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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.

Path of Presidents

Reveals an unparalleled catalogue of presidential history in Greater Boston.

The Freedom Trail

Meet your costume guide and walk the Freedom Trail into history

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

Faneuil Hall

Have a chat with Samuel Adams in front Faneuil Hall

Throwing Tea

Go back in time and throw tea in the harbor

Tea Party Ship Guides

The guides are ready to share our history with you

Atlascope

Atlascope is a tool for exploring historic urban maps in metropolitan Boston and telling stories...

Beacon Hill Walking Tour

From the golden dome of the State House to the elegant homes of Louisburg Square, the Beacon Hill...

Boston Public Library: Art & Architecture Virtual Booklet

Boston Public Library is pleased to announce the creation of an expansive new booklet celebrating...

Civics at Home

Make a Difference These activities for children and families encourage young people to think about...

Experience the Freedom Trail Now

The Freedom Trail official historic sites, Freedom Trail Foundation, National Parks of Boston and...

Faneuil Hall Marketplace is Open

America’s “first open marketplace” has reopened. On behalf of all the merchants at Faneuil Hall...

Freedom Trail Foundation - Virtual Tours Live!

Virtual Tours Live! With an engaging historian as your guide, “visit” 12 official historic sites...

Freedom Trail Foundation Resources

This Day in History videos provide mini-history lessons for each day of the year by typing in the...

Freedom Trail Foundation Virtual Programs

The Freedom Trail® and Black Heritage Trail® have rich opportunities for everyone to learn and...

Freedom Trail Foundation's Classrooms Live

The Freedom Trail Foundation's new Classrooms Live! offers teachers the opportunity to invite a...

Heart of the Freedom Trail Walking Tour

The perfect introduction to the history of Boston! This 60-minute walking tour of the Freedom Trail...

Historic Pub Crawl

Revolutionary ideas may have come from speeches at Faneuil Hall or a meeting of the Sons of Liberty,...

History at Home

Stay curious and engaged with Plimoth's virtual workshops! We’re taking Plimoth’s award-winning...

Imagining the Age of Phillis

Revolutionary Spaces commissioned a short film series called Imagining the Age of Phillis to bring a...

JFK Library from Home: Analyzing a Jacob Lawrence Painting

For Middle and High School Audiences: Throughout history, the experiences of those who have...

JFK Library from Home: Revisit a Kennedy Vacation Spot in Puzzle

This week's jigsaw puzzle features a sunny scene on Cape Cod, and six of the Kennedy family's dogs!...

JFK Library's Teaching And Learning Tuesdays

The department of education and public programs is dedicated to providing additional support to...

Lexington Visitor Center: Walking Tours

The Lexington Visitors Center is now open for the 2021 season! Let our costumed guides transport you...

Nature as Artist: A Harvard Museum of Natural History Virtual Tour

We are happy to announce a new self-guided, virtual tour along the theme of "Nature as Artist."...

Podcast: Celebrating the Nineteenth Amendment with the Women of History series

Join us as we explore the trials and triumphs of women with significant connections to the Christian...

Take a Virtual Tour of Harvard

Virtual Tours of Harvard "The Hahvahd Tour," our public tour of Harvard Harvard University is now...

The Death & Dying Ghost Tour

The Death and Dying Tour is the only ghost tour for adults only, this is the perfect tour for those...

The Ghosts of our (Founding) Fathers Haunted Pub Crawl

Spend the evening chases the spirits of our Founding Fathers on our Haunted Pub Crawl of Boston's...

The JFK Library: #JFKLfromhome

Learn more about the life and legacy of president John F. Kennedy virtually through a variety of...

The Shot Heard Round the World

This microsite will transport you back in time through eye-witness artifacts, including one of the...

Virtual Cultural Experiences in Freedom's Way

Enjoy virtual cultural experiences in Freedom's Way National Heritage Area! The story of Freedom’s...

Virtual Tour of The Fairbanks House

The Fairbanks House is the oldest known wooden structure in North America. Tree ring dating shows...

Virtual Tour: Adams National Historical Park

ADAMS NHP provides "an extraordinary window into the personal lives of two presidential families;...

Visit Mt. Auburn Cemetery

More than 200,000 visitors of all ages come to Mount Auburn each year to visit the graves of those...

Boston Common Visitor Center - Now Open

The Boston Common Visitor Center is Now Open!! While visiting Boston, visit our Information Centers...

Historic Tour of the Freedom Trail

Safely join a 90-minute walking tour of the Historic Freedom Trail! This tour will be covering the...

Old South Meeting House & Old State House - Now Open

Built in 1729, the Old South Meeting House was a Congregational church and the largest gathering...

Boston by Little Feet

This child's-eye view of the Freedom Trail's architecture and history is especially designed for...

Sian Evans with maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled to Work

At the peak of summer, join us for an afternoon journey back to the early twentieth century and the...

Architecture Cruises

This 90-minute tour, hosted by Charles Riverboat Company, offers spectacular views of historic and...

Tour Harvard Square Safely!

Are you looking for an in-person experience, we are still offering public walking tours of Harvard...

Boston's LGBTQ Past

A gay and lesbian culture flourished in Boston, in private homes, the theatre, coffee houses, the...

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum - Now Open

The JFK Library and Museum will begin Phase One of reopening starting July 3, 2021. Visiting hours...

Rethinking Boston Brutalism

Like it or hate it, Boston is unarguably a center for Brutalism in America. Building with concrete...

Virtual Summer Research Stay-At-Home

Do you find you have more time than ever to work on family history but don’t know where to start?...

Remarkable Women of Jamaica Plain

Travel through the lovely Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain and discover some truly remarkable...

South Boston's Broadway

South Boston has played a major part in Boston’s history from the occupation of Dorchester Heights...

Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America

The plan was as idealistic as it was audacious, and utterly unprecedented. Take thousands of hard-up...

Stories from the Archives: Family Bible Records

Family bibles are not only treasured heirlooms, but they can also provide key genealogical...

John Maclean with Home Waters: A Chronicle of Family and a River

A memoir about the power of place to shape generations, Home Waters is John N. Maclean's remarkable...

Saint Anthony's Feast

We are excited to announce that the City of Boston has given the green light to hold the 2021 Saint...

Taverns to Tea Houses

Just as Boston grew from its pastures and wharfs, so did a hunger to create and establish epicurean...

Researching German Ancestors: Records, Resources, and Repositories

Germans have been emigrating to America since the seventeenth century and today are the largest...

First Flag Ceremony, First Flag Raising, and Grand Union Flag

Grand Union Flag Raising – First Flag Raising A Reenactment of the Raising of America’s First...

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 mid-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.