared Hardesty for the African American Intellectual History Society.