Source: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library: "The Town of Boston in New England"
Use this interactive activity—produced by WGBH and featuring materials from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library—to explore colonial Boston and the geographic and human-made features of the Shawmut Peninsula in 1723: hills, ships and shipyards, and a narrow “neck” connecting the town to the mainland. Learn how geography has shaped the lives of the people of Boston and see how different Boston’s landscape is today.
The Town of Boston, 1723 (Image)
In 1723, Boston was mostly clustered at the end of the Shawmut Peninsula, a very small piece of land jutting into the harbor. The peninsula was an ideal location for wharves, where fishing ships and trading ships could come and go. Many Bostonians made their living from the sea as fishermen and merchants buying and selling goods from England and other colonies. As you can see from the interactive map, most people in the town lived along the coastline, near the wharves.
Churches were spread evenly throughout town, as each neighborhood built its own local church. Military facilities tended to be located on the wharves. Warships could land there and also defend the city from an attack by sea. Mills were clustered around a large pond, where tidal water turned the large mill wheels. There weren’t many schools; most boys and girls attended only long enough to learn how to read and write. The Boston Common, today a public park, was used as a common area where Bostonians could graze their animals. It was called the Common because a few families owned the land together (in common).
At its southern end, Boston was connected to the mainland by a narrow, low piece of land called the “Boston Neck.” The Neck was often flooded by the sea, cutting the town off from the mainland. Because it was the only land route into town, it was easy to protect Boston from an attack by land simply by fortifying the Neck. (The Neck is on the far left in the interactive map.)
Today, the entire colonial shoreline and the Neck are inland. This is because by the 19th century, in order to make room for the growing population, the water and tidal flats around the Neck and much of the coastline were filled in with gravel and sand from the tops of the highest hills on the peninsula and from quarries on the mainland. The eastern harbor area of Boston was also filled in to expand the city. The old colonial waterfront was replaced by larger wharves and warehouses in other parts of the city to accommodate the shipping industry that still employs many Bostonians today.
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