Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Brief History of Early Boston

Boston in 1630. Painted in 1836 by Samuel Lancaster
The peninsula of land jutting into the Atlantic ocean known as modern day Boston was once inhabited by Algonquin Indians from the Penacook, Wampanoag and Massachusetts tribes. These tribes had lived in the area since 2400 BC and named the peninsula Shawmut and the nearby river the Quinnebequi.

The small peninsula was only 789 acres wide and consisted of three hills that settlers would later name Trimont, which actually consisted of three hills itself: Mount Vernon, Beacon hill, Pemberton hill and two other hills they would name Copp's hill and Fort hill.

Explorer Captain John Smith sailed to the Massachusetts bay in 1614 and befriended the tribes living in the area. Two years later he drew a map of the area and labeled it “New England” to make it more appealing to English colonists. Smith also renamed the Quinnebequi river after King Charles I calling it the river Charles.

Smith's map
By 1618, more than two thirds of the Native Americans living in the area were wiped out by yellow fever and small pox brought by European traders. Only 25,000 Native Americans survive. A Native American settlement in Jamaica Plain was completely decimated by the endemic.

After a settlement known as the Gorges colony failed in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1623, the colonists returned to England yet one remained behind. Reverend William Blackstone, an Anglican clergymen moved from Weymouth to Shawmut in the area that is now Beacon Hill. This made him the first permanent European settler in the New World and the first settler to live in Boston. Blackstone (also known as Blaxton) built a cabin near a fresh water spring, at what is now the intersection of Charles street and Beacon street, and lived isolated and alone. He sustained himself by hunting animals and planting the first ever apple orchard in New England from seeds he collected.
Drawing of Blackstone's cabin

In 1630 Puritans found their way to New England after fleeing from religious persecution in England. Although it was illegal at the time to leave England without permission from the King, the Puritans found a legal loophole that they used to their advantage. The Puritans owned and operated the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was given a charter by Charles I to engage in trade in the new world colonies. When the charter was issued, it failed to say that the governor and officers of the company were required to stay in England. The Puritans used this omission to move the company and its members to New England to establish a religious community they called “the holy commonwealth.”
"Puritans going to church"

In April of 1630, the Puritans, led by one of the company's stockholders, John Winthrop, left their homes in Boston, England and sailed from Southampton towards the New World. The fleet of 12 ships reached the shores of Massachusetts in July and landed at Salem but the existing colony there did not have enough food or shelter to accommodate the 1000 new colonists so they continued down towards Charlestown. By the time the Puritans reached the mouth of the Charles river more than 200 of them had died from poor health and lack of food and water.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony used this seal until 1691
The Puritans settled in Charlestown, across the river from the Shawmut peninsula, but the colony suffered due to a lack of fresh water. William Blackstone, learned about the new settlers troubles through his Native American friends in the area. Winthrop went to visit Blackstone, whom he had attended Cambridge with in England, and Blackstone invited Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay Colony to live on the Shawmut peninsula. The group accepted and started to build houses for their new settlement. One settler, Thomas Dudley, decided to name the new town Boston after their hometown in England.

By the mid 1630s, Blackstone had grown tired of the Puritan's strict ways and the pressure he felt to conform. The Puritans had invited hundreds of more Puritans over from England and were taking over the area. After they took control over all but 50 acres of the land Blackstone believed was his, Blackstone decided to sell his remaining land back to the Puritans, which became Boston Common, and moved to what is now Rhode Island.

More Puritans continued to travel over from England and the number of colonies in Massachusetts multiplied to a total of four: Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven. These colonies included many villages that consisted of houses, a community garden and a meetinghouse for church services. Schools were soon built, including the first American public school called the Boston Latin School, and laws were passed requiring a school in every town with more than 50 inhabitants. In 1643, the four colonies formed a military alliance to help defend themselves from Native American attacks. This alliance was known as the New England Confederation.

Disease continued to ravage the Native American population. By 1650, about 90 percent of the Native Americans living in New England died due to disease brought by the European settlers. Resentment between Native Americans and settlers led to King Phillip's War in 1675. This war resulted in the death of many Native American chiefs and completely wiped out the Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes. The Native Americans that survived the war fled to the west of surrendered and were sold into slavery.

While the Native American population declined, the number of settlers flourished. By 1676 Boston had 4,000 residents. Settlers built the city's first post office in 1639, the first bank in 1674 and published its first American newspaper in 1690 titled “Publick Occurrences: Both Foreign and Domestick.”

The Massachusetts Bay Colony received bad news when its charter was revoked in 1684, due to repeatedly violating the terms of the charter. These violations including running an illegal mint, establishing religious laws and discriminating against Anglicans.

A new charter in 1691 united the Massachusetts Bay colony, Plymouth colony and Maine colony into one single colony. This charter restricted religious-based laws, such as the church membership requirement needed to become a voter, and tightened the British government's control over the colony in general which caused much anxiety among the colonists. The colonists worried that their religion and they themselves were once again under attack.

Boston continued to grow, despite small-pox outbreaks in 1690, 1702 and 1721, and had over 13,000 residents by 1730.

Many of Boston's most famous buildings were built during this time period, such as the Old State House in 1713, Old North Church in 1723, Old South Meetinghouse in 1729 and Faneuil Hall in 1742. By 1750, Boston's population had risen to 15,000 people.

By the mid-18th century, Massachusetts Bay Colony had grown into a successful colony with a large trade industry exporting fish, lumber and farm products to Europe. Tensions quickly began to brew between the colony and Britain when the British government started to mettle more deeply into the colony's business matters, activities and daily affairs. This tension slowly began to sow the seeds for the American Revolution.

Here are some maps depicting Boston before and after its three hills were shaved down in the early 1800s and used to fill in the surrounding area:


The Pluralism Project: Timeline of Native American Traditions in Greater Boston

Boston Discovery Guide: Puritan History in Boston

The Official Website of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: John Winthrop (1587-1649)

Local Histories; A Brief History of Boston; Tim Lambert

iBoston; A Tale of Two Boston; Brandon Gary Lovestead

City Data: Boston: History

Boston Miscellany”; William P. Marchione; 2008

Northeastern University; Uncommon Ground; Susan Diesenhouse

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The History and Career of the USS Constitution

Commissioned and named by George Washington in 1794 and launched in 1797, the USS Constitution is the oldest warship in the world still afloat. A British ship, the HMS Victory, is older, being built in 1778, but has been dry docked in Portsmouth, England since 1922.

The USS Constitution on her 200th Birthday in 1997
The USS Constitution is a wooden-hulled heavy frigate with three masts. The ship measures 304 feet long from stem to stern, 43.6 feet wide and the main mast stands 204 feet tall. The ship weighs about 1,500 tons. The USS Constitution was built at Hartt's shipyard in Boston and its copper bolts and fittings were forged by Paul Revere. The ship gets its iron-like strength from the triple layers of dense pine and oak used in the construction of its hull.

The USS Constitution was one of six ships commissioned by Washington to help defend American merchant ships under threat from French privateers along the U.S. coast and in the Caribbean.

President John Adams attended her launching party on September 20, 1797 but the ship was so heavy that it weighed down the slip way boards and she became stuck. It took another month of rebuilding and raising the slip way to get the ship into Boston Harbor.
Notable guests at her second launching party included three exiled French princes, Louis Philippe (who would later become King of France), Antoine Philippe and Louis Charles, who had fled France due to the chaos and violence of the revolution.

The ship earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” after it fought the British ship HMS Guerriere on August 19 during the war of 1812. During the battle, several cannonballs hit the USS Constitution and simply bounced off the ship's sides. The crew noticed this and declared the sides were made of iron. The ship's officers and several press publications started using the “Old Ironsides” nickname and the name stuck.

The USS Constitution defeated five British warships during the war of 1812: the HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane and Levant and captured many merchant ships. After the war of 1812, she served in the Mediterranean and helped intercept and capture slave ships, such as the H.N. Gambrill, off the coast of Africa. After the support of Captain “Madjack” Percival, and a strong public reaction to a newly published Oliver Wendell Holmes poem titled “Old Ironsides,” saved her from being scraped in the 1840s, the Navy renovated the ship and sent it on a world tour between 1845-1846 under Madjack's command. The purpose of the tour was to chart areas not covered by the Wilkes expedition. The ship stopped in Brazil, Madagascar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Hawaii before receiving orders to sail to Mexico to provide provision for the impending U.S. war with the country. During the Civil War she served as a training ship for the US Naval Academy before retiring from active duty in 1881. After retiring, the ship housed sailors at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine until she was designated a museum ship in 1907. In 1931, she toured the U.S. in a 90-port tour and raised her sails again on her 200th birthday in 1997.

The USS Constitution is still a fully-commissioned Navy ship and makes a few trips into Boston Harbor each year, such as on the 4th of July, in order to turn the ship around so it gets equal sun exposure while docked. The ship salutes Fort Independence, a Revolutionary war era fort at the mouth of Boston Harbor, with her cannons during each turnaround trip.

The ship is now docked at Charlestown Navy Yard in Massachusetts and is open for free guided tours throughout the year.

Depiction of the ship's final launch party in October 1797
Battle between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere by Michel Felice Corne  (1752-1845)
The USS Constitution Undergoing Renovation in 1858 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine
The USS Constitution Serving as Housing for Sailors at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in the 1890s


USS Constitution Museum: FAQ

City of Boston: USS Constitution and Charlestown Navy Yard

The Freedom Trail: USS Constitution

Friday, July 8, 2011

Maudslay Park in Newburyport, Mass

Maudslay state park is a large sprawling property in the small seaport town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. The 450-acre park was once home to a wealthy investment banker Frederick Strong Moseley and his family. The Moseleys were an old English family that first came to America in the early 1600s. The family first purchased the land in the 1860's and continued to buy surrounding property until they had created a large estate that they named Maudsleigh after their ancestral home in England.

The park is listed as a haunted location on several paranormal web sites and publications. Although no apparitions have even been seen there, rumors and stories continue to surround the mysterious property.

The property had once housed two mansions, a castle, many greenhouses, an expansive garden and many other buildings. These buildings had long been demolished, destroyed or fallen into ruin by the time the state purchased the land for five million dollars in 1985 and renamed it Maudslay. All that remained where foundations to the old mansions, an old wrought iron gate, a pet cemetery, an old Italian garden, the dairy farm, several stone bridges and many dilapidated barns and servant houses.

Not surprisingly, after the property was purchased, rumors and stories started to swirl about it being haunted. Up until then it had been a private and exclusive place that many members of the public had never seen before and did not know much about. The stories continued until they became local urban legends that still exist to this day.

One famous landmark of the park that has garnered the most attention is the original wrought iron gate at the head of the driveway leading up to where one of the old family mansions used to be. Legend has it that the old wrought iron gates are actually the “Gates of Hell” and if one were to drive by them late at night the decapitated heads of a murdered family could be seen on the spikes. Truth is, no such murder ever happened on the property and the story is completely fabricated.

The only untimely death that can be linked to the family is the accidental death on June 15, 1911 of Joshua Hale. Hale was a fellow Newburyport Public library trustee of Frederick Moseley's father, Edward. Hale was struck and killed instantly by a car owned by Frederick at the Newburyport train station. Frederick's chauffeur had just dropped him and his wife off at the station when he was backing up from the station and accidentally hit and killed Hale:

The Moseley's were in fact kind, generous and caring citizens. Edward Moseley, Frederick's father, was the president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society and he donated large amounts of money to the Newburyport Public library. Some of the Moseley family members, Frederick Strong Moseley, his wife Helen and their daughter Helen are actually buried in the nearby Oak Hill Cemetery.

Since no haunted property could be complete with just one set of “Gates of Hell”, another strange landmark on the estate has also earned the sinister nickname. In the middle of the park near the site of the old greenhouses sits a set of large metal doors that have been built into the hillside. Due to the doors being bolted shut (although they have since been opened) they attracted a lot of attention and were also labeled the gates of hell. The truth behind this legend is that these doors lead to the Moseley family’s old root cellar that was once used to preserve the vegetables the family grew in their expansive gardens.

The Moseley's root cellar

The property also once housed two beautiful mansions that were built in the early 1900s. The first house built on the property was the family's main house, a large 72-room mansion that sat on the bank of the Merrimack river. Frederick, his wife and their four children spent each spring and fall in this house until most of the children grew up and moved away. One of the couple's daughters, Helen Moseley, remained unmarried and continued to live on the property throughout her adulthood. The Moseley's built her her own colonial mansion on the property sometime between 1939 and 1941. After Frederick and his wife passed away, Helen had the main mansion torn down. In an article in the Newburyport Daily News, a former resident of the property, John Dunford, who lived there as a child in the 1950s when his father worked as a gardener for the Moseley's, described the main mansion and Helen Moseley:

And let's not forget the Big House overlooking the Merrimack. I remember it well. Nobody lived there anymore, but what a beautiful structure. Riding on my bike along the laneway and up and around the circular entrance area in front of the house. It was tragic to see the wrecking ball taken to it and in the end it was leveled to the ground. Story had it that Miss Moseley was paying property taxes on the place and couldn't justify this ongoing expense.
Helen Moseley's house
Did you know that Miss Moseley was a crack shot? I remember Dad telling the story about how she took a dislike to small animals outside her house nibbling on the bird food which she put out. So she would roll up her bedroom window, grab her rifle and take a shot at them! Well, that's how the story went. Of course, Miss Moseley lived in that big white house which also overlooked the river. I found out that it burned down many years ago. Tragic."

The estate has suffered from a number of fires that have destroyed many buildings on the property such as Helen Moseley's house in 1978, the coachman's barn that burned down in 2010 and another storage building that burned down a few years before. Some of the fires were deemed arson and were suspected to have been lit by teenagers trespassing on the property at night. Brush fires have also plagued the property. A fire in 1911 wiped out the Moseley's pine tree grove and the trees were replaced with 20,000 seedlings that the family had shipped in on the river. Another brush fire struck the park in April of 2011 and burned many acres of trees.

Moulton castle was yet another structure that once existed on the property. The building was a large gothic wooden castle built in the late 1800s by a Civil War captain named Henry Moulton. The Moseley family bought the property in 1900 in order to get the land the castle sat on and quickly razed the castle after buying it. That area of the park is now known as Castle Hill.

Another eerie feature of the property is a pet cemetery found near the site of the old mansions. The Moseleys were animal lovers and the cemetery is actually the resting spot of the family's beloved Jack Russell terriers. Each headstone is marked with the pet's names. Some of the headstones are also said to mark the graves of the family's favorite pet horses that lived at the barn on the property.

If the Maudslay State Park association is trying to squash any of the haunting rumors they are not trying too hard. The association holds an annual “Maudslay Park is Haunted” event every Halloween where kids can listen to scary (fictional) stories while walking around the trails.

Local theater groups also perform Shakespearean plays, such as the Tempest, in the park and use the old gates and buildings as stages and backdrops.

It is not known how the haunting rumors started but locals speculate a former caretaker of the estate started them in the 1960s and 70s to keep kids and curious visitors from trespassing on the property and breaking into the old buildings.

Whether the old Moseley estate is haunted or not it is still a beautiful estate and a historic Newburyport landmark. The park is located at 74 Curzon Mill Road in Newburyport, Mass.

Site of the Helen Moseley House

Site of the Moseley Mansion 


Viewpoint: My fondest memories of the Moseley estate in the 1950s; John Dunford; Newburyport Daily News; March 6 2008

The Life Work of Edward A. Moseley in the Service of Humanity”; James Morgan

Harvard University Library; Moseley, Frederick Strong III. Records of the Moseley Garden Collection (1906-1995): A Finding Aid;

Haunted Places on the North Shore; Lauren Danahy; North Shore Magazine; September 21 2009 

Boston Massacre Site Gets a Makeover

The Boston Massacre marker is moving..again. The current marker, which is made up of 13 rings of cobblestones with a center stone marked with a star, has been on a traffic island in front of the state house for decades. This is not actually the original location of the marker when the city decided to commemorate the massacre in 1887, nor is it the actual site of the massacre.

The marker was originally placed on the corner of State and Exchange street to mark the exact spot where one of the victims, Crispus Attucks, fell dead after being shot by British soldiers. What's interesting is that the marker was placed there so there would be “no room for doubt in the future” about where the event occurred, according to the “Proceedings of the Bostonian Society, Annual Meeting, Volume 1” by the Bostonian Society:

“During the mayoralty of Dr. Samuel Abbott Green, the Municipal Government adopted the policy of marking important historical sites by memorial tablets. It is not always safe to leave the verification of such spots to tradition, or even to descriptions on the printed page. They should be designated in a manner that will leave no room for doubt in the future, and only a monument in some form will do this. The Society felt that the place ought to be thus marked, (almost under the shadow of this building), where the so called Boston massacre occurred, March 5, 1770. This event was commemorated by the people of the town, by an annual oration, until the Fourth of July was made the day for patriotic celebration, when the observance of the earlier day ceased. A recommendation was made to the City Government, which was courteously received and promptly acted upon; and under the direction of the Committee on Paving and the Superintendent of Streets, the stones in State Street, near the corner of Exchange Street, were laid, last summer, in the form of a wheel, to mark the precise spot where the first blood in the Revolutionary struggle was shed. It was., then suggested that the Society should erect a tablet near by, to explain the designation in the pavement; and having obtained permission from the proprietors, it placed a bronze tablet, suitably inscribed, on the front walls of the Merchants Bank Building, in October last.”

The city government in 1904 apparently was not as concerned with doubt and accuracy and removed the stones to allow construction of the subway underneath and then moved them to a nearby site where another victim, James Caldwell, had died. During the 1960s, the city underwent an urban renewal that led to the relocation of many streets, during which the memorial was moved to its most recent location on the traffic island in front of the old state house.

The stones are now being removed again in order to upgrade the State Street subway station and will be placed at another location at the intersection of Congress, Devonshire and State Streets. The sidewalk there will also be expanded to make room for the memorial and the stones will be placed inside a bronze ring to make it more noticeable.

The Boston Massacre occurred on the night of March 5, 1770 when five people died after British soldiers fired into a crowd of people outside the state house. The victims were Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr. Anti-British sentiment was high at the time due to the large presence of British soldiers in the city. A group of citizens had gathered outside of the state house, which was the seat of the British government at the time, that night and an argument ensued between one person in the crowd and a guard standing outside. After the guard struck the citizen, the group started to throw snowballs, ice and rocks at the guards. Chaos ensued and shots were fired into the crowd. The attack was an accident but it further damaged the relations between colonists and the British government.

A trial was held for the eight soldiers involved and all but two were acquitted of murder charges. The two that were convicted were physically branded with a “M” on their right thumb for murder. They narrowly escaped the death penalty by invoking the “benefit of the clergy” - a medieval law that exempted clergymen from secular courts. To be eligible for the benefit of the clergy, they had to prove they could read Psalm 51, verse 1. The branding on their thumbs was to prevent them from invoking the benefit of the clergy again.

The name 'The Boston Massacre” is only a recent nickname. Paul Revere nicknamed it the Bloody Massacre in King Street (the former name of State Street) after the deaths and during the early 1800s it was known as the State Street Massacre.

Here are some images depicting how the area around the old state house has changed over the years:

Circa 1898

Circa 19th Century
Circa 1801

Circa 1793


The Freedom Trail: The Boston Massacre

Boston Massacre Historical Society: What was the Boston Massacre?

"The Bostonian Society, “Proceedings of the Bostonian Society, Annual Meeting, Volume 1”