The Earliest CivilizationYou cannot walk too far along the Boston cobblestone streets without coming across one historic site or another. Being the oldest colonized city of the United States of America, Boston houses several iconic locations where important history incidents have unfolded. Even if you do not visit the many museums and memorials there are, Boston in itself is a living, breathing reflection of America’s vivid history.
Long before the pilgrims showed up from England, Boston was an inhabited location by Native American families since as early as 2400 B.C. They named the region protruding into Massachusetts Bay as Shawmut Peninsula.
Let’s take a trip down the memory lane and explore the history of Boston one milestone at a time.
The Foundation of Boston – The City Upon a HillThe modern history of Boston can be traced back to as early as 1620, when a group of Puritan Separatist Christians from England, better known in the USA’s history as the Pilgrims, arrived at the shore of Massachusetts Bay on the Mayflower ship and founded the famous Plymouth Colony.
However, for several years after that, an English settler named William Blaxton was the Shawmut Peninsula's sole resident. Proper settlement in Boston did not occur until a decade later when the Cambridge Agreement was signed among the Puritans across the Atlantic.
John Winthrop led a fleet of ships as the first of many Great Migrations in 1630 and was welcomed by William Blaxton to settle down in New England. The region was supposed to become a Puritan Christianity model and was described as the ‘City Upon a Hill’ after the passage from The Bible.
Christening of the NameInitially named Trimountaine after the three hills, the city was later renamed ‘Boston’ after the English county of Lincolnshire in September 1630. Boston remained the largest of the thirteen colony settlements till the middle of the 18th century.
In the following years, Boston had its first Latin School, the Old South Church, King’s Chapel Burying Ground, and the Hull Mint, setting up a true civilization. Harvard University was also founded in this decade.
The Disasters of 1700sIn the late 1600s and early 1700s, Boston faced a series of natural and humanmade disasters. The end of the previous century saw back-to-back outbreaks of smallpox that lasted till the middle of the 1700s, wiping out nearly 14% of the population. Vaccination was tried for the first time in the USA by Cotton Mather and Zabdiel Boylston, albeit facing many controversies.
1755 saw Boston endure an earthquake of 6.0+ magnitude on the Richter scale, followed by the Great Fire of Boston in 1760.
The next decade of history of Boston saw the British Government impose several taxes on the colonies to waiver off the debt rising out of the Seven Years War with the French and Native American troops.
The first one was the Sugar Act of 1764, followed by the Stamp Act of 1965. The Acts' heavily discriminatory nature ignited the first sparks of the American Revolution, leading to the American War of Independence.
Role of Boston in the American RevolutionBoston has rightfully earned the moniker of ‘Cradle of Liberty’ for its role in sparking the American Revolution for independence. In 1729, the Old South Meeting House was built as a meeting house for Puritan Colonists, which would later be the nursery for many ideas of rebellion against the Imperial Rule in Boston's history.
The colonies were growing impatient with the Imperial Rule, and the Stamp Act of 1765 only made things worse. The law imposed a complicated process for import on the colonists, and in retaliation, the number of smuggling acts went up. The principle of ‘No Taxation without Representation’ came up, as the colonists started demanding their rights as citizens. Samuel Adams, John Rowe, and James Otis led the American Revolution in and around Boston. Tensions escalated with British Troops opening fire at demonstrating protestors on March 5, 1770, an incident we now know as the Boston Massacre.
Boston Tea PartyOne of the most significant incidents of the history of Boston and the USA is the Boston Tea Party. Orchestrated by the revolutionary group Sons of Liberty, 342 chests of tea from British ships into the sea at Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773.
It was an act of protest against the Tea Act, which allowed British East India Company to sell tea in the colonies tax-free. In retaliation, the British Government stripped Massachusetts of its self-governance and levied some even harsher laws. However, this time Boston had help.
The First Battle of the American RevolutionSeveral of the other twelve colonies rallied behind Boston, and the First Continental Congress was formed. This forced the British crackdown on security in the entire Massachusetts Bay area, leading to the Battle of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. This marked the first-ever battle of the American Revolution.
It was a huge setback for the Royal troops as rebel militant armies across the New England region came to Boston’s defence. The future first president, General George Washington himself took command of the Patriot forces and trapped the British army in the famous Siege of Boston.
Washington secured victory at Bunker Hill's Battle. It forced the Government out, taking full control of Boston on March 17, 1776, ending the long Siege – a day known as the Evacuation Day and till date celebrated as a holiday in Massachusetts. Clashes between the two parties flared up across the entire country, and finally on July 4, 1776, America declared Independence from Great Britain. Boston has successfully preserved its role in history along the Freedom Trail, which is now a top tourist attraction.
The Economic, Social and Culture Boom of 19th CenturyThe post-independence era saw Boston grow from a little rebel town to a cosmopolitan hub of new America. Several developmental milestones took place during this century.
- Boston witnessed a growth of the confectionery industry, with several sugar refineries and candy factories opening up. The town also started trading in rum, fish, tobacco, and salt.
- In 1822, Boston rose to the status of a city from a town. Thanks to the second mayor of the city, Josiah Quincy III, Boston underwent an infrastructural makeover. Roads, sewers, and markets were built.
- The Boston Museum of Natural History, now known as the Boston Museum of Science, was founded in 1830.
- In the 1840s, the Brahmin Elite society welcomed a culture of sophistication and urban royalty. They were later defied by the Irish and Italian immigrants following the potato famine of 1845-49.
- Like the American Revolution, Boston once again became a centre for yet another movement that would change America's fabric. In 1831, The Liberator newsletter was founded by William Lloyd Garrison, advocating for abolishing slavery and emancipation of all the enslaved people.
- Boston saw yet another Great Fire in 1872, which kept up for two days and ruined nearly 65 acres of the city, including the financial district.
- Boston also became North America’s first subway in September 1897 with the Tremont Street Subway.
The Great Molasses FloodIn one of the strangest disasters in Boston's history, the North End neighbourhood of Boston saw a massive molasses storage tank burst. Nearly 13,000 short tons of molasses barreled down the Boston streets at 35 miles per hour, burying people underneath.
More than 150 people were injured, and 21 were killed being asphyxiated by the flood of molasses. It took the authorities over six months to clean the entire area, and even then, everything looked brown.
Wrapping UpHowever, the city underwent massive developments throughout the century in terms of infrastructure, transportation, education, and healthcare.
Just like the city did in the 1700s and 1800s, it continues to lead the United States of America in progressive and forward-thinking ideals - all of which will be documented in golden letters in the accounts of the history of Boston.