This page is devoted to the Scollay Family, who gave the Square its name. We hope that Scollay Family members find it useful researching their heritage. On this page you will find:
- NEW! A Valentine to Miss Mercy Scollay
- The story of the Scollay family
- Emails and genealogies from Scollay family members
- A 1906 paper with more details on the Scollay family (opens a new page)
- Transcription of the diary of Lucy C. Whitwell Parker (opens a new page)
- Tribute to Arthur Cortlandt Parker, who was killed during the Civil War, written by his brother William Whitwell Parker(opens a new page
- An email from a Scollay in Australia seeking genealogy help (opens a new page)
- A video tribute to a descendant of the Scollay who gave the Square its name
We hope to hear more from the Scollay descendants, and also hope that they feel free to use this site to help them better understand their family's history and its place in Boston history.
In February 2013 I received the following email from Dr. Sam Forman, a Harvard faculty member who wrote: "I encountered your website on Scollay family genealogy. As an author who has delved deeply into one of the clan, you might find my recent postings of interest. Feel free to share them with other Scollays, who are encouraged to contact me if they have information pertinent the these historical Scollays: Valentine to Miss Mercy Scollay"
I encourage all of you to read Dr. Forman's poigniant essay, and if you interested in reaching Dr. Forman to please contact me here.
One of the most frequently asked questions about Scollay Square (aside from the ones about Sally Keith's tassels), concern the Square's origin. Just where did the name Scollay come from? Did the family who provided the name do anything besides that? Do any family members still live today, and if they do, what do they think of their family's namesake?
One of the members of the Sons of Liberty was a man named John Scollay. While we know that his family came to Massachusetts from Scotland's Orkney Islands, members of the Scollay family place his precise lineage in question. It had been written - and accepted as fact - that John's father, also named John, had leased the Winnisimmet Ferry in 1692, and ran it for several years, but according to one family researcher, "it's possible that the ferry owner was "actually a son of William Scollay (brother of 7.James Scollay) who also emigrated to Boston." We hope to help the Scollay family find the answer.
Meanwhile, let's get back to John Scollay. John obviously achieved some stature in Colonial Boston, as he was elected Fire Marshall in 1747, a position he held for thirty-five years. In 1761, along with about fifty other men, he signed a petition which was sent to King George III protesting the illegal actions of the British revenue officers. A strong supporter of colonial claims against the empire, he was chosen to Boston's board of Selectmen in 1764. The honor was repeated in 1773, and the following year he was made chairman, a title he held until 1790. Although his participation in the Revolution was historically overshadowed by that of the more prominent and outspoken revolutionaries such as Adams, Otis, and Hancock, John's contribution was nevertheless important. Without individuals like John Scollay supporting the cause, resisting the British might not have been possible.
John Scollay had ten children, eight of them boys. The youngest, named William, was also active in the community, becoming Clerk of the Market in 1788 and Selectman from 1792 to 1795. Following in his father's footsteps, he acted as Fire Marshall from 1792 to 1806. On August 20, 1792 he was named a colonel in the Boston Regiment, a title he is said to have carried proudly.
William Scollay's profession was listed in the town records as an apothecary and druggist, occupations which he practiced from a store on Cornhill. But his biggest contribution to the city (and to the title of this book) was in real estate. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, William Scollay lived on Bussey Street near the home of Charles Bullfinch, Boston's most influential architect of the time. They became friends and soon were involved in a joint real estate venture. Along with several other businessmen, they built the first block of buildings in Boston. Located on what is today Franklin Place, this curving row of buildings, designed by Bullfinch, was to be financed under a tontine Plan, which led the developers to name it Tontine Crescent. According to the rules of the plan, the last surviving member of the original group of investors would own the entire property. Problems with construction caused members to abandon the tontine aspect of the project, although the buildings were eventually built. (Today Franklin Place still follows the original curve of Bullfinch's plans.)
In the middle of Court Street, at the intersection of Court and Tremont Streets, were a series of buildings which extended down Court Street to the head of Hanover Street. Nearest the intersection was a two-story brick building. The rest of the property, which narrowed as it extended west toward Hanover Street, was covered with wooden structures one or two stories high. Here one of the oldest printing houses in Boston, Green & Russell, transacted business around 1755. Part of this property also included some land at the base of Beacon Hill, on which stood a three story mansion.
Russell, who had become owner of the property in the 1760s, sold it to William Vassall for three hundred pounds, in 1774. Vassall moved into the mansion where he lived for two years, when, following the British evacuation of Boston, the loyalist was forced to make a hasty retreat of his own. Patrick Jeffrey, a real estate investor, was able to buy the property for a little more than half of what Vassall had paid, about one hundred and sixty pounds.
The Scollay Building (Courtesy of the Bostonian Society / Old State House)
The source of Jeffrey's money deserves some discussion, as it was the cause of some titters among Boston society around the time of the Revolution. A woman named Mary Wilkes Haley had arrived in Boston to inspect the property of her deceased husband, Alderman Haley. When this seventy-year-old woman married the thirty year old Jeffrey (who was in charge of the estate), Boston was both shocked and amused. No one was surprised, however, when the marriage broke up and Mrs. Haley returned to England. Jeffrey, now quite well off following the union, was able to make purchases such as the Vassall estate. In 1795 Jeffrey sold the Court Street property (which included the buildings in the middle of the street) to Colonel William Scollay. Jeffrey kept the Beacon Hill estate for a few more years, eventually selling it to Gardiner Greene. (There will be more about Greene and his property later) Scollay moved into the brick building nearest Tremont Street, and rented out the others. He named his new home on Court Street Scollay's Building, although the name also came to apply collectively to the other, smaller wooden structures on the property.
Considering the infamy a soon-to-be constructed Athenaeum on Howard Street would have, it is interesting to learn that the more intellectually motivated Boston Athenaeum (which now resides on Beacon Hill) was located in Scollay's Building from 1807 to 1809. The Provident Institute for Savings had its first branch here from 1823 to 1832. The building was also a popular location for lawyers since it was so close to the Court House, which had been built nearby on Court Street (near the old State House) in 1810.
The grade of Court Street was so steep at this time that someone walking on the Beacon Hill side of the street could see over the lower buildings on Scollay's property to the other side. When Court Street was leveled, Scollay's building gained a basement. There, a popular barber of the early 1800s named Bob New practiced his trade with great success, and Boston's best tea shop, its largest thread store, and a toy store all did business. William Scollay had willed the buildings to his heirs and upon his death in 1809 they leased the property to a Mr. Dimmock. After having the two story brick building inspected by two engineers, who pronounced the foundation safe, Dimmock had two stories added, making the structure four stories tall. Scollay's Building, now one of the tallest in Boston, became the centerpiece for this part of town which, thanks to a growing transportation system, would evolve into a bustling commercial center.
Public transportation in Boston after Independence consisted mostly of stage lines which ran to and from the "suburbs." As mentioned before, the Square was centrally located near the docks, Beacon Hill, and downtown. The intersection of Court and Tremont streets became a transfer point for early nineteenth century commuters. The Charlestown line ran every seven minutes and ended its run in front of the brick building owned by the Scollays. So did the Dorchester, Malden, and Cambridge coaches. Since there was no official designation for the stop, conductors merely used the name of the building to indicate where the trolley had stopped. "Last stop, Scollay's Building! Everybody off," they would shout. Travelers on these lines would often tell their friends to meet them at "Scollay's Building," and after a while the area became known as Scollay's Square. In 1838 the popular designation was turned into an official one when Boston gave the name Scollay Square to the intersection of Court and Tremont Streets.
Ironically, improvements to Scollay Square, combined with increased congestion in the area, did more to threaten the existence of Scollay's buildings than enhance their profitability. The traffic that had given rise to the name Scollay Square became the reason that some people wanted to tear the buildings down. Large stage coaches and omnibuses, some of them led by four? and six-horse teams, were having trouble making the turn from Brattle Street onto Court Street. In 1841 a group of citizens unsuccessfully attempted to appropriate $10,000 to buy the buildings and have them removed to remedy the problem. But by the 1850s, thanks to their age and general disrepair, all the original wooden buildings had been torn down, leaving the four story stone Scollay Building to stand alone in the Square. This was not the first or last time that traffic jams would plague Scollay Square. In 1784 the town was petitioned to widen Court Street near the old Concert Hall at Hanover Street. The petition read, in part:The petition was not granted, although public pressure forced the city to widen Court Street between Sudbury Street and Bowdoin Square in 1807. (Future traffic woes would later create the need for electric trolleys and eventually the first subway in America in Scollay Square.)It is still so narrow that two carts cannot pass with safety and as there are several shops opposite belonging to the town, much out of repair, the town is asked to widen at this point which will make the shops more convenient and fetch equal rent (The Scollay's, 1906).
On January 7, 1868 the Scollay family ended its association with the Scollay building when they sold it and the property on Court Street to Arioch Wentworth for $100,000. Three years later Wentworth sold the building to the city for twice what he had paid the Scollays. That year, the city finally granted the wishes of many traffic-weary citizens when it tore the remaining Scollay's building down, leaving the Square completely open.
Scollay Square in the 1880s, minus William Scollay's building
(Courtesy of the Bostonian Society / Old State House)
The removal of Scollay's Building created a problem for topographers, those students of the city's natural and man-made features. "The open space is known as Scollay Square, although it is in fact the most irregular of triangles," one wrote soon after the building was torn down. "Two of the sides, and those two which form almost a right angle with each other, are in Court Street, and the third is Tremont Row. The removal of the buildings has left one of the most remarkable cases of confusion in street nomenclature anywhere to be found" (Memorial History of Boston, 1881). Despite this intellectual confusion, there was no attempt to rename the intersection, and Scollay Square remained, at least in name.
Of John Scollay's other children, two have stories worth mentioning. Pat Long, of Buy Orkney.com tells us of this remarkable branch of the Scollay family tree: "William's sister Priscilla married Thomas Melville, one of the Boston [Tea Party] Indians, and their son Allan was Herman Melville's father." (Imagine that! Scollay Square has a connection to the author of Moby Dick, arguably one of the great American novels.) Okay, back to Priscilla. The story goes that the morning after the Tea Party she found tea leaves in the shoes he had worn the night before, but maintained her silence once she realized her husband's life hung in the balance. Priscilla did save the tea leaves, however, which were preserved and given to a local historical society. (Another quick aside is worthy here, as Pat proudly tells us that "the extent of American literature's debt to Orkney is quite astonishing. Washington Irving's father came from the Orkney island of Shapinsay, James Russell Lowell had an Orcadian grandfather and great-grandfather and Robert Frost's mother came from the Orcadian Moodie family, though I haven't pinned down the connection exactly yet.")
Okay, back to the descendants of the Boston Scollays; Another daughter, Mercy Scollay, was a close friend of Benedict Arnold. He had taken an interest in the children of the late General Warren, who were under her care, and was attempting to raise money from the new government to support their education. In correspondence with Mercy he wrote that if Congress did not oblige he would provide whatever money was needed to raise the children. (Perhaps his plea for funds would have been successful if he hadn't changed sides before the war ended.)
William Scollay was the only son to reach manhood and none of his sons lived to have a family. There are people today, however, who can trace their heritage back to the Scollays of Boston. In 1987, while working to have Government Center renamed Scollay Square, radio talk show host Jerry Williams received this letter:Fred Scollay, a television actor, is also a direct descendant of John Scollay, although while being interviewed by Williams he said that he prefers to place a slight French accent to his name "to keep people from misspelling and mispronouncing it!" That's undoubtedly a good idea, since the name of the Square is constantly being mispronounced as "Scully" even by those (including this author) who claim to be experts on the subject.I am a direct descendent of the Scollay who gave the square its name. While the surname "Scollay" rarely appeared after the death of William Scollay, one lineage has been carried on through his daughter Lucy C. Scollay who married Benjeman Whitwell. Their daughter, Lucy Cushing Whitwell married William Parker. Their son, William Whitwell Parker married Harriet Esther Bell. Their son, William Bell Parker married Helen Sutliff. I am their son, Scollay Cortlandt Parker. Consequently I am in the fifth generation of that lineage (Letter from Scollay Parker to Jerry Williams, January 4, 1987).
To the Scollays we owe more than just thanks for giving the Square its name. Both John and his son William were civic minded men who risked everything in their pursuit of American Independence. Today, if you visit the Massachusetts State Capital building, you will see inscribed on the cornerstone, along with other, more familiar names from the Revolution, the name of William Scollay.
The first of two emails come from Bruce, who has been very helpful in correcting the lineage of the Scollay's in Boston, wrote to us with details of the Scollay family, extending back from William to Scotland in the 15th century...I though you would be interested in a recent discovery I made regarding the Scollay Square Scollays and the Orkney Scollay family genealogy project I'm working on. I recently analyzed a paper on the Scollay family written by Dr. Hugh Marwick in the early 1900s. He is quite the authority on Orkney genealogy and there are some interesting parallels to the article you gave me written by Alexander S. Porter in 1906 and read to the Bostonian Society Council in the same year.
Anyhow, the interesting part of the Porter article refers to the early Boston Scollay's lineage as follows "Sir Robert Strange, the celebrated engraver, and Malcolm Laing, who made himself famous in Scottish literary circles in the eighteenth century, were connections of the Scollay family in the old country." (page 47)
Based on that snippet of information and another piece from a Scollay Square descendent, I think I've nailed the Orkney connection to Scollay Square back to about 1500. Briefly, it goes like this:
1.Duncan Scollay b. about 1490 - 1524
5.Malcolm Scollay of Hunton, Stronsay, Orkney (b.1646)
6.James Scollay b.abt. 1680 (emigrated to Boston as did his brother William)
7.John Scollay (b.1711 d.1790 aged 79)
8.William Scollay (b. 1756 d. ?) - the one who gave Scollay Square it's
I have information from another Scollay researcher that identifies yet another Scollay family in Boston in the late 1600s. This family was headed by a John Scollay (b.20 June 1665) and who married a Lydia Grover and who had children Lydia, Grover, Hannah, John, Susanne). I have yet to connect this lot to Orkney or to the Scollay Square bunch but there is no doubt in my mind that they are related.
The second email comes from Katherine Greenough, who wrote the following brief geneology and then posed a question which we cannot answer (maybe YOU can help?)I am a Scollay descendant, and my younger brother is Andrew Scollay Greenough. As all the Scollay males died out, as you know, we are descended from Anna Wroe Scollay (1794 - 1845), daughter of William Scollay. Anna's daughter, Catherine Scollay Curtis (1821 - 1899) married the aforementioned William Whitwell Greenough. I'm directly descended from John Greenough (1672-1732) the fireward and a ship-builder. William Whitwell Greenough (1818-1899), my great-great-great grandfather was the president of the Board of Trustees of the BPL for over 25 years. (As I travel around Boston, I bump into information about relatives frequently! It's fun for me, but of course, it doesn't make me any more interesting than someone whose family arrived in the US 10 years ago.)
I very much enjoyed your online history of Scollay Square and hope you can help me locate information on "Greenough's Museum", which is described in an 1891 article in New England Monthly as "facing Court St., between Brattle St. and Cornhill". It is not clear in the article if the museum still existed in 1891. Apparently it was the predessor to the Austin and Stone/ Boston Museum around the corner on Tremont Street. I cannot find anything about it by searching Google and reading through numerous articles.
Think you can help us about Greenough's Museum? Please email us and we'll let Katherine know!