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 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 one place are quite extraordinary.  The various social and political movements and the intellectual history represented has had an incalculable influence on the development of American culture and identity as we know it today.
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 (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.
Harry Dana purchased the doll in 1943 from a woman whose mother made it when she was a girl.

John Glover Statue
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 through Washington’s occupancy.
Later in the war, this regiment assisted Washington in crossing the Delaware.

George Washington
by 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 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 1886 Tracy went bankrupt and sold the house to Thomas Russell, a wealthy Boston merchant.
  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 the medical service under George Washington  where 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.  Elizabeth Craigie continued to live until 1841 and opened the house to boarders including three future presidents of Harvard, numerous students and professors.

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 19th century. He was also a scholar, educator, translator and pioneer in teaching modern languages.  
Before 1872 The Craigie House became a well known gathering place for writers, artists and politicians from around the world throughout the 19th to early 20th centuries .  

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 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana , grandson to 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.

Early 1900s

East facade 1914

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. The subsequent creation of Longfellow Memorial Park maintained the connection of the house to the Charles River. The second effort of the heirs centered on the preservation of 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.


On October 9, 1972, Congress passed enabling 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 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

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Please send your comments to Jim Shea. This document was updated 8/27/2003.