J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Boston's Expanding Borders

For the next few days, I've decided, Boston 1775 will highlight some free online resources that relate to Revolutionary New England.

Over at the City Record and Boston News-Letter, Charles Swift has generously uploaded a detailed scan of an 1894 map of Boston showing the borders of the central part of the city at that time, and the borders of the peninsula when the first English settlers arrived.

The Boston of 1775 looked much more like the smaller shape. At high tide, there was only a narrow neck of land connecting the town to the rest of Massachusetts, which made it very easy for the British to defend. At low tide, there were broad mudflats across the Back Bay, just as difficult to cross. Dock Square near Faneuil Hall really did have a dock next to it.

Starting in the decades after the Revolution and accelerating in the early 1800s, Bostonians expanded their usable dry acreage with landfills. Today the locations of most colonial wharfs—such as the Griffin's Wharf, site of the Tea Party—lie many meters inland. (Rowe's Wharf and Long Wharf retain their old names, though.) Atlantic Avenue appears to run over what used to be a series of sunken barriers protecting the innermost harbor. The Mill Pond where Benjamin Franklin learned to swim has been completely filled in.

One geographical feature retains its basic seventeenth-century borders, however: Boston Common. Originally set aside as grazing land, it has become a new sort of protected public resource.

1 comment:

Becky said...

Thanks very much for this. It's perfect timing for us, since my kids (ages 9, 7.5, and 6) are about to start their study of the American Revolution for history.

All best wishes for the New Year,