Isaac Royall Jr.

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Portrait of Isaac Royall Jr., painted in 1769 by John Singleton Copley

Isaac Royall Jr. (1719–1781) was a colonial American landowner and slave-owner who played an important role in the creation of Harvard Law School. He is notable for his brutal treatment of slaves, having had 77 burned alive in Antigua.[1]


Isaac Royall and family by Robert Feke. He is depicted with (left to right) his sister Penelope Royall (Vassall), his sister-in-law Mary McIntosh Palmer, his daughter Elizabeth, and his wife[2]

Royall Jr. was the son of Squire Isaac Royall Sr. (1677–1739) a slave owner, Antiguan plantation owner, slave trader, and justice of the peace.[3][4][5] Coming from humble circumstances in North Yarmouth (among the early settlers of which was his great-grandfather William Royall)[6] in what was then Massachusetts and now Maine, the elder Royall's family moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts, to avoid Native American attacks.[7] Royall Sr. subsequently made his fortune trading slaves, rum, and sugar; in 1700, at age 23, Royall's father moved to Antigua and was the part owner of a Massachusetts slaving ship.[7] Isaac Royall Sr.'s son Isaac Jr. was born in Antigua in 1719; a daughter, Penelope Royall, was born there in 1724.[5][7] The Royall family then faced turmoil: a bad drought in 1725, a massive hurricane in 1733, earthquakes in 1735, and both a smallpox epidemic and a slave revolt in 1736.[7]

Due to these events, Royall Sr. decided to return to New England. Beginning in 1732, in anticipation of his move, Royall began purchasing a 500-acre estate in Charlestown, Massachusetts (now Medford) near the Mystic River, which he named[citation needed] Ten Hills Farm. In 1737, the family moved to the estate, bringing with them at least 27 slaves.[3][7] The estate includes a three-story Georgian mansion (expanded from an earlier, more modest structure), a carriage house, a stable, an "out kitchen," and a number of barns.[3] After Issac Sr. died in 1739, Isaac Jr., then twenty years old, inherited his father's estate, variously described as "immense"[3] and "small but prosperous."[7] Isaac Jr. inherited not only Ten Hills Farm (which is now the Isaac Royall House, a museum containing the only freestanding slave quarters in the northeast United States[8]) but also eighteen of his father's slaves and his father's plantation in Antigua.[5]

Royall thereafter became one of the colony's wealthiest men, and an active investor in real estate; he purchased silver from Paul Revere, traveled in a coach-and-four with liveried servants, purchased fine china and furniture from abroad, and hosted lavish parties.[3][7] In 1754, he owned 12 slaves.[4] Royall held a number of civic offices, serving as justice of the peace, chairman of the Medford board of selectmen, and representative of Medford to the colonial legislature; he returned his salary to the town treasury.[7] Royall was elected to the Governor's Council in 1752 (serving until 1774), held the honorary military rank of Brigadier General of the Province, and served as an overseer of Harvard College (along with Thomas Pownall).[7] Royall also held pews at King's Chapel and Christ Church.[7]

In 1738, Royall married Elizabeth McIntosh, then fifteen years old, the daughter of a friend of Royall's father. The marriage was advantageous and confirmed Royall's place in the colonial elite.[7][9]

During the American Revolution, Royall apparently had Patriot sympathies but significant Loyalist connections.[3] He fled Medford three days before the Battle of Lexington,[3] abandoning this slaves to their freedom.[5] Along with many others, Royall was named in the Massachusetts Banishment Act of 1778.[10] He was unable to travel to Antigua so instead fled to Nova Scotia, where he remained for a year before moving to England, where he joined his daughters' families and died of smallpox in 1781.[3]

Belinda Royall, one of the slaves whom he had freed (abandoned), petitioned for a pension from Royall's estate in 1783. The pension she received has been cited as one of the first cases of reparations for slavery.

There is a portrait of Royall by John Singleton Copley and another of his wife, Elizabeth. Robert Feke also painted a family group portrait which depicts him, his wife and his daughter. This daughter Elizabeth married into the Pepperell family and their daughter married Sir Charles Palmer of Wanlip in Leicestershire.[11]

Royall's sister was Penelope Royall (1724–1800), who married Colonel Henry Vassall (the son of a Jamaican planter) in 1742; they moved to Cambridge.[3][5]

Harvard Law School[edit]

In his will of 1779, Royall left land to Harvard College to establish the first professorship in law at the school. This bequest led to the founding of Harvard Law School in 1817.[12] In 1936, to celebrate the university's tercentenary, Harvard alumnus and former English professor Pierre de Chaignon la Rose drew seals for each of Harvard's graduate schools. For Harvard Law School, la Rose adopted Royall's coat of arms, a blue shield adorned with three sheaves of wheat. This seal was adopted by the Harvard Corporation.[13]

In 2016, the seal became the object of controversy due to Royall's slaveholding in Antigua, where in 1736 the colonial government executed 88 slaves convicted of conspiracy to revolt.[14] Students under the name 'Royall Must Fall' (fashioned after the Rhodes Must Fall Movement) organized to have the seal removed.[14][15] After several racial incidents within the Law School community,[16] Law School Dean Martha L. Minow was pressured by students to create a committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to recommend whether to change the seal.[12][13] In 2016, Harvard Law School officially decided to scrap the seal that contained Royall's arms.[17]


  1. ^ Johnson, Antuan; Clayborne, Alexander; Cuddihy, Sean (November 20, 2015). "Royall Must Fall". Harvard Crimson. Archived from the original on October 1, 2018. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  2. ^ "Isaac Royall and family". HOLLIS Images. Harvard University.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Royalls". Royall House & Slave Quarters. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Halley, Janet (2008). "My Isaac Royall Legacy" (PDF). Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal. 24: 117–131.
  5. ^ a b c d e Lemire, Elise (2009). Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 182. ISBN 9780812241808.
  6. ^ About Yarmouth – Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Coquillette, Daniel R.; Kimball, Bruce A. (2015). On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century. Harvard University Press. pp. 81–83. ISBN 9780674967663.
  8. ^ "The Royall House and Slave Quarters". Retrieved December 27, 2012.
  9. ^ Chan, Alexandra A. (2007). Slavery in the Age of Reason: Archaeology at a New England Farm. University of Tennessee Press. p. 60. ISBN 9781572335653.
  10. ^ Stark, James Henry (1907). The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the Other Side of the American Revolution. Boston: Salem Press. p. 137.
  11. ^ "The Palmer family of Wanlip" (PDF). Leicestershire County Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016.
  12. ^ a b Gershman, Jacob (November 5, 2015). "Harvard Law Students Urge Removal of Slaveholder Reference From School Seal". Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ a b Duehren, Andrew M.; Parker, Claire E. (February 23, 2016). "Law School Committee Prepares to Release Report on Seal". Harvard Crimson.
  14. ^ a b Johnson, Antuan; Clayborne, Alexander; Cuddihy, Sean (November 20, 2015). "Royall Must Fall". Harvard Crimson.
  15. ^ "An Open Letter to Dean Minow from Students of Harvard Law School: Royall Must Fall". Harvard Law Record. November 18, 2015.
  16. ^ Kennedy, Randall (November 27, 2015). "Black Tape at Harvard Law". New York Times.
  17. ^ Coughlan, Sean (March 4, 2016). "Harvard Law School scraps official crest in slavery row". BBC.