The Coming of the Europeans – Early Exploration of New England

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Extracted from 1632 Map of North America - source Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

Extracted from 1632 Map of North America – source Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

This is Part 2 of a series about the founding of New England. For Part 1, the Native Americans, click here.

In the 1400’s, even before Christopher Columbus’s fabled voyage to “discover” America, Basque fisherman commonly fished for cod in the area around what was to be called Newfoundland. In 1497, under the aegis of English King Henry VII, the Genovese explorer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), while searching for a spice route to Asia, noted a land with a vast, rocky coastline teeming with cod. Cabot called this “New Found Land,” and claimed it for England. By the early 1500’s, it was common for English fishing ships to visit and harvest the cod from this area.

In parallel efforts, in 1501 the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real reached what is now the state of Maine and abducted over 50 Native Americans; the Native Americans were sold into slavery. In 1523 the Italian Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into Narragansett Bay, near present-day Providence, RI, and spent over two weeks trading as a guest of the Natives. After leaving Narragansett, he sailed north and encountered the Abnacki on the coast of Maine. In 1534, Frenchman Jacques Cartier “discovered” and explored the mouth of the St. Lawrence river, claiming the area for France. (Cartier was later involved in colonization efforts, but these were abandoned in 1543.)

By the end of the 1500’s, European exploration in North America had become common, but was focused on fishing the plentiful cod. Permanent settlements did not exist and the fisherman-explorers went home as winter approached. Universally, the Europeans noted that North America was thickly settled with natives, generally described as handsome and healthy. And, the area seemed ripe for exploitation. European attention began to shift to the more systematic capitalization of North America. This resulted in the emergence of “trading companies” set up to establish permanent settlements to harvest the riches.

In 1602, English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold established a small post on Cuttyhunk Island (in the Elizabethan Islands near Cape Cod and New Bedford), but had to abandon the outpost as the group had inadequate supplies to last the winter.  During this visit, Gosnold is credited with naming “Cape Cod” and discovering Martha’s Vineyard. (In 1607 Gosnold was involved in the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.)

In 1605, French explorer Samuel de Champlain, known as the founder of “New France” in North America, helped to found Port-Royal, the first successful French Settlement in North America. In 1605-1606, he visited Cape Cod with plans to establish a French base. This plan was abandoned after skirmishes with the Natives. In 1608, Champlain founded what is now known as Quebec City, on the Saint Lawrence River in Canada.

Englishman Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the “Father of English Colonization in North America”, was planning to develop settlements in Maine – then considered “the Northern Parte of Virginia.”  In 1605, he was part of the sponsoring group for an expedition sent to explore the area of New England under Captain George Waymouth. During his voyage, Waymouth captured  five Native Americans, who he brought back to England. According to some accounts, one of the captured Indians was Squanto – the same Squanto who was to play a key role in helping the Pilgrims survive their first winter in North America.  After 1605, many English voyages carried one or more Native Americans as guides and interpreters.

In 1606, again initiated by Gorges, the Sagadahoc settlement (also known as Popham) at base of Kennebec near modern Portland, Maine became the first English attempt at colonizing New England.  It was abandoned after only one year.

In 1609, sponsored by the Dutch East India Company to seek a northwest spice passage, English explorer Henry Hudson passed by the Atlantic Coast and up the river that was to bear his name. Hudson claimed a good part of the territory between Virginia and New England for the Dutch. Their first settlement, for fur trading, was established near present day Albany, New York, in 1615. Dutch colonization efforts did not start until 1624, with the land that was to become their capitol, New Amsterdam, not purchased from the Native Americans until 1626.

In 1614, the English explorer Captain John Smith was ordered by the future King Charles I to sail to America to assess commercial opportunities. Smith reached land in present-day Maine and made his way south to Cape Cod, making contact with natives and mapping out the coastline. Smith called the region “New England.”

During the mapping, Smith observed the land that was to become Boston. He noted a tri-capped hilly peninsula with an excellent harbor. The harbor was fed by three rivers and connected to the mainland by a narrow neck across a shallow back bay. Called “Shawmut,” it was important to the natives for an excellent freshwater spring.

This all was setting the scene for the first permanent settlement in New England in 1620, the Pilgrim’s voyage to what became Plymouth. But, that is another story.

New England Before Europeans – the Native Americans

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Rough Locations of Primary New England Native American Tribes

Rough Locations of Primary New England Native American Tribes

Map © 2008 DeLorme ( TOPO USA® – Annotations by the Author

By the time white Europeans arrived, New England had been inhabited by Native Americans for over a thousand years. Migrating here after the retreat of the last ice age, by 1500 they had a population likely in excess of 100,000. Originally hunters and gatherers, they had become more agricultural – with extensive fields of corn (maize), beans, and squash.  By this time the tribes were fundamentally stationary, but shifted dwellings several times year based on weather – winter, autumn hunting, and summer.

The New England tribes had a common heritage and belonged to the Algonquian family. Their language was fairly common, and although each tribe had nuances, there was the ability to be understood from Cape Cod to Canada.

Politically, each tribe and sub-tribe had a single primary ruler, called “sachem” or “sagamore”.  These sachem were usually men, but sometimes there were squaw, or female, sachem.  Within the tribal hierarchy, there were sub-sachems for functions such as the military (for war), powwows (medicine), and other functions.

At the time of the white man’s arrival, there were a number of principle tribes, many peaceful, but some warlike and in competition with their neighbors. The names of these tribes have been inherited by many New England towns, rivers and lakes. Those tribes included:

  • The Abnaki, also known as the Tarrantine to other tribes, inhabited western Maine, especially the Kennebec Androscoggin & Saco River valleys, as well as portions of neighboring New Hampshire. As this is the colder and more mountainous portion of New England, the Abnaki tended more to hunting than farming. More warlike than their southern neighbors, many tribes, and particularly the Massachusetts, lived in dread of Tarrantine raids. They had a reputation for cruelty and were accused of cannibalism by the English.
  • The Penacook inhabited southern and central MA, northeastern MA and southeastern ME, with the principle subdivision around Concord, NH. The Penacook had many subordinate tribes including the Nashua, Piscataqua, and the Winnepesaukee.
  • The Massachusett (in Algonquian, “people of the great hills”), from whom the state of Massachusetts got its name, inhabited the eastern area of state, around Boston. Originally one of the more powerful tribes, it was devastated by the plague and wars with the Abnaki. Their population declined from about 3,000 to 500 between 1615 and 1630.
  • The Wampanoag inhabited the areas of southeastern Massachusetts near where the Pilgrims landed in current Plymouth. They were also devastated by the plague. Metacom (King Philip of “King Philip’s War”) was Wampanoag.
  • The Narragansetts were a powerful tribe that lived in present-day Rhode Island.
  • The Niantics were a largely coastal tribe lived on Narragansett Bay, and extended as far west as the Pequot tribe in Connecticut.
  • The Pequots, of eastern Connecticut were originally part of the Mahican (known as Mohegan, a corruption of the Mahigan name) a tribe of the of upper Hudson River valley in New York.  They were warlike and aggressive and the primary protagonist in the Pequot War in 1637-1638.
  • The Nipmucs who inhabited central MA, were a comparatively weak tribe who frequently paid tribute to their neighbors.
  • The Pocumtucks were a loose association of tribes that lived west of the Nipmucks in the areas around Deerfield, MA.
  • South of the Pocumtucks along the Connecticut River Valley lived the “River Indians”, another loose association of tribes.
  • Bordering the River Indians to the west was the Wappinger Confederacy, which extended from the west bank of the Hudson River as far south as Manhattan and north to Poughkeepsie. Tribes of the Wappinger included the Mattabesic, Quinnipiac, Paugusset, and Tunxis.
  • North of the Wappinger Confederacy were the Mahicans, (Mohecan), the parent tribe to the Pequots. They inhabited the western Connecticut and the upper Hudson Valley in New York.
  • The Nausets were a smaller tribe that lived on Cape Cod.
  • The Montauks inhabited eastern Long Island.
  • The Mohawks, who spanned most of eastern New York State, were the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois confederacy, e.g., they were not Algonquin. Extremely warlike, they were formidable and feared by the Algonquin tribes.

Between 1616 and 1619 a plague, or the “Great Dying,” wiped out almost ¾ of the New England Native American population, with the devastation worse in the coastal areas where mortality was as high as 95%. A major effect was that when white settlers began arriving, starting in 1620, they encountered very little of the indigenous population. The Native American’s ability to resist the Europeans was very weak.

For Part 2, the Early Exploration of New England, click here.

Sources and for additional reading:

Bragdon, Kathleen Joan, Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Vaughan, Alden T., New England Frontier Puritans and Indians 1620-1675.  Little Brown and Company Boston, 1965.


Introduction to Lexington Battle Green

Virtually every visitor to historic Lexington will start at the Battle Green, the site of the first fight and the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World” on the British’ fateful march to capture Colonial military supplies stored in Concord. This short video provides useful context, military dispositions, and pictures of the attractions on and surrounding Lexington Battle Green. 
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Guide to Boston’s Unique Geography and Changing Landscape

Boston Primary Landfill Projects Since 1775

Annotated 1895 Boston Map Illustrating Landfill Projects

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One of the most fascinating and overlooked aspects of Boston is how much the land-form has changed over the years.  What you experience today is over 50% landfill.  Places you walk, such as the area around Faneuil Hall, were actually part of the harbor when Boston was founded in 1630.

When the first visitors arrived, they found a salamander-shaped, rocky, hilly, peninsula that was formed by erosion at the end of the last ice age.  Called Shawmut by the Native Americans, it was small, two miles long and only a mile wide.  It’s only connection to the mainland was the low-lying, narrow, wind-swept Boston Neck, which often flooded at high tide and was impassable during stormy weather – meaning the peninsula became an island.  During the siege of Boston, the British troops were effectively blockaded into this tiny island, without adequate food or firewood.

The peninsula was dominated by three hills, hence its early name of Trimountaine, which was later shortened to Tremont – a name that lives on in today’s Tremont Street. There was Copp’s Hill (in the North End), Beacon Hill (which had three summits and was almost twice as high) and Fort Hill (which was located in today’s financial district).

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Today’s Boston was created by a series of land reclamation projects, which started in a small way soon after the Puritans arrived in 1630 (you can see the 1630 water line marked in the pavement near the Samuel Adams Statue behind Faneuil Hall).

The major landfill projects took place between 1807 and about 1900, although some reclamation projects extended until almost 2000. Much of the land for the early projects came from the leveling of Fort Hill and from Beacon Hill. The largest project, the filling in of the Back Bay took, spanned several generations between 1856 and about 1894. For that project, gravel was transported in on a specially built train line from Needham, a suburb about nine miles away.  One of the first of the second generation steam shovels was used to fill the gravel cars for the trains, which ran around the clock for almost fifty years.

For a fantastic website, which was used to create the animations in the video above, visit the Boston Atlas. It is simply the best place to play with Boston’s changing topography, and was a great source for this post. Also visit the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library – a wonderful source of historic Boston maps, many of which were used in the creation of this post and the accompanying video.  For those interested in learning more, there is another interesting post from Professor Jeffery Howe at Boston University; for that post, click here.

Long Wharf – the Heart of Colonial & Revolutionary Boston

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From the beginning, Boston was a town linked to the sea, with its success dependent on maritime trade and industry. And, its most important gateway to the sea in colonial times was Long Wharf. Originally called Boston Pier, Long Wharf construction began in 1711 (when Boston was the largest city in the Colonies), completed by 1715, and at its peak was almost 1,600 feet in length, 54 feet wide, and capable of docking up to 50 vessels. It was, by far, the largest and most significant wharf in Boston and was to play a major role in Boston’s economic and Revolutionary history.

Bonner’s 1722 Map illustrating Long Wharf & the Old State House

The heart of Colonial Boston was the Town House, Boston’s official town hall, which was at the base of King Street (King Street’s name was changed to State Street after the Revolution). The first Town House was built in 1657 and burned down during the Great Fire of 1711. It was replaced by the current “Old State House” in 1713, and was the location for the British Government until they evacuated Boston 1776. From the Town House, a viewer could look directly down King Street to the end of Long Wharf, see ships coming and going, and keep the pulse of the town.

Paul Revere’s 1768 Engraving of British Troops Landing on Long Wharf

As illustrated in the famous Paul Revere engraving above, British Troops landed on Long Wharf to help enforce the Townshend Acts in 1768. The oldest structure remaining on Long Wharf today, dating from around 1760 is a building that served as John Hancock’s “counting house” (primary place of business), who in, addition to being the famous signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the richest men and a leading merchant in Boston. Today John Hancock’s counting house is the Chart House restaurant.

British troops departed from Long Wharf when they left Boston in March of 1776. It was the landing place for the ship from Philadelphia bringing the Declaration of Independence (first read to the citizens from the balcony of the Old State House on July 18the 1776), privateers and blockade runners sailed from its docks, and its warehouses held military stores.

Water Shuttle Landing on Long Wharf

Today, Long Wharf is a great place to gather tourist information, take cruises of the harbor, and is the docking location for the water shuttles to the harbor islands and the Charlestown Navy Yard (USS Constitution). For an excellent posting on Long Wharf from a series by the National Park Service on maritime Boston, click here. The Aquarium is located at the end of Long Wharf.

Prospect Hill – Key Fortress in the Patriot Lines

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When on the night of April 18th the British left Boston on their fateful expedition to capture Patriot munitions in Concord and the “shot heard round the world,” they marched by a hill just outside of Union Square, in what today is the city of Somerville. In 1775, Somerville was part of Charlestown and was located “just beyond the neck” that separated the Charlestown peninsula from the mainland. The hill is called Prospect Hill, and it was to play a key role in America’s fight for freedom from Great Britain.
In the British retreat back to Boston on April 19th, they diverted to go via Charlestown and they again passed by Prospect Hill, but this time in hurried flight and under constant fire from American militia that had gathered from over 30 miles away. (Prospect Hill was one of the last landmarks to pass before the British could reach sanctuary in Charlestown.) There was a major skirmish at the foot of the hill, leading to death on both sides. At the end of the day, American troops were posted on the hill to observe the British as they ferried troops across the harbor between Charlestown and Boston.

Two months later, immediately after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Prospect Hill was the sight of major American fortification and became the central position of the Continental Army’s chain of emplacements north of Boston. Its height and commanding view of Boston and the harbor had tremendous strategic value and the fortress became known as the “Citadel”.

On July 1st, 1776, George Washington had the new “Grand Union Flag,” the first official flag that represented the united colonies, raised at the top of the Hill. It combined the familiar British Union Flag with 13 red and white stripes. (It was not until 1777 that the more familiar flag with stripes and thirteen stars was adopted.) During the winter of 1777-8, after his defeat at Saratoga, General Burgoyne and 2,300 of his troops were housed as prisoners of war in barracks on the hill.In 1903, a castle shaped monument was erected at the sight of the primary American fortifications. Today, the view of Boston and the surrounding towns is still impressive.

View Prospect Hill – Site of Fighting and Patriot Fortifications in a larger map

Jason Russell House – Site of the Bloodiest Fighting in the Battles of Lexington & Concord

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Arlington, then known by the Native American name of Menotomy, was the sight of the most intense fighting during the British retreat after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. About half of those who lost their lives, about 25 of the Americans and 40 of the British, died in Arlington. Of the American causalities, about half of the deaths took at the Jason Russell House.

The house was built by Jason Russell between 1740 and 1745, but had been doubled in size by the time of the 1775 battle. As it is located on Concord Road (now Massachusetts Avenue), the main street connecting Cambridge and Concord, it was strategic and was gathering site for Minute Men, as well as Jason and some of his neighbors, who wished to contest the British retreat. At the time the British were passing, about two dozen men had gathered around the Russell house and created a mini-fortress.

Although the group had effectively fortified themselves to be able to take pot shots at the main British column marching down Concord Road, they left themselves open to the flankers, who caught them by surprise. Trying to reach sanctuary in his house, Russell was shot down and died on his doorstep. Eight Patriots were cornered and bayoneted. About eight other Patriots effectively barricaded themselves in the basement. Although there were multiple British casualties, a total of twelve Patriots died in and around the Russell house – making this the bloodiest spot in a bloody day.

Bullet holes can still be seen in several parts of the house, which is open for visitors and part of the Arlington Historical Society. There is a wonderful and detailed write-up of the house and its history as part of the Historic New England’s Old-Time New England Articles section, available here.

View Jason Russell House – Site of the Bloodiest Fighting in the Battles of Lexington & Concord in a larger map


Boston’s North End – More Than “Little Italy,” A Brief History

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Most people know the North End as Boston’s Little Italy. But, Italians did not start moving into the North End in any significant number until the 1880’s – some 260 years after the North End’s earliest residents. The Italians were only the last of a series of ethnic groups to inhabit this area of Boston.

Boston's North End

Entering Boston’s Historic North End

Originally, the North End was a suburb for the Puritan families who migrated to Boston during the 1630’s. At that time, the North End was isolated, virtually an island surrounded by water on three sides, connected to the rest of Boston by a small neck of land.

Over time, was the land connecting the North End to Boston was filled-in, but the North End remained geographically isolated until the completion of the Big Dig in 2007. In recent history, and prior to the Big Dig’s completion, easy entry to the North End was blocked by the elevated Central Artery (Route 93).

By the mid 1640’s the North End had evolved into its own distinct community. By 1649, it was large enough to have its own church, the North Meeting House (later called Boston’s Second Church).

In 1659, the North End established its own Burying Ground, Copp’s Hill. Copp’s Hill took its name from William Copp, a shoemaker who had owned once owned the land. Copp’s Hill was also home to a free black population, many of whom are interred in the Burying Ground.

North Square boston

North Square – Looking at Site of Second Meeting House

The area around the North Meeting House developed into North Square, which quickly became the center of North End life. At that time, North Square was only one block from the harbor.

Increase Mather, the minister of the North Meeting House, had his home in North Square. It, along with the Meeting House and a number of surrounding buildings, was destroyed in the fire of 1673. The Meeting House was rebuilt and subsequently torn down by the British and used for firewood during the Siege of Boston between 1775 and 1776.

Paul Revere House in North Square

Paul Revere House in North Square

The Paul Revere house was constructed in 1680 where Mather’s home had once stood. Revere purchased it in 1770 and lived here until the 1780’s, when he moved a few blocks away to a house with a harbor view. The Pierce / Hitchborn house, next door to the Revere House, was built around 1711. These houses, along with the Old Corner Book Store and Old State House are the oldest remaining structures in Boston.

The opulent Clark-Frankland and Hutchinson mansions were build just off of North Square after 1710. Hutchinson’s mansion was gutted in 1765 in protest over the Stamp Act. Both the Clark-Frankland and Hutchinson mansions were torn down in 1834 to allow for street widening.

In 1890, Rose Fitzgerald (Kennedy) was born at 4 Garden Court Street, just across the street from where the Hutchinson mansion had stood. Rose later married Joseph P. Kennedy and was the mother of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy. There is a plaque marking the site of her birth on Garden Street just off of North Square. In the mid 1800s, North Square was also home to two Bethels – churches specifically built to minister to the needs of sailors.

Paul Revere & Old North Church

Paul Revere Statue w/View of Old North Church

In 1721, the construction of the Anglican Christ Church (Old North) began and was completed in 1723. In 1775, the Christ Church belfry was used to hang the “two if by sea” lanterns that warned Patriots of the British march on Lexington and Concord and was the start of Paul Revere’s Ride.

The Charles Bulfinch designed New North Congregational Church on Hanover Street was built between 1802 and 1804.  The Church was originally Congregationalist, but it switched to Unitarian in 1813.  It was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston in 1862. It is the last Bulfinch designed church standing in Boston.

After the American Revolution, the North End began transitioning to a largely working class neighborhood with the influx of labor associated with the shipping industry. Wharfs and warehouses were built to support maritime trade and shipbuilding. And, along with the often drunken and violent sailors, came the requisite gamblers, whores and criminals. To proper Bostonians, it became a dangerous slum, a place to be avoided.

From early on there was an Irish population in Boston. Their numbers were small, but grew to about 7,000 by 1830. The Irish population really swelled during the Great Potato Famine when a reported 13,000+ Irish moved to Boston during 1847 alone. The North End was their primary destination.

By 1850, over half the North End’s population of 23,000 was Irish. This peaked at about 15,000 in 1880. With the influx of new ethnic groups, many of the Irish moved to the South End. By 1890, North End’s Irish population had dropped to 5,000 and by the turn of the century it was down to 3,000.

In the 1870’s, the North End became home to an Eastern European Jewish population. In the early 1900s, Jews made up almost one third of the North End’s population, many settling along Salem Street. By the 1920’s, most had moved to Boston’s West and South End, then on to Dorchester, Brookline, Newton, Chelsea and Revere.

The last ethnic group to settle in the North End was the Italians. Immigration started in the 1860s with a small group from Genoa. This was followed by and influx from other Italian regions including Sicily, Milan, and Naples. Each regional group settled in its own distinct North End enclave.

By 1900, the North End Italian population had reached 14,000. By 1920, this number grew to 37,000, with its peak of more than 44,000 in 1930. The North End was now almost completely Italian – and very crowded.

The census puts today’s North End population at about 10,000, of which only 40% are of Italian descent. The remaining residents are a mix of young professionals, college students and others. North End politics are still dominated by Italian Americans.

The North End remains Boston’s Little Italy. It retains a wonderful and distinct “Old Word” feeling and boasts fantastic collection of new and old Italian restaurants, cafes, bakeries and markets.  It is one of the most European-feeling neighborhoods in America.

It is the oldest neighborhood in Boston.  Having existed for over 375 years, is home to some of the most important and historic venues in America as well as some of the most significant Freedom Trail sites.

For more historical information, visit this wonderful five part series by Guild Nichols.

Freedom Trail Maps with Google Map Tour

Any visitor to the Freedom Trail and Colonial Boston will need good maps.  Here are several – all free.

The Google map below was created for the eBook Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour and History Guide. In itself, the map is almost a full tour guide and includes the essentials for all the official, as well as many interesting unofficial Freedom Trail sites. All of the Official Stops come with web-based auto-translate links that allow the user to specify the language for the post. A great feature for non-English comfortable users.

The map also provides information such as operating hours, websites, phone numbers, admission costs and handicap access notes.  There are even listings for the best historic restaurants. Here is a video post that includes all the sites listed in the map.

The map is also available as a FREE full-blown Android app, downloadable from Google Play as well as from the Amazon App Store. The app exposes all the best features of Google Maps and is, by far, the most usable way to use the map. It  performs better than using a browser, is much less awkward, and lets you keep the map easily identifiable and ready to launch.

Use it (at your own risk as travel information is subject to change), enjoy it, and please comment.  Pass the link on to your friends.

View Freedom Trail Map & Historic Boston Guide in a larger map


Next is a series of official Freedom Trail maps from the US National Park Service (NPS).  These are savable, printable,  well done and all paid for by US tax dollars.

The main Freedom Trail Map, which is the same that you will see on the NPS Freedom Trail Guide paper guide, is available here.  It is also available from The Freedom Trail Foundation here.  Additionally, there are other relevant visitor maps available from the National Park Service – for the whole series click here.  In addition to the official Freedom Trail map mentioned above, there is a less detailed Freedom Trail map with an outline of Boston’s harbor line at 1775 – fascinating for historical context.  Click here for the 1775 overlay map.  The series also includes maps for the Charlestown Navy Yard,  Boston Harbor in WW II, a map that shows walking distances between Boston sites (Boston is a very walkable city), and a guide for tour bus parking.


Henry VIII’s Critical Influence on Boston’s Founding

There is an amazing linkage between Henry VIII (king of England from 1509 to 1547) and the founding of Boston. In his quest to produce a male heir, Henry wanted to divorce his first queen, Catherine of Aragon. The pope refused to annul the marriage, so Henry drove what became known as the English Reformation (+/-1530) by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. (Henry’s motives were also political, but that is another story.)
When England broke with the Catholic Church, many different Protestant sects vied for power. After Henry’s death, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen, reigning 1558-1603), set out to eliminate the “foolish theological quibbling” among the Protestant sects by formalizing the Church of England (Anglican Church) as the official church and instituting Penal Laws to enforce compliance.
The Church of England retained many of the trappings and hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which many English Protestants abhorred. Some dissenters joined the Church of England and worked to “purify” the church from within, becoming known as “Puritans”. Some refused to join church, and became known as “Separatists.”
Elizabeth’s successors, James I (rule 1603 – 1625) and his son Charles I (rule 1625 – 1649), made things particularly uncomfortable for the dissenters and were zealous in enforcing conformity to the Church of England. The persecution inflicted on the non-conforming Protestant approaches prodded two key groups to leave England in search of religious freedom and found settlements important to Boston history.
The first group of dissenters were Separatists, who after departing England for Holland in 1608, left for America 1620 and founded Plymouth, about 40 miles south of Boston. This group was relatively poor and agrarian.
The second group was more affluent and included sophisticated merchants and businessmen. Led by John Winthrop, they sailed from England to New England in 1630 with the ambitious mission to create a new society, a “city upon a hill” (reference from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount), that would be watched by the world. This new kind of society would balance both civil and ecclesiastical dimensions for the good of the public – guided by God and the Bible. This group landed near present day Salem, MA, about 20 miles north of Boston. They then moved south and founded Boston, named for a town near their home in Lincolnshire, England.
Would Boston have been founded if Henry had not wanted a male heir? Over time, there would have certainly been an important city at site of present-day Boston.  However, it would not have been called Boston, and it would not be close to the city we know. The Puritans, their culture, their society and even their form of governing was instrumental to the character of early Boston, the American Revolution, and lives on to this day. Thank you, King Henry.

Most Romantic Place in North America

No matter what your definition of romance, Old Quebec City is easily the most romantic getaway destination in North America. It has plenty to do for lovers, families and singles.  Just a little north of New England (about a 7 hour drive from Boston, 4.5 from Burlington VT., or 5.5 hours from Portland ME), any trip to New England could easily include it in the itinerary.  Or, it makes for a great long weekend.

View Quebec City Sites in a larger map
Founded in 1608 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quebec City is as close to being in France as you can get in North America.  If you speak French, and so desire, you will never need to utter a word in English your entire visit.  Getting by with English, however, is not a problem.

It is full of history, quaint hotels and B&B’s, great restaurants, outdoor Parisian-style cafes, fabulous vistas, and wonderful museums for both art and history lovers.  Easy to tour by foot, it is simply one of the best places to spend a few days and a pleasure any time of year.  Be forewarned, it can be very cold in the winter.

Enjoying a Parisian-Style Cafe in Old Town Quebec

Old Town Quebec consists of Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town), which also is the location of the old port. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite spots in each.

In Haute-Ville:

The best tour starts by simply walking around. It is small and self contained, beautiful, quaint, there are great places to eat, and is is just a wonderful place to be.  The entire city is surrounded by a stone wall built by both the French and British armies.  In fact it is the only North American city with fortress walls that still exist north of Mexico.  The views overlooking Basse-Ville and the St. Lawrence are excellent.

Château Frontenac & the St. Lawrence from the Citadel

Le Château Frontenac is probably the most photographed hotel in North America.  To stay there can be pricey and the property can feel a little stuffy (if you want high-end, as an alternative you may want to consider some of the more intimate, but superb boutique hotels in Basse-Ville like the Dominion or Aberge Saint-Antoine – and both of these are relative bargains), but a martini in the Frontenac’s bar and a guided hotel tour can make the Quebec experience complete.

Plains of Abraham and Citadel from near Musée National

The Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park is a great walk on a nice day. The Plains are the site of the 1759 battle between the French, under Montcalm, and the English, under Wolfe. (Both Montcalm and Wolfe died as a result of wounds received here.)  The battle was deciding moment in the conflict between France and Britain over the fate of New France, and resulted in the turning over of Quebec to the English. The park features beautiful gardens, historic exhibits and great views of the city and the St. Lawrence.  Be sure to visit the Discovery Pavilion for a great overview of the park and its history.  Check for music and festivals during the summer and bring a frisbee.

Le Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec is a wonderful art museum in the Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park. Housed in three buildings, one of which was the 19th century city prison, it is a great way for art lovers to spend couple of hours. It is home to impressive permanent collections as well as traveling shows.

The Citadel, built between 1820 and 1850 is the largest British fortress built in North America. It features a museum, tours and has a well known changing of the guard ceremony. A must if traveling with children.

In Basse-Ville:

As with Haute-Ville, simply wandering around is a great way to experience the city.  To go between Haute and Basse-Ville, there is the Funiculaire that can be taken up or down if you do not want to navigate the stairs or winding streets, which are steep.  The 17th century architecture and French flavor sets a tone unequaled in North America. There are many places to shop, which range from high-end furs and art to pure kitsch – at your pleasure.  In nice weather, sit outside in a cafe, close your eyes, and when you open them, you are in a French village (truly). Superb!

Rue Souse-le-Fort just below the Frontenac

Musée de la Civilization is an impressive museum dedicated to the history of the world’s peoples. It houses excellent exhibits focused on the humanities, with a concentration on the Canadian people. It is enjoyable by both adults and children.  If it is inclement, this is the best place to spend the day.  The free tours are well done and very insightful.

Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec

Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec is a wonderful fresh market near the old port and off most tourist agendas.  It is  great place to wander around and pick up supplies for a picnic or to bring back to your hotel room.  Most everything comes from Quebec and the varous stalls specialize in fruits, vegetables, wine, cider, maple products, cheeses, pastries, breads, deli meats, and more.  This is a great place to find non-traditional souvenirs to bring home.

Place-Royale and the Notre Dame des Victoires church

The Place-Royale is where Samuel de Champlain landed in 1608 and founded the first French settlement in North America.  It is an absolutely beautiful square.  Visit the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal for exhibits describing the challenges of setting up a town in the 17th century.  At the end of the square is the Notre Dame des Victoires church, built in 1688 and subsequently destroyed by the British bombardment of 1759.  It has been restored to it’s original character.


Lobster Sandwich – Best and Biggest in Boston Area

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There are few things as wonderful as a lobster sandwich, and this is one of the best. Full of meat, juicy, succulent, decadent, delicious – it is what summer in New England is all about. Absolutely worth the drive, but if your are in the Portsmouth area during a beautiful day, not to be missed. Make sure to ask for it without lettuce to get the maximum heaven.


The Beach Plum is a ice cream stand, and with commercial ice cream at that. But, their lobster and crab sandwiches make the Beach Plum a culinary destination par excellence. There is a seating area with picnic tables and umbrellas at the side of the stand, but the best place to indulge in your feast is on the sea wall across the street overlooking the ocean.

The foot long (pictured) will set you back about $28 (the regular is $17 as of 2010), but is easily enough to share.  A rock crab roll is only $11. The ice cream may not be homemade, but what a great way to end your feast!

A fantastic end to a fantastic day.

Boston and New England Map

A listing of all the places referenced in Steve’s Travel Guide.  Please zoom to the desired level and enjoy – Steve.

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Isles of Shoals

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Visiting the Isles of Shoals makes a wonderful day trip out of Portsmouth harbor. Catch a ferry with the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company at 315 Market Street in downtown Portsmouth for the 9 mile ride out the Islands. The Steamship Company offers various excursions that include guided Portsmouth Harbor tours or stops for exploring the islands.

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The cruise out to the islands is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. The narrated ride passes through Portsmouth Harbor, which is beautiful and features history and sites galore. To port (on the Maine side of the Harbor – left on the way out to the islands), you will pass the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the abandoned Naval prison. Watch for submarine conning towers that may be visible as you pass by.

To starboard you will pass Fort Constitution at the mouth of the harbor. Fort Constitution is built on the site of Fort William and Mary, which was the site of the true first organized action by the Colonials against the British in 1774 – before Lexington and Concord! On December 13, 1774, Paul Revere (remember him from the Midnight Ride) rode 60 miles from Boston to Portsmouth and informed the The Portsmouth Committees of Safety and Correspondence that a British expedition that was in transit by sea to seize control of the powder and armaments stored at the fort. On the following day, a band of 400 New Hampshire militiamen assaulted the fort, which was manned by just 6 British soldiers. The British managed to fire three cannons at the Colonials, but were quickly overwhelmed. A large amount of gunpowder was captured along with some muskets and cannon. There were no serious injuries, but this was truly the first battle of the American Revolutionary War, a full four months before Concord and Lexington.

Site of Fort William and Mary - First Colonial Action Against British

The ferry will stop at Star IslandStar Island to drop off and pick up passengers. At the island, there is a retreat hotel run by the Unitarian Church. They offer day services including meals and it is possible to spend the night between mid-June and mid-September. The organization runs various retreats, workshops and conferences that run from photography to international affairs to family conferences. The facility is beautiful and a real throwback to the 19th century – Nathanial Hawthorne stayed here. Accommodations are pretty basic, but the location is fantastic. A beautiful and quite place to spend a day or a few nights.