When in Boston: A Time Line & Almanac

When in Boston: A Time Line & Almanac

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ISBN-13: 9781555536206
Publisher: Northeastern University Press
Publication date: 12/23/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.10(d)

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When in Boston

A Time Line & Almanac

Northeastern University Press

Copyright © 2004 Jim Vrabel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55553-620-4

Chapter One

To 1650


(ca.) According to Norse legend, Leif, son of Eric the Red, arrives in America. Although no physical evidence has been found to show that he ventures this far south, his description of a place where a river (possibly today's Charles) runs through a lake (possibly the Back Bay) into the sea (possibly Boston Harbor) prompts some historians to speculate that he reaches today's Boston. Anne Whitney's statue of Leif Ericson is dedicated on the Commonwealth Avenue mall near Kenmore Square on October 29, 1887. Its creation was championed by Eben Norton Horsford, a former Harvard professor of nutrition who made a fortune developing a formula for baking powder.


Sir Francis Drake is thought to visit Cape Cod. Earlier Drake had coined the name "New England," applying it to California on his voyage around the world in 1577.

George Weymouth explores New England, returning to England with three kidnapped Indians. The three live at the home of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and are taught English, so that Gorges can learn more about their homeland.


By this time, eastern Algonquin Indians have come to inhabit the area in which today's Boston lies. The local tribes include theMassachusetts (from massa for "great" and wachusetts for "mountain place"-a reference to the Great Blue Hill), Nipmucks, Pocumtucks, and Pokanokets (or Wampanoags).


Bartholomew Gosnold explores Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod, and the islands off southeastern Massachusetts.


Samuel de Champlain charts the Massachusetts coast and is thought to enter Boston Harbor (which the Indians call Quonehassit).


Capt. John Smith explores Boston Harbor. A year later, he writes A Description of New England, which includes a mention of "Massachusetts Bay" and the river that the Indians called the Quineboquin (which means "twisting" or "winding"). Later, he reportedly tells the young Prince (later King) Charles to change the names on his map to some "good English ones," and the prince proceeds to name the river after himself.


A series of epidemics from diseases brought by the European explorers and settlers (such as chicken pox, measles, scarlet fever, and smallpox) kills 80 to 90 percent of the estimated seventy-five thousand Indians who had been living in New England. The population along the Massachusetts coast is reduced from approximately three thousand to five hundred.


So many Indians die of disease in the area that is today South Boston that they lie unburied. For many years, surviving members of the tribe return to hold memorial services there; they name the place Mattapannock (meaning "a place where evil is spread about"). English settlers later shorten the name to Mattapan and apply it to an area of what they call Dorchester.


David Thompson, all agent for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, explores Boston Harbor. He returns in 1626, establishes a trading post on what is today Thompson Island, and dies in 1628, leaving a widow and infant son, John, who continue to live on the island. According to some accounts, the widow Thompson soon marries Samuel Maverick and moves with him to New York; according to Sweetser in King's Handbook of Boston Harbor, soon after the arrival of the Puritans, "the good Episcopalian lady abandoned her snug Atlantis, and sailed away to where she could hear once more the familiar 'Let your light so shine' in some distant prelatical realms." John Thompson returns and exercises his claim to the island in 1648.


November 3. James I creates the Council for New England, which grants a patent to a group of merchants in Plymouth, England, for the northern part of the area called Virginia. Much of the land later goes to one of the members of the group, Sir Ferdinando Gorges.

November 11. The Mayflower Compact is signed by the Pilgrims on board ship off Provincetown. The document calls for formation of a "body politick." The Pilgrims land at Plymouth on December 11.


September 29. Myles Standish of the Plymouth Colony leads a party that explores Boston Harbor, landing at today's Squantum, Savin Hill, and Charlestown. A member of the group, William Trevore, claims today's Thompson Island for David Thompson. Afterward, Standish reports: "Better harbors for shipping cannot be, than there are. At the entrance of the bay are many rocks and islands, and in all likelihood, very good fishing ground. Many, yea, most of the islands have been inhabited, some being cleared from end to end, but the people are all dead or removed."


May. An advance party of ten lands at Wessagussett (later Weymouth) in an attempt to establish a trading post. Others follow in August. "Insufficiently clad and starving," according to the historian Justin Winsor, "the would-be settlers mixed freely with the neighboring Indians, first begging and then stealing from them, and thus incurring anger while they ceased to inspire fear." The settlers disperse to Plymouth, Maine, and back to England in the spring of 1623.


The Dorchester Company establishes a settlement on Cape Ann (today's Gloucester). Some of the members soon after establish a smaller settlement at Nantasket.

September. Robert Gorges leads a second attempt-this time successful-to settle at Wessagussett. Gorges returns to England a year later. Settlers remaining include Samuel Maverick, Thomas Walford, and William Blackstone (or Blaxton).


Summer. Captain Wollaston leads a party that settles at Passangesset (later Mount Wollaston, then Merry Mount, and finally Quincy). He later sails for Virginia with most of the company. Thomas Morton emerges as the leader of the remaining settlers, and he is later arrested by Standish for trading guns, ammunition, and spirits with the Indians for skins.

(ca.) Samuel Maverick establishes a trading post at Winnisimmett, today's Chelsea.

(ca.) Thomas Walford leads a party that settles in Mishawum, today's Charlestown.

(ca.) William Blackstone becomes the first European settler of today's Boston. A twenty-seven-year-old Anglican clergyman described by the historian Walter Muir Whitehill as "a bachelor with a taste for his own company," he settles on the 783-acre peninsula that the Indians call Mushauwomuk (variously described as meaning "living (or flowing) waters," "where there is going by boat," or "crossing place"). Blackstone builds a cabin near today's Beacon and Spruce Streets, complete with library, prompting the literary critic Van Wyck Brooks to later write, "There had been books on the slope of Beacon Hill when the wolves still howled on the summit." Blackstone cultivates a garden and an apple orchard and also reportedly indulges in strong drink, associates with Indians, and rides his tame white bull along the beach.


There are by now five settlements in the area containing approximately fifty people: Wessagussett, Passangesset, Mishawum, Winnisimmet, and Nantasket.

(ca.) The English settlers in the area shorten the name of today's Boston to Shawmut, then variously call the peninsula Trimount, Tramount, or Trimountaine for its three hills: Windmill to the north (today's Copp's Hill); Corn or Fort to the south (today leveled); and Trimount in the center (today's Beacon Hill). The Trimount itself has three peaks: Cotton or Pemberton in the east; Centry or Sentry in the center; and West or Mount Vernon on the west.


March 19. The Council for New England, meeting in a Plymouth, England, conveys to the "Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England" the land that lies between the Merrimack and Charles Rivers.

June 20. John Endicott, appointed governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in England, leads a group that settles at Naumkeag, which they rename Salem in 1629.


A fort is built on Town Hill in Charlestown as protection against Indian attacks.

January 10. John Gorges grants William Brererton all the land east of the Charles River as far as today's Nahant. The Massachusetts Bay Company later refuses to recognize the grant, and instead gives Brererton two islands in Boston Harbor (later called Noddles and Hog or Breed's Islands). Brererton remains in England, however. William Noddle, formerly of Salem, settles on one of the islands. He later drowns while carrying wood over in his canoe in the summer of 1632.

March 4. Charles I grants a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company for land that extends from three miles north of the Merrimack River to three miles south of the Charles River. The company is by now made up of a group of Puritans who have bought up controlling shares, including John Winthrop and Matthew Craddock, who is named governor on April 30.

July 4. Brothers Ralph, Richard, and William Sprague lead a party from Naumkeag that settles at Mishawum. After being granted status as an independent town by Charles I, the settlers rename it Charlestown.

August 26. Members of the Massachusetts Bay Company sign the Agreement at Cambridge, which states that "the whole government, together with the patent of the said plantation ... remain with us and others who shall inhabit upon the said plantation."

October 20. A "General Court" of the Massachusetts Bay, Colony elects John Winthrop governor, John Humphrey deputy, and eighteen others "assistants."

March. In a letter to Endicott at Naumkeag, Matthew Craddock writes, "be not unmindful of the main end of our plantation, by endeavoring to bring the Indians to the knowledge of the Gospel."

Thomas Walford and his family are asked to leave Charlestown because they are members of the Church of England. They eventually move to today's Ports mouth, New Hampshire.


The Great House is built at today's City Square in Charlestown. It later serves as the home of Winthrop and others, a meeting place, a school, and the Three Cranes Tavern. The building is burned down by the British, with much of Charlestown, in June 1775.

King's Chapel Burying Ground is established. The first in a Boston, it is located on the site of Isaac Johnson's garden, and he is said to be the first to be buried here. Other graves include those of Mary Chilton (the only Pilgrim to move to Boston), Rev. John Cotton, William Dawes, Govs. John Endicott and John Winthrop and Winthrop's son and grandson (both governors of Connecticut), Gov. William Shirley, and Elizabeth Pain (the reputed model for Hester Prynne, the heroine in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter).

The Phips Street Burying Ground is established in Charlestown. Graves include that of Nathaniel Gorham, president of the Continental Congress.

The Roxbury (later Eliot) Burying Ground is established at the corner of Eustis and Washington Streets in Roxbury. Graves include those of Govs. Thomas and Joseph Dudley, John Eliot, members of the Willard family, and veterans of the French and Indian War.

March 20. The Mary and John, with 140 passengers aboard, sets sail from England. It is one of eleven ships carrying approximately seven hundred members of the Massachusetts Bay Company that depart between February and May.

March 22. The Arbella sets sail from Southampton, England, carrying the Massachusetts Bay Company's charter. En route, John Winthrop writes and probably delivers an address entitled "A Modell of Christian Charity." In it he declares: "For wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill. The eies of all people are uppon Us." (The words are adapted from Matthew 5:14, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.")

Early June. Dorchester is settled by passengers from the Mary and John. Landing at a place they call Rocky Hill (today's Savin Hill), the new inhabitants establish homes near today's Edward Everett Square. "Had not the waters of Dorchester Bay been more shallow than those of the other side of Dorchester Heights," Justin Winsor writes 250 years later, "we should probably have had to record the annexation of Boston to Dorchester instead of the reverse."

June 12. The Arbella and four other ships land at Salem. Members of the Massachusetts Bay Company find many of the settlers sick and without food, and they are turned away from Salem's church for not being "covented members." The result, according to Thomas Dudley, is that "Salem where we landed pleased us not."

June 17. Governor Winthrop leads a party that explores Boston Harbor in hopes of finding a better site for a settlement. After staying the night with Samuel Maverick in Winnisimmett, he decides that the members of the Massachusetts Bay Company should join the existing settlement at Charlestown.

Late June/early July. The remainder of the Massachusetts Bay Company moves from Salem to Charlestown. Other ships arrive from England, bringing more settlers. By the end of the summer, the population reaches an estimated fifteen hundred. Most live in tents, but Winthrop and the other "gentlemen" live in the Great House, renamed the Governor's House, which they purchase from its owner, who has returned to Salem.

Late July. Wracked by illness, the Charlestown settlers decide to disperse to the eight "primary towns" already established in the area. Dudley writes: "this dispersion troubled some of us; but help it we could not." Sir Richard Saltonstall leads one group to Watertown; William Pynchon, another to Roxbury; other groups go to Dorchester, Mistick (later Medford), and Saugus.

August. William Blackstone informs the Charlestown settlers of the presence of freshwater springs on the Shawmut Peninsula. He also invites Isaac Johnson, whom he had known in England, to share his cabin on the Shawmut Peninsula. Approximately 150 additional members of the group follow, moving across the harbor and living in huts and wigwams. After Johnson dies at the end of September, Blackstone invites Winthrop, Dudley, Rev. John Wilson, and other leaders of the group into his home. Three hundred years later, John Paramino's Founders Monument is dedicated on Boston Common on September 16, 1930.

August 23. The first meeting of the Court of Assistants is held aboard the Arbella at Charlestown.

September 7. Boston is named. At the second meeting of the Court of Assistants, held at the Governor's House in Charlestown, it is voted "that Trimountaine shalbe called Boston," after the town in Lincolnshire from which many of the Puritans had come, that Mattapan shall be called Dorchester, "and the towne upon Charles River," Watertown.

October 8.]


Excerpted from When in Boston by JIM VRABEL Copyright © 2004 by Jim Vrabel. Excerpted by permission.
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