Boston History

Boston has transformed itself countless times over four centuries since the Puritans arrived in 1630 and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Early figures such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and Anne Hutchinson endeavored to create a “City upon a Hill” where Puritan values would flourish in the New World.  Venerable institutions such as Harvard College and Boston Latin School were founded to instill and propagate a New World education set forth by the Puritan clergy.

History / Itinerary Ideas

Washington Statue Public Garden
Path of Presidents Reveals an unparalleled catalogue of presidential history in Greater Boston.
Freedom Trail Players
The Freedom Trail Meet your costume guide and walk the Freedom Trail into history
Black Heritage Trail
Black Heritage Trail With National Park Service Ranger or self guided
Paul Revere and Old North Church Relive Paul Revere's ride in front of the Old North Church
Sam Adams statue at Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall Have a chat with Samuel Adams in front Faneuil Hall
Boston Tea Party Ship
Throwing Tea Go back in time and throw tea in the harbor
boston Tea Party Ship costume
Tea Party Ship Guides The guides are ready to share our history with you

History Events

Boston by Little Feet
Jul 22 - Aug 31
This child's-eye view of the Freedom Trail's architecture and history is especially...
Built to Win
Jul 22 - 31
Are you ready for a challenge? President George Washington needs you to build one of...
Daily Hands-on Program
Jul 22 - Dec 31
There’s always something exciting happening at the USS Constitution Museum! Daily...
Discover Quincy: 50 Days of "Free"dom
Jul 22 - Aug 4
Starting with the City’s Signature Flag Day Celebration on Saturday, June 16,...
Freedom Trail Changing the Guard
Jul 22 - Oct 28
This historical program utilizes experienced Freedom Trail Players, costumed in the...
Freedom Trail Foundation Tours
Jul 22 - Dec 31
Learn about the fight for independence and the early Republic, including serminal...
Ghosts and Gravestones
Jul 22 - Nov 5
Ghosts and Gravestones is a 90-minute spine-tingling “frightseeing tour” on a...
Hands-on Program
Jul 22 - Sep 30
There’s always something exciting happening at the USS Constitution Museum! Daily...
In the Yard: Coffee with a Ranger
Jul 22 - Aug 31
Meet a Park Ranger over coffee or your favorite beverage! Ask questions and discuss...
Mutinous Expedition: A Quest Based on Honest Truth
Jul 22 - Sep 30
Relive the story of Jack Tarr, an ordinary seaman aboard Constitution, and his...
Mutinous Expedition: A Quest Based on Honest Truth
Jul 22 - Oct 31
Relive the story of Jack Tarr, an ordinary seaman aboard Constitution, and his...
Picturing Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century
Jul 22 - Dec 31
Picturing Frederick Douglass, the first major exhibition of photographs of the famed...
Through The Keyhole
Jul 22 - Dec 28
The demolition of the Hancock Mansion in 1863 caused a massive public outcry and...
Cato & Dolly: A New American Play
Jul 23 - Sep 29
Mondays, Wednesdays, & Saturdays 11:00 am | 12:30 pm | 2:00 pm Visitors to...
Picturing Frederick Douglass
Jul 23 - Dec 8
Frederick Douglass was in love with photography. From his earliest known photograph...
In the Yard: Charlestown Navy Yard Family Days
Jul 25 - Aug 2
Enjoy, play, and learn at the Charlestown Navy Yard during our family days this...
In the Yard: Swinging Summer Nights Concert Series with Jose Soto
Jul 26
Join Boston National Historical Park this summer for our Swinging Summer Nights...
In the Yard: Twilight at Bunker Hill Evening Tour
Jul 27 - Aug 31
Join a ranger and walk in the steps of the British soldiers as they advanced on the...
Boston Harbor Lighthouse Cruise
Jul 28 - Aug 18
Experience the lighthouses of Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park through...
Old West End Walking Tour
Jul 29
Look into the past for a tour of Boston’s Old West End. Once a thriving...
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Aug 1 - 31
Are you ready to have a blast? Step into the role of the courageous crew who manned...
In the Yard: Swinging Summer Nights Concert Series with Victor Martin Aragon
Aug 2
Join Boston National Historical Park this summer for our Swinging Summer Nights...
In the Yard: Boston Navy Yard in World War II
Aug 3
Civilian workers at the Boston Naval Shipyard built over 200 ships, including 14...
In the Yard: Rosies Navy Yard Tour
Aug 10
Over 8,000 women joined the workforce at the Boston Naval Shipyard to help win World...
In the Yard: Rosies Invade the Charlestown Navy Yard
Aug 11 - 12
Join the National Parks of Boston for a two-day extravaganza celebrating the role of...

Given its geographical location, Boston quickly came to rely on its port for commerce and sustenance.  Trade was paramount and it was the emergence of Boston’s maritime merchants – trading goods like tea, sugar, fish, and tobacco – which ultimately led to a collision course with the British Empire.  As the China Trade grew, along with Boston’s reliance on tea as an import and an export, and as Britain’s East India Company depreciated, a fraught situation developed; Britain, facing debt and discord, transferred war debts and trading deficits to its colonies.

Early Boston Harbor

Boston was in a state of defiance and non-compliance from the outset.  As the British Parliament passed a succession of acts aimed at taxing the colonists and restricting their political power, leading figures such as Sam Adams, John Hancock, John Adams and Paul Revere initiated a movement which transcended class lines and drove the people of Boston into open rebellion.  Catalytic events such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party drove events inexorably towards revolution.  By the time Paul Revere road into the countryside on April 18, 1775, the city of Boston was ready to fight.  The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred two months later and by early 1776 General George Washington was in Boston to take control of the Continental Army.

Following American Independence, Boston’s economy entered a new era of Clipper Ships, textile manufacturing and global trade.  In terms of social and political developments, abolitionist fervor took the town by storm, led by Charles Sumner and William Lloyd Garrison and supported by a vociferous contingent of female abolitionists.  Boston was home to a vibrant and active African-American community which populated Beacon Hill during this era; the first African-American Church, Meeting House, and School were all founded on Beacon Hill.

Also during this era, America’s nascent literary culture began to find its voice as esteemed Boston writers such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and James Russell Lowell ushered in a prolific era of American writing.   

In the mid to late 19th century Boston underwent dramatic change to its landscape and population.  The arrival of immigrants from Ireland during the Potato Famine, and then from Italy, Germany, and Poland later in the century, fundamentally changed Boston’s human makeup and political leanings.  Boston’s older caste, the Republican Yankee establishment, was slowly pushed to the margins of Boston’s political life.  While the Yankees maintained control of Boston’s economic and educational institutions, Irish and Italian immigrants took over the city’s political apparatus.  The immigrants brought to Boston a bevy of skilled and unskilled labor that was critical to Boston’s physical development beyond its downtown and port peninsula.  Boston had outgrown its physical size by the 1840s and needed to create new land.

1905 Back Bay Brownstones 

With the help of Irish labor, the city developed the South End and then the Back Bay, re-locating the Yankees during the 1860s and 1870s to the Victorian brownstones and town houses so associated with Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.  Soon enough, iconic landmarks such as Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library existed in the Back Bay as well.  Not bad for an area that had been part of the Charles River Basin for millennia untold.

Always innovative, Boston spearheaded a number of firsts throughout the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century: ether was used as the first anesthetic at MGH, the nation’s first subway system went into operation, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, and the first mutual fund went public courtesy of MA Financial Services.  The city contracted with Frederick Law Olmstead to beautify Boston with a network of urban parks stretching from the Boston Common to Jamaica Plain.  The Emerald Necklace was born and the project included the creation of the Back Bay Fens which, in turn, facilitated the development of Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

In the 20th century Boston continued its emergence as an innovation hub and world-class city.  MIT moved across the river to Cambridge and transformed from a tech college to a world-class institute of engineering and technology.  Bizarre and controversial events such as the North End Molasses Flood, Boston Police Strike, Brinks Robbery, Boston Strangler crimes, busing crisis, and destruction of the West End caused a fair share of intrigue and discordance while political figures such as James Michael Curley, John F. Kennedy, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Kevin White, and Michael Dukakis became household names.  As the nation celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, Boston used funds generated from the anniversary to transform and revitalize Faneuil Hall Marketplace and create the Boston National Historical Park.

In the 1980s and 1990s, monumental tasks were undertaken to make Boston a cleaner, more aesthetically-pleasing city.  The cleanup of Boston Harbor and creation of the Big Dig were the most prominent examples.  Boston Harbor is now one of the cleanest urban harbors in the world.  And while the Big Dig vastly exceeded its allotted budget and timeframe, it was a transformative project of unprecedented size that made Boston more efficient for travelers and more beautiful for tourists.  The sprawling Rose Kennedy Greenway atop I-93 is a lush urban space affording visitors and residents alike relaxation and recreation within the city center, not to mention eclectic artisan markets, food trucks, public art installations, outdoor movies and interactive festivals.

As Boston looks ahead to 2017 and beyond, the development of One Seaport Square and the Innovation District in South Boston will hum along and continue to bring new industries of life sciences, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and consumer technology to the bustling district. General Electric will relocate its headquarters to Boston’s Seaport District at some point in the next year. Alongside the Seaport District, Kendall Square in Cambridge makes Greater Boston one of the world’s foremost innovation clusters, and a hotbed of biotech engineering and life sciences research and development.

boston overview aerial zakim

Boston will continue to embrace its past while formulating next steps to encourage the multiculturalism, inclusivity, and youthful character which collectively make the city a great cosmopolitan hub.