The Hub: Boston Past and Present

The Hub: Boston Past and Present

by Thomas H. O'Connor


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The Hub: Boston Past and Present by Thomas H. O'Connor

"In The Hub, [O'Connor] synthesizes standard references on the city's development, from its 1630 founding through the 1960s desegregation battles and today's redevelopment." Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555535445
Publisher: Northeastern University Press
Publication date: 10/03/2002
Pages: 310
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

Thomas H. O'Connor is University Historian and Professor of History, Emeritus, at Boston College. He is the author of numerous books on Boston's history, including Boston Catholics: A History of the Church and Its People; Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield; The Boston Irish: A Political History; Building a New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal, 1950-1979; and South Boston: My Home Town-The History of an Ethnic Neighborhood, all published by Northeastern University Press. A native of South Boston, he now lives in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

The Hub

Boston Past and Present
By Thomas H. O'Connor

Northeastern University Press

Copyright © 2001 Thomas H. O'Connor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1555534740

Chapter One

A Wilderness Zion

In early April 1630, a line of vessels cleared the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, caught the prevailing winds, and set sail across the stormy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In the lead was the flagship Arbella, a sturdily built ship of 350 tons, followed by three more vessels-the Talbot, the Ambrose, and the Jewel-with seven other emigrant ships departing in their wake to America. Crowded below deck, where the overhead was so low that a man could not stand erect, passengers were often sick from eating tainted beef, cheese, or butter, and terrified by the rolling and pitching of the vessel. "The winds blew mightily, the sea roared," wrote Francis Higginson, "and the waves tossed us horribly."

The men and women aboard the small flotilla headed for the New World were members of an English Protestant group called Puritans. They were leaving behind them a country where they felt they could no longer enjoy religious freedom, social harmony, or financial prosperity. Following the break with the Roman Catholic Church during the early part of the sixteenth century because the pope refused toannul Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragsn, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, and other members of different Protestant sects appeared in various parts of the kingdom, vying for power and appealing for followers. Frustrated by the turmoil created by so many conflicting religious factions, Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, set out to rid England of what she described as "foolish theological quibbling." With the support of Parliament, Elizabeth established a single national church, the Church of England (the Anglican Church); provided the Thirty-Nine Articles as its official creed; and instituted the Penal Laws to enforce conformity and compliance. This powerful combination of religious faith and national loyalty proved an effective establishment that satisfied most English citizens.

There were some, however, for whom the Elizabethan Settlement was by no means a satisfactory resolution of the religious conflicts. This was especially true of English Protestants who wished to carry the Reformation to its logical conclusion, and who refused to accept the vestiges of Catholic rituals and ceremonies they still found in the Anglican Church. A large number of these nonconformists held views very similar to those of the European theologian John Calvin, who preached a wrathful God of terrible judgment, a humankind born into sin and corruption, and a doctrine of predestination wherein God alone had already determined who would be saved (the "elect," the "saints") and who would be sent to eternal damnation. Convinced that outstanding moral virtue and exemplary personal behavior were outward signs of salvation, those who considered themselves members of the elect self-imposed the strictest standards of personal conduct, with an emphasis on the serious, sober, and frugal aspects of life. Denouncing all ornamentation as sinful frivolity, they refused to support the Church of England until it was purified of distasteful papist rituals and practices. Some moderate dissenters, professing themselves to be loyal and law-abiding citizens, agreed to obey the letter of the law. They officially became members of the Anglican Church but made no secret of the fact that they intended to work from within to purify that church. As a result, they became known as Puritans. Other, more radical members of the Puritans refused to join the Anglican Church at all and separated themselves from the new state religion completely. These dissenters became known as "Separatists."

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, the position of religious dissenters in general-and Puritans in particular-became increasingly precarious. Leaving behind neither husband nor children, the Virgin Queen was succeeded by King James VI of Scotland, son of the late Mary Stuart-Mary, Queen of Scots. Taking up residence in London as James I, the penniless young Scotsman proved as politically tactless as he was personally arrogant. As a staunch advocate of the philosophy of the divine right of kings-which held that the monarch was absolute, answerable only to the laws of God and not the laws of men-King James demanded the unquestioning obedience of his subjects. In the process, he also insisted that every English subject subscribe to the doctrines and practices of the Church of England. He made it clear that as head of both state and church, he would brook neither political disloyalty nor religious dissent.

Many Protestant dissenters found this kind of royal absolutism totally unacceptable. They reacted strongly against the idea of the king forcing them to acknowledge the Church of England, which they refused to recognize as a truly Protestant religion. King James was adamant, however, and insisted that either the dissenters conform to the regulations of the Anglican Church or he would "harry them out of the land." Indeed, the king and his agents made life so miserable for the Separatists that in 1608 one congregation in Nottinghamshire fled England to seek asylum in Holland. Some twelve years later, in 1620, a group of these Separatists sailed across the Atlantic Ocean as Pilgrims and created an independent settlement of their own at Plymouth Plantation on the shores of Cape Cod.

In 1625, King James I was succeeded by his son, Charles I, who was equally committed to the divine-right-of-kings philosophy and just as strongly opposed to religious dissenters in any form. In his determination to enforce strict political and religious conformity, Charles I was supported actively by the archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Working together, they renewed the punitive measures and harassing tactics against various Puritan groups whose insistence upon substantial reforms in the Anglican Church were regarded by the king as both dangerous and treasonous.

The mounting pressures of royal persecution were made even worse by the discouraging economic conditions in sections of England where many Puritans were located. East Anglia, for example, was in the midst of a serious depression after the importation of silk from France and other European countries caused a decline in the local cloth trade. This affected the farmers who raised sheep, the spinners, weavers, and dyers who worked the cloth, and the clothiers who were forced to discharge their workers when they could not sell their goods. Faced with the failure of a land that "grows weary of its inhabitants," as John Winthrop wrote in his "General Observations," and the official disapproval of a government that subjected them to constant humiliations, a number of middle-class Puritan dissenters began to chafe under the pressure. Persuaded that "evil times were coming upon us," they were convinced that there was little or no future in England for themselves or for their children. It had become painfully obvious that they would have to find some other place where they could earn a living, organize their own kind of society, and worship God in the ways they thought appropriate.

Late in the summer of 1629, a gentleman by the name of John Winthrop, lord of the manor of Groton, in East Anglia, and a justice of the peace, met at Cambridge, England, with John Humphrey, Isaac Johnson, Thomas Dudley, and several other well-to-do Puritan colleagues from Lincolnshire to discuss plans for leaving England. Realizing that the hostile authorities in London would never give Puritans a piece of land for themselves, they investigated a grant of land in America that King Charles had given the previous year to a merchant named Matthew Craddock. The grant was a substantial strip of territory extending from the Merrimack River south to the Charles River, and extending (as most colonial charters did at that time) "from sea to sea" Craddock represented a group of merchant-adventurers who were looking forward to making their fortunes by establishing a string of mines and trading posts along the Atlantic seacoast. The members had elected Craddock head, or "governor," of what was called the New England Company, whose corporate rights were spelled out in a document known as the "Charter of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England." Before Craddock and his associates could launch their commercial enterprise, however, the company's powers were taken over by Winthrop and his Puritan supporters who had bought up the controlling shares of the corporation, and who prepared to use it as a readymade means of creating their own kind of social experiment in the New World.

Appreciating the necessity of establishing some kind of barrier between themselves and the hostile English authorities, Winthrop and the other Puritan leaders insisted that the company transfer its government from London to America and to those "that shall inhabite there." Having observed the way in which English-based stockholders had manipulated the operations of other enterprises, the Puritans did not want their Massachusetts company to become one of those colonies where the settlers made the difficult crossing and then endured all the hardships of frontier living, while others stayed home in England, made all the important decisions, and then enjoyed the lion's share of the profits.

As part of their "Cambridge Agreement," Winthrop and the other Puritan leaders decided that only those people who were willing to leave England and actually make the journey to America would be allowed to become stockholders. Persons who did not want to emigrate would be required to sell their stock in the company to those who were prepared to become part of the overseas settlement. On the basis of this agreement, John Winthrop was elected governor of the association now known as the Massachusetts Bay Company. To further ensure that the company would be free of English interference, and that all future meetings of the stockholders would take place in Massachusetts, not in London, the Puritan leaders took the original copy of the company charter with them. This was quite unusual, and exactly how it was accomplished even the eminent historian Samuel Eliot Morison admits was a mystery, but the Puritans insisted that it had been done legally before a court in England. Under the leadership of John Winthrop in East Anglia, Sir Richard Saltonstall in the London area, and John White in the West Country, small groups of Puritans moved ahead with their plans with remarkable speed during February and March of 1630. Winthrop's people from the Midlands and London embarked from the port of Southampton; those from the West Country sailed out of Bristol and Plymouth. Setting out in relays, by early April the first eleven vessels, with Winthrop and the Arbella in the lead, were on their way across the Atlantic Ocean.

In the course of the voyage, Governor Winthrop delivered to his fellow Puritans on board the Arbella an eloquent address called "A Modell of Christian Charity," in which he outlined the spirit of the enterprise and the importance of its mission. The immediate objective, he said, was to seek out a new home "under a due forme of Government, both civill and ecclesiasticall," a community in which concern for "the publique" must outweigh all private interests. To accomplish this, a spirit of brotherly love was absolutely essential, he emphasized, one in which "we must bear one another's burdens.... We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality." If the members of the Puritan community acted in such a manner, Winthrop assured them, then they would have God on their side, and He would bless them and protect them in their undertaking. And then people everywhere would compare the Puritan community with their own settlement and say: "The Lord make it like that of New England." Winthrop concluded, "For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken; and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world."

After making landfall near Cape Ann, Winthrop's small fleet moved down along the coastline of Maine until on June 12, 1630, the first ships finally anchored in the North River near Salem. This was not the first time that Englishmen had set foot on the coast of the "Northern Parte of Virginia," as they originally called New England. But the earlier landings had all been small, temporary, and commercial. Bartholomew Gosnold's voyage in 1602 to the northern fishing banks was financed by English entrepreneurs, as was Captain Martin Pringle's search for sassafras and furs the following year. In 1604, George Weymouth visited the shores of New England near the mouth of the Kennebec River and returned to England with glowing reports of the region's commercial possibilities. Most leaders in such overseas expeditions were sea captains and merchant-adventurers who were out to establish the kinds of trading posts and fisheries that would turn up sizable profits for their English backers. The leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, however, were set on a different mission, with an entirely different objective. Once John Winthrop had taken the company away from Matthew Craddock, observes historian Bernard Bailyn, "the leadership of the company was securely in the hands of men whose main occupation was not trade." One by one, the rest of the Puritan fleet put in either at Salem or farther south at Charlestown, until by the end of the summer nearly a thousand settlers had arrived. Although at first Winthrop and most of the other Puritan leaders decided to settle on the Charlestown peninsula, the lack of fresh drinking water and the outbreak of various illnesses such as scurvy and "hectic fever" caused them to reconsider their location.

It was this point that Winthrop was approached by a rather reclusive Anglican clergyman, the Reverend William Blackstone (Blaxton), who had built a home for himself on the Shawmut peninsula on the opposite side of the Charles River. Blackstone told the governor about an excellent spring that would furnish plenty of fresh drinking water, and urged him to leave Charlestown and bring his settlers across the river to the new location. Winthrop accepted the friendly invitation, others followed, and by the middle of October of 1630 the new settlement had a population of some 150 persons. By the end of the year, the congregation that originally gathered in Charlestown had made the move across the Charles River and became the First Church of Boston. "Boston" was the name chosen, after the town in Lincolnshire, England, from which many of the Puritans had come. Originally known as St.


Excerpted from The Hub by Thomas H. O'Connor Copyright © 2001 by Thomas H. O'Connor. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Book 1Cradle of Liberty
Chapter 1A Wilderness Zion3
Chapter 2Loyalty Versus Liberty26
Chapter 3From Colony to Commonwealth47
Book 2Athens of America
Chapter 4From Town to City73
Chapter 5The Reform Impulse94
Chapter 6Liberty and Union113
Book 3Melting Pot
Chapter 7Winds of Change137
Chapter 8Clash of Cultures158
Chapter 9A City Divided183
Book 4A New Boston
Chapter 10Building a New City207
Chapter 11Race and Ethnicity229
Chapter 12Life in a Changing City255

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