History and Occupants of the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House

Longellow House 1940

Conjectural drawing of House in 1775
House as it was presumed to look in 1775

Beginning in 1759, the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow-House was continuously occupied for almost 200 years.  The last Longfellow family member to occupy the House full-time passed away in 1950.

From pre-Revolutionary War times through the mid-twentieth century, the House had been witness to innumerable gatherings of politicians, poets, artists, writers and many others from the United States and around the world.  

The famous and infamous, families and friends, slaves and servants have called this House their home over time.  The threads of history that have run through this site are quite extraordinary.  The various social and political movements and the intellectual history connected with the House have had an incalculable influence on the development of American culture and identity as we know it today.
  Vassall coat of arms
Vassall crest
Colonel John Vassall Jr. built the House in 1759 and made it his summer residence with his wife, Elizabeth (Oliver), and their several children (most born in the House) until 1774. On the eve of the American Revolution, they had to flee to Boston due to their Loyalist sympathies.

At the time, this was a rural area on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Tony Vassall doll
Tony Vassall Doll
Tony (1713-1811) and Cuba Vassall and their children (most born in the House) were slaves of John and Elizabeth Vassall. They remained at the Vassall family home and in the Cambridge area after their owners left the Boston area at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Tony became a businessman, landowner, and well-known figure in Cambridge.

John Glover statue
Statue of John Glover
Commonwealth Ave. Mall
Boston, Mass.

Colonel John Glover  and the Marblehead Regiment occupied the House as their temporary barracks in June 1775 until Washington took over the House as his Headquarters.

Members of the regiment continued to serve as Headquarters guard throughout Washington’s occupancy.

Later in the war, this regiment assisted Washington in crossing the Delaware.

George Washington
George Washington
by R. Peale
In July 1775, George Washington took over the Vassall House as his first major headquarters of the American Revolution and stayed until April 1776.
Martha Washington's arrival
Martha Washington's Arrival in Cambridge
by Pyle, 1900
(conjectural painting)

Martha Washington arrived on December 11, 1775 with her son and daughter-in-law and stayed until a few weeks after her husband left Cambridge.

Nathaniel Tracy owned the House from 1781-1786. He had made a great fortune as one of the earliest and most successful privateers under George Washington (1775-1779). Tracy  lived part-time at the House with his wife Mary (Lee) and their children. In 1786 Tracy went bankrupt and sold the House to Thomas Russell, a wealthy Boston merchant.

Andrew Craigie   Elizabeth Craigie
Andrew and Elizabeth Craigie
Andrew and Elizabeth Craigie made the House their home from 1791-1819.

Andrew Craigie was the first Apothecary General of the United States.  His career was important in the history of pharmacy and because under George Washington he worked in the field in charge of medical services at Bunker Hill, Cambridge, Germantown, and Valley Forge.

He died in 1819 and left his wife in great debt.  Therefore, Elizabeth Craigie opened the House to boarders — including three future presidents of Harvard, numerous students and professors — until her death in 1841.
Longfellow family 1848
Henry, Fanny, Charles and Ernest Longfellow about 1848

Henry W. Longfellow came to Cambridge in 1836 as a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard University. Shortly afterwards he moved into the Craigie House as a boarder with Elizabeth Craigie. In 1843, he married Fanny Appleton, whose father, Nathan Appleton, purchased the House for the couple as a wedding present.

The Longfellows had a great respect for the House which "Washington has rendered sacred." The Longfellows raised five children in the House. Henry W. Longfellow became the most famous poet of the nineteenth century. He was also a scholar, educator, translator, and pioneer in teaching modern languages.  
House in 1872
Before 1872
The Craigie House became a well known gathering place for writers, artists and politicians from around the world throughout the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.  
Alice Longfellow 1899
Alice Longfellow
Alice Longfellow , H.W. Longfellow’s oldest daughter, continued to live in the Craigie House after her father’s death in 1882 until her death in 1928.

A founder of Radcliffe College and ardent preservationist and philanthropist, she hosted various social, artistic, and intellectual gatherings at the Craigie House.
Harry Dana in Cossack costume
Harry Dana

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, grandson of Henry W. Longfellow, lived in the House from 1917 until his death in 1950.   

He served as the first House curator and presided over various gatherings at the House, including international student discussion groups and social and political groups.

House early 1900s
Early 1900s

House 1914
East facade 1914

House Early 20th C.
Early twentieth century

Longfellow House Trust   Longfellow’s children paid homage to their father through their stewardship of the property, as exemplified by the establishment of the Longfellow Memorial Association. Subsequently, the heirs created Longfellow Memorial Park to maintain the connection of the House to the Charles River and to preserve the House and its immediate surroundings. The estate was partitioned in 1888, thereby delineating the 1.98 acres that presently constitute Longfellow National Historic Site.

An Indenture of Trust in 1913 created the Longfellow House Trust, transferring stewardship to the Trustees and articulating the intention of the Longfellow family to preserve the property for educational and inspirational purposes:

..to be held, preserved, maintained and managed for the benefit of the public as a specimen of the best Colonial architecture of the middle of the eighteenth century, as an historical monument of the occupation of the house by General George Washington during the siege of Boston in the Revolutionary War, and as a memorial to Henry W. Longfellow.

The terms put forth in the document clearly demonstrate that Longfellow’s heirs were aware of and sensitive to the complete history of the House, not just its association with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

NPS arrowhead
National Park Service Symbol

House 1979

House 2002

On October 9, 1972, Congress passed legislation authorizing the acquisition by donation of Longfellow National Historic Site. Public Law 92-475 reiterates the earlier Indenture of Trust:

Be it enacted.. that in order to preserve ownership for the benefit and inspiration of the people of the United States, a site of national historical significance containing a dwelling which is an outstanding example of colonial architecture and which served as George Washington's headquarters during the siege of Boston in 1775-1776 and from 1837-1882 as the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to acquire by donation Longfellow National Historic Site.

NPS Legislation

The Making of the Longfellow House:
A Preservation History


House Main Page

© 2004 Longfellow National Historic Site