History of Boston, Massachusetts
Start Your Visit WithHistorical Timelines
General Interest Maps
Sometimes called “The Cradle of Liberty” for its role in instigating the American Revolution, Boston’s rich history had its beginnings in the 1630s when the Puritans established a settlement there. Boston was named by Massachusetts’ first deputy-governor, Thomas Dudley, whose hometown was Boston, Lincolnshire, England. Once the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Company, Boston became home to 1,000 Puritans who had fled religious and political persecution in Europe. Later its inhabitants came to be called “Bostonians.”
In September 1630, the Puritans landed on the Shawmut Peninsula so named by the Native Americans who were living there. The Puritans called it Trimountaine until the town was renamed after Boston, Lincolnshire, England. It was the Massachusetts Bay Company’s original governor John Winthrop who preached the famous sermon called “A City upon a Hill.” Delivered prior to their departure from England in 1630, Winthrop spoke of the special covenant the Puritans had with God and of their actions which would be watched by the world.
Colonial rebellion led to revolution
Boston became the hotspot of unrest as colonists began to rebel against the heavy taxation levied upon them by the British Parliament. Colonists organized a boycott in response to the Townshend Acts of 1767, which resulted in the so-called "Boston Massacre." At the trial, it was determined that the redcoats had been drawn to fire upon the crowd. Originally thought to have been the catalyst for swaying the American public against the British, historians have recently decided that further unpopular British actions would have had to occur before a larger portion of the populace came to embrace the radical view of independence.
Other upheavals strongly influenced the colonists to raise arms to fight a war against the British. Samuel Adams and other radicals were involved in the Boston Tea Party that led to similar actions in other port cities up and down the Eastern seaboard and tended to polarize the sides in the widening dispute. Patriots and Loyalists each became more ardent about their views. Such Parliamentary acts as the Tea Act of 1773 and the Boston Port Act, passed in June 1774, attempted to bring order to Boston.
Several early Revolutionary War battles were fought in or near Boston. They included the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston. During this period, Paul Revere made his midnight ride.
After the American Revolution, the town became one of the world’s wealthiest international trading ports, and descendents from old Boston families became the social and cultural elite called the "Boston Brahmins."
In the 1820s, a rush of immigrants from Ireland and Italy began to change dramatically, the city’s ethnic composition. They brought with them a staunch Roman Catholicism.
Catholics currently comprise Boston's largest religious community. The Irish Catholics in particular have played a significant role in Boston politics, with such prominent figures as John F. Kennedy and others.
Boston in the 20th Century
In 1919, the Boston Police Strike was just one in a series of labor strikes that took place across the country. Unions attempted to gain higher wages to adjust for wartime inflation. The largely Irish-American police force organized in order to gain not only higher pay, but shorter hours and better working conditions. Failed attempts to reach an agreement with the City led to a strike of 1,100 officers on September 9, and eventually the Massachusetts National Guard was sent in by Governor Calvin Coolidge to restore the peace. Such actions aided in Coolidge’s nomination to the vice presidency in 1920.
By the mid-1900s, Boston fell into decline as major industrial factories relocated to areas where they could find a cheaper labor source. The city responded with urban renewal projects that led to the leveling of the old West End neighborhood and the construction of Government Center. In the 1970s, Boston encouraged diversification into the banking and investment fields, becoming a leader in the mutual fund industry.
Racial tensions were ignited in 1974, over the forced busing of students. It was an attempt to create a more balanced student body, especially in neighborhoods comprised of one ethnicity. The ensuing violence and unrest served to highlight racial tensions in the city.
Since that time, some of those ethnic neighborhoods have been transformed into housing for the wealthiest sectors of society. As a result, the city currently faces gentrification issues, as many modest or working-class neighborhoods have been eliminated. It is a common problem among older cities along the East coast.
Historic architectural riches
Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States and was a place where British troops camped before the American Revolution. The park was also used for public hangings until 1817. The old Central Burying Ground is at Tremont and Boylston streets of the Common, and the oldest subway stations in the country are located nearby. The Common was also used as a racetrack for horsemen in 1787, until objections from safety-conscious people led the city to establish a sanctioned race meet there two years later.
The third rendition of Boston's Trinity Church was completed during America's Centennial celebrations, in 1876. The new church replaced the second version, which was built 1733, and then gutted by fire in 1872.)
Trinity Church is similar in style to the Old South Meeting House, where Adams held public meetings after the Tea Act was passed. The construction work of the new Episcopal building, along with the Chapel, was completed in 1876. It stands in the center of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, with its central crossing tower and is visible from any vantage point.
Educational and cultural mecca
A mecca comprised of some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation, Boston draws students to such area institutions as Harvard College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston College, and Boston University.
Holding the title as the fourth largest independent university in America, Boston University was organized by a group of lay and ministerial delegates of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Boston College (1863) is the flagship of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and holds the distinction of being the first institution of higher education established in the city. The Chestnut Hill school is also near the infamous "Heartbreak Hill" of Boston Marathon fame.
Boston also boasts the oldest public schools in the nation — Boston Latin School, the oldest public school (1635); English High, the oldest public high school (1821); and the oldest public elementary school, Mather (1639).
Boston contains a number of fascinating museums including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which is one of the most comprehensive museums in the world. First opening on July 4, 1876, the nation's centennial, the museum has an extensive Egyptian artifact collection that include sculptures, sarcophogi, and jewelry. It also contains a large collection of French impressionist works including Paul Gauguin, as well as works by Manet, Renoir, Degas, Monet, and others. There is an extensive collection of 18th and 19th century American art, as well as 5,000 pieces of Japanese pottery.
The Museum of African-American History is New England’s largest museum dedicated to preserving, conserving, and accurately interpreting the contributions of African Americans from the colonial period through the 19th century. Founded in 1963, the museum encompasses the African Meeting House, which is the oldest of its kind in America, and the adjacent Abiel Smith School, the first building constructed to house a black public school.
Originally known as the Boston Society of Natural History, the historically based Museum of Science-Boston was established in 1830. The Mugar Omni Theater at the museum, is a spectacle of sight and sound. It boasts one of the world's largest movie projectors and a state-of-the-art digital sound system.
The Boston Children’s Museum was established in 1913, by a group of teachers in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood and focuses on childhood development. This fun place for children and adults features a two-story maze, reading adventures, a visit to a Boston neighborhood, and a climbing wall.
Classical music can be heard from famous orchestras located in Boston. Founded in 1881, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the largest orchestral organizations in the world, with three distinct areas of operation — the Symphony, Boston Pops, and Boston University's Tanglewood Institute, a summer program for high school-aged artists to study under the Symphony's guidance.
Sports of all kinds
Boston is legendary for its sports teams and the support of their fans, which are some of the most loyal and avid in the country. The city is the home of Fenway Park, the oldest baseball stadium in active use in the Major Leagues. The Boston Red Sox continue to play their home games at famous Fenway (with its equally famous "Green Monster"), which opened on April 20, 1912. Babe Ruth led the Red Sox to two World Series victories here before he was sold to the New York Yankees for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan, creating the much-ballyhooed "Curse of the Bambino." *
Boston is also home to two professional teams that play at the TD Banknorth Garden (formerly called the Fleet Center): the Boston Bruins NHL ice hockey team, and the Boston Celtics NBA basketball team. The Celtics have won more World Championships than any other NBA franchise, with 16 titles from 1957 to 1986.
The National Football League's New England Patriots play their games in nearby Foxboro Stadium, close to the I-95/I-495 interchange. Soccer fans also travel to Foxboro to watch the New England Revolution, a Major League soccer team.
In East Boston, Suffolk Downs was opened in 1935, for racing thoroughbred horses. Such famous horses as Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, and Cigar, have raced in the venerable MassCap that is held there.
- - - Books You May Like Include: ----
Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the Building of Boston's Golden Age by Ted Clarke.
Venture back to the Boston of the 1800s, when Back Bay was just a wide expanse of water to the west of the Shawmut Peninsula and merchants peddled the...
The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe by Christopher Pagliuco.
When Puritans Edward Whalley and William Goffe joined the parliamentary army against King Charles I in the English civil wars, they seized an opportun...
Building the Mass Pike by Yanni K. Tsipis.
By 1950, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its capital city Springfield had fallen on hard times. With the region's railroads in decline and the r...
Greater Boston's Blizzard of 1978 by Alan R. Earls.
The great blizzard of 1978 is an event seared in the memory of anyone who lived through it. Most of Greater Boston was quickly overwhelmed by the stor...
The Great Boston Fire of 1872 by Anthony Mitchell Sammarco.
Few events can be said to have changed the face of Boston forever. Eventually destroying 775 buildings and causing millions of dollars in damage to th...
Steamboats of Gloucester and the North Shore by John Lester Sutherland.
This accessible history and memoir focuses on the various working vessels that plied the waters between Boston and Gloucester during the glory days of...
Allston-Brighton in Transition From Cattle Town to Streetcar Suburb by Dr. William P. Marchione.
From its founding in the seventeenth century, when it was known as Little Cambridge, to its vibrant streets today, Allston-Brighton has remained a spi...
Boston Miscellany, An Essential History of the Hub by William Marchione.
Look back to a time when riots raged through the streets of Boston, when Beacon Hill was a neighborhood of beggars and vagabonds and papal effigies bu...