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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

A World Within Reach: Greek and Roman Art from the Loeb Collection

A World Within Reach invites visitors to explore the experiences and imaginations of people who...

Atlascope

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

Black Is... 2022: Boston Public Library Booklist

As part of the Boston Public Library's annual observance of Black History Month "Black Is..." is a...

Boston Common Visitor Center - Open Daily

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

Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame at the Wang Theatre

Visit the historic Boch Center Wang Theatre and take a behind-the-scenes tour of one of Boston’s...

Freedom Trail Foundation Virtual Programs

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

How Do You See the World? + Mapparium™ experience

How Do You See the World? features compelling stories about global progress—how individuals...

Imagining the Age of Phillis

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

Jazz Scene In Boston: Telling The Local Story

The Museum of African American History celebrates Boston's rich jazz history in this exhibit! Jazz,...

King's Chapel - Guided Crypt and Sanctuary Tours

Guided by our team of knowledgeable and passionate Historic Site Educators,  tours lead...

Lexington Visitor Center: Walking Tours

Let our costumed guides transport you back in time to 1775 as they share the events that occurred on...

Museum of African American History - Winter Hours

Museum of African American History is committed to providing a safe environment and asks for your...

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."...

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...

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 Boston - All Ages Tour

Our All-Ages Ghosts of Boston Tour takes you on a family-friendly journey through the city,...

The Shot Heard Round the World

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

Tour Harvard Square

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

Tour of the Freedom Trail: The Anthony Burns Story

On May 24th, 1854, A Black man named Anthony Burns was arrested on the charge of robbing a...

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...

African American Patriots® Tour

Celebrate the African-American patriots that played a vital role in the start of the American...

History of St John's Episcopal Church

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society presents Katharine Cipolla, Parish Historian, who will give a...

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery To Freedom

In 1848, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of...

Read & Work at the Athenaeum

Purchase a Day Pass to this National Landmark library and cultural center with stunning reading...

Disability and the American Past: Disappeared Disabilities

When the history of people with disabilities is discussed, the same names pop up: figures like Helen...

Disability and the American Past: Failures in Intersectionality

In America’s long 20th century civil rights movements histories, disabled people—and especially...

My Dearest Friend

Learn more about the courtship correspondence of Abigail Smith and John Adams and view a selection...

February Vacation Week: LEGO®️ Maritime Festival

Let your imagination set sail this February School Vacation Week! Inspired by the different ship...

Sing Sistah Sing! Tales of Transatlantic Freedom

Support the work of the National Center for Race Amity and join us for a memorable and moving...

Disability and the American Past: Intro to Disability Justice

In reaction to a disability movement that treated disability as a single-issue concern, in 2005,...

Disability Activism in Massachusetts and Nationwide

In reaction to a disability movement that treated disability as a single-issue concern, in 2005,...

Archaeology at the Loring Greenough House

Joe Bagley, the Archaeologist for the City of Boston will present the initial findings from the dig...

The Odyssey Of Phillis Wheatley: A Poet’s Journeys Through American Slavery And Independence

This is a hybrid event. FREE for MHS Members. $10 per person fee (in person). No charge for virtual...

Making Maine: Statehood and the War of 1812

This is a hybrid event. FREE for MHS Members. $10 per person fee (in person). No charge for virtual...

Clover: A New Play

Clover is a full-length play by Laura Rocklyn and Ty Hallmark exploring the life of Clover Adams,...

The Nature of Slavery: Environment and Plantation Labor in the Anglo-Atlantic World

In the late 18th century, planters in the Caribbean and the American South insisted that only Black...

Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House

Some of the most significant moments in American history have occurred over meals. Alex Prud’homme...

Lethal Tides: Mary Sears And The Marine Scientists Who Helped Win World War II

When World War II began, the U.S. Navy was unprepared to enact its island-hopping strategy to reach...

The Sculptures of Daniel Chester French at Forest Hills Cemetery

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society invites you to hear Dana Pilson curatorial researcher and...

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 2022 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. 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.