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THE BROMFIELD HOMESTEAD
ADJOINING the Bowdoin estate was the residence of Edward Bromfield, Junior (1695-1756), a prominent merchant, who held important official positions in the Province and Town. These premises were a part of the possessions of Robert Turner, and descended, through his son-in-law, John Fayerweather, to William Allen.1
In May, 1731, the estate passed to Samuel Sewall, merchant, for a consideration of seven hundred pounds sterling; together with all its fences, edifices, trees, waters, and water-courses. In February, 1742, it was bought by Mr. Bromfield, whose son, Edward, the third (1723-46), was noted at an early age for his scientific attainments and phenomenal versatility. The first organ made in America was the product of his hands, although he did not live to perfect it. The workmanship of the keys and pipes was said to have been extremely clever, surpassing anything of the kind that had ever come from England. Moreover, he made microscopes of improved design, grinding the finest glasses. “For nearly a century the sun still shone through a hole (in the shutter of an attic window) which he had cut for his solar microscopes.”2
In January, 1763, Abigail Bromfield, widow, and sole executrix of the will of Edward Bromfield the younger, sold the homestead to her son-in-law, William Phillips, for £1333 and 6 shillings.
The Honorable William Phillips (1750-1827) was a wealthy business man, of Boston, and a staunch patriot. The fact that he was familiarly known as “Billy Phillips” about town is doubtless evidence of his popularity. In like manner the American people love to designate two of their eminent historic personages as “Abe” Lincoln and “Teddy” Roosevelt, without thought of detracting in the least from the dignity of their characters. At the beginning of the Revolution Mr. Phillips removed his family to Norwich, Connecticut, where they remained during the Siege, occupying a house which is still standing, the reputed birthplace of General Benedict Arnold. Mr. Phillips was a Deacon of the Old South Church for thirty years. He also served as a Representative; and as Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts for several years, during the administrations of Governors Strong and Brooks (1812-23). In the course of a eulogy delivered by the Reverend Doctor Wisner, of the Old South Church, the speaker remarked that “scarcely a measure had been adopted, or an association formed in the community, for the improvement of the physical, intellectual, moral or spiritual condition of man, which had not received the liberal support of William Phillips.” The two Academies at Andover and Exeter are enduring memorials of six members of the Phillips family, representing three generations. The last occupant of the Bromfield mansion was Jonathan Phillips (1778-1860), Hon. A. M. Harvard, 1818, a son of the Lieutenant-Governor; who succeeded to the estate. He was a member of the General Court, and served efficiently as an Overseer of the Poor for ten years. Mr. Phillips was associated with his brother Edward, under the firm name of J. & E. Phillips, dealers in hardware and dry goods. Among his benefactions was a gift of ten thousand dollars to the Boston Public Library.
The Bromfield mansion was remarkable on account of its size and dominant situation. It was built in 1722, and is shown on Bonner’s Map of the same year. At that time there were but three houses on the upper side of Beacon Street, east of the present State-House lot, and near the summit of the hill. A description of the Bromfield house, as it appeared during the occupancy of Jonathan Phillips, is given in a “Memoir of the Life of Eliza S. M. Quincy” (Boston, 1861). “The house was of three stories, and richly furnished according to the fashion of the eighteenth century. There were large mirrors in carved mahogany frames; and one apartment was hung with tapestry representing a stag hunt. Three steep flights of stone steps ascended from Beacon Street to the front of the mansion. And behind it was a paved courtyard, above which rose successive terraces, filled with flowers and fruit trees. On the summit was a summer house, elevated higher than the roofs of the houses, which in 1861 formed Ashburton Place, and commanding a panoramic view of the harbor and environs. The hill on which the mansion stood was levelled in 1845, at which time it was taken down; and the site is now marked by Freeman Place Chapel, and the adjoining houses on Beacon Street.”
1 Gleaner Articles, No. 7.
2 The Memorial History of Boston, IV, 510.