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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 3


This note contained in document ADMS-04-03-02-0205
3. “Borland's Place in Braintree” was the current name for a fine country seat in that town, the Vassall-Borland house, built by Leonard Vassall about 1730, and the garden and farm surrounding it on the old coast road from Boston to Plymouth. With the house enlarged and outbuildings added, but with the farm property greatly reduced, it is today the Adams National Historic Site, having been in the possession of the Adams family from 1787 to 1946 and usually referred to by the family itself (and { 265 } sometimes in these volumes) as “the Old House.” For a summary note on its history, see above, vol. 1:219; on John Borland specifically, see JA, Diary and Autobiography, 1:74–75.
Since John Borland (whose wife was Anna, daughter of Leonard Vassall) had died on the very eve of hostilities, and since the provisional government of Massachusetts took some time to determine what was to be done about abandoned loyalist property, the status of the Vassall-Borland house remained for several years ambiguous. In the fall of 1775, during the siege of Boston, it was commandeered by the selectmen of Braintree (after no little trouble with a squatter named James Hayward who was a friend of the Borlands) for the use of refugees then flooding the neighborhood and of Braintree people who, living close to the shore, needed to get out of the way of British warships operating in the bay. Early in 1776 the family of Joseph Palmer were living in the house, and during the next couple of years it continued to be leased out, although the occupants are not known. See Palmer's petition, Sept. 1775, in M-Ar: Legislative Records of the Council, 33:222–223; Mass., Province Laws, 19:88; petition of Braintree Committee of Correspondence, 9 Oct. 1775 (M-Ar, vol. 180:189); Abigail (Paine) Greenleaf to Robert Treat Paine, 22 Jan. 1776 (MHi: Paine Papers); advertisement of lease of Borland estate by public auction, Boston Gazette, 24 March 1777, p. 3, col. 3.
Richard Cranch had a long but fruitless flirtation with this choice piece of loyalist property, which partly adjoined his own Braintree farm. Under a new Resolve for Leasing Absentees' Estates at Public Auction, 19 Feb. 1779 (Mass., Province Laws, 20:620–622), Cranch had been admitted by the Suffolk Probate Court “Agent” of the very extensive properties owned by “the late John Borland Esqre. an Absentee deceased” (Suffolk County Court of Probate, Records, No. 16987; photostats in Adams Papers Editorial Files; see also Cranch to Mrs. Cranch, n.d. [probably March 1779], MHi: Cranch Papers). The Confiscation Acts of April and May 1779 followed soon afterward, and Cranch was named a member of the General Court's Committee for the Sale of Absentee Estates in Suffolk County, whose proceedings are recorded in a Journal in M-Ar; see also AA to JA, 8 June 1779, above, with references in note 5 there. He was thus decidedly an “insider” with respect to news and transactions relative to loyalist property. On 7 Oct. 1779 he obtained permission from the General Court to cut wood from Borland's wood lot “for the Use of his own Family” (Mass., Province Laws, 21:208); and on 4 Jan. 1780 he successfully petitioned the same body to lease for himself the house and farm for five years, contingent on its sale (same, 21:329). He was now determined to buy the place for himself if he could raise the money. But his plans went awry.
At a Braintree town meeting on 6 March, upon its being reported “that there had been great Strip & waste made in the wood Lott belonging to sd. Estate by Mr. Cranch or by those under him,” the town petitioned the General Court to put the lease of the Borland property up for public auction as the law required (Braintree Town Records, p. 506). The issue, apparently, was Cranch's status as an “insider,” for he shortly petitioned the Court, reporting that, “contrary to [his] expectation, a large number of the inhabitants . . . are uneasy and dissatisfied” because the lease had not been publicly auctioned. “And as your Memorialist,” he continued, “would by no means take possession of said Estate, in a way that might give the least umbrage for a supposition of partiallity in the Honourable Court in his favour,” he asked that his lease be rescinded and the auction be held. The legislature so resolved on 7 April (Mass., Province Laws, 21:427–428). In the Boston Gazette for 24 April (p. 2, col. 1) appeared the following notice:
“A genteel Country Seat to Let.
“On Tuesday the 25th of this Instant, April, at Twelve o'Clock, will be leased for one Year, at Public Auction, (by special Permission of the Honorable General Court).
“A very genteel Dwelling House, Barn, and Coach-House, with a Garden, planted with a great Variety of Fruit Trees, an Orchard, and about 40 Acres of Land, lately belonging to john bor- { 266 } land, Esq; deceased. This agreeable Seat is pleasantly Situated in the Town of Braintree, about ten Miles from Boston, on the Great Road to Plymouth.
“The Auction will be on the Premises.”
Two days later Cranch renewed his request to JA for a loan to enable him to purchase the property, offering a mortgage in return (Cranch to JA, 26 April, below).
From this point on, the history of the Borland estate becomes confused and obscure. Edward Church of Braintree obtained a deed for it from the General Court by making a first payment of £200 (M-Ar, vol. 190:120), but he did not retain it, for the deed is not on record in the Suffolk Registry. By 1782, when the war was about to end, allusions appear in contemporary correspondence to the plans of Borland's widow to return to Boston and recover her husband's property. With respect to his Braintree estate she succeeded. On 19–20 Nov. 1783 she conveyed this property to her son Leonard Vassall Borland (Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, vol. 142:6, 8; Tr in Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds), and a month later AA reported that “Mrs. Boreland since her return to America, has sold her House and Farm in this Town. Mr. Tyler has made the purchase at a thousand pounds Lawfull money. . . . None of it was ever confiscated” (to JA, 27 Dec. 1783). The purchaser was young Royall Tyler, a lawyer and literary man, who in acquiring the estate, as AA went on to say “has but one object in view,” namely marriage to AA2. With the failure of that “object” in the course of the next two years, Tyler lost all interest in his country seat, and when he failed to keep up his payments it reverted to the Borlands. For these matters, see the detailed account in the Introduction to JA, Earliest Diary, p. 18–28. Tyler's final settlement with Leonard Borland took place in 1787, when the Adamses were beginning to think of returning home from England. By now, Richard Cranch had given up hope of obtaining the property for himself, and he and his wife repeatedly and warmly urged the Adamses to buy it. This they did, through Cotton Tufts, on 26 Sept. 1787, at a cost of £600, and they moved in upon their return in the following June. See Mary (Smith) Cranch to AA, 22 April–20 May, 21 May[citation removed per Adams Papers editors] 1787; Cotton Tufts to AA, 21, 26 May, 13, 30 June 1787; AA to Tufts, 1, 4 July 1787 (all in Adams Papers); AA to Mrs. Cranch, 16 July 1787 (owned by J. Delafield DuBois, New York City, 1957); AA to Tufts, 20[19] July 1787 (NHi: Misc. MSS); JA to Cranch, 20 July 1787 (MeHi); Tufts to JA, 18 Sept., and to AA, 20 Sept. 1787 (both in Adams Papers). The deed of sale from Borland to JA is in the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, vol. 161:123 (photostat in Adams Papers Editorial Files). It conveys seven parcels of land, amounting in all to about eighty-three acres, including the home lot of seven acres with its “House, Barn and other Buildings” on the north side of the Plymouth road; three parcels, among them the “great Pasture” of twenty acres, on the south side of the road (i.e. up present Presidents Hill); a tract of salt marsh on the Town River; and thirty acres of “Woodland” in two parcels elsewhere in the town.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/