Footnotes︎︎︎   References︎︎︎


(click on numbers to see footnotes)

Here lies Darby Vassall.

Born May 15, 1769.1 Died October 12, 1861.2
Son of Tony and Cuba. A brother, husband, and father.
Co-Founder of the African Society.3 Property owner in Beacon Hill.4 Activist for abolition, equality, and education.5

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”6

“The Vassall Tomb beneath the church is marked by a long, low mound… the arched top of the vault, which is sunk below the surface… It was built shortly after the completion of the church, by Henry Vassall, one of the original proprietors.”7

According to Darby, Henry was “a very wicked man… it was a common remark that he was ‘the Devil.’8

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

Henry’s father, Leonard, was the owner of a sugar plantation in Jamaica.9 The value of his estate in 1738 was £9,907.5.0 (Jamaican currency). Approximately 73% of that was the value of 131 enslaved people.10

Leonard willed £3,000 (Jamaican currency) to Henry in 1737.11 Henry purchased Tony, Darby’s father, in Jamaica to be his coachman and brought him to Cambridge.12

In 1759, Henry pledged £8013 towards the construction of the church.14 In 1762, he paid £13.6.8 for a church pew.16

An inventory of Henry’s property after his death in 1769 measures Tony’s worth as equivalent to a church pew – £

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

Henry was married to Penelope Royall. In 1739, she inherited 8 enslaved people from her father, Isaac Royall Sr.18 Cuba, Darby’s mother, was one of them. Isaac Sr. brought her to Medford from Antigua in 1737 along with 29 other enslaved people, including her family members.19

Tony and Cuba married and had at least 6 children.20 Their family was separated more than once. Sometime in the 1760s, Henry sold Cuba and some of her children across Brattle Street to his nephew, John Vassall.21

When Darby was a young child, John gave him away to an occasional fellow parishioner, George Reed.22

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

John – who was a graduate of Harvard like his father,23 Henry’s brother – inherited his father’s estate in Jamaica. The value of the estate in 1748 was £74,322.5.0 (Jamaican currency). Approximately 67% of that was the value of 1,167 enslaved people.24

In 1759, John pledged £130 towards the construction of the church.25 In 1762, he paid £13.6.8 for a church pew.26

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

Penelope’s brother, Isaac Royall Jr., inherited 18 enslaved people in Massachusetts from their father,27 as well as sugar plantation land and an unknown number of enslaved people in Antigua.28

In 1762, Isaac paid £13.6.8 for a church pew.29

Upon his death in 1781, he gave hundreds of acres of land to Harvard College.30  31

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

A Royall family member and husband of John’s sister, Thomas Oliver, inherited plantations in Antigua.32 During a 1763 trip to the island, he spent “£900 on slaves, silver, and pictures.”33 Two years after his death, the total number of people enslaved on his Antigua property was 206.34 

In 1759, Thomas pledged £50 towards the construction of the church.35 In 1762, he paid £13.6.8 for a church pew.36

In 1835, his heirs claimed £1,984.16.10 for losing 137 enslaved people as their property after emancipation in the British colonies.37 The house he built in 1767 is where Harvard presidents live today.38 

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

Henry Vassall’s former house was purchased by Samuel Batchelder II in 1841.39 40 Samuel generated wealth from the New England cotton industry, which ran on cotton produced by enslaved people in the American South.41

The Batchelder family invested in the church. Samuel’s son, Samuel III, donated $10,000 in 1885 "to the Wardens of Christ Church Cambridge"... "to be added to… the Warden's Fund.”42 In 1888, Christ Church was included as a beneficiary in his will.43 One of the Samuels gave a Sunday School room to the church in 1868.44

“Almighty God… from you no secrets are hid.”

These Christ Church subscribers and parishioners, along with many others, lived in and around Cambridge while depending on and profiting from slavery. The labor of enslaved Africans financed their investments, which supported the construction and growth of this and many other New England churches and institutions.45 

After the end of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, Darby was involved in the activism of and advocacy for New England’s Black community. He was a lifelong member of Brattle Street Church and maintained a connection to Christ Church in his adult life.46 We do not know why he chose to be buried here; we only know that he chose this place.47 48

Do you work wonders for the dead?
    will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave?
    your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Will your wonders be known in the dark?
    or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?49

“Grant eternal rest to your beloved Darby Vassall, O God, and let light perpetual shine upon him.”50 Grant eternal rest to his parents, Tony and Cuba; to his siblings, James,51 Dorrenda,52 Flora, Cyrus, and Catherine;53 to all those enslaved whose labor helped create this place; to those who fought for freedom and equity for all members of their communities. Amen.