Quincy House: Country Estate to a Revolutionary Family

The night before I visit a home, I usually have two thoughts: “Do I know where I’m going?” and “Do I know anything about this house?”.

Sometimes I actually like not knowing the answer to either, but more often than naught my anxiety kicks in and I have to at least look up the address and have some idea of where I’m heading. However, I rarely read about the home before visiting – I like to see it with fresh eyes.

I wish I had done the opposite with the Quincy House. There is so.much. to take in – this home and it’s inhabitants played such crucial roles over the past two hundred years through multiple generations of their family in Boston, the American Revolution and of course the city of Quincy. I know that I likely did not do Eliza Susan Quincy justice in her historical record keeping below, but, it was a lot to take in (in the best way possible!).

Enjoy!

Historical Highlights

  • Josiah Quincy built three homes in the spot that you see today’s Quincy Home, this last one being built in 1770, and at that time the home was actually located in Braintree.  It was built on hundreds of acres with a long winding drive leading up to the home lined by trees, and his property extended all the way down to the bay. It is truly hard to imagine a landscape like this when you visit the home today – but it must have been gorgeous.
  • Josiah Quincy came into money in quite an interesting way. He, in simple terms, was a pirate and captured a Spanish ship where he “collected” $300,000, which is what allowed him to build this home and live quite a life of luxury after that. In the first floor parlor room you see a painting of two ships, one of which is the Bethel that he captured. The painting was made for insurance purposes. Wild.
  • The history of Josiah Quincy & his sons are quite intertwined with many of the stories we are familiar with from the Revolutionary War in school, but Josiah Jr. is the one that stuck with me:
    • Josiah Jr. was a lawyer, a strong Patriot and was very active in the Revolutionary scene taking place in Boston, writing anonymous essays.  He teamed up with John Adams and defended (yep – you read that right) the British soldiers who took part in the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were acquitted, showing that America truly had a fair and just court system. He eventually set sail for England and passed away upon his return voyage.
  • April 1775 came around, and as Josiah was in his mid-sixties at that point, he took a back seat and watched the Revolution play out. However, he would observe British ships in Boston Harbor from the monitor at the top of the house and write letters to General George Washington (Rise up! #Hamilton) & John Adams. He was also particularly concerned about Governor Gage leaving the harbor, and scratched into the glass window information about it, which took place on October 10, 1775 – so neat to see! Also reminded me of the glass etchings at the Old Manse!
  • Josiah passed away in 1784 and left the home to his grandson, Josiah Quincy III, who was very young at that time, and it became their summer home. In keeping with family tradition of his father & grandfather, he eventually became the second Mayor of Boston, and also later became the President of Harvard University, a post he held for over sixteen years. His influence on the city of Boston was so that they renamed a large part of Braintree in his honor, today’s Quincy.
  • Josiah III was a local celebrity of sorts; he loved entertaining and made changes to his summer house to suit those needs, changing the layout of the dining room, adding on a porch and more. He hosted famous guests at this house often, including Benjamin Franklin (hence the Franklin Room upstairs), the Marquis de Lafayette (The Lancelot of the Revolutionary set #Hamilton), President John Adams (Welcome folks, to the Adams administration #Hamilton), James Monroe and more.
  • Joshiah III had five daughters, three of whom never married and lived in the house as their full time residence. One of these daughters, Eliza Susan, became the family historian and did lots of research & inventories, creating 13 scrapbooks for members of the family & the Massachusetts Historical Society. Before her passing in 1884, she reached out to distant relatives to have original furnishings returned to the home and created paintings of the home as well. The last sister to live in the home was Abigail Phillips Quincy, who passed away in 1893.
  • In 1895, the home & all it’s land were sold to a family from Amesbury, who at one point used the home for the elderly. However, in 1937 members of the Quincy family came to their senses and re-purchased the house, then presented it to Historic New England to turn it into the house museum that you can visit today!

My Favorite Spots

West Parlor

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This is the first room you see when you walk in the home – and it’s beautiful! Restored to what it would have looked like sometime in the 1880’s, it includes a giant oil painting of Josiah Quincy and some of the furniture & goods that he either purchased or – putting it plainly – stole from the Bethel.

Dining Room

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Not sure if you could tell, but I’m a big Hamilton fan and while Alexander & Burr are great and all, my favorite is Lafayette. So, I got a little jazzed when I found out he had visited here (apparently his gift to those who’s home he visited was an oil painting of himself – I might start doing that!!). He also was known to play the piano here  during his visits (unfortunately not this particular piano….). And, I loved the wallpaper!

Franklin Room

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Benjamin Franklin was also a frequent visitor of the home during Josiah III’s lavish parties. So frequent in fact that he has a bedroom on the second floor named after him! While no one can confirm – or deny – that he ever spent a night in this room, it’s still pretty cool knowing he spent many an evening dining in the home!

Monitor

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At the beginning of the tour our guide kept talking about the “monitor” and I had no idea what she was talking about. Come to find out, this is the cute little “block” area in the attic with the adorable windows (I’m sure my architect sister-in-law does not approve of that description). But, these windows are where Josiah would watch for British ships and report back his findings to General Washington. With all the homes built up in the area, it’s truly amazing to think that he could see clearly down to the water!

Eye Spy

  • In the East parlor don’t miss the glass case that shows off a pair of poufy cuffs – the very ones that Josiah is wearing in his oil painting above the mantel!
  • While standing on the porch out front, look up! The detailing there is incredible and was one of the first things I spotted.
  • Don’t miss the painted tile in the fireplace surrounds – some are hand painted, some are “mass” produced – try to guess which is which!
  • The small “bedroom” in the monitor blew my mind  – while they can’t be sure, they think that for that small window of time that the Hall family owned it and it was a home for the elderly, they may have used this as a bedroom. I can’t imagine elderly people climbing all those stairs to get to that tiny room – yikes!
  • There is a beautiful – and seemingly very rare – chest found in an upstairs bedroom, which was saved from not one  but two home fires it was so important to Josiah.

Visiting Tips

  • Ask questions. I didn’t, and I wish I had asked more. The Quincy story is so integral to Boston and our local ties to the American Revolution, but with all the “Josiahs” and sons and daughters I was definitely confused – and still don’t feel like I have the story straight. So, ask questions!
  • This home is smack dab in the middle of a resident neighborhood, and I got lucky finding a parking spot right out front. So, you may need to park a block or so away. Or, park at the beach! Parking a bit further away may even give you a little perspective on how drastically the neighborhood has changed in the past 200 so odd years.

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of the Quincy House but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages! Enjoy!

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