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
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
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
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
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
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