Annie Haven Thwing.

The crooked & narrow streets of the town of Boston 1630-1822 online

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T'he Qrooked &P D\(arro)pp Streets

of the T'd^n of Boston

1630 — 1822



The Qrooked &^ J^rro^p

Sf reefs of the

To^pn of "Boston

1630— 1822

zAnnie Haven Thlpping



fj^arshall yones Qompany











HUXLEY was once asked by one of his pupils
how much he should take for granted that his
audience knew of the subject of which he was
to speak, and the answer was, "Nothing." In writing
on historical subjects, however, it is a different story.
Every tolerably well-read person knows the salient facts
of American history. Reference books are always at hand
when the details of any given place or period are wanted.
Therefore, in speaking of the streets of Boston, it will
only be necessary to go rapidly and briefly over the few
facts of how Boston came to be Boston. Many able
writers have written books about the town, and the ground
has been well covered; but in the following pages it is
the object not so much to repeat the history of the town
as to try to interest the present generation in the city in
which they live, by telling them just where their ancestors
lived and the neighborhood in which they were brought
up. The history of each street has also been considered.
Perhaps also those who, living at a distance, remember
with affection the home of their fathers may value this
record of them, for our ancestors are responsible for our
lives, and their influence is still felt by us.

The books consulted have been chiefly the Colony
records, and reprints of the early writers in the collections
of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Prince
Society. For the details of the town itself I have drawn
on my own work, "Inhabitants and Estates of the Town
of Boston, 1 630-1 800," now in the Massachusetts His-



torical Society, a work consisting of upwards of 125,000
cards giving details of the lives of the principal inhabi-
tants, and 22 volumes of extracts from the Suffolk Deeds,
where it will be found that every estate has been traced
between 1630 and 1800, with the authority for each fact
recorded. Boston has been a prolific field for writers
of fiction. Hawthorne, Cooper, and many others have
drawn on its people, streets, and houses for interesting
stories which have attracted the imagination of children
as well as of grown-ups ; but the true history is apt to be
distorted, however pleasant the reading may be. Thomas
Prince said, "A writer of facts cannot be too critical, it
is exactness I aim at, and would not have the least mis-
takes if possible, pass to the world." Voltaire says, ^'If
the public cannot trust the ability or the honesty of the
biographer, the sources of his information are not inacces-
sible. The public with a little extra trouble can verify
the facts, even though the author does not assist it by
cumbering his text with that annihilation of all interests,
the perpetual footnotes."

A few notes will be found on page 245 referred to by
small numerals in the text.

I am under obligation to those who have kindly lent
me photographs from which copies have been taken. Mr.
C. Park Pressey for those in the Halliday collection, the
Walton Advertising and Printing Company, the Boston
Evening Transcript, and the Boston Public Library.
Also to Mr. I. A. Chisholm for his carefully drawn maps.
To Mr. A. Marshall Jones I am deeply indebted for his
interest in making this volume attractive.

Annie Haven Thwing.

65 Beech Glen Street,


April, 1920,



Introductory .... i

I. The North End 26

II. Government and Business Centre ... 78

III. South End 152

IV. The West End 197

V. The Neck 228

Notes 245

Index 248



I. Summer Street, Washington and Winter Streets Frontispiece
II. Mill Creek or Middlesex Canal, now covered by

Blackstone street 28

III. Salutation Street, Webster Avenue, Tileston Street . 64

IV. Vernon Place, the Clough House 72

V. Unity Street, the Franklin House 76

VI. Williams Court, now Pie Alley 116

VIL Milk Street, the Old South Church 124

VIII. Dock Square, the Feather Store 128

IX. Com Court, The Governor Hancock Tavern .... 130

X. Congress Street, the Dalton House 146

XI. Tremont Street in 1798 154

XII. Tremont Street looking North, about 1800 158

XIII. The Province House 160

XIV. High and Summer Streets, the Daniel Webster House. 168
XV. Winter Street 180

XVI. Summer Street, the New South Church 184

XVII. Federal Street Theatre 186

XVIII. Fort Hill and Vicmity 190

XIX. View from Fort Hill 194

XX. Ridgeway Lane, the West Church 210

XXI. Pemberton Square, the Gardiner Greene House ... 214

XXII. Beacon Street and the Common, 1804 218

XXIII. Liberty Tree 234

XXIV. Eccentric Cobbler 242


Shawmut or Trimountain in 1630 Facing page 4

The Town of Boston about 1645 12

The North End 26

Government and Business Centre 78

Residential Part 152

The West End 196

The Neck 228


'The Qrooked 6^ U^^rrd\^ Streets

of the To)^n of Boston

1630 — 1822

The Qroo^ed and ^A(arroli^

Streets of the

To^pn of Boston
1630— 1822


THOUGH there are many claims to the discovery
of America before the fifteenth century, no
definite trace remains, and all had been for-
gotten when Christopher Columbus reached its shores
in 1492. But even to him was not accorded the honor
of the name. This was reserved for the Italian explorer,
Americus Vespucius, who lived at the same time, and
who distinguished himself in making maps. These maps
outlived the fame of the first explorer, and the new
world was named for Americus, but not by him, for the
name was not generally used until the end of the six-
teenth century.

Next came explorers and navigators from various
countries, who were attracted either by the glory of
finding new lands, or the desire to find gold, or merely
by the love of adventure. There were many successive
efforts to plant colonies, but, leaving out Mexico and
Peru, none were successful until 1565, when St. Augus-


tine, Florida, was founded by the Spaniards. Then
Jamestown was founded by the EngUsh, in 1607, and
AnnapoHs Royal in Nova Scotia, by the French, in 16 10.
Those who were first known to have stepped on the
shores of Massachusetts were Bartholomew Gosnold,
John Brereton and their companies, who in 1602 found
themselves embayed with a mighty headland. They went
ashore, and on their return to the ship, a few hours later,
found the ship so loaded with cod fish taken by the
crew that they called the headland "Cape Cod." Next
came John Smith, one of the founders of Jamestown,
who came to the coast in 16 14. He called it "New
England," and the next year on his return to England
drew a map giving Indian names to various places.
Prince Charles, afterwards Charles I, put English names
in their places, and the map was published. Smith speaks
of the high mountain which was the Blue Hills, and also
of the Massachusetts fields. Chicatawbut was the sag-
amore of this tribe of Indians, and had his headquarters
at Mt. Wollaston, now Quincy.

Next came the Pilgrims to Plymouth, and these were
followed by various independent traders who founded
trading posts. But, excepting the Pilgrims, they all came
to worship mammon. The Pilgrims and Puritans came
to worship God. The persecution of the Puritans in Eng-
land forced them to seek some place where they could
worship God as their own consciences dictated, and so,
after the New England coast became known, a company
was formed in 1628 by men from Lincolnshire, Dorset-
shire, and the neighborhood of London, who obtained a
grant of land and charter from King James I, and sent
out John Endecott with a small company. Thus Salem was
founded, and the following year the company was en-
larged and a number of citizens agreed to transport them-


selves and their families across the seas, provided they
could take the charter with them and govern themselves.
John Winthrop was appointed Governor and was to suc-
ceed Endecott. The seal of the charter was an Indian
crying, as the Macedonians did to St. Paul, "Come over
and help us," — meaning the conversion of the Indians
was to be their first thought.

Winthrop, with a fleet of eleven ships, sailed in the
spring of 1630, and arrived at Salem in June. Not
approving of Salem as the capital, Winthrop went along
the coast to Charlestown, and here we find him in sight
of the promised land. Many of those who came with
Winthrop separated and founded Roxbury, Lynn, Med-
ford, Cambridge, and Watertown.^

During the summer, sickness broke out and many died.
Their greatest need was fresh water, and the Charlestown
records tell us how this was the cause of the removal to
the peninsula across the bay. "In the meantime Mr.
Blackstone, dwelling on the other side of the Charles river,
at a place by the Indians called Shawmut, where he only
had a cottage at or not far off the place called Blackstone
Point, he came and acquainted the Governor of an excel-
lent spring there, withal inviting him and soliciting him
thither. Whereupon after the death of Mr. Johnson and
divers others, the Governor with Mr. Wilson and the
greatest part of the church removed thither. Whither
the frame of the governor's house in preparation at this
town was also (to the discontent of some) carried where
people began to build their houses against winter: and this
place was called Boston."

At the first Court of the Assistants, held at Charles-
town, September 7 (New Style September 17), it was
ordered that "Trimountain shall be called Boston," "as we
intended to have done the first place we resolved on,"


writes Dudley to the Countess of Lincoln. Boston was
thus chosen for the central government, the fortified town
or capital.

Shawmut, as we have seen, was the Indian name of
the peninsula which after 1630 became the town of
Boston, and two hundred years later the city of Boston.
William Wood, a traveler, describes it in "New England's
Prospects," in 1634, as follows:

"Boston is two miles from Roxbury. The situation is
very pleasant, being a peninsula hemmed in on the south
side with the bay of Roxbury, on the north side with
Charles River, the marshes on the back side being not
half a quarter of a mile over, so that a Httle fencing will
secure their cattle from the wolves. Their greatest wants
be wood and meadow ground, which never were in that
place, being constrained to fetch their wood, building
timber, and fire wood from lands in boates and their hay
in Loyters. It being a neck and bare of wood: they are
not troubled with three great annoyances, of wolves,
rattlesnakes and Musketoes. This necke of land is not
above four miles in compasse, in forme almost square,
having on the south side in one corner a great broad hill
whereon is planted a fort. On the north side is another
hill equall in bigness whereon stands a windmill. To the
northwest is a high mountain with three little rising
hills on the top of it, whereof it is called Tramount. The
inhabitants have taken farm houses in a place called
Muddy River. In this place they keep their swine and
other cattle in the summer while the corn is on the ground
in Boston, and bring them to the town in winter."

John Josselyn wrote an account of his two voyages in
1674, and says, *'In 1637 there were not many houses
in Boston, among them two houses of entertainment called
ordinaries"; and later, "In Boston the houses are for



Sept. 7, 1630

OutUne taken from Bonners






the most part raised on the sea bank and wharfed out
with great industry and care, many of them standing
on piles close together on each side of the street and
furnished with many fair shops. Their materials are
brick, stone and lime, with three meeting houses and a
town house built upon pillars where the merchants may
confer. Their streets are many and large, paved with
pebble stones, and the south adorned with gardens and

In 1664 the Royal Commissioners say, "Their houses
are generally wooden, the streets crooked with little
decency and no uniformity." Though there are many
other descriptions of the town, this last one is more likely
to be correct than those written in rosy colors.

In 1760 Andrew Burnaby describes Boston as like an
English town, with the sidewalks marked by posts and

In 1632 the neck of land between Powderhorn Hill and
Pullen Point, called Winnisimmet (now Chelsea), be-
longed to Boston. In 1634 Long Island, Deer Island, and
Hog Island were granted to the town, and it was also to
have an enlargement at Mt. Wollaston. In 1636-37
Noddles Island (East Boston) was given to the town.

The original bounds of the peninsula were approxi-
mately what are now the streets of Charles, Brighton,
Leverett, Causeway, Commercial, North, Merchants Row,
Kilby, Batterymarch, Purchase, Essex to Washington
Street. The neck connecting it with the main land was
not much wider than it is now, allowing for marsh on
both sides. There were practically no changes in the
bounds until after 1800, except that wharves were ex-
tended and some filling-in done. In 1808 Beacon Hill
began to be leveled, to fill the mill pond. The first bridge
connecting the mainland was that to Charlestown in 1785,
and the next to Cambridge in 1792. The irregular coast


was broken by inlets, coves, and creeks, and marsh lands
extended nearly around the whole peninsula.

When Winthrop took possession of Shawmut as within
the bounds described in the charter, it was unoccupied by
the Indians, and therefore no payment could be made;
but, that no doubt should arise in the future as to the
title, on March 19, 1683-84 the selectmen had a deed
drawn up, and signed by a grandson of Chickatawbut.
Blackstone was merely a squatter, and had no legal claim
to the land; but here too the company dealt fairly by
paying him for his right. Joshua Scottow said, speaking
of the first settlers, "By turf and twig they took possession
of this large continent."

In the case of a house, the delivery by turf and twig
was as follows: The grantor cut a turf and twig out of
the ground, and put the twig through the turf, and then
delivered it to the grantee, and told him to go in and take
possession of the house. Then the grantor shut the door
on him, and the bargain was completed.

On August 26, 1723, the Boston News Letter tells us:

"At Judge Sewall's and the night following at Judge
Dudley's was entertained one of the oldest Indians in
New England, John Quittamog, living in the Nipmug
country near Woodstock. The English inhabitants of
Woodstock remember him as a very old man for near
forty years past, and which he has all along affirmed and
still confirms that he was at Boston when the English
first arrived, and when there was but one cellar in the
place and that near the common, and then brought down
a bushel and a halfe on his back. Now it being 93 years
since the British settled at Boston he cannot be supposed
less than 112 years old at this time. He says that the
Massachusetts Indians sent up word to the Nipmugs that
if they had any corn to spare the English wanted it, which


occasioned his father and others to come. He is now in
good health and has his understanding and memory very-
entire and is capable of traveling on foot ten miles a day."

Again, March 19-26, 1730, the News Letter says:

"John Thomas, an Indian of good credit, when he lived
in Framingham which was a little before his death, and
when he was above a hundred years old, retained his
understanding well and related the following story, viz.,
*That his father told him that when he,' (viz., the said
Thomas's father) Vas about 16 or 18 years old he lived
with his father at the place now called Boston, and that
there was then a very great sickness and that the Indians
lay dead in every wigwam: and his father went about
(as he said) and found only a few alive, and they got
together and lived in a wigwam by themselves: at length
an Indian came to them from Dorchester Neck, and car-
ried them thither, where they found the Indians almost
all dead. And that both in Dorchester and in Boston
the dead were so many that they never were buried.'
On March 12, 1730-31, as some workmen were digging for
some sand at the hill called Cotton Hill, they found the
skull and other bones of a human body which is thought
to be one of the original natives, who was buried there."

There has been much speculation and a great deal of
fun made in regard to the crooked and narrow streets of
Boston, and they have been the subject of good-natured
banter from wits of all ages, which we have borne with
equanimity. There are even some to-day who in all
seriousness will say, "My grandmother always said that
Boston was laid out by the cows"; and the old conundrum
that the streets of Boston were crooked because Boston
was never dead enough to be laid out, is still with us.

Even though they were not laid out with the regularity
of the streets of Philadelphia, certainly the dwellers have


played a leading part in many of the public events of
the country at large, as well as of the town itself. Each
street has its interest, and many of the public buildings
and even private houses have a world-wide celebrity. The
cows may indeed have been a factor. This appeals to the
imagination, and this with the old records will easily
solve the problem for us.

We know from the records where thirty-one of those
who came with Winthrop and joined the church in 1630
had their house lots. William Balston and William
Coddington were on the west side of Washington Street,
between Court Street and Dock Square, and Edward
Gibbons on the opposite side, at the corner of the Dock.
Samuel Cole on the west side between Court and School
Streets, Governor Winthrop on the northeast corner of
Milk Street, and Elder Thomas Oliver was next north
of him, the famous spring lying between. Thomas Grubb
and William Aspinwall were on the west side between
School and Winter Streets ; Richard Brackett on the west
side between West and Boylston Streets, William Colburn
on the north corner, and Jacob Eliot on the south corner
of Washington and Boylston Streets. Thomas Sharpe
was near Colburn. William Talmage, Edward Belcher,
Robert Walker, and John Cranwell on Boylston Street;
Edward Rainsford on Essex Street; James Penn and
Robert Rice on Milk Street; John Wilson, William Hud-
son, William Pierce, and Thomas Matson on State Street;
Robert Harding near the corner of State Street, on Kilby
Street; Edward Bendall at the Dock; Henry Pease and
John Underbill on Hanover Street, west of Union Street;
Zaccheus Bosworth at the south corner of Tremont and
School Streets; James Brown and John Biggs on Court
Street, and James Penniman just north of Pemberton


In 1629 the Court made an order concerning the allot-
ment of land. If the platt of ground on which the town
was to be built had been set out, then no man must build
his house in any other place, and if his allotment for
building his house be not appointed to him within ten
days then shall he be free to build his house in any place
within the said platt and to impale it to the quantity of
one half an acre. We do not read that any surveyor
laid out the town as Graves did Charlestown, and, as the
governor had probably more than enough to attend to
for the general good, it is reasonable to suppose that
he allowed the ten days to elapse, and that the men chose
their own location.

We must imagine the spot as one large field, and that
each settler chose the spot best suited to his needs. The
town cove or dock, in which all were interested, was
favored by nature, and near this those interested in trade
settled. The market place must be in the center of the
town and near the dock, and that was placed at the
head of State Street, which then as now was the principal
business street. The church was soon built across the
way from the market on the south side of State Street,
and as the minister must be near his church, he had his
lot on the north side. Those interested in fishing and
ships chose their lots on the water front, and so we
have a row in North Street, and a few in Batterymarch.
A few who liked a rural life went farther away. Gardens
and pastures were allotted in the western part of the
town. On September 7 (N. S. September 17), the place
was named, and it was ordered that every third Tuesday
the Court should be held at the governor's house, and no
doubt the people began then to choose their lots and
to plan building.^ On September 28 the governor's house
was still in Charlestown, for the Court held its meeting


there. But on October 19 the Court was held in Boston,
so by this time some of the first rude buildings must have
been erected.

Now, as the people went from house to house to help
one another in the raisings, or to attend meetings, and
in those days every one attended church — or drove their
cows to pasture on the Common, they made paths for
themselves, and these footpaths soon became lanes, and
naturally were improved as streets and highways when
they had more time to attend to road making. The first
record that we find as to the laying out of streets was
January 1635-36, when it was agreed that every man
should have a sufficient way to his allotment of ground,
and that men should be appointed for setting them out.
That same year a way was to be made in the field towards
Roxbury and some laid out at the north end. There is
no mention that Washington, Boylston, State or Court
streets were ever laid out. In 1635 it was agreed that
no further allotments should be granted unto newcomers
but such as may likely be received members of the con-
gregation, and none shall sell their house without leave.
After October 4, 1636, no house to be built near unto any
of the streets or lanes but with the advice of the overseers
of the town.

That at first the houses were thatched we know from
the fact that the house of Thomas Sharpe, which was near
that of William Colburn, was burned, and March 16,
1630-3 1, it was ordered that no man should build his chim-
ney of wood or cover his house with thatch. The early
houses were of wood and of one story only, with occasion-
ally a leanto added. Then the gambrel roofs came into
fashion. In the early days, stone and brick were rare.

Dr. Belknap, writing to Judge G. R. Minot in 1795,


"Curiosity has led me to remark the various modes of
building at sundry periods, especially after any great con-
flagration. The houses and warehouses near the town
dock which were rebuilt after the great fire of 1679 were
either constructed of brick or plastered on the outside
with a strong cement intermixed with gravel and glass
and slated on top. Several of these plastered houses are
yet remaining in Ann Street, they being two stories high
with a garret, in a high peaked roof. Those which were
built after the fire of 1 7 1 1 were of brick, three stories high
with a garret, a flat roof and balusrade. They are on
both sides of Cornhill and of the State House. Those
built after the fire of 1760 were almost wholly (except
shops) of brick and slate. They extend from Devonshire
Street, through Water Street and Quakers Lane, Kilby
and the lower part of Milk Street, round the east side of
Fort Hill. Those which have been erected since the fire
of 1787 are of wood with three upright stories and a
flat roof shingled. This style of building prevails much
at present."

The way in which bricks are laid often tell the date of
a building. The earliest was the old English bond, courses
of bricks laid lengthwise alternating with others laid end-
wise. Then came a row of bricks laid endwise after every
seventh laid lengthwise. About the time of the Revo-
lution the Flemish bond came into fashion, in which every
row was laid with alternate bricks lengthwise and end-
wise, so as very nearly to break the joints and preserve
the bond.

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Online LibraryAnnie Haven ThwingThe crooked & narrow streets of the town of Boston 1630-1822 → online text (page 1 of 22)