42-44 Shirley Street
The City of Boston Archaeology Program staff and community members will begin a new archaeological dig at the recently Landmark-designated 42-44 Shirley Street. The house is probably one half of a former stable built around 1750 as part of a country home for Royal Governor William Shirley and his family. The property is also likely the home of enslaved people who lived and worked on the property.
During pre-dig research, the City Archaeology team discovered that the property may have been the original location of the Shirley-Eustis House. The house was moved to its current location in the 1860s. If this is true, the original foundations, kitchens, and slave quarters may still be present in the yard at 42-44 Shirley Street. This would also mean the current building was moved onto the site.
There is documentation of at least five enslaved Black Bostonians at the property. The first was possibly an infant named Jane. Later was an 18-month old baby named Nanny. She was listed in her 1753 baptismal record at King's Chapel as a servant of Catherine Shirley, Governor Shirley’s daughter. Nanny died just four days later. Shirley’s other daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Eliakim Hutchinson, lived on the property from 1764-1775. They enslaved two children, Affy and Cesar, and a man named Thomas Scipio. These five individuals, and likely others, were all present at the house in the mid-late 1700s
The excavations will begin on September 13 and will likely last through the end of the month. The team will hand excavate a series of narrow trenches across the yard, hoping to intersect one or more building foundations from the 1700s. Once found, the foundations' location and alignment should tell us if they are parts of the old stable building or the original mansion foundations. Once the building foundations are located, the excavations will stop.
In 2021, 42-44 Shirley Street and the Shirley-Eustis House were formally designated Boston Landmarks. This means any changes to the building or landscape now require review by Landmarks and Archaeology Staff. The archaeological site and the building on the property are protected by Landmarks rules and regulations. The current owner does not wish to alter the landscape. Working with the Archaeology team, they aim to better understand what may be on the property to avoid disturbing the site in the future.
The only known standing slave quarters in New England are at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford. The City Archaeology Program’s investigations will help determine whether the current building was also a slave quarters. It will also help determine whether there is another place where enslaved people lived present in the front yard.