This Federal mansion was built in 1809 for Ezra Weston II, known as “King Caesar” for his worldwide preeminence as a shipbuilder and merchant. Weston’s enterprise dominated Duxbury in the early 19th century with a large portion of the population employed in the Weston shipyards, farms, wharves, mill, ropewalk, or aboard Weston’s fishing schooners and merchant fleet. Ezra Weston’s ship Hope, built in 1841 was then New England’s largest vessel. Purchased by the Society in 1965, the house is presented for tours as it appeared in the 1820s. The house is noted for its rare French scenic wallpapers, portraits of sea captains, and 19th century furnishings.
Brief History of the King Caesar House
The King Caesar House, located at 120 King Caesar Road, Duxbury, Massachusetts, was completed in 1809 and built for Ezra Weston II (1772-1842), shown at left, and his wife, Jerusha Bradford Weston (1770-1833). Like his father, Weston was known as “King Caesar” for his success in shipbuilding and shipping. Lloyd’s of London recognized him as the largest shipowner in America. The house’s front rooms, upstairs and downstairs, remain nearly unchanged from their original construction. Especially notable are superb wallpapers in the two front parlors, imported from France for the house and attributed to Dufour. The museum currently displays a variety of Federal artifacts relating to Duxbury’s shipbuilding era.
The Weston firm was established by Ezra Weston I (1743-1822) who began building small sloops and schooners on Powder Point in Duxbury in 1764. The firm experienced its heyday in the 1820s and 1830s during which Ezra Weston II presided as sole owner. The vessels built by the Westons varied widely in size and configuration, from the 25 ton schooner Sophia, to the ship Hope, launched in 1841 at 880 tons, the largest vessel built in Duxbury and the largest merchant vessel launched in Massachusetts up to that time. Although Ezra Weston II built many schooners for fishing and the coastal trade, the majority of his vessels were large brigs and ships which traded around the world. Over the course of three generations, the Weston firm built or otherwise acquired more than 110 sailing vessels.
From the King Caesar House, Ezra Weston II presided over the largest mercantile enterprise on the South Shore of Massachusetts in its day. Weston operated a large fleet of merchant vessels, a ten acre shipyard, a farm, a ropewalk, a sailcloth mill, and a large work force of sailors, carpenters and laborers.
After the death of Ezra Weston II in 1842, his three sons inherited the firm and continued to operate it until 1857. The firm’s activities declined sharply after his death, however, and his sons evidently did not possess the same talent for business as “King Caesar.”
The King Caesar House passed to the second son, Alden Bradford Weston (1805-1880). After the firm ceased operation, the family fortune was rapidly spent by Alden Weston’s two brothers while Alden lived an austere lifestyle in the King Caesar House. Alden Weston married late in life but had no children. He died alone in the King Caesar House in 1880.
The house then fell to King Caesar’s grandchildren, Alden Weston’s nieces and nephews. Most of them lived in the Boston area and had little desire to keep the Duxbury mansion.
In 1886, Frederick Bradford Knapp (1857-1932) purchased the King Caesar House and the surrounding estate. Knapp, former Superintendent of Buildings at Harvard College, aimed to establish a preparatory school, converting King Caesar’s barns into gymnasiums and classrooms. The school was known as the Powder Point School for Boys and quickly earned an excellent reputation. During this period, the King Caesar House served as the Headmaster’s House, and Knapp resided there with his family. The Powder Point School for Boys operated successfully for nearly 40 years but eventually merged with Tabor Academy in the 1920’s.
Frederick B. Knapp died in 1932. By that time the mansion was in decline. His heirs sold it in 1937 to Dr. Hermon Carey Bumpus, former director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who thoroughly restored the mansion.
In 1945, the King Caesar House was purchased by Emil Weber and Elizabeth Weber-Fulop. Weber-Fulop was an Austrian-born painter of high repute. In the mid-1960s, Weber-Fulop offered to sell the house to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. After a community fundraising effort, the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society procured the necessary funds to purchase and repair the house. On June 25, 1967, the King Caesar House was dedicated as a museum, “commemorative of the busy shipbuilding days of Duxbury.”