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The Capital of Massachusetts
Named for the Massachusetts tribe that once inhabited part of the territory, the official name of Massachusetts is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. With a population of approximately 6.8 million people, the state is the most populous among the Northeastern New England region of the United States.
Further reading: Why Are Some States a Commonwealth?
Massachusetts is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the East, New Hampshire and Vermont to the North, New York to the West, and Connecticut and Rhode Island to the South. It is one of the original thirteen American colonies, and the history of the state is deeply embedded within the broader ambit of early American history.
Today, approximately 80% of the population lives in or around the capital city of Boston.
The History of Boston
Boston was founded on the Shawmut Peninsula way back in 1630, making it one of America’s oldest and most historically rich city settlements. The first inhabitants were Puritan settlers from England who came to flee religious persecution.
Boston is both the capital city of the state of Massachusetts and the economic and cultural center of the larger New England area. The city is distinguished for playing a unique cultural and historical role in American history, and as such, is sometimes nicknamed the “Cradle of Liberty” or “The Birthplace of the Revolution”. The city was the site of many important events in the American Revolution, like the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Boston Massacre, and the Siege of Boston.
Boston would later distinguish itself as a major manufacturing and shipping hub, eventually becoming one of the world’s wealthiest international ports. Descendants from the wealth generated in old Boston form an elite social class sometimes referred to as the “Boston Brahmins”.
The city’s demographics were altered in the early 19th century by a wave of Irish immigrants and the Roman Catholic religion that they brought with them. To this day, the Catholic population remains the dominant religious community within the city. Many influential political figures, such as President John F. Kennedy, were offshoots of this Boston Catholic persuasion.
As the city’s industrial sector began to wane with global shifts in manufacturing demand, Boston gradually reinvented itself as a banking and investment center. Meanwhile, large-scale urban renewal projects brought life back to degraded segments of the city.
Boston was home to the first public school and the first subway system in the county. Boston residents are informally referred to as “Bostonians”.
Why Is Boston the Capital of Massachusetts?
Being one of the oldest cities in the country, Boston was an intuitive choice for the capital of what was originally known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
It was officially named the capital of the nascent state back in 1632, over a hundred years before Confederation. The city was named after the English hometown of the first deputy-governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Dudley, who was one of many prominent members of the Massachusetts Bay Company to hail from Boston, Lincolnshire.
As one of 21 capital cities to be named during the formative years of New England, Boston was once the capital city of the entire territory. Despite occasional challenges from Springfield to the west of the state, Boston is currently the longest-running state capital in the entire country. That said, Boston was not the first capital of the territory known today as Massachusetts. It was originally predated by Plymouth, which was the capital of Massachusetts back when it was known as Plymouth Colony.
Recent estimates put the population of the city proper at 685,094. However, there are about 4.8 million people living in the Greater Metropolitan Area.
Boston is widely considered a global economic powerhouse, ranking among the top not only in terms of American cities but also across the globe. The Greater Boston Area is one of the top 15 economies on the planet.
The city continues to attract over 16 million visitors a year due to its rich cultural and historical significance. The city is known for having a high cost of living and a distinguished reputation for educational excellence. The city’s many established elite educational institutions continue to attract millions in revenue and a continual influx of students on an annual basis.
Today, the city is dealing with problems related to gentrification and racial tension as a result of the continued efforts to transform the city’s poorest neighborhoods into wealthy communities. However, Boston continues to boast one of the country’s highest standards of living and is often ranked as one of the most desirable places to live in America.
Character of the city
The area, the people, and the institutions within its political boundaries can only begin to define the essence of Boston. Its nickname “Beantown” has its origin in colonial times, when Boston, as a stop on a major trade route with the West Indies, had a steady supply of molasses from the Caribbean, thus leading to the creation of a popular dish that became known as Boston baked beans (beans baked in molasses). As a city and as a name, Boston is a symbol of much that has gone into the development of the American consciousness, and its presence reaches far beyond its immediate environs.
As the spiritual capital of the New England states, as the progenitor of the American Revolution and the nation, and as the earliest centre of American culture, Boston has influenced the country for some three centuries. Though Boston, like New England in general, has played a lessening role in national life since the early 20th century, it has remained the focal point of what may be the most diversified and dynamic combination of educational, cultural, medical, and scientific activities in the United States.
The Boston region’s topography was largely shaped by the glaciers that covered the land during the last ice age. The city and its sheltered deepwater harbour sit in a basin that extends to Lynn in the north and Quincy in the south and is ringed by modest hills: the Middlesex Fells (north) to the Blue Hills (south). There are harder, higher surface rocks (mostly granites) on those northern and southern edges, while inside the basin the lower-lying rocks—commonly known as pudding stone—are found mostly below the surface in such areas as Roxbury, Newton, Brookline, Mattapan, West Roxbury, and Dorchester. The land, enormously compressed by the vast accumulation of glacial ice on it, has since been rebounding (rising up) at an extremely gradual rate.
Numerous drumlins (mounds of glacial debris) form low hills in the city and islands that dot the harbour. At the beginning of English settlement in the 17th century, the Shawmut Peninsula was called Trimountain (or Tramount) because of its dominating three-topped hill on the northwest corner near the mouth of the Charles River. Beacon Hill is its only surviving, though greatly reduced, remnant. The other portions were leveled to become landfill that added to the city’s area in the 19th century.
Area of the colonial town
The hilly Shawmut Peninsula, upon which Boston was settled, originally was almost completely surrounded by water. It was connected with mainland Roxbury to the south by a narrow neck of land along the line of present-day Washington Street. To the west of the neck were great reaches of mudflats and salt marshes that were covered by water at high tide and known collectively as the Back Bay. The Charles River flowed through the Back Bay to Boston Harbor and separated the peninsula from the mainland to the north and west. To the east, Town Cove indented Boston’s harbour front and divided the city into the North End and the South End. The centre of the colonial town was at the Old State House (built 1711–47).
Although that original centre and the colonial South End have long been given over to offices and retail stores, a few 18th-century buildings remain: Faneuil Hall (1742–1805), the Old Corner Bookstore (1718), the Old South Meeting House (1729), and King’s Chapel (1750). The North End is the only part of the early town that has remained residential since the 1630 settlement. Colonial survivals such as the Paul Revere House (c. 1680) and Christ Church (1723)—the Old North Church from which lanterns revealed the route of the British march to Lexington in 1775—coexist with the busy life of a traditionally Italian American community
The long shoreline, only a few minutes’ walk from any part of the peninsula, provided ample space for wharves and shipyards. From the first years of settlement, the shoreline constantly encroached on the harbour as wharves were built and marshy coves were filled. West of the original settlement lay Boston Common, a tract that has remained public open space since its purchase by the town in 1634.