And out of old books, in good faith,
Comes all this new knowledge that people learn.
It was not from an “old” book that we learned of Harvard Law School’s connection to the institution of African chattel slavery, but from Daniel R. Coquillette and Bruce A. Kimball’s On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, The First Century (2015). Coquillette and Kimball gathered and analyzed old documents to reveal to the Harvard Law School community – and the world – a central truth about our past that we should never forget: Harvard Law School has its origins in the labor of the enslaved. Now that the visual association with the Royall Plantation and its forced laborers is gone, the central question remains. What are we to do with this “new knowledge”? There can be, and will be, many answers over the course of the Law School’s unfolding future; as students, staff, administrators, and professors use their creativity to realize the goal of keeping justice – denied to our unwitting progenitors – at the forefront of their endeavors. Whatever reforms and adjustments are made to improve the quality of legal education and life at the Law School, every generation of HLS students should be reminded of their connection to the unnamed people who labored for the Royall family, and never forget them. With this act of memory, the new knowledge we have gained will connect the past, present, and future.
- Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, Harvard Law School; Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Professor of History, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Harvard University
We Must Remember exhibit objects
Records indicate that Isaac Royall, Jr. (1719-1781) wrote three wills later in life. Their locations chart the course of his life leading up to and during the American Revolution. The first was drafted in Massachusetts in 1775, the second in Nova Scotia in 1776, and the third in England in 1778. In the latter version and a 1779 codicil, he gave land to the Overseers and Corporation of Harvard College, and left it up to them to endow either a Professor of Laws or Professor of Physic and Anatomy.
Partial transcription of item 12 on page 8 of hand-copied will of Isaac Royall, Jr., May 26, 1778
I give devise & bequeath to the Overseers & Corporation of Harvard College in Cambridge in the County of Middlesex aforesaid to be appropriated towards the endowing a Professor of Laws in said College or the Professor of Physick and Anatomy which ever the said Overseers & Corporation shall judge to be best for the benefit of said College & they hereby shall have full power to sell said Lands & to put the money out to interest the income whereof shall be for the aforesaid purpose.
Courtesy of Royall House and Slave Quarters
Over three seasons of archaeological investigation from June 1999 to June 2001, more than 65,000 objects and fragments were recovered from the Royall House grounds, including ceramic shards from the slave quarters similar to the replicas on display. They are believed to be gaming pieces and evidence of enslaved people repurposing “discarded, lost, or stolen materials from the great house” (Chan, 184). Other “leisure time artifacts” recovered from the slave quarters included marbles, handmade like the replicas on display, as well as commercially produced (Chan, 178).
Courtesy of Alexandra Chan, Director of Excavations, Royall House and Slave Quarters dig
Courtesy of Theresa Kelliher, Royall House and Slave Quarters
The Royall House and Slave Quarters was home to the family that owned the largest number of enslaved people in mid-eighteenth century Massachusetts, as well as the enslaved Africans who made the family’s extravagant lifestyle possible. It has been owned and managed by the Royall House Association since 1908, and in 1962 it was designated a National Historical Landmark. Today, the slave quarters is the only remaining structure of its kind in the northern United States.
Census and probate records have preserved the names of more than sixty men, women, and children who “lived, labored, and died to support . . . the Royalls.” (Chan, 6). Thanks to the archaeological investigation overseen by Chan and her colleagues at Boston University, there is physical and material evidence that helps tell the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the Royall estate.