Place

Dillaway-Thomas House

Yellow two-story house with large windows, white front door, gray roof, and red chimneys.
The Dillaway-Thomas House is located in Roxbury.

NPS Photo/Gould

Quick Facts

Built in 1750, the Dillaway-Thomas House is said to be one of the oldest buildings in Roxbury. Reverend Oliver Peabody originally built the house as a parsonage for the First Church of Roxbury. His successor, Reverend Amos Adams, lived here with his family until 1775, when the Revolutionary War broke out.1

Due to its prime location at the top of a hill, the house became the headquarters for General John Thomas of the Continental Army during the Siege of Boston. As stated in Francis S. Drake’s The Town of Roxbury:

The headquarters having, as we know, been on Meeting-House Hill, this would naturally be a most eligible situation, as from its rear windows Boston, the British works on the Neck, and even the heights of Charlestown were in full view. The battle of Bunker’s Hill and the conflagration of Charlestown were witnessed from its upper windows by the general and his officers.2

General George Washington may have held a meeting with his officers at the house while General Thomas stayed there.3 Thomas is perhaps best known for his leadership during the fortification of Dorchester Heights. On the evening of March 4, 1776, he led 3,000 men from Roxbury to Dorchester Heights with pre-made fortifications and cannon brought by Colonel Henry Knox form Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. They successfully fortified the area in a single night, an accomplishment that “compelled the evacuation of Boston by the enemy, terminating the siege” a couple weeks later.4

After the war, the house’s ownership transferred to Charles K. Dillaway, an esteemed educator who later served as the superintendent of Roxbury schools. He and his wife, Martha, used the house as a “women’s day school and home for international students.”5

Almost demolished in 1927, the Roxbury Historical Society and local residents successfully fought to save and preserve the building. It became a museum in the 1930s and has undergone several renovations over the past century. In 1992, it became the headquarters for the Roxbury Heritage State Park.6 The Dillaway-Thomas House continues to serve as a space for exhibits and community meetings, many of which center on Black history and issues.

Footnotes:

  1. Boston Preservation Alliance, “Dillaway-Thomas House,” https://www.bostonpreservation.org/advocacy-project/dillaway-thomas-house.
  2. Francis S. Drake, The town of Roxbury: its memorable persons and places, its history and antiquities, with numerous illustrations of its old landmarks and noted personages (Roxbury: 1878), 310. Archive.org.
  3. “Dedication Tomorrow of Restored Historic Dillaway-Thomas House,” The Boston Globe, December 23, 1933. Via Newspapers.com.
  4. Drake, The town of Roxbury, 267-268.
  5. Boston Preservation Alliance, “Dillaway-Thomas House,” https://www.bostonpreservation.org/advocacy-project/dillaway-thomas-house.
  6. Ibid.

Boston National Historical Park

Last updated: February 22, 2022