Generations of History
The Isaac Winslow House was built circa 1699 for the Hon. Isaac Winslow (1671–1738) at the place named "Careswell" after their family home "Kerswell" in Worcestershire, England. This was the third house built on land granted to Gov. Edward Winslow (1595–1655) in the 1630s who erected the first homestead.

A Mayflower passenger and major leader in the early years of Plymouth Colony, Edward was three-times governor, intermediary with the Native Americans, as well as ambassador from the colony to England. His son Col. Josiah Winslow (1628–1680) also held the governor's office, the first native-born to hold it, in addition to leading the Colonial Militia in the 1675 "Great Swamp Fight," the decisive battle of King Phillip's War.

Judge Isaac Winslow was Josiah's son. He also held many prominent positions in the colony, both military and civil. He was the judge of the Probate Court at Plymouth, chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and president of the Council of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

His house was inherited by son Gen. John Winslow (1703–1774) who had an outstanding military career as a major general in the British service. He participated in several military campaigns, starting with the War of Jenkin’s Ear from 1740–1741. At Nova Scotia (Acadia) from 1742–1755 he assisted the British in the removal of the French Acadians, an event commemorated by Longfellow in his epic poem "Evangeline." Lastly, at Lake Champlain in 1756, he commanded Fort William Henry.

After the death of John, the property was passed to his son, Dr. Isaac Winslow. Isaac had a large medical practice serving southeastern Massachusetts and was well known for his work with the smallpox inoculations. He embraced the British cause during the American Revolution and was one of Marshfield’s leading loyalists, the house becoming the center for Tory activities. When war broke out, most properties belonging to those loyal to England were seized by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts. It is believed that because Isaac was so admired and beloved as a physician by the people, his property was not confiscated.

Dr. Isaac Winslow was the last of the family to occupy the house. After his death in 1822 the estate was sold to honor debt. It then was put up for auction in 1825, divided and purchased by local families. The house and remaining land were later purchased by neighbor Daniel Webster.

Lawyer, statesman, Senator, Secretary of State, and "Farmer of Marshfield," Daniel Webster held high respect for the vererable house; he called it the "Winslow Place" and was the first to invest in preserving it. While never living in the house, he had tenant farmers. In the parlor, on September 1, 1848, he spoke to the people of Marshfield, at their request, on the subject of slavery and his opposition to President Martin Van Buren’s position. On the day of his funeral in October of 1852, dignitaries in attendance gathered in the same room waiting to be led down the road, now Webster Street, by surviving son Fletcher Webster to the services at their family home. Among the guests was President-Elect Franklin Pierce.

Fletcher inherited the house and sold it at auction in 1855 before dying at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862. However, after the Webster mansion burned in 1878, his wife Caroline and three children moved into the house, remaining until 1880 when their house was rebuilt. During her residency, she built the barn that is now used as a meeting room.

Virtually untouched by modernization, the house passed through several more ownerships by Charles and Ezra Wright, Tilden Ames, and lastly Nathan Holbrook who in 1920 sold to three local residents interested in restoring the property: Edward Ford, John Gutterson, and Edgar Sherrill. They called themselves the Winslow Associates, and the Historic Winslow House Association was born. From that day forward, the restoration and preservation of this classic first period colonial mansion that embodies this nation’s early history has been a labor of love for those who have persevered over the years to present is as seen today.

Photo by Pat Traynor

The Winslow Mansion
The following description of the Winslow mansion was written by Walter Pritchard Eaton, published by House Beautiful magazine, September 1921.

The Historic Winslow House built in 1699 by Hon. Isaac Winslow, a man of means, on the land and near the site of his grandfather’s (Gov. Edward Winslow) and father’s (Gov. Josiah Winslow’s) house which was burned: a four square house, built around a gigantic chimney, with fine high pitched roof and an enclosed Portico in front, with wide windows and unusual depth, making an entrance hall. The house is framed with “gun stock” timbers conforming to the “first period Colonial” except that it has no overhang to the second story.

In 1756 General John Winslow, son of the builder, following the prevailing style, remodeled the house, then a little more than half a century old. The General had just returned from driving the Acadians out of Grand Pre. The ceilings, probably at first unsheathed (though, that is not certain) were now plastered. The walls of the best rooms paneled with Georgian Panels, and fireplaces faced with tile and decorated with panel work. Probably the moulding encasing the panels of the doors were put on at this time. The doors are superb, built of two raised panels, more than 24 inches wide, and each panel framed in 2 inch, rather flat moulding, full of character, all of white pine. Fortunately the steep front stairs, with turned spindles, and ornamental Acorn Drops, all made of native white pine, and as lovely a bit of pure Jacobean as to be found in New England were not disturbed. The present Ell had been added somewhat earlier, probably in 1725. All this happened more than 150 years ago.

The House passed through many hands including Daniel Webster’s and finally into hands unable to maintain it and was going to pieces rapidly, when three men of the Neighborhood set about saving it. Every bit of the house was gone over carefully to determine just what portions were original and just what had been altered in after years.

It is plain that the house represents two periods—the original, the very late 17th century and the rather heavy Georgian period of 1756. The earlier period is the more interesting as there are but few examples preserved in this country. Ceilings in the kitchen and South East room have been ripped off, and fireplaces in both rooms restored to their original condition. Under the kitchen ceiling was discovered ancient “spatter work” decorations on the beams and joists, made evidently by quick dabs of paint brush. This proves that the kitchen ceiling was first unsheathed. As it is unlikely that the kitchen would have been decorated and living room left plain, it is probable that some kind of board sheathing originally hid joists in this room. In the kitchen, three separate brickings in the fireplace were removed before the original yawning cavern was disclosed. The fireplaces are truly magnificent, holding a four-foot log with ease, and disclosing the tremendous bulk of the one central chimney. In the kitchen are many ancient cooking utensils and shelves filled with old Pewter. While in the living room is a real Carver chair and other pieces of time worn maple or pine. The North Parlor has been left as it was redone in 1756 with paneled inner wall and tile fireplace. The chambers are also as they were done over in the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The fireplace in the South East chamber is beautiful. The opening is unusually high for the width, and capped with a shelf, which is uncommon in work of this period. The upper panels have a pleasing variation from the lower, accomplished by the simple expedient of reversing the mouldings so that the high outer roll comes on the inside. The cupboard to the right gives access to a secret passage to the attic.

Every fireplace in the house is built rather oddly. The side, not converging inward to a narrower back, but going in perfectly straight and meeting the back with a semi-circular curve, which would cause a modern mason to tear his hair in the attempt to lay it. The tremendous fireplaces downstairs have a square of larger size bricks at the back, set about two feet up and laid in herring bone pattern. In one case an iron fireback has been bricked in. In restoring the House it was easier to furnish the Georgian rooms than the "Pilgrim" rooms. Mahogany could be used while the walls, where they are not panelled, could be covered with wallpaper, in old fashioned patterns. Windows and panels could be painted. When paint first became available in the Colonies, certainly the Winslows, being extremely well to do, for those days, would be among the first to use it. The simplicity of the Pilgrims was the simplicity of stern necessity. Paint must have been hailed as a blessing from Heaven and civilization marched on a long pace when it arrived.

The front hall is one of the most interesting features of the house. Nothing has been done to this hall in the restoration except to carry stairs and rail up to the attic. In the usual central chimney house, the front door opens almost directly on the front stairs: there is no hall. The deep portico of this house, well lighted by two windows on the sides, with a pretty bit of ornamental detail on the Pediments outside, and no division wall whatever, where the front wall of the house itself would naturally come, forms a convenient and off hallway. It solves the problem of a front hall in a central chimney type of dwelling. The Jacobean stairway with its neat bit of paneling, its acorn drops and heavy turned spindles and fat rail is well nigh perfect, and almost the best thing is the color of the post, rail and spindle. All were cut or turned from clear white pine, and by some happy chance have never been painted or oiled except the rail which has been oiled by more than two hundred years of rubbing of the human palm. White Pine turns with age, grey if exposed to weather, a beautiful snuff brown if inside. This color cannot be imitated. No stained wood will ever have the same texture. The stain kills that indescribable satin. The outside of the house is severely simple, even bare, save for the slight ornament of the postal pediment, and the corner boards (quoins) cut to imitate stone. The undoubted dignity comes from fine sturdy proportions, and splendid sweeping left of roof. The present front door is not the original door.

The Daniel Webster Law Office
On the grounds of the Winslow house and open for viewing is the law office of the famous statesman Daniel Webster. This office is a National Historic Landmark. To visit this small building is to feel the presence of this great man. Here are some of Webster's original letters, his possessions, and artifacts relating to his life at his beloved Marshfield estate. One can imagine his meeting here with visiting dignitaries, most notably the British Lord Ashburton with whom Webster established the boundary along the Maine border between the United States and Canada.

Webster bought the house from the estate of Dr. Isaac Winslow in 1844 but never lived there. After his own house burned in 1878, his daughter-in-law lived in the Winslow house while hers was being rebuilt.

The Carriage House and Blacksmith Shop
Also to be seen on the grounds is a carriage house containing a phaeton once belonging to Daniel Webster, a brougham, sleigh, and a concord coach once used in transporting passengers and mail from Marshfield to Cohasset, where a connection was made with a packet ship to Boston.

The blacksmith shop has been resored and is in working condition, moved to the site for preservation purposes.

The Schoolhouse
Across the street is the Winslow School. Marshfield had the first movement toward a public school in either the Bay or the Plymouth Colonies. In 1645 a subscription was taken to help pay the expenses "for one to teach school," with Edward Winslow the chief contributor; thus provision was made for those unable to pay for their children. The land was given to the town by the Colony "and enlarged in territory by William Thomas for the maintenance of religious institutions which in early days held a place, though closely associated with them, higher than the educational."

Home | Back To Top

© 2007 The Historic Winslow House Association, Inc. All rights reserved.