Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff.

A topographical and historical description of Boston online

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Trevore, a sailor, who came over in the May Flower, in
1620, visited Boston harbor in September, 1621, and at
that time Trevore took possession of the island, under
the name of Island of Trevor, for Mr. David Thomson,
then of London; that Mr. Thomson obtained a grant
of the land by patent before the arrival of the Massa-
chusetts Company; that Mr. Blaxton, who is well

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known as the reputed first European resident upon the
peninsular part of Boston, knew Mr. David Thomson
personally, and was acquainted with the location of the
island and its use; that it had what was called a harbor,
and that hogs were pastured upon it; that there was at
the time of the visit no evidence that Indians had ever
dwelt upon it or cultivated its soil ; and that it had
never been claimed by any Indian except by an old Dor-
chester Indian about the year 1648. The river is also
alluded to by the Sagamore. Either the Sagamore was
very uncertain, or his memory treacherous, or else he
deposed to what he had not read; for certainly his testi-
mony is in some respects very far from the truth. But
he gives the reason why Mr. Thomson liked the island,
— because of the small river; and it may be inferred
that the true reason is given by Trevore and the Indian
why Mr. Thomson so early left Piscataqua and stopped a
while upon this island in the harbor, — because he liked
it, and had a grant of it. On the eighteenth of Oc-
tober, 1659, the inhabitants petitioned for a grant of a
thousand acres in lieu of the island; and on the twelfth
of ISTovember following, the Court grants their request,
the said land to be laid out where they can find it, they
improving it for the benefit of their free school. The
land finally obtained by Dorchester was part of the
present township of Lunenburg.

Although Mr. John Thomson got possession of his
island from the Dorchester people, another claimant, in
the shape of an Indian, named Winnuequassam, laid
claim to it in November, 1654, and had liberty of trial
granted him; but he failed in proving his right, and the
estate in the island remained to Mr. Thomson and bis

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Mr. Thomson probably settled upon the island dur-
ing the year 1626, for Gov, Bradford, in his history of
Plymouth Plantation, imder date of 1626, speaks of
"Mr. David Thomson who lived at Piscataqua,'' and the
Colonial Records of Massachusetts mention him as a
resident of the island the same year. He had been sent
out by Sir Fernando Gorges in 1623, and first set down
at Piscataqua; but being discontented, it is presumed
that he removed to Boston harbor about the time above
alluded to. He is supposed to have died on this island
some time during the year 1628, leaving an only son
John, an infant, who inherited his estate, which also
included the neck of land pertaining to Quincy, now
called Squantum, — perhaps from Squanto (or Tisquan-
tum), who was one of the party with Captain Standish
who visited the island in September, 1621, — a place
much noted during the early part of the present century
for the Squantum Feasts held there, not only by the fast
young men of the time, but also by the staid and re-
spectable old gentlemen of Boston and the neighboring
towns. Until the second of May, 1855, Squantum,
though south of the Neponset River, was part of the
town of Dorchester; but, at the above-mentioned date,
it was set off from Dorchester, and annexed to Quincy.
At extreme low tides, the water is so shallow between
Squantum and Thompson's Island Bar that a person
may cross from the main land at the Squaw Rock (for-
merly called Chapel Rock) to the island.

This island has always been private property since
the time of the Thomsons, and used for purposes con-
nected with agriculture. In 1834, it was purchased for
$6,000, by the proprietors of the Boston Farm School,
an institution incorporated on the nineteenth of Novem-


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ber, 1833. This society immediately erected a substan-
tial building, 105 by 36 feet, with a central front projec-
tion of 39 by 25 feet, under the immediate supervision
of the late John D. Williams, Esq., of this city, who felt
a great interest in the charitable undertaking. On the
fifth of March, 1835, this institution was united with the
Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys, which had been in-
corporated on the twenty-fourth of February, 1814, the
united institutions taking the name of the Boston Asy-
lum and Farm School for Indigent Boys. The island
having become appropriated for uses connected with the
city of Boston, an act of the legislature was passed on
the twenty-fifth of March, 1834, setting it off from Dor-
chester, with which it had been connected two hundred
years, and annexing it to Boston so long as it should be
used for the purposes of a farm school or other charita-
ble purposes; and a provision was made in the same act
that nothing in it should destroy or affect any lawful
right that the inhabitants of Dorchester might have of
digging and taking clams on the banks of said island,
evidently showing that its flats had not lost their value
in respect to the famous New England shell-fish.

Moon Island, or Mennen's Moon, as it was called in
ancient times, together with Squantum, was placed
under the jurisdiction of Dorchester by the expressive
order passed at the General Court of Elections held the
second of June, 1641 : " Squantum's Neck & Mennens
Moone are layd to Dorchester.'' The Moon Island, or
Moon Head, as it is sometimes designated, contains
about twenty acres of land, and has been used from time
immemorial for pasturage; it is connected at very low
water with Squantum by two bars. The associations
connected with this island are such as have been men-

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tioned when speaking of some of the other
namely, as furnishing to excursion and pleasur
comfortable places for cooking.

Moon Island is one of the most marked o
the southerly part of the harbor, on account of
bluff which it presents on its northerly side,
on the charts, it looks very much like a leg of
with its shank pointing westerly as a bar
Squantum. Its proper approach is on its e

About two miles south of Moon Island is Hi
Island, lying in the flats a short distance from tl
erly shore of Quincy. It resembles in form 1:
ring, the convex part north; hence the derivati(
name from the moon, as presented to view in
or last quarter.

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Form and Position of Spectacle Island • • • Scolpin Ledge • • • The Back Way,
or Western Passage • • • Size of the Island • • • First mentioned in 1635 - • •
Granted to Boston for the Benefit of the Free School • • • Formerly covered
with Wood • • • Laid ont for the Planters in 1649 • • • Relinqnished to the Plant-
ers in 1667 • • • Parcbased by Thomas Bill • • • Sold to Samnel Bill in 1661 - • •
Indian Claim and Release in 1684 • • • In Possession of Samael Bill, Jr. • • •
Sold to Richard Bill in 1780 • • • First Quarantine Establishment in Boston
Harbor • • • First Attempt at Sqnantnm Neck • • • Deer Island offered by the
Town • • • Part of Spectacle Island purchased, 17X7 • • • Quarantine Act in
1710 • • • Rainsford Island purchased by the Province in 1786, and Quarantine
on Spectacle Island given up in 1739* • • Island sold to Edward Bromfleld in
1742 • • • Condition of the Island in 1742 • • • Use of the Island in late Years.

Ketubning from Thompson's Island about a mile in a
northeasterly direction towards President Eoads, and
passing one half a mile in an easterly course, the reader
will come to a peculiarly shaped island, called Spectacle
Island, from its remarkable resemblance to a pair of
spectacles, it being formed of two peninsular portions
connected together by a short bar, which is covered with
water at high tides. It lies between Thompson's Island
west, and Long Island east, being distant about three-
quarters of a mile from the former, and about one mile
from the latter. Between it and the southeasterly point
of Long Island lies Sculpin Ledge, the easterly part of
which has a Red Buoy, No. 2, to warn the boatmaa
of its dangerous hidden rocks. Between this island
and ledge on the northeast, and Thompson's and Moon

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Islands on the southwest, is the Back Way, or Western
Passage, through which the course from Boston is south-
southeast The bluff on the northerly part of Spectacle
Island, and the high land upon its southerly portion, are
designated generally as its North and South Heads.
Each of these parts can be approached on their west-
erly side, where small wharves have been built by the
owners of the island for their own use, and for the ac-
commodation of the numerous visitors to its hospitable
shores. By the old deeds of conveyance and by estima-
tion, it is supposed to contain about sixty acres of land^
equally divided into two parts for the two peninsulas.

The first mention of this noted location in the rec-
ords is on the fourth of March, 1634-5, when, together
with Deer Island, Hog Island, and Long Island, it was
granted to the town of Boston, for the yearly rent of
four shillings for the four islands, which may be called
one shilling a piece for each of them. Very soon after
it came into the possession of the town, it was allotted
to the different inhabitants, who paid a small annual
rent, to inure to the benefit of the free school. At this
time the island was well covered with wood; for Gov-
ernor Winthrop relates, that on the thirteenth of Jan-
uary, 1637-8, about thirty persons of Boston went out
on a fair day to Spectacle Island to cut wood, the town
being in great want thereof. The next night the wind
rose very high at the northeast, with snow, and after-
wards at the northwest for two days, and it was so cold
that the harbor was frozen over, except a small channel.
These thirty adventurers met with hard luck, for of their
number, twelve could get no farther home than the Gov-
ernor's Island, sevQA were carried in the ice in a small
skiff, through Broad Sound to the Brewsters, where

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they had to stay two days without food and fire, and
get home by the way of Pulling Point, and many of the
others, after detention, had their limbs frozen, and one
of them died.

In 1649, the town began to take measures for grant-
ing the land at the island to planters for perpetuity,
reserving the exaction of a small annual rent of about
sixpence an acre for the benefit of the free school; and
on the nineteenth of April of that year, ten persons
" bind themselves and their successors to pay sixpence
an acre p yeare for their land at Spectacle Hand, for-
euer to y* use of the schole, y* soe it maye be proprietye
to them for euer, and they are to bring in their pay to
the townes treasurer the first day of February for eft
or else there land is forfeit into the townes dispossing."
These persons did not pay their rent as promptly as they
should, and some of them conveyed their, rights to othei'S,
insomuch that there were large arrearages due; there-
fore an order was passed in town meeting, in 1655, of a
compulsory character, and the treasurer was authorized
to levy and collect by help of the constable. It was not,
however, until the eleventh of March, 1666-7, that the
town relinquished all its right in the island to the plant-
ers. This it did at that time, and made void the agree-
ment about the annual rent of sixpence an acre for the
benefit of the school, on condition that the back rent
should be paid up in full to that date. This was un-
doubtedly done; for just previous to this last date, Mr.
Thomas Bill, a lighterman, began to purchase up the
rights of the several owners; and when he had nearly
acquired the whole island he sold his thirty-five acres of
it, on the twenty-fifth of January, •1680-1, to his son
Samuel Bill, a butcher, who had previously purchased

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five acres of Mr. John Salter (part of his inheritance
from his father William, a mariner), and also other parts
of several persons. Thus Mr. Samuel Bill became, as
he thought, owner of the whole island. But here, as in
other like cases, a pretended prior Indian claim turned
up, and had to be quieted. It appears that the new
claimant was Josiah, the son and heir of Josiah, other-
wise called Wampatuck, late sachem of the Massachu-
setts country. This distinguished individual says, in
the language of the deed of release, where he uses the
first person I, "for divers good causes and considera-
tions me thereunto moving, & in particular for and in
consideration of money to me in hand paid, before the
ensealing of this deed, by Samuel Bill, of Boston,
butcher, have with y* knowledge and consent of my
wise men and councillors, William Ahaton, Sen' Wil-
liam Ahaton, Jun' & Robert Momentaug, given,
granted, sold, enfeoffed and confirmed, and by these
presents do fully, freely and absolutely give, grant, sell,
enfeoffe, convey and confirme unto the s"* Samuel Bill
his heires & assignes for ever one certain Island scituate
in the Massachusetts Bay, commonly known and called
by the name of Spectacle Island, in the present posses-
sion of the same Bill, with all rights, privileges and
appurtenances thereunto in any wise appertaining &
belonging.'' The Indian covenants, in the deed, " that
(according to Indian right & title) he is the sole
owner and proprietor of the s* island," and therefore,
with his three councillors, executes the same on the
thirtieth of April, 1684. What the valuable considera-
tion consisted of does not appear; but it is known that,
after the purchase of other claims by Mr. Bill, he re-
mained in full possession of it until his decease, on the

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eighteenth of August, 1705, when it fell to his widow
Elizabeth, by a provision of his will, which provided
that she should enjoy its benefits during her widowhood,
and at her decease it should go to his son Samuel.
Mr. Bill also provided that, in case of the marriage
of his widow, she should retain only her thirds in the
real estate left by him. Mrs. Bill chose the latter alter-
native, and on the twenty-second of March, 1705-6,
married Mr. Eleazer Phillips of Charlestown. In con-
sequence of this marriage, the estate of Mr. Bill was
amicably divided, and two-thirds of Spectacle Island, as
well as two-thirds of the seventy-six sheep and two
cows, and the whole of two negro men, a boat, one old
mare, and the family hog, together with sundry tools,
were apportioned to Mr. Samuel Bill, the heir apparent,
the whole value of his portion amounting to £444 18^.
8d. In the course of events, Mr. Phillips and his wife
died, and the title became vested in Mr. Samuel Bill, in
accordance with the will of his father. This Mr. Bill
was denominated, in the old records, a victualler, and
resident of the town of Boston, as his father and grand-
father were before him. From this time the island re-
mained in the possession of Mr. Bill (with the excep-
tion which will be mentioned hereafter) until he sold
it, on the eighteenth of March, 1729-30, to his brother

Early in the last century, our wise and considerate
rulers began to think earnestly of establishing a quar-
antine in Boston harbor; and for that purpose the Gen-
eral Court of the province, on the eleventh of June,
1716, appointed a committee " to investigate a suitable
place for the erecting a hospital for infectious persons,
with minutes for an Act for that purpose.** The corn-

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mittee attended to the duty assigned them, and on the
twentieth of the ensuing November reported on the sub-
ject, recommending, among other things, that an acre of
land, with the necessary privileges, should be purchased
at Squantum Neck. This part of the report was ac-
cepted, and an appropriation was made of one hundred
and fifty pounds for the object, and for the erection of
the necessary buildings, Samuel Thaxter and William
Payne, Esquires, being the committee to carry the order
into effect. But on the eleventh of April, 1717, one
hundred and five inhabitants of Dorchester, fearing the
effects of having a pest-house so near them, remonstra-
ted against the same; and another committee, with the
same powers and instructions, and consisting of Adam
"Winthrop, William Payne, Samuel Thaxter, and Jona-
than Dowse, Esquires, was appointed, and directed to
use all convenient speed in selecting another place for
the object. It was undoubtedly in consequence of this
remonstrance, that, on the fifteenth of the following
May, the philanthropic townsmen of Boston passed the
following vote: "That the Selectmen be impowered
to Lease out a piece of Land on Dere Island not Ex-
ceeding one acre, for a Term not Exceeding ninety-nine
years, to be improved for the Erecting an Hospital or
Pest House there for the reception & entertainm* of
sick persons coming from beyond the Sea and in order
to prevent the spreading of Infection.'^ It does not ap-
pear that Deer Island was taken at that time for the
purpose; but it is certain, that on the thirtieth of July
of the same year (1717), Samuel Bill and his wife Sarah,
for £100 in bills of credit, did convey to the treasurer
of the province, Jeremiah Allen, Esq., a portion of land,
" being part of the southerly end of Spectacle Island,


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SO called, and is bounded northerly by said Bills land,
ten feet to the northward of the cellar wall lately built
there, to erect a house on for the Province to entertain
the sick, and is on the cleft or brow of the southerly
head or highland of s* island forty-four feet wide, and
from thence to run on a line about southnsouthwest
ninety feet, where it is also forty-four feet wide, and
thence to continue the line on the easterly side streight
down to the sea, and from s^ ninety feet on the westerly
side to widen gradually on a streight line to the sea or
salt water, where it is to be sixty feet wide, together
with the liberty of landing on the southerly beach point,
and thence to pass and repass to and from the said
granted land.''

The foregoing acts of the Provincial Legislature,
Town Meeting of Boston, and Committee of the Gren-
eral Court, were the first steps towards the establishment
of the Boston Quarantine, which was so ably sustained
by subsequent acts of the General Court. It is true
that in the year 1701 an act was passed requiring se-
lectmen to provide for persons sick with infectious dis-
eases, and also impowering justices to prevent persons
coming on shore from any vessels visited with sickness,
as may be seen by examining the act itself, being the
nineteenth chapter passed in the thirteenth year of Wil-
liam the Third, 1701. To this an addition was passed
on the fourteenth of February, 1717-18, which was the
act required by the committee already mentioned above,
and which is known as the fourth chapter of the fourth
year of George the First. After stating that a conven-
ient house had been provided by the province on Spec-
tacle Island for the reception of such as shall be visited
with contagious sickness, in order to keep them from

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infecting others, the act provided that the keeper of the
light-house and the commanding oflScer of Castle Wil-
liam should notify all vessels coming near them, wherein
any infectious disease is or has been, to come to anchor
near the house, or hospital, at Spectacle Island, and that
all infectious goods should be put into the hospital. All
the repairs to the establishment, and whatever should
be necessary for the accommodation of the persons de-
tained, were to be provided for by the selectmen of Bos-
ton, at the immediate expense of the province. Not-
withstanding what has been expressed in the act alluded
to, it appears that matters must have gone on slowly at
the island, as an order was passed by the General Court
on the tenth of December, 1720, " that the selectmen of
the town of Boston be desired to take care for the fin-
ishing of the Public Hospital on Spectacle Island, so as
to make it warm and comfortable for the entertainment
of the sick.^ From this time things went on well at the
hospital; repairs, when needed, were made, and every-
thing required for comfort was provided by the town,
and paid for by the province. Li January, 1735-6, a
committee was appointed, and further impowered on the
twenty-fourth of March following, for agreeing with the
owners of any convenient place as they may think suit-
able for removing the hospital to, in the harbor of Bos-
ton. This committee, after being reminded of their
duty on the twenty-fifth of November, reported on the
second of December, 1736, that they had performed
their duty, and recommended, "that the sum of five
hundred and seventy pounds be granted and paid out
of the public treasury to the Honorable John Jeffries,
Esq., and the other selectmen of Boston, by them to be
disposed of for the consideration purchase of a certain

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barbor of Boston, called Ransford's Island,
1 Long Island and the main land near the
11, to be improved as a Hospital for the
^t the same time Mr. Treasurer Foye was
execute and pass a deed of sale to Richard
Boston, of all the right, title, and estate
ice in that part of Spectacle Island, with
J and appurtenances, where the hospital
the receipt of the sum of one hundred and
3. On the thirteenth of December, 1737,
e reported that they had built a hospital
>rd Island; therefore, that upon Spectacle
e of no use to the province, and was ac-
i to Richard Bill, of Boston, and conveyed
id dated seventeenth February, 1738-39.
)ove mentioned conveyance, Mr. Bill came,
bsolute possession of the whole island, he
•ed the title of the remaining portion some
1, as already stated, from his brother Sam-
\ second of February, 1741-2, he sold his
t in it to Edward Bromfield, Esq., a gentle-
at that tiine; and since then Spectacle Isl-
)een improved for public use, but, with the
be mentioned, has reverted to the ordinary
igriculture and pasturage, and occasionally
enience and entertainment of persons on
irsions down the harbor.
Bromfield purchased the island, there was
:hem portion a house and bam and other
)ns. The house has recently been fixed up
)n, and put to a new business, imknown,
cently, to our community. A vessel styled
prietor, the I^'ahum Ward, plies frequently

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between the islan
wharves, laden wit
when passed throng
yields a valuable :
though the island, ;
has ceased to be sc
Although good Mr.
and assumed the mc
he bought a " dead 1
use to him, yet undo
dead horses very va
mate uses in the wa
The next island
tion of which shoul
but, for the purpose
quarantine, the writ
Rainsford Island, w'
by moving along a
way. This passage
vessels at high tide
Channel at Castle
southeast direction
of Long Island; tl
between Long and ]
Island; then south
George's Island; t
Light House, at th

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be reached by a shorter cut, directly from the southwest,
without passing between it and Long Island; but this
way is somewhat dangerous to inexperienced persons,
on account of the Quarantine Rocks, Simken Ledge, and
Hangman's Island, lying m the extensive shoals just
south of the Old Quarantine Ground; yet this last is,
to those acquainted with the dangers, and well skilled
in the way of avoiding them, the favorite approach to
the island. Still another mode of approaching the
island is through Broad Sound Channel by a very
roundabout way.

Rainsford Island is about half a mile in length from
east to west, and very narrow for its length. Its form
is quite fantastical, and may be likened to a mink, with-
out much stretch of the imagination, if the Point is
taken for the head, and West Head and the numerous
projections on its southern side for the legs. By the
way of the channel it is seven and a quarter miles from

Online LibraryNathaniel Bradstreet ShurtleffA topographical and historical description of Boston → online text (page 36 of 54)