Otis House

Servants and Staff

The lives of the servants and staff who worked in Federal Boston were closely intertwined and mutually interdependent with their employers, and the Otises would never have been able to maintain their home and family without their labor. How many servants lived and worked at the Otis’ home is hard to say. The records show five male servants from 1798 to 1800, with no more than two at a time. However, these records can be spotty and only reference men over the age of 18. There were probably younger servants, female servants who did not appear in tax records, and day servants who commuted to their place of employment.

What we do know about three of the Otis’ servants, Abraham Francis, an African American footman, William Burgis, a teenaged coach man, and “Harlow,” a nursery maid, offer a rare glimpse into everyday life at the Otis household. These echoes of domestic life help us to visualize and understand the rhythms and dynamics of daily life for people at both ends of the economic spectrum in Federal-era Boston.