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Boston, Old and New
OSTON Harbor cuts deeply into the coast, and is
bordered by various irregular peninsulas. The most central of the peninsulas is the one which the heart of the present city occupies. This was originally about two miles long and one broad. Coves indented it on all sides; there were hills and hollows, and several ponds and marshes. It has greatly changed in size and shape since then. Some of the hills have been entirely leveled, hollows have been filled, and land has been made where the coves and shallows along the shore used to be.
Boston's first white settler was a young English clergyman named Blackstone. He came about 1624, and built a cabin on the west slope of Beacon Hill. There he lived alone. He started an orchard and had a rose garden, and his house contained a small library he had brought across the Atlantic. Apparently he did not care to have near neighbors, for when the Puritans, led by Governor Winthrop, arrived he did not long delay moving, and established a new home in the Rhode Island wilderness.
Winthrop crossed the ocean in 1630, bringing nearly one thousand persons and a considerable number of horses and cattle in eleven ships. After stopping a few days at Salem, where a settlement had already been established, he sailed to Boston Harbor, and about the first of July landed at Charlestown. Here was a rude little village which had been started the previous year. The new-comers set up booths and tents and built cabins, but their provisions fell short, and there was much sickness. By the end of the hot summer nearly two hundred had died, and some of the others were so discouraged they went back to England in the returning ships.
Across the Charles River the settlers had the Boston peninsula in plain sight. They called it Trimountain or Tremont, a name suggested by its most prominent feature, which was a three-peaked hill near its centre. The springs at Charlestown were brackish, and, largely for the sake of a better water supply, most of Winthrop's colony moved across to Tremont in the autumn. Its name was soon changed to Boston in memory of an old town in England where some of them had lived. They called their colony the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Massachusetts was the name of a local tribe of Indians.
The settlers built houses along the shores of a cove that indented the land from the east nearly to where the Old State House now stands. The first winter was a hard one, and by the end of February food supplies had run so low that a fast day was appointed. The people were reduced to an almost exclusive diet of clams and groundnuts, and Governor Winthrop's last loaf of bread was in the oven. He had arranged to have one of the ships that brought them across the ocean get provisions and return. By this time it was so long overdue that they had concluded it had been captured by pirates, but now it arrived well stocked with provisions, and Boston celebrated its first Thanksgiving Day.
The narrow neck of land by which the peninsula was connected with the mainland was bleak and desolate, and exposed to the violence of the winter winds. It was no easy task for the inhabitants to keep a road in repair there above high-water mark, and in some instances travellers on the neck barely escaped drowning a
The Bostonians erected first a fence across it, and later a fortification. There was a gate through which people passed back and forth. The gate was constantly guarded and was shut at a fixed hour in the evening. Indians were forbidden to enter the town with firearms or even sticks.
On the central hill's highest peak the settlers put a beacon. This was a tall stout pole with footsticks on the sides to enable a man to climb to the top, where an arm projected with an iron cage hung on it. The cage was filled with pitch and pine wood which were set on fire if a night alarm needed to be given. For a daytime alarm a flag was hoisted. The old three-peaked height has been much reduced by grading, and it now all goes under the name of Beacon Hill.
Boston's excellent harbor and central location caused it to develop early into the leading town in New England, politically and socially. At the end of its first century its waterside was edged with numerous docks and wharves, and back of these were winding streets and crooked alleys that followed the base of the hills or climbed the slopes at the easiest angle. The streets near the wharves were paved with cobblestones. Dwellings and shops were mostly of wood, and only one or two stories high, but varied much in color and the shape of their roofs.
The best known building in modern Boston is the State House. Wherever you go into the city suburbs, if the weather is clear and sunny, you can see from far away its big gilded dome gleaming on the top of Beacon Hill. In the State House the governor has his offices, and there the legislature meets every year to make laws. It stands on land that was formerly a part of the cow pasture of the wealthy merchant and patriot leader, John Hancock. The front, which is considered fine example of the architecture of its day, was finished in 1798.
1 A book by Oliver Wendell
The Capitol on Beacon Hill Holmes, one of the famous literary men who have lived in the city, contains the statement that "Boston State House is the hub of the solar system.” People said, “If that is so, then Boston itself must be the hub of the universe;' and the place has been known as “the Hub" ever since.
Boston has been noted as a centre of learning in our country almost from the first, and there are many great libraries and educational institutions in the city and neighboring places. It is famous for its publishers and