Visit The Robbins House

June, July & August: 11-4
(Closed Tuesdays)
September, October: 11-4
(Open Fri-Sun + Columbus Day)

320 Monument Street
Concord MA
(Located opposite the Old North Bridge)

(978) 254-1745
New! Brochures at the Robbins House

New! Brochures at the Robbins House

Robbins House Historians Write Brochures to Answer Visitors’ Most Frequently Asked Questions

Brochures are now available with a $2 donation at the Robbins House on:

1. Patriots of Color in Revolutionary New England (1775-1790)
2. Free Blacks in New England from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War (1775-1865)
3. Ellen Garrison Jackson, Fighter for Freedom during Reconstruction (1863-1875)
4. Black Abolitionists (1700s-1800s)

Authored by Robbins House Scholar John Hannigan, and Tufts University and University of Massachusetts, Boston History Lecturer Kerri Greenidge. Reviewed by Robert Bellinger, Suffolk University, Black Studies Program Director; Robert Gross, University of Connecticut, History Professor Emeritus, Author of The Minutemen and Their World; and Joanne Pope Melish, University of Kentucky, History Associate Professor, Author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and ‘Race’ in New England, 1789 – 1860.

Sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

On Brister’s Hill with The Walden Woods Project

On Brister’s Hill with The Walden Woods Project

We were rained out, rained out again, and nearly rained out a third time for our program On Brister’s Hill with Robbins House re-enactor Joe Zellner and Walden Woods Project Director of Education, Whitney Retallic. Here are highlights we learned about Brister Freeman, whose home was in the town forest and Walden Woods:

  • Between the ages of 5-9, enslaved Brister was given to Concord’s Dr. Cuming, presumably as a wedding gift.
  • In the Revolutionary War, Private Brister Cuming marched under Colonel John Buttrick to Saratoga in 1777, and watched British General Burgoyne surrender.
  • Two years later he enlisted under the name Brister Freeman, announcing his newly acquired freedom.
  • He was the second man of African descent (after John Jack) to purchase Concord land in 1785, where he built a house shared with Charlestown Edes, his black comrade in the Continental Army.
  • He married, adopted his wife’s daughter, and had 2 sons. Both his wife and Charlestown Edes died of diseases associated with malnutrition. The soil in Walden Woods was so poor that o nutritious crops could be grown.
  • Freeman worked as a day laborer around town, often at Peter Wheeler’s slaughterhouse on the mill pond.
  • The Concord Social Circle Centennial edition (1782-1882) includes a passage about Peter Wheeler locking Freeman in his barn with an angry bull, with Wheeler astonished to see Freeman emerge and the bull slain.
  • Freeman strove to maintain possession of his land, which may have been threatened by his failure to pay back taxes, by appearing in court with his deed. In his will he left his land to a neighboring woman, rather than have it go to an unwelcome owner.
  • Brister Freeman died in 1822, the same year as Revolutionary War patriots of color Caesar Robbins and Case Feen.
  • Peter Robbins pointed out the ditch fence dug around Freeman’s property, still visible today.
Spotlight on New Robbins House Co-President Rob Munro

Spotlight on New Robbins House Co-President Rob Munro

“To a certain extent, we do live in a bubble here,” Rob said, “not only at Middlesex, but also in Concord. I am very hopeful that we can gently expand that bubble and have more difficult conversations about culture, history and race. And, in the process, become more empathetic and understanding of those around us.”

It’s not surprising that family means so much to Rob Munro, who, at the age of 2, was adopted by a loving couple in Walpole, Mass., along with his identical twin brother Ryan. In the process, the boys quickly acquired 10 siblings in what Rob describes as a very diverse family: six black kids, six white kids, six boys and six girls.
Now, some 30 years later, Rob says he’s close to all his brothers and sisters who are still alive and to mom Nancy (his father died when he was 11), who will soon be turning 80. “Most of us live in the area,” he said, “and we all get together at our mom’s house at least once a month or every other month.” Of those younger years, Rob says, “It was a great childhood.”
Sitting on a wooden bench by the Middlesex School lawn on a sparkling spring day, Rob talked about that first family, his academic pursuits, his varied roles and responsibilities at Middlesex and his interests and hopes for the Robbins House, where, earlier this year, he was elected co-president. Rob’s current family – wife Sarah and daughter Wesley –
has recently announced the birth of their new girl Abigail.

Teaching and research

After graduating from Bates where he majored in philosophy and religion, Rob earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Michigan State, while also immersing himself in African American studies. “I found, though, that I really liked teaching more than research,” he says, adding that it was the enjoyment he derived from teaching that led him to Middlesex, where he began teaching history while also coaching tennis, a sport he had played at college along with squash and soccer.

Soon thereafter, he created the school’s Global Studies Program, with a focus on bringing the outside world to the student, rather than the other way around, and on having difficult conversations. Of the latter, Rob says, “We don’t have to agree with what someone else is saying, but we do need to talk to one another and have those awkward conversations if we are going to develop more understanding and progress as a society and as a people.”

The students he interacts with on an almost daily basis are often more receptive to having those difficult conversations than the adults he encounters. “They are very interested in the world around them and willing to ask hard questions – about race, gender, sexuality – to learn more,” he says.

Today’s youth

“At the same time, they want to find out where they fit in and how they can make a difference. I’m incredibly optimistic about the youth of today.”

Of the Robbins House, Rob says he’s looking to expand and integrate more fully into our culture the rich narrative that begins with an enslaved man – Caesar Robbins – fighting in the Revolutionary War, gaining his freedom and eventually becoming a landowner in Concord. He’ll also be working to ensure the sustainability of the Robbins House long into the future.
As he looks to become a positive influence on those he comes into contact with, Rob says it’s the women in his life who have greatly influenced him: mom Nancy, wife Sarah and Robbins House co-president Maria Madison.

They have been mentors, coaches, a source of inspiration and a source of comfort to him. “I hope along the way,” he says, “to pay them back for all they’ve done for me.”

“To a certain extent, we do live in a bubble here,” Rob said, “not only at Middlesex, but also in Concord. I am very hopeful that we can gently expand that bubble and have more difficult conversations about culture, history and race. And, in the process, become more empathetic and understanding of those around us.”

CCHS Students Teach Elementary School Students about the Robbins House

CCHS Students Teach Elementary School Students about the Robbins House

Spring Semester • The Robbins House

This spring, a group of 6 students from the Rivers and Revolutions program, working with CCHS teacher and Robbins House board member Johanna Glazer, have been developing field trip curriculum that can be used by the Robbins House and the Concord Public Schools. So far they have planned and piloted activities for second and fifth graders including an Ellen Garrison scavenger hunt, a petition activity, and a consideration of everyday life in the Robbins House. The Rivers and Revolutions students have learned a great deal about the house and its residents and are excited to find ways to bring the house to life for young people. The students have two more elementary school visits scheduled in May to continue developing and testing activities for young people.

African Wrap Dolls at The Robbins House

African Wrap Dolls at The Robbins House

Jack and Jill Group Makes African Wrap Dolls while Learning about The Robbins House

Sunday, April 29th • The Robbins House

A group of 15 young children and their parents from the Middlesex County Jack and Jill organization enjoyed an afternoon at the Robbins House. Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is a membership organization of parents with children ages 2–19, dedicated to nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty. The Robbins House Co-President Maria Madison shared stories about Ellen Garrison, and the children had a chance to make an African Wrap Doll from National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture kits.

Research Spotlight On…

Research Spotlight On…

Penn State Student Transcribes 100 Letters Written in 1863-1870 by Ellen Garrison Jackson

By Olivia Wertz • Penn State Altoona • 2017 Graduate

I took multiple classes with Dr. Sandra Petrulionis, professor of English and American studies, so she was very familiar with my work ethic and academic interests. She approached me about the opportunity to do research with her, and I began working on the project my junior year.

Concord Academy Multimedia Exhibits

Concord Academy Multimedia Exhibits

Concord Academy History & Media Studies Students Create Multimedia Exhibits for The Robbins House

Students in Concord Academy teacher, and Robbins House board member, Kim Frederick’s spring course spring course, US: Public History, are studying the Robbins House and the history of African Americans in Concord while learning media skills to produce engaging exhibits. The first half of the semester focused on learning about the Garrisons, Robbins, and other 19th-century Concordians. After learning about different multimedia formats, students worked on their own projects, pitched their exhibit proposals – and then voting commenced. For the winning multimedia projects, please visit our website.

John Hannigan and the Massachusetts Archives

John Hannigan and the Massachusetts Archives

As soon as restoration of the Robbins House was complete, our nonprofit group turned its attention to the families of color who first lived there. Supported by a Research Inventory grant from MassHumanities in 2012, we sought out John Hannigan, a Brandeis PhD student whose focus was on black soldiers in the Revolution.

As the Robbins House Scholar-in-residence, John produced our first family trees and local connections for the Robbins, Garrison and Hutchinson families. Over the summer of 2014, John researched Patriots of Color for Minute Man National Historical Park as their Scholar in the Park. (See John’s research papers )

John has been working for the Massachusetts State Archives since 2004, and is now their Head of Reference Services. Six years, countless research discoveries and three children later (his third due any day now), John recently gave us a tour of the Massachusetts Archives. Along with colleague Susan Foster of the Concord Museum, John helped create their five interactive, student-friendly Commonwealth Museum galleries exploring Massachusetts’ history:

  1. Native Americans/Indigenous People
  2. The American Revolution
  3. The Massachusetts Constitution and its influence on the US Constitution, as well as the abolition of slavery through the freedom lawsuits of Quock Walker and Elizabeth (Mum) Bett
  4. Reform Movements of the mid-to-late 18th century – women’s suffrage, education reform, abolitionism, and industrialization
  5. Faces of the Industrial Revolution: children and immigrant factory workers (Click here for a virtual tour)

“And now the crown jewels of the Mass Archives collection,” John said as he led us to the Massachusetts Archives Treasure Gallery Documents. These five original documents are permanently on view to the public thanks to the MIT Department of Engineering who designed and installed cases with specialized lighting that uses argon gas. Up until 2009, these fragile, original documents were seen only upon request.

“At the National Archives in Washington DC, people stand in line for hours to see the Bill of Rights,” according to John. “Here they can walk in and see it instantly, along with the Declaration of Independence and these other original documents, usually with nobody else around!” 

  1. The 1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay
    Also known as the Winthrop Charter, this manuscript was brought from England to the New World by John Winthrop on the ship Arabella in 1630.
  2. The 1692 Charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
    The American Revolution began in Massachusetts as colonists rebelled against violations of the provisions of this document. In his famous portrait by John Singleton Copley, Samuel Adams defiantly points to this manuscript.
  3. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780
    Authored by John Adams, this is the oldest written constitution still functioning as a structural foundation of government in the world.
  4. The Bill of Rights
    One of the original 14 copies (one for each new state, one for Congress), this priceless manuscript is signed by John Adams. The copy kept by Congress is now on display in the rotunda of the National Archives.
  5. The Declaration of Independence
    One of the original 14 “authentic copies” authorized by Congress in 1777, it is the first document to publicly identify the signers of the Declaration.

The Massachusetts Archives • 220 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, 02125 • 617-727-0268 • FREE •

Making history come alive in Concord

Making history come alive in Concord

By Jim Callahan /

Read original post

If Ellen Garrison were alive today, she would have been thrilled to see the eager young faces gathered in the Robbins House to not only learn about Concord’s African-American history, but also to hear about the important role Garrison played in advocating for civil rights in the 1800s.

The young faces belonged to students in grades K-5 from the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, who, along with their parents and organizer Alison Kinney, visited the house on Feb. 16. Members of the Robbins House board and advisers engaged the students in a variety of activities, concluding with a presentation by Maria Madison, board president, as Ellen Garrison.

Garrison, who was born in the house in 1823 and attended public schools in Concord, would go on to become a teacher. In 1866, she challenged segregation in a Baltimore train station only one month after the nation’s first Civil Rights Act had been passed.

A courageous journey

Clad in a pale blue dress and faded straw hat, similar to what Garrison may have worn, Madison described to the students, gathered around in the upstairs attic, Garrison’s courageous journey. It took her from Massachusetts to Virginia and onto Maryland, Kansas and California, explaining the struggles she and other African-Americans faced during those times.

Ala Muhammed, 6, attending with sister Samya, 8, brother Josh, 10, and mom Desiree from Springfield, commented, “It’s a small house.” When asked about Ellen, Ala said, “They threw her out of the train station. They shouldn’t have done that.”

Added Josh, “All people should have rights. Back in the day, they didn’t. There were a lot of things that blacks couldn’t do.”

Annabelle Harwood, 10, attending with mom Lily from East Freetown, said she “learned about a lot of things and the civil rights (Act) of 1866.” Referring to Ellen’s encounter in the Baltimore train station, Annabelle said, “She had to be brave to say ‘I can sit here’.”

Personal learning

The Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School is a relatively new approach to teaching, with a mission to “pioneer personal learning in Massachusetts.” Providing online learning programs that students can access from home, GCVS delivers courses to students through a cloud-based platform accessed through computers and “smart” devices.

Staffed with 45 educators, Greenfield is a Title One public school with an emphasis on flexibility, which, its brochure says, “is tailored to a modern world of diverse interests and independent learners.”

Family Engagement Coordinator Alison Kinsey said she was excited to learn about the Robbins House, and the fact that it invited students throughout the state to take part in a unique field trip that honored African-American History Month. Students came from Natick, New Bedford, Methuen, Haverhill, Uxbridge, Revere, Shirley and other towns, while more than 60 other students were able “to attend” via a Skype-like platform enabling them to watch what was happening and ask questions.

Noted Kinsey, “Ellen’s (Garrison) life – the challenges she faced and overcame, her perseverance, fortitude and love of learning – what a great story for our children, some of whom face adversity for being different. I believe it’s especially important for young people today to find ways to be included in one’s community amid experiences of being excluded.”

How they lived

Ayla Allen, 7, with sister Autumn, 8, and dad David, said she was excited about the visit. She said they had been reading “a lot about African-American history”, and were interested in “seeing an old house and how a black family lived back then.”

“It’s a cool house,” said Geno Corey, 10, “but I’ve never seen one so small. And, oh yeah, I learned a lot about the first civil rights act.”

Other students like Jace LaPointe with mom Megan Vieira, and Holly and Bella Woisin, ages 7 and 9, respectively, and Camille Garcia, 11, shared similar sentiments. Cortana Reynolds, 5, took a somewhat different approach. “I learned some stuff,” she said, “but I really liked how they gave out oranges and those blankets we sat on.”

Madison said, “We (the Robbins House) are honored to be an important educational source for students across the state. Visiting this house is like stepping back in time to connect with the earliest African and American history. It’s where history comes alive for students in ways no text book can.”

The Role Of Museums In Unmasking Society’s Inequities

The Role Of Museums In Unmasking Society’s Inequities

Reposted from HuffPost

By Maria Madison, ScD

Whether through a painting, artifact or object, thoughtful museums and historic sites share stories that can shape society. Annually, thousands of individuals visit our small historic site, The Robbins House, in a quiet corner of the world in Concord, Massachusetts. The house commemorates the legacy of a previously enslaved Revolutionary War veteran and his descendants. Visitors are surprised to learn that there was slavery in the North. Once that is explained, they believe that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves and everyone became equal citizens. Once that history is explained, visitors then believe that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments made everyone equal. Once the Reconstruction Era and its demise are explained, visitors believe everyone was made equal by the first Civil Rights Act of 1866, or the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

This theme is aptly captured in Tracy Jan’s 2017 Boston Globe article, “Economic equality gains overestimated.” In her article Jan quotes Jennifer Richeson of Yale University, “So many of us grew up hearing this story about America that basically said there was slavery and then that was fixed. Martin Luther King marched and then that was fixed. And then we had Obama…That’s a nice, clean story that makes everyone feel good even though it’s shockingly inaccurate.”

Based on our visitors’ comments, I believe it is also the story taught through the school system. It’s a nice clean story that supports teachers’ comfort zones. In this way, we can’t necessarily blame the museum visitor, whether they are a PhD from Princeton, or students from urban or suburban public schools. This information isn’t in most curricula.

Thoughtful museums and historic sites can fill the inequity knowledge gap by connecting the past to the present. In her book, “Artifacts and Allegiance, How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display,” Brandeis University graduate and sociologist Peggy Levitt ’80 reveals how “museums create citizens.” Maybe we can hope that museums create informed caring communities as well.

Sites such as the Robbins House have the unique opportunity to teach audiences about centuries of persistent inequity that either produced or prohibited transgenerational wealth and health. Often museums must inform audiences of what they were not offered in school: that inequities in citizenship, home and land ownership, education, employment and labor, justice and health have persisted by race, ethnicity, gender and lineage, to the present.

Visitors need to hear that the Revolutionary War did not provide independence for the enslaved; the Constitution was not written for all people; the Bill of Rights neither provided nor protected land rights; that voting rights acts did not assure fair and accurate representation in government (with gerrymandering and only 10 black senators to date, for example), and Reconstruction was arguably the nation’s most important experiment in equality, and was subsequently defunded.

Museums and historic sites have the unique opportunity to reveal the vast overestimation of progress toward racial economic equality. They can also demonstrate, as Tracy Jan puts it, that widening “gaps persist between black and white workers when it comes to hourly wages, annual income, and household wealth.”

While connecting the past to the present, museums and historic sites have the unique opportunity to describe the widening gap between the numbers of men and women in the workforce. A 2017 New York Times article shows “Women in Retreat,” noting that there are now 12.7 million more women without paying jobs than in 2000.

Museums and historic sites have the unique opportunity to explain that “Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresented in this nation’s colleges and universities than 35 years ago.” Yet the gender balance at many of the same universities continues to be equal despite that fact that girls outperform boys on college entrance criteria. The only way to achieve the gender balance is by over-sampling white male applicants, yet no affirmative action court case has ever been raised against white males.

Museums and historic sites have the unique opportunity to tell visitors that black families are seven times more likely to be homeless than white families, though only representing less than 15 percent of the population.

Data suggest that the majority of museum and historic site visitors are the same demographic that overestimate progress made in equality: mid- to upper-income whites. According to Tracy Jan’s article, “research shows whites are the most delusional and overly optimistic about racial economic equality even before the civil rights movement.” The researchers state it is “not surprising that Americans who don’t have much contact with other races and incomes have drawn false conclusions about other people’s economic experiences” (quoting Krauss of Yale). “Wealthy blacks have more racially and economically diverse social networks compared with wealthy whites, who have little understanding of the economic outcomes of most black Americans. The researchers said their study highlights the limitations of economic policies such as graduated income tax and loan forgiveness for college students to address the gaping wealth and income disparities between racial groups.“

In his 2017 New York Times article, “It’s Not Easy to Prove Racism. This Study Does,” Justin Wolfers states “[racism] occurs not only in the labor market and the criminal justice system, but also in countless small frictions every day. The culprit may not be a hate spewing white nationalist, but rather a librarian or a school administrator or a county clerk, unaware that she’s helping some clients more than others.” And they are very likely museum and historic site visitors, with the potential to break the trend of persistent and growing inequities.

Maria Madison, ScD, is the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. She is also the founder and president of the Robbins House, a Concord, Mass.-based historic site and nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of Concord’s African, African American, and antislavery history from the 17th through the 19th centuries, and its regional and national significance.

Robbins House Outdoor Exhibit Feedback

Robbins House Outdoor Exhibit Feedback

Installed July 2017

The Robbins House recently installed a timeline of the long Civil Rights movement listing local, state and national events. We invite visitors to let us know what current events they’d add, since our timeline ends in 2017 but will stand in front of the Robbins House for years to come. Much has happened just in the few months since the outdoor exhibit was installed. Here is a response we just received:


New Research Discovery!

Ellen Garrison, 19th Century Robbins House Civil Rights Activist, Buried in John Brown’s Family Pasadena Cemetery

1892 Mountainview Cemetery records in Pasadena, CA, reveal that Ellen Garrison Clark died of tuberculosis at age 69.

While visiting California last week, Robbins House president Maria Madison took time out to visit the Mountainview Cemetery in Pasadena / Altadena, where we knew Ellen Garrison was buried. Here’s what she found out…

Spotlight on… Jayne Gordon, Concord Historian

Spotlight on… Jayne Gordon, Concord Historian

Many people know Jayne Gordon as the Concord historian, leading tours around town, answering questions and conducting classes that focus on the town’s rich history. But as those who know her would be quick to point out, Concord historian is much too narrow a description for who she is and what she does…

A hidden treasure at the Robbins House

A hidden treasure at the Robbins House

Robbins House board member Jayne Gordon is talking to a crowd of about 20 people attending one of Freedom’s Way’s Hidden Treasures event at the house on May 13 when a sharp rap on the front door causes her to pause. Moments later Peter Robbins, aka Joe Zellner, strides into the room wearing a top hat and coat and carrying a long walking stick.

Robbins House Advisory Board Member Joe Zellner – Better than a time machine

Robbins House Advisory Board Member Joe Zellner – Better than a time machine

Until they perfect a time machine that can take you back across the centuries, Joe Zellner might be the next best thing.

As a character interpreter trained and certified by the National Association for Interpretation, Joe brings viewers and listeners back hundreds of years with an engaging, thoughtful and provocative persona that not only captures the person he’s portraying but also the time period they are living in. He can move from Peter Robbins, the son of a formerly enslaved Revolutionary War veteran; to JB Sanderson, a teacher, preacher, abolitionist, and trans-continental pioneer; and then on to Solomon Pierce, father of four and a private in the 54th MVI during the Civil War.

Joe finds out what he can about the individuals he’s impersonating as well as the historical landscape, but cautions that interpreters should avoid conjecture. “Our true selves know what happens afterward,” he says, “but the person we’re impersonating doesn’t. We have to avoid going beyond that line.”

When he’s not interpreting, Joe is a historical re-enactor with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company A, and serves as the president of the Board of Directors of that nonprofit organization.

The Company provides historical reenactment and interpretation of the regiment, as well as portrayals of selected officers and enlisted men. It also takes part in Making History on the Common, sponsored by The Friends of the Public Garden for Boston public schools, which features about 20 organizations that recreate people and occurrences that have occupied the Boston Common over the centuries – from the first Native Americans at the site, to livestock grazing on the Common, to numerous protest events.

The Glorious Fifty-Fourth
The 54th MVI was mustered and paraded from the Common in May 1863. Joe will portray Solomon Pierce of the 54th Massachusetts regiment on June 5th in Making History on the Common to tell the story of the “Glorious Fifty-Fourth.”

In 1863, the Governor of Massachusetts authorized the recruitment of an infantry regiment composed of African American enlisted men, commanded by white officers: the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was the first regiment of African American soldiers to be raised in the North. They were greatly heralded for their valor in their first major engagement in the assault on Ft Wagner in Charleston Harbor, SC, July 1863. Their valiant performance in that battle changed the opinion of the Federal government about the ability and willingness of black Americans to fight for the Union and freedom. In 1897, a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was dedicated on the Boston Common and is prominently located across from the State House.

Recently, Joe portrayed Peter Robbins at the Robbins House as part of Freedom’s Way’s Hidden Treasures event, which explores “treasures” hidden in plain sight throughout 45 communities in Massachusetts during the month of May.

And when not interpreting or reenacting, how does Joe spend some of his time? Reading about people – past and present – and visiting, of course, other historical sites to hone his craft!

Joe Zellner portrays Solomon Pierce, father of four and a private in the Civil War 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Concord Academy students visit the monument on the Boston Common dedicated to the 54th Regiment of African American soldiers and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

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