William W. (William Willder) Wheildon.

Sentry, or Beacon Hill; the beacon and the monument of 1635 and 1790 online

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1635 AE"D 1T90.





V 1877. .





Author's address : Concord, Mass.





So completely has the existence of the Monument ^yhich stood
on Beacon Ilill, no longer ago than 1811, passed out of the
public mind, that few persons are now to be found who remem-
ber it. and a small number who have ever seen a representation
of it, or in flict, think they ever heard of it. The tablets which
have been preserved in the State House, are looked upon as the
relics or ruins of something long since passed away, and not as
parts of a noble and beautiful monument, intended to commem-
orate great historical events and the fruition of the efforts of a
people to secure their freedom and independence, and which has
been ruthlessly destroyed. Many persons Avho have seen the
encravinfi of the monument, have asked ''if such a monument
as that represents ever stood in Boston ?" and others, equally
uninformed, inquire "if that is the original Bunker Hill Mon-
ument?" We doubt if any intelligent foreigner, acquainted
with our history, would have to ask such questions.

In June, 18'J4, the Bunker Hill Monument Association ap-
pointed a committee of their members, consisting of William W.
Wheildon, Robert C. Winthrop, Frederic W. Lincoln, Jr., Win-


slow Lewis, and J. Huntington \Yolcott, to consider the expedi-
ency of rebuilding the Beacon Hill Monument of 1790, in Bos-
ton. The measure had at this time been twice publicly suggest-
ed, viz : by the committee appointed to prepare the Memoir of
Solomon Willard, and previously by the Hon. liobert C. Win-
throp, in May, 1859. Mr. Winthrop said

" Boston did, indeed, as early as 1790, set up on Beacon
Hill, a simple Doric column, surmounted by our then newly
adopted national emblem — the Eagle — in commemoration of
the adoption of the Constitution of the United States and of the
great revolutionary events by which it was preceded. But Bea-
con Hill itself was long ago removed into the midst of the sea
and the shaft reduced to its original elements of brick and stone.
The old tablets, however, are still to be seen in the Doric hall
of the State House, and I have sometimes wished that the whole
column might be set up again in its primal proportions and sim-
plicity, peering above the trees and flagstaff, on the highest
elevation of Boston Common, with the original tablets in its

In June, 18G5, iNIr. Whoiklon, in behalf of the committee,
presented a brief report, in which it is said, " As far as the com-
mittee have been able to ascertain public opinion on the subject,
there is a general conviction that the early monument of the
fathers of the revolution should be restored and a desire that the
Association should undertake the service." In view of such a
result the committee procured an act of the legislature which au-
thorizes the association to rebuild the monument on some suitable
site and to receive the original tablets from the Commonwealth
for use in the work ; which act was promptly accepted.

* Address in aid of the Statue of Washin;'toii.


At the annual meeting in June, 1873, the committee having
been continued, the chairman made a second report on the sub-
ject, in which reference is made to the action of the legislature.
After speaking of the peculiar character of the monument and
its patriotic inscriptions, the question is emphatically asked, —
• " Should such a monument as that be disturbed, or if disturbed,
uncared for and destroyed?'"'

The committee would be highly gratified, as they think the
entire community would be, by the re-building of the Beacon
Hill Monument. In their last report they suggested that the
admission fee paid by new members of the association should be
set apart as the nucleus of a fund for the purpose ; and if this
were done in good faith, it would soon receive additions by sub-
scriptions and contributions, and give assurance of the ultimate
accomplishment of the work. This measure is precisely in ac-
cordance with the plan originally adopted for the erection of the
Bunker Hill Monument, and each member upon joining the as-
sociation, would appreciate the privilege of contributing to the
patriotic purpose contemplated.

The committee having reported a historical monograph of Sen-
try or Beacon Hill, the Beacon and the Monument, — matters
so intimately and interestingly connected with the history of
the city, — it is now printed by vote of the association.

The Heliotype plates with which we have been permitted to
illustrate the position and relations of the monument and the
digging away of the hill, are reduced from chromo-lithographs,
belonging to Mr. George G. Smith, of Boston, the well known
and now venerable steel engraver. Mr. Smith furnishes the


following account of them : Mr. J. R. Smith came to this coun-
try about 1808. He was a thoroughly educated artist ; so far
as I know decidedly the most able- drawing-master we ever had,
and full of talent in every way except the faculty of making mo-
ney. The sketches from which these pictures were taken were
executed on the spot some time in the year 1811 or "12. They,
are now in my possession, and I think the chromo-lithographs
were the earliest executed in Boston. They are five in number
(1 to 5) and were first published in 1855, under the title of
" Old Boston."

We are under great obligations to Mr. Smith for permission
to use these chromos for the illustration of our subject : only a
few copies of them now remain in his hands. The view of the
town of Boston, Charles River Bridge (built in 1785) and the
harbor, is taken from the Massachusetts Magazine of June.
1791, in the Boston Athenasum.



Beacon or Sentry Hill : Early History: The Three Hills : Johnson's Descrip-
tion of the Settlement : Wood's description of the Three H. s ; Prince's
Description of the Peninsula : Shaw's Account : the Three Little Hills :
Names : Beacon Hill proper. 9


First Settlers from Charlestown : Blackstone's Residence and Spring : Mr.
Isaac Johnson's Lot : the Settlement and the Streets : Sentry street and
the Common : Temple street and the hill : the Mill Pond and its bounda-
ry line : Streets around the hill : the "biggest town in America." 19

Topographical features of the town ; Changes since 1630 ; the Great Cove and
Oliver's Dock ; the Broad street Association ; Streets filled from Beacon
Hill ; A word more about Blackstone's Residence ; his sale of the Pen-
insula ; Reserved estate, including West Hill ; Copley's residence and his
hill ; sale of the estate ; Purchase of the State House lot; the "sumptu-
ous city" grown from its hills. '25


The Beacon ; Order for its erection ; What a history it witnessed ; Was it ever
used as a beacon? Apprehension of danger ; the Pequod War; the In-
dians around the town ; False alarm ; Drilling the soldiers for service ;
scaring them at night ; Opportune arrival of supplies from England ;
first Thanksgiving. 31

Defences around the settlement ; Practical Ideas of the times ; Dogmatic Re-
ligion ; Persecutions ; Charles II. commanding Liberty of conscience ;
Great Fire in 1670 ; Expense of the defences ; Indian visitors entertained
by the Governor ; the Beacon and Fortifications across the Neck ; Civil
War in England ; capture of a ship in the harbor ; the Light house, the
Castle and the system of signals ; General peaccfulness of the settlement ;
Defences turned against those who built them. 39



Vacation of the charter ; President Dudley ; Governor Andros and the revo-
olution of 168'J ; account by an eye-witness ; first house on Beacon hill ;
Expedition against Louisbourg ; Its capture, June 17, 1745 ; Excitnient
in 17t8 ; English troops expected from Nova Scotia ; Proposed use of the
beacon ; the tar barrel at its top ; the Sons of Liberty out-generalled ;
the massacre of 1770. 4G


Beacon Hill during the Revolution ; English troops in the town, ostensibly to
preserve order ; Occupying the defences of the colony against the people ;
the Beacon the earliest device of defence under their control : the Sons of
Liberty use the church tower to warn the country of danger ; the Port act
and the continental congress ; the conflict of the I'.ith of April (partially)
and the battle of Bunker hill seen ; Fort built upon the hill. 53

The hill despoiled of its beacon ; Defences of the town after the evacuation;
The hill and the company gathered there on the 17th of June ; General
Gage's proclamation of pardon ; Its exception of Hancock and Adams ;
counter-proclamation of the provincial congress ; Doggerel account of the
battle ; Threats against the excepted patriots ; the triumph of their
cause ; their position as Governor and Lieut. Governor of the State ; the
last of the beacon. 59


Erection of the monument ; Description of the hill, new state house and the
monument, from Dennie's Portfolio, in 1811 ; the monument first pi-opos-
ed ; Mr. Bulfinch the architect furnishes the design ; his connection with
the hill in various ways ; commencement of the work ; description from
the Massachusetts Magazine in 17'J0 ; absence of all public proceedings or
ceremonies ; dimensions of the column ; inscriptions upon the tablets
from Gov. Bowdoin's pajjers ; their authorship. 65


The first public monument of the revolution — Should have been respected and
preserved — The New State House contemplated by Gov. Hancock — Lay-
ing the corner-stone by the Grand Lodge — Inscription on the plate — En-
largement of the building — Its unrivalled location — Extract from the
journal of a visitor — " Beacon Hill : a local poem." 77


Elackstone's Spring — ThoGreat Spring in Spring Lane — Springatc — Mount
Vernon Springs — Spring in Howard Street — Theory of Dr. Lathrop
concerning the Beacon Hill Springs — Observations on the well at the
State House — On the sources and supply of the Springs. 83



The fate of Beacon Hill — Its value as a gravel bank and as real estate — Its
first owner — Division of the land and future ownership — Col. Shrimp-
ton — John Yeamans — Its use as a cow pasture — Its principal divis-
ions — The easterly portion — Hancock mansion — Decease of Thomas
Hancock and his widow — Inheritance of .John Hancock — Fmal division
of the property — Naming the streets — Sale of the monument lot by the
town — Celebrated law case : Thurston vs. Hancock and another. 89


Plan of the town in 1728 ; Paul Revere "s engraving of the town and harbor •
View of the town from Dorchester ; Recollections of a merchant ; Recol-
lections of Dr. Bowditch ; Alford Estate ; Daniel D. Rogers' and William
Thurston's houses ; Recollections of General Oliver ; of John G. Palfrey ;
Use of the material of Trimountain ; the Hancock house and grounds ;
•Miss Gardner's Recollections ; the Eulogy on Gov. Bowdoin. 99


The peninsula as an Indian resort ; Discovery of skulls ; Cook's pasture ; the
Bowdoin estate ; Ropewalks on Hancock street ; Winthrop's *' govern-
mental tent ;" Views from the summit of the hill ; the Copley estate ;
Millpond corporation ; Digging down the hill ; Preservation of the Tab-
lets and the Eagle ; Improvements on the hill and streets. 106


Interest attached to the Monument and the hill ; Commencement of the dig
ging upon tlie range ; The hill dug away and streets laid out ; Should
not the Monument be rebuilt / Con.- iderations on the subject ; Action of
the Bunker Hill Monument Association ; Petition to the Legislature ; Act
authorizing the Association to rebuild the Monument ; Its acceptance by
the Association ; Conclusion. 110


The Heliotype (1) facing title-page is one of Mr. Smith's
chromos, and is a view of the State House (from the north), ot
the Monument, and the work upon the hill.

The plate fronting page 9, is a view of Boston and the Monu-
ment from Breed's Hill, Cliarlestown, in 1791.

Page 9. View of Tri-mountain, as it appeared in 1630, to
Governor Winthrop's company.

Facing page 23. Plan of Beacon Hill with Beacon, in
1722. A, is the First Church, nearly opposite King street ; C,
the Old South ; E, King's Chapel ; K, French Church, School
street; d, the Pruvince House: g, alms house: h, bridewell.

Page 31. One of the several engravings of the Beacon.

Page 65. View of Beacon Hill Monument, by Sully.

Page 89. 2. Beacon Hill from Mount Vernon street, near
the head of Hancock street, showing the back side of Mr.
Thurston's house, the long bank between Mount Vernon and
Derne streets, with a row of trees on the former. 12 x 15.

Page 99. 3. Beacon Hill from Mount Vernon, head of Park
street, showing the easterly end of the State House. 11 x 15.

Page 101. 4. Beacon Hill from Temple street, showing the
lofty summit, with flights of steps leading up. 12 x 16.

Pao-e 102. 5. Beacon Hill, with Mr. Thurston's house, from
Bowdoin street, showing the bank where the hill had been dug
away on that side, and a house on Bowdoin st. 12 x 15

Page 110. Plan of Beacon Hill with site of the Monu-
ment. This plan shows the exact location of the Six Rods
Square, laid out for the Beacon in 1635, and occupied by the
INlonumcnt in 1790. The dotted lines represent the first path-
way fruni the Common. The monument stood at a point 100
feet from the southeasterly corner of Temple street.





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Sentry or Beacon Hill — Early History — The Three Hills — Johnson's Des-
cription of the Settlement — AVood's Description of the Three Hills —
Prince's Description of the Peninsula — Shaw"s Account — The Three Lit-
tle Hills — Names — Beacon Hill proper.

Beacon Hill, althoutrh no long;er to be recofinized in its
original features and relations, still so far retains its name as
to be known by it, as Ludgate Hill in London, is known by the
name of the street that runs over it. Yet it is historical and
must ever be remembered as a prominent feature in the geogra-
phy and the early annals of the city. It has a colonial and a
revolutionary history of peculiar interest. In its colonial his-
tory, it was called Tri-mountain and Sentry, until the erection
of the Beacon upon it, when it was known as Beacon Hill, and


■was on more than one occasion connected "with sul jccts of very
coiisidoialjle interest to the colonists. It "was a conspicuous
object in the hindscapc on the approach of the eailj settlers
and was generally the first land made on entering the harlor.
It was the most prominent of tlie Three Hills which character-
ized the town, — on one of which the first Colonial Fort was
built ; on another Avas erected the Beacon for alarming the
country in case of danger or any outbreak, and the third be-
came celebrated in later times as the location of tlie battery
which played upon Bunker Hill and set fire to Charlestown.
Sentrj- or Beacon Hill, with its three peculiar peaks, Avas spoken
of as a mountain, and, in view of its comparative height and
surroundings, appears to have merited that distinction. It
comprised more than one hundred acres of land, and the ascent
was gradual on the easterly and south-easterly sides. Altliough
greatly reduced in elevation and covered with buildings which
mark the spot from all distant points of view, it is still the
highest land within tlie peninsula. The commanding position
of the State House, on the summit of the present hill, in
the general view of the city, indicates how prom.incnt and pic-
turesque Avas the hill itself in its integrity, when it finished and
gave symmetry to the landscape. Frorn the surrounding coun-
try and the harbor, the State House, whose golden dome is
somewhat higher than the summit of the liill in the days of
the colony and town, is the most conspicuous object in the city,
and like the original hill, gives expression to the settlement
which it overlooks and crowns with dignity the living picture.

The Three Hills which we have mentioned, are defined by
Capt. Edward Johnson, in his " Wonder-working Providence,"


in a very quaint description of the town, twenty years after
its settlement, as follows :

" Invironed as it is with the Brinish flouds, saving one small
" Istmos Avhich gives free accesse to the neighbor townes, by land
" on the soutli side : on the northwest and northeast, two con-
'•stant Faires [ferries] arc kept for daily traffique thereunto. —
"The forme of this Town is like a heart, naturally scituatcd for ,
" fortifications, having two hills on the frontice part thereof,
"next the sea ; the one Avell fortified on the superfices thereof
" with store of great artillery well mounted. The other hath
"a very strong battery,* built of whole Timber and filled with
"Earth, at the descent of the hill [Copp's HillfJ in the .extreme
" poynt thereof; betwixt these two strong amies lies a large
" Cave or Bay, on which the chiefest part of this Town is built,
" over-topped with a third hill ; all three like over-topping tow-
" ers, keepe a constant watch to fore-see the approach of forrein
" dangers, being furnished with a Beacon and lowd bablfng
"guns, to sive notice by their redoubled cccho to all their sister
" townes. The chiefe edifice of this city-like Towne is crowded
" on the Sca-batdces. and Avharfed out ■with great industry and
" cost, the buildings beautifull and large ; some faiily set forth
"■with brick, tile, stone and slate, and orderly placed with comly
" street^, whose continuall inlargement presages some sumptuous
" city. The ■wonder of this moderne age, that a few years should
" bring forth such great matters by so meane a handfull." J

Wood, another of the early historians of Xew England who

* North Battery. t ^I'll or Sno-w bill, .ind afterwards (as novi) Copp's
hill. Wni. Copp, a shoe miiker, tc.ok the oath in 1G41, and owned the mill.
t " Wondei-worlviug Providence of Sion'a Saviour in New-England."


have made their names famous bj their quaint narratives,
speaks of the Three Hills as follows :

" Having on the south side at one corner, a great broad hill,
" whereon is planted a Fort, which can command any ship as
" shee sayles into any Harbour within the still Bay.* On the
" North side is another Hill equall in bignesse. whereon stands
" a Winde-mill. To the North-west is a high Mountaine with
" three little rising Hills on the top of it, whereof it is called
" the Tramount. From the top of this Mountaine a man may
" overlooke all the Hands which lie before the Bay, and discry
" such ships as are upon the Sea-coast." f

Under the date of September 7, 1630, old style, when Bos-
ton received its present name from the Court of Assistants, at
Charlestown, Prince J makes the following observations :

" Thus this remarkable Peninsula, about two Miles in
" Length and one in Breadth, in those times, appearing at High
*' Water in the Form of two Islands who's Indian Name was
" Shawmut ; but I suppose on the account of three contiguous
" Hills appearing in a range to those at Charlestown^ by the
" English caird at first Trimountain, and now receives the
'* Name of Boston. Which Deputy Governor Dudley says,
" they had before intended to call the Place they first resolv'd
" on ; and Mr. Hubbard, tliat they gave this Name on the ac-
" count of Mr. Cotton, [the then famous Puritan Minister of
" Boston in England ; for whom they had the highest Rever-

* Boston harbor was then called Massachusetts Eay.
t " New-England's Prospect," London, 1634.

t" Chronological History of New England in the Form of Annals," by
Thomas Priuoc, .M. A. Boston, N. E., mdccxxxti.


" ence. and of Avhose coming over they were doubtless in some
" hopeful Prospect. ] "

In speaking of Sentry Hill, Shaw says " by the first settlers
" of Charlestown it was called Tre-mount, on account of its
" three hills, which to them appeared in range. Tliese were not,
"however, Beacon, Copp"s and Fort Hills, as generally sup-
" posed, but three little rising liills on the top of a high moun-
" tain on the north-west side of the town. This high mountain
" is the high ground extending from the head of Hanover street, *
" south-westerly to the water beyond the new State House, the
" summit, of which was since called Beacon Hill, now almost
" levelled to its base.''*

When the Peninsula bore the Indian name of Shawmutf and
Blackstone Avas its only inhabitant, and Charlestown bore that
of Mishawum and Walford was its only inhabitant, names Lad
not been given to the Three Hills. The building of the Fort
furnished a name for one of them, the Wind-mill for a time,
the name for another, and the central hill, with its three little
hills, received the name of Tra-mount, which it retained until it
was used as a lookout. — a place of observation and watching, —
when it wa?. called Sentry Hill : after the erection of the Bea-
con, in 1635, it received the name of Beacon Hill, and lost the
name of Tra-mount or Tre-mount. which it had conferred upon
the town. So that we have had for this hill the names of
Sentry, Tra-mount and Bea ;on, and for the settlement those of

* " Topographical and Historical Description of Boston," 1817.

t Where does our sometime Minister at London, Geo. M. Dallas, find his
authority for the phrase " Puritan Villagers of Isumut, at the head oi iiassa-
chusetts Bay" ? See speech at Boston, England.


Sliawmut, Tra-mountaine and Boston. Prior to the settlement
the peninsula was called Elackstonc's Keck.

Tlie Three Hills -which we have described, so prominent and
conspicuous in the landscape and liistory of the city, were re-
garded •' with a kind of religious veneration, nnd Boston is not
less distinguished for her three hills than Rome for her Seven."
Each has been distinguished in the colonial and revolutionary
periods : one was fortified by the colonists for their defence, and
the other two by the British army in carrying on the war
against the Americans.* Tliey have been conspicuous in local
historic dram.as, both peaceful and warlike, and of course,
have been much reduced in hei";ht as well as changed in use. —
One of ihem, — known as Fort Hill, — within a few years, has
entiiely disappeared and the material used in the construction
of Atlantic Avenue, — tlic border :treet on the harbor and the
most prominent commercial avenue in the city. Upon the top
of this hill, on the 24th of May, 1G32, the colonists commenc-
ed the erection of a Fort, which was for a long time the most
conspicuous and important means of defence in the settlement.
The people of Charlestown, lloxbury and Dorchester assisted in
building this celebrated fort. This hill was the scene of much
interest and great excitement in the Andros rebellion, in 1689,
almost precisely one hundred years before the building of the
Beacon Hill Monument.

The first of the three Little Hills which constituted the range
as seen from Charlestown. received the name of Cotton Hill,

In 1774, when Gage's soldiers were in wint of barracks, it was propos-
ed "to put two companies ^nto ;i solid barrack or block bouse, on the top of
Bacon Hill, which shoull be enclosed with a trench and pallisade."


and afterwards Pemberton ITill. Drake says, " Cotton Hill
" was an eminence near the southerly termination of Pemberton
" Square, and nearly opposite the gate of King's Chapel Bury-
" ing Ground. The Rev. John Cotton resided near it, (now
"Trcmont Row.) and hence its name." Henry A^ane. a young
religious fanatic of noble family in England, who came over in

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Online LibraryWilliam W. (William Willder) WheildonSentry, or Beacon Hill; the beacon and the monument of 1635 and 1790 → online text (page 1 of 8)