Boston History

What dates do you want to stay?
# of Adults: 
Which hotel would you like to stay?
Hotel Name: 

The British are coming....

Native Americans had been living on the Boston peninsula for more than 2,000 years when Captain John Smith, famous for helping lead the settlement of Virginia to the south, sailed into the harbor in 1614. Smith mapped the area between Cape Ann to the north and Cape Cod to the south and called it New England. He named the largest river in the area, the Charles, after his Prince. In 1620, the Puritans, chased out of England for their religious beliefs, landed their ship, the Mayflower, in nearby Plymouth, and founded the first permanent European settlement in the Boston area.

A few years later, a lone scholar and clergyman from the Plymouth settlement named William Blackstone set out for solitude and found himself, his bull, and several hundred books at the foot of what is known today in Boston as Beacon Hill. In 1630, Blackstone lured other Puritans with promises of of ample supplies of fresh water. He soon found himself smack in the middle of a bustling community, including among his new neighbors the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop.

The site was dubbed Boston'the Indians had called it Shawmut--after the town of the same name in England, which in turn had been named after St. Botolph, the patron saint of fishing. As the town began to grow, so too did industry and trade fixated upon the Atlantic lifeline; during the next 40 years, Bostonians would build more than 730 ships to fuel its ocean economy. At the same time, explorers ventured north for timber, west to expand the city limits, and south to chart the unknown.

Purchasing Blackstones original field in 1634, Boston now had a large tract of "common" ground, atop which was situated a powder house and other means of defense. This tract would later evolve into present day Boston Common, and later expand to include the Public Gardens.

The Boston Latin School, the nations oldest, was founded in 1636. Its alumnae include such key figures in American history as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and Cotton Mather. Across the Charles River in Cambridge, Harvard University, the oldest college in North America, was founded the same year.

By 1680, the once-independent Massachusetts Bay Colony had been brought firmly under British control. Boston had evolved into a seaport equal to many of the worlds largest, with over 6,000 residents and 800 houses located near its shores. Bustling trade and commerce kept artisans and craftsmen busy building and refining the existing town while its borders gradually began expanding. Now claiming a name for itself as a center of publishing, education, and commercialism, the strict moral teachings of the Puritans had begun to clash with the more material zeal of Bostons emerging merchant class.

By the end of the 17th century, Bostonians had expanded the town in two directions. This split also created two classes of society, those who wanted an urban, fast-paced atmosphere and those who desired peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle.

The North End was the merchant center of town, as well as the most active and exciting neighborhood. For the up and coming citizens of the town, who would later include such people as Ben Franklin and Paul Revere, the North End was the place to taste the briny excitement of Bostons link to the outside world.

The South End was more spread out and slower paced. It was the preferred neighborhood of Puritan moralists, who disdained the North Ends earthy zest for life.

Following the citys eighth great fire in 60 years in 1711, Bostonians used the charred remains of houses and stores to complete Long Wharf, which jutted two thousand feet out into the Bay. The wharf increased trade and commerce even more.

Flames of colonial resentment toward British rule were fanned in 1734 by Gov. Joseph Dudleys infamous "Molasses Act," which heavily taxed key imports. Trade declined, nearly plunging Boston into a depression. In 1742, Peter Faneuil erected his two-story Faneuil Hall Marketplace with its open-style arcade. The marketplaces numerous shops added even more flavor to the bustling seaport. Architectural elegance began to emerge as more Bostonians began building with red brick, which was deemed safer than wood against fire. In 1749, Kings Chapel on Tremont Street, with its soaring, vaulted ceilings, blossomed under the guidance of Peter Harrison, who is credited by some as being Americas first true architect.

Despite the bustle, Boston was not without trouble. As Paul Reveres famous engraving of 1768 shows, British war ships conveyed masses of troops to the city in response to protests over the Stamp Act of 1765, which required tax stamps to be placed on any published materials with all proceeds benefitting the royal crown. The act was later rescinded after protests by "The Sons of Liberty," who included Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and John Adams. But the British issued various other mandates including the Declaratory Acts and Townsend Acts, which imposed additional taxes on the colony. By 1770, to stem protests, there was one British soldier in town for every four colonists.

March 5, 1770 saw the Boston Massacre. The site where British troops fired into a crowd of colonists, killing five people, is marked today by a ring of cobblestones at Congress and State Streets. On December 16, 1773, 5,000 angry colonists met at the Old South Meeting House to protest a tax on tea. Samuel Adams delivered a heated speech, then led a fierce mob to Boston Harbor. A portion of the mob boarded the brig Beaver and two other vessels moored nearby, dumping their cargos of tea overboard in what has been dubbed "The Boston Tea Party". The British parliament responded by closing down the town and sending even more troops to close off Dorchester Neck, the only land entrance to Boston. The "shot heard 'round the world" was fired in Lexington on April 18, 1775, when a group of colonial militiamen engaged in battle with British regulars. Losing that fight, the militiamen retreated to Concord Bridge, where they defeated a company of British troops. The American Revolution had begun.

The wars first full-scale battle took place at Bunker Hill, plunging Boston headlong into the Revolution. The city suffered huge losses. Charlestown was burned to the ground during the Bunker Hill assault, while landmarks like John Winthrops house and the North Square church went to fuel British fires. George Washington took command of the Continental Army at a ceremony on the Cambridge Common on July 2nd, 1775. His first major victory came on March 16, 1776. Using the cover of night, the army moved much of their artillery to the top of Dorchester Heights. British troops awoke the next morning to find enough cannon staring down at them to destroy their fleet anchored in Boston Harbor. On March 17th, they evacuated the city.

Post-Revolutionary Boston began with a population less than a third of what it had been just prior to the war. Charles Bulfinch, Bostons master architect, would begin his career by rebuilding his friends? war damaged houses. He would go on to design the Massachusetts State House.

The year of 1786 saw the opening of the Charles River Bridge, then the nations longest at more than 1,500 feet. It spanned the Charles River and was funded by John Hancock and friends under the name of "Quixote Enterprise." With the start of the 19th century came 10,000 new residents every 10 years. There were increasing numbers of businesses, mills, tanneries and factories. The overall din of the city reached such a pitch that even Benjamin Franklin moved to the suburbs. And if these moves helped such folk rediscover some degree of solitude, they helped increase Bostons borders even more. Eventually added to the city were such fast-growing towns on its outskirts as Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Dorchester. From these same outskirts emerged Bostons new aristocracy: the Cabots and Lowells, the Grays and Gerrys, who would help steer Boston into a new age.

Boston was a city riddled with intruding waterways and ponds, and landfill was another way to meet the ever increasing demands for more space. Mill Pond in the North End was filled in with chunks taken from Copps Hill and Beacon Hill. Mount Vernon gave up tons of dirt and gravel to form Charles Street at the base of Beacon Hill. The Back Bay, once a soggy bank along the Charles River, would be built on top of landfill. Nearby Kenmore Square still floods as testament to its watery history.

Bulfinchs India Wharf, completed in 1807, led to a fresh burst in sea trade, that now extended all the way to India and other parts of Asia. In 1822, to little fanfare, John Phillips was installed as the first mayor. Boston was now officially a city.

Not all were happy with the way Boston was progressing. Henry David Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond for a year. Nathaniel Hawthorne, feminist Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott, father of famous American writer Louisa May Alcott, supported Thoreaus campaign for more parkland in the city. In 1825, Mayor Josiah Quincy ordered architect Alexander Parris to build a bold new urban development of three massive buildings near Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market in the center, with North and South markets bordering it, was constructed from massive granite blocks that make up so much of the Boston landscape.

During the 1830s, Boston citizens once again showed their disdain for the status quo, as they had done in the years leading up to the Revolution. William Lloyd Garrison, the conscience of the anti-slavery abolitionists, joined forces with writers and reformers to condemn social injustice. Education reformer Horace Mann took on Bostons schools. Samuel Gridley Howe established the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. Ralph Waldo Emerson began expounding the theories of his transcendental philosophy, while Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gained international fame for his poetry during his tenure at Harvard University. The Irish opened Boston to immigration with their arrival in 1846, fleeing the potato famine in their native land. The enclaves they carved out for themselves still endure in Dorchester, South Boston, and parts of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury. The Irish eventually became a major force in Boston. Hug O'Brien, elected mayor in 1885, was the first in a series of influential Irish politicians, including John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald and one of Bostons most famous mayors and politicians, James Michael Curley.

Beacon Hill resident Harriet Beecher Stowes 1852 novel Uncle Toms Cabin further fueled the anti-slavery movement in the United States, and helped buttress William Lloyd Garrisons anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the nations foremost landscape architects, designed the "Emerald Necklace," a series of green spaces that connected the Boston Common, Public Gardens and Commonwealth Avenue Mall to parks of his own design like the Arnold Aboretum, Franklin Park and the Back Bay Fens.

By 1860, a caste system was in place. Bordering wealthy mansions were cramped slums, packed with newly arrived immigrants. Prejudice abounded. The end of the Civil War signaled an end to Bostons booming economy. Newly christened rail lines crippled Bostons sea front. New factories around the country produced goods more cheaply than in Boston. The shoe and textile industries had largely vanished by the 1920s. With the arrival of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Bostons economic base seemed doomed to further damage. World War II provided some measure of relief to the shipping industry, but the real renovation of Bostons economy came at the hands of Mayor John Collins, who undertook a massive restructuring of the city in the 1950s. Many old landmarks were destroyed, but he also created many jobs and helped pump dollars into the slowly reawakening economy. Racial tensions, simmering for decades during the bad economic times, began heating up to a boiling point. By the end of the 1960s, Boston was one of the most segregated cities in America. It was a hard and fast rule that Charlestown was almost entirely white, while Roxbury was almost entirely African American. The citys solution to segregation was court-enforced busing of students, but white parents responded with violent protests and by boycotting the public school system in droves. Eventually, city officials were forced to scrap the program.

The John Hancock Tower, designed by famed architect I.M Pei, soared skyward in 1975 as Bostons tallest building. In 1978, renovated Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall provided catalysts for a new period of growth. By the 1980s, under Mayor Ray Flynn, Boston was once again enjoying economic prosperity. The 1990s saw the beginning of the giant urban renovation program known as the "Big Dig," designed to put Interstate 93, which cuts right through the city, underground. The project has so far accumulated costs in excess of $1 billion per mile. Nevertheless, Boston remains at the forefront of the economic resurgence sweeping the rest of the United States and stands poised to head into the next millennium with all the energy, perseverance and heady spirit that have always been the citys trademarks.

J. Merz

© Copyright 2002-2011, All Rights Reserved.