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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

At Home Resources for Parents & Teachers

Whether you’re a teacher looking for lesson plans and activities to continue educating your students...

Boston Common Visitor Center -Now Open

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

Educator Resources

Educator Resources (Boston Massacre curriculum guides) for families and Lesson Plan Kits to open...

Experience the Freedom Trail Now

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

Faneuil Hall Marketplace Re-Opening

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

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's Classrooms Live

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

Historic Tour of the Freedom Trail

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

History at Home

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

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!...

Old North Church: 99% Sure Series

We're excited to launch a new web series, "99% Sure" all about the history, people, and events that...

Take a Virtual Tour of Harvard

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

The JFK Library: #JFKLfromhome

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

The Museum of African American History: An Online Exploration

Immerse yourself in Afro-American history and heritage with the Museum of African American History's...

USS Constitution Goes Virtual: Daily Virtual Tours

The USS Constitution Museum brings the Museum to you even if it is currently closed to the public to...

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: 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...

Now Open: The USS Constitution Museum

We are excited to see you again! We’re sure you have questions on what to expect, so take a look at...

Tour Harvard Square Safely!

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

Old North Church Open Houses

Old North Church and Gift Shop will be open with free admission on several dates this season!

Tea Talk:Ships of the Boston Tea Party

Ships of the Boston Tea Party Explore the vessels involved in the Boston Tea Party, the construction...

Historic Pub Crawl

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

North End By Map

Dive into the historical geography of the North End with Atlascope, the newest research technology...

Tea Talk: Boston Harbor, A Tea Pot Tonight! The Boston Tea Party Story

This December we commemorate the 247th anniversary of the event that was described by John Adams as,...

Tea Talk: The Making of a Reenactment

Since 2012, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum has been the proud co-producer of the Annual...

The History of Money, From Shells & Skulls to Wall Street & Bitcoin

Boston Athenæum presents a virtual event: As the global pandemic reminds us of how fragile our...

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.