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The History of Boston, Massachusetts From 1630-1795

One of America’s most historically rich cities, the story of our nation is evident on nearly every corner in Boston. Officially founded in 1630 by English Puritans who fled to the new land to pursue religious freedom, Boston is considered by many to be the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was here that the Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams, inspired colonists to fight for their freedom against the domination of British Rule.

Earliest Settlers

On September 16, 1620, a group of Puritan Separatists (better known as “Pilgrims”) set sail from Plymouth, England aboard the Mayflower. These settlers spotted land off of Cape Cod on November 9 and began to make way for their destination. Shallow shoals near Nantucket made it virtually impossible for the Mayflower to advance. She was forced to turn around and finally dropped anchor off of present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts on November 21, 1620. The Pilgrims created a new home for themselves, suffering through the cold New England winters, but eventually thriving and creating a strong community.

A mere decade later another group of Puritan colonists, led by John Winthrop, arrived in North America. They first landed in Salem in June of 1630, but continued down the coast in search of clean, fresh water. The Shawmut Peninsula became their eventual home, as the town of Boston was officially founded in September of 1630. The Puritans came upon the lone resident of the Shawmut Peninsula, Reverend William Blackstone – an Anglican Priest who had left England in 1623 on a quest to find peace and quiet. He welcomed the Puritans onto “his land,” sharing the location of the fresh water spring. For his generosity, the Puritans granted him 50 acres of his own land, which he sold back to them 4 years later. Blackstone decided to leave Boston for present-day Cumberland, Rhode Island , saying, “I left England on account of the bishops, and I leave Boston on account of the brethren.”

Significant Events

1630 The first church in Boston was established by John Winthrop’s settlement.

1630 Boston’s first cemetery, King’s Chapel Burying Ground, was founded.

1634 The first tavern/inn was opened in Boston by Puritan settler, Samuel Cole.

1635 Boston Latin School opened; it was the first American public school.

1636 “New College,” or “the College at New Towne,” was founded by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This school would be renamed Harvard College in 1639.

1689 Today’s stone structure of King’s Chapel was built.

1680 The building now known as the Paul Revere House was built. Paul owned this home from 1770-1800.

1691 “Province of Massachusetts Bay” was chartered on October 7, 1691 by William and Mary. The charter took effect on May 14, 1692. Massachusetts translates to “at the great hill”, in reference to the Blue Hills.

1713 The Old State House was built to house the government offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

1729 The Old South Meeting House was built to serve as a Puritan meeting house and would later become one of the most important meeting houses in Boston.

1733 The Molasses Act levied a 6 pence tax per gallon of molasses, not only to increase revenue but also to interfere with the French in the Caribbean. This was the first time that England truly affected trade, livelihood and businesses in Boston and the colonies.

1754-1763 The French and Indian War (the American theater of the Seven Years War) was a battle for colonial domination in North America, the Caribbean and India between England and France. England eventually came to control the colonial outposts, but the staggering debt was so high that it nearly destroyed the English government. This debt caused the escalation of tensions leading up to the Revolutionary War, as Parliament continued to levy taxes in the hopes of recovering the monies expended on this conflict.

1764 The passage of the Sugar Act allows the British government to raise revenue from the colonies. This was the first instance of the idea of “no taxation without representation” as no colonial representative had agreed to these taxes.

1765 The Stamp Act, the first direct tax on the American colonies, was passed. Printed materials were taxed, including newspapers, legal documents, dice and playing cards. As a result, the shipping industry and the legal systems of Boston were crippled. In August of 1765, The Stamp Act Riots occurred in Boston. Effigies of crown-appointed officials were found to be hanging from the Liberty Tree, businesses and homes, including that of Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchinson, were destroyed.

1766 The Declaratory Act was passed to affirm Parliament’s power to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever”.

1767 The Townshend Acts levied a tax on glass, lead, paint, paper and tea, in addition to installing three new Vice Admiralty courts to directly prosecute smugglers, creating the American Board of Customs housed in Boston to control the trade regulations imposed by England, and suspended the New York Assembly. The revenue would pay for military expenses in the colonies and pay the salaries of newly appointed royal colonial officials.

1768 On May 9, John Hancock’s ship, the Liberty, was seized by British Customs Officials in Boston Harbor. Hancock had been suspected of smuggling goods into Boston, and therefore became a target of the authorities. Customs Officials believed that much of the cargo from the ship had been illegally unloaded at night, leaving only about one-fourth of the cargo upon which duties were to be paid the following morning. About a month later, officials were changing their stories, and in turn, decided that the ship was to be seized due to a “minor” slip of the law. Hancock gained a great amount of support from the people of Bostontown, which would aid in his rise in prominence in the coming years.

1768 The British government dispatched troops to Boston reacting to the opposition to the Townshend Acts. Troops arrived in Boston Harbor accompanied by British men of war. They disembarked and held encampments on Boston Common, the Court House and in Faneuil Hall.

1769 Thomas Hutchinson is named the Governor-Ex-Officio of Massachusetts after Governor Bernard’s departure. Many of the colonies began their non-importations of all English goods. Although, despite the non-importation agreement, many merchant warehouses were full of English goods throughout the boycott.

1770 On March 5, after several weeks of tensions, five innocent Bostonians were killed in what would become known as “The Boston Massacre”. An argument between a wigmaker’s apprentice and a British officer over an unpaid bill escalated into a mob forming and taunting of a British Regular on watch at the Customs House. Other soldiers arrived on the scene, including Captain Thomas Preston. A club was thrown from the crowd, striking Private Hugh Montgomery, knocking him down. Montgomery’s musket discharged, but Preston had not given the order to fire. As the smoke cleared, five men lay dead in the street. Meanwhile, in London, Lord North and Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts, but kept the duty on the tea intact.

1773 The East India Company asked Parliament to repeal the Tea duty and Lord North refused, claiming that it would be a sign of weakness. He then persuaded Parliament to pass the new tax of three pence per pound. The Tea Act of 1773 was officially passed on May 10.

1773, November 28 The Dartmouth arrives outside of Boston Harbor carrying 114 chests of East India Company Tea. She was brought into the Harbor and docked at Griffin’s Wharf on November 30.

1773, November 29 A town meeting is called to discuss the arrival of the tea. When a ship enters Boston Harbor, the owner has twenty days to unload the cargo and pay the duties upon it. The deadline for the cargo aboard the Dartmouth is December 17.

1773, December 2 The Eleanor arrives at Griffin’s Wharf carrying 114 chests of EIC tea.

1773, December 7 The brig Beaver arrives in the outer harbor but is quarantined at Rainesford Island due to an outbreak of smallpox. She will arrive at Griffin’s Wharf on December 15.

1773, December 16 More than 5000 people from Boston and the neighboring towns pushed their way into the Old South Meeting House for a final town meeting about the fate of the East India Company tea. The Sons of Liberty sent Francis Rotch, owner of the brig Beaver and the Dartmouth, to request passage of these vessels from Governor Hutchinson. Rotch returns to inform the assembled crowd that Hutchinson has refused their request. Samuel Adams stands to proclaim that “This meeting can do nothing more to save this country!” which was presumed to be a code to start the tea destruction. Several hundred men loosely disguised as “Mohawks” descended upon Griffin’s Wharf, boarded the three ships and proceeded to dump 340 chests of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor. This event would be named the Boston Tea Party.

1774 British Parliament passes The Coercive Acts (also known as The Intolerable Acts in the American Colonies) in retaliation for “the destruction of the tea”. These acts close Boston Harbor, placed Massachusetts Government under control of Britain, move trials to Britain if they felt a fair trial was not possible, and allowed troops to be housed in unoccupied buildings.

1775, April 18 Paul Revere, William Dawes, Samuel Prescott and scores of other riders were sent through the countryside warning of the British Regulars’ advancement to Lexington and Concord to destroy a cache of weapons. Two lanterns were hung in the steeple of Old North Church alerting the riders to the movement of the British troops.

1775, April 19 At dawn on Lexington Green, hundreds of British Regulars arrived to find 77 colonial militiamen gathered there. Fighting officially began this day, igniting the American Revolution. The British continued onto Concord searching for the stores of arms and after finding nothing, they decided to return to Boston. Along the roads, the militiamen gathered, waiting to ambush the British on their retreat.

1775 June 18 The British and Colonists alike suffered great losses at the Battle of Bunker Hill, including the death of Patriot Dr. Joseph Warren. Though the British had seized both Bunker and Breed’s Hill, they were unable to gain control of the land route into Boston.

1776 March 17 The 11-month Siege of Boston comes to an end as the British evacuate the city. (“Evacuation Day” is still celebrated in Boston today!)

1776 July 2 The Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence from Great Britain. Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee had proposed this resolution in June.

1776 July 4 The Declaration of Independence, written by a Committee of Five (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston), is officially adopted.

1780 John Adams serves as the principal author of the Massachusetts State Constitution, the first constitution in the nation.

1795 Charles Bulfinch begins designing Boston churches, public buildings and homes. He spearheads the development of Beacon Hill and designed Boston’s “new” State House (the building with the golden dome adjacent to Boston Common).

America’s fight for independence can be experienced at the many sites along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Boston’s rich history comes to life in the historic attractions and museums found all around the city, including the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.

Sean Lawler Profile Picture

Sean Lawler

Sean Lawler is the former education Program Coordinator of the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. He has dedicated his career to the study of the Boston Tea Party, and how this defiant act, orchestrated by the Sons of Liberty, pushed Massachusetts down the road to revolution. In his studies, Lawler was fascinated by the crowd’s involvement in the era of colonial protest dating back to the Stamp Act of 1...

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