Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston – Samuel Adams Drake
There are thousands of people who have never seen (and are not likely ever to see) the interesting capital of Massachusetts, to whom, however, this volume will recommend itself, for various reasons. Boston is especially dear to us Americans and reading Mr. Drake’s well-written volume is like reading the record of the sayings and doings of the colonialists.
Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston
Excerpt from the text:
AN old Boston divine says, ” It would be no unprofitable thing for you to pass over the several streets and call to mind who lived here so many years ago.” We learn from the poet Gay how to prepare for our rambles through the town: —
” How to walk clean by day, and safe by night;
How jostling crowds with prudence to decline.
When to assert the wall and when resign.”
To see or not to see is the problem presented to him who walks the streets of town or village. What to one is a heap of ruins or a blank wall may to another become the abode of the greatest of our ancestors or the key to a remote period. A mound of earth becomes a battlement; a graveyard, a collection of scattered pages whereon we read the history of the times. Facts are proverbially dry, and we shall trouble the reader as little as possible with musty records or tedious chronology; but before we set out to explore and reconstruct, a brief glance at the material progress of Boston seems desirable. For a hundred years Boston must be considered as little more than a seashore village, straggling up its thicket-grown hillsides. The Indian cam-fire, the axe of Blackstone, the mattock and spade of Winthrop’s band, — each have their story and their lesson. We shall pass each period in rapid review. Whether Myles Standish, ” broad in the shoulders, deep-chested, with muscles and sinews of iron,” was the first white man who stood on the beach of the peninsula is a matter merely of conjecture. Certain it is that in 1621 this redoubtable Puritan soldier, with ten companions, sailed from Plymouth and landed somewhere in what is now Boston Bay. They crossed the bay, ” which is very large, and hath at least fifty islands in it “; and, after exploring the shores, decided ” that better harbors for shipping there cannot be than here.” They landed, hobnobbed with Obbatinewat, lord of the soil, feasted upon lobsters and boiled codfish, and departed, leaving no visible traces for us to pursue. This expedition was undertaken to secure the friendship of the ” Massachusetts ” Indians, — a result fully accomplished by Standish. The Indians told the Englishmen that two large rivers flowed into the bay, of which, however, they saw but one. This circumstance, indefinite as it is, justifies the opinion that Standish’s party landed at Shawmut, the Indian name for our peninsula. If they had landed at Charlestown and ascended the heights there, as is supposed by some writers, they could hardly have escaped seeing both the Mystic and Charles, while at Shawmut they would probably have seen only the latter river. In William Blackstone, Episcopalian, we have the first white settler of the peninsula. The date of his settlement has been supposed to have been about 1626, although there is nothing conclusive on this point known to the writer. Here he was, however, in 1628, when we find him taxed by the Plymouth Colony twelve shillings, on account of the expenses incurred by the colony in the capture of Thomas Morton at Mount Wollaston.
The place where Blackstone located his dwelling has given rise to much controversy, but can be fixed with some degree of certainty. Like a sensible man, Blackstone chose the sunny southwest slope of Beacon Hill for his residence. The records show that in April, 1633, “it is agreed that William Blackstone shall have fifty acres set out for him near his house in Boston to enjoy forever.” In the following year Blackstone sold the town all of his allotment except six acres, on part of which bis bouse then stood; the sale also including all his right in and to the peninsula, — a right thus, in some form, recognized by Winthrop and his associates. The price paid for the whole peninsula of Boston was £ 30, assessed upon the inhabitants of the town, some paying six shillings, and some more, according to their circumstances and condition. The Charlestown records locate Blackstone as ” dwelling on the other side of Charles River, alone, to a place by the Indians called Shawmut, where he only had a cottage at a place not far off the place called Blackstone’s Point “; this is also confirmed by Johnson, in his “Wonder Working Providence” printed in 1654. After the purchase by the town of Blackstone’s forty-four acres, they laid out the ” training field, which was ever since used for that purpose and the feeding of cattle.” This was the origin of Boston Common. Two landmarks existed to fix the site of Blackstone’s house, namely, the orchard planted by him, — the first in New England, — and his spring. The orchard is represented on the early maps; is mentioned in 1765 as still bearing fruit; and is named in the deeds, of subsequent possessors. The spring, which must have determined to some extent the location of the house, was probably near the junction of Beacon Street with Charles, although others existed in the neighborhood. The six acres which Mr. Blackstone reserved have been traced through Richard Pepys, an original possessor by a sufficiently clear connection, — supplied where broken by depositions, — to the Mount Vernon proprietors. Copley, the celebrated painter, was once an owner of Blackstone’s six acres, which were bounded by the Common on the south and the river on the west. Blackstone was as singular a character as can be found in the annals of Boston. He is supposed to have come over with Robert Gorges in 1623. But what induced him to withdraw to such a distance from the settlements remains a mystery. By a coincidence, his namesake. Sir William Blackstone, the great commentator of the laws of England, wrote at a later period the following lines: — “As by some tyrant’s stem command, A wretch forsakes his native land, In foreign climes condemned to roam. An endless exile from his home.” The nature of Blackstone’s claim to the peninsula is doubtful, though we have seen it recognized by Winthrop’s company. Mather grumblingly alludes to it thus in his Magnalia: ” There were also some godly Episcopalians; among whom has been reckoned Mr. Blackstone; who, by happening to sleep first in an old hovel upon a point of land there, laid claim to all the ground whereupon there now stands the Metropolis of the whole English America, until the inhabitants gave him satisfaction.” This concedes only a squatter’s title to Blackstone. He seems to have had a kind heart, capable of feeling for the sufferings of his fellowmen, for, hearing of the vicissitudes of Winthrop’s infant settlement at Charlestown by disease and death, he invited them over to Shawmut in 1630. Water, the great desideratum of a settlement, was very scarce at Charlestown, and Blackstone ” came and acquainted the Governor of an excellent spring there, withal inviting him and soliciting him thither.” If seclusion was Blackstone’s object, it gave way to his interest in the welfare of his fellow-colonists.
Upon Blackstone’s advice the Charlestown settlers acted, and many removed to Shawmut by the end of August, 1630. In the first boatload that went over was Anne Pollard, who lived to be nearly, if not quite, one hundred and five years old. She herself related, when more than one hundred years of age, that she “came over in one of the first ships that arrived in Charlestown; that in a day or two after her arrival, on account of the water there being bad, a number of the young people, including herself, took the ship’s boat to cross over to Boston; that as the boat drew up towards the shore, she (being then a romping girl) declared she would be the first to land, and accordingly, before any one, jumped from the bow of the boat on to the beach.” According to this statement, which is based upon good authority, Anne Pollard was the first white female that trod upon the soil of Boston. Hudson’s Point, now the head of Charlestown bridge, but formerly the site of the old ferry, was probably the place where Anne first left the impress of her foot. Her portrait, at the age of one hundred and three years, is in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and her deposition, at the age of eighty-nine years, was used to substantiate the location of Blackstone’s house. In it she says that Mr. Blackstone, after his removal from Boston, frequently resorted to her husband’s house, and that she never heard any controversy about the land, between her husband, Pepys, or Blackstone, but that it was always reputed to belong to the latter.
Blackstone, in 1634, removed to Rehoboth, not liking, we may conclude, the close proximity of his Puritan neighbors, of whom he is reported to have said, that he left England because of his dislike to the Lords Bishops, but now he would not be under the Lords Brethren.
In 1659 Blackstone was married to Mary Stevenson of Boston, widow, by Governor Endicott. He died in 1675, a short time before the breaking out of King Philip’s War, during which his plantation was ravaged by the Indians, and his dwelling destroyed, with his papers and books, — a circumstance that has prevented, perhaps, the veil being lifted that shrouds his early history. It is said no trace of his grave exists; but he left his name to a noble river, and the city which he founded perpetuates it by a public square and street.
The settlers at Charlestown called Shawmut Trimountain, not, says Shaw, on account of the three principal hills, — subsequently Copp’s, Beacon, and Fort, — but from the three peaks of Beacon Hill, which was then considered quite a high mountain, and is so spoken of by Wood, one of the early writers about Boston; the reader will know that Beacon and its two outlying spurs of Cotton (Pemberton) and Mt. Vernon are meant.
On the 7th of September, 1630 (old style), at a court held in Charlestown, it was ordered that Trimountain be called Boston. Many of the settlers had already taken up their residence there, and ” thither the frame of the governor’s house was carried, and people began to build their houses against winter.” Clinging to the old associations of their native land, the settlers named their new home for old Boston in Lincolnshire, England, whence a number of members of the company had emigrated. The name itself owes its origin to Botolph, a pious old Saxon of the seventh century, afterwards canonized as the tutelar saint of mariners, and shows an ingenuity of corruption for which England is famed. Reciprocal courtesies have been exchanged between English Boston and her namesake. The former presented her charter in a frame of the wood of old Saint Botolph’s church, which hangs in our City Hall, while Edward Everett, in the name of the descendants and admirers of John Cotton, gave $ 2,000 for the restoration of a chapel in St. Botolph’s, and the erection therein of a monument to the memory of that much venerated divine, who had been vicar of St. Botolph’s and afterwards minister of the First Church of Christ in Boston, New England.
Boston had three striking topographical features. First, its peninsular character, united by a narrow isthmus to the mainland; next, its three hills, of which the most westerly (Beacon) was the highest, all washed at their base by the sea; and lastly, corresponding to her hills, were three coves, of which the most easterly, enclosed by the headlands of Copp’s and Fort Hill, became the Town Cove and Dock. Of the other coves, the one lying to the south of the Town Cove was embraced between the point of land near the foot of South Street, formerly known as Windmill Point, and the head of the bridge to South Boston; this bight of water was the South Cove. A third inlet on the northwest of the peninsula, lying between the two points of land from which now extend bridges to Charlestown and East Cambridge, became subsequently the Mill Pond, by the building of a causeway on substantially the present line of Causeway Street. Only the most salient features are here given; other interesting peculiarities will be alluded to in their places.
At high tides the sea swept across the narrow neck, and there is every reason to believe also covered the low ground now traversed by Blackstone Street. This would make, for the time being, two islands of Boston. The early names given to the streets on the waterfront described the sea margin, as Fore (North) Beach, and Back (now Salem) Streets.