Why Is Boston?

In Time-Worn Paths of the Old Bay State

"GOD made the country and made the town"—but he made it where God appointed it to be. Great cities are where they are for some reason in nature, even though that reason be hidden under the crust of this artificial age.

New York does not merely happen to be the metropolis of the United States. It is so because it is where the longest river meets the longest arm of the sea on our coast and they flow together into the ocean. Philadelphia is the next largest city of this seaboard because it is where two rivers join and provide avenues into the back country.

The Mississippi made New Orleans the great city of the Gulf. The Golden Gate, where the Bay of San Francisco, with its magnificent harborage, opens the way to two fertile valleys, created the most important port of the Pacific coast. A lazy little river, connecting Lake Michigan with the Illinois and the Mississippi, compelled the greatest city of the Lakes to be built in a mud hole. Cleveland is what it is because it is the nearest meeting point of the iron ore from the upper lakes with the coal necessary to smelt it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson boasted that his native city was not an accident, nor a windmill, nor a railway station, grown up by time and luck to a place of wealth, but a seat of humanity. Granted; but why is that seat of humanity? Where is it? Only because of the accident that Boston had several springs that did not go dry in the dry Summer of 1630. By a strange bit of luck a lone Englishman had been living several years beside one of those pebbly fountains in the wilds, and he rowed across the Charles to tell Gov Winthrop of the abundant water supply.

Modern Boston is built over those little pools that suckled her infancy, as the mother wolves nursed Rome, and she has hidden them from sight. But they continue to bubble unheard beneath the traffic of Dock sq, the hurrying feet of Spring lane and in a bed of flowers in Louisburg sq.

In his orchard by the side of that spring on the westerly slope of Beacon Hill, Rev William Blackstone, graduate of Cambridge University and first settler of Boston, had been dwelling a hermit four, five, six or seven years when the Puritans came. Perhaps the reverend recluse could see from his door the smoke curling up from another English chimney down on Thompsons Island, where the family of David Thompson, fishmonger of London, made their home. Certainly the Thompsons could see the maypole of Merrymount, on the nearby mainland, where Morton, abbot of misrule, held his revels in what is now Wollaston. Not far away a Sir Christopher Gardiner had a retreat on the Neponset, with "a comely young woman," who consoled him in his separation from a wife in London and another in Paris.

Blacksmith Walton and his family already were established beneath a thatched roof in Charlestown where Endicott's men came from Salem to set up an outpost there. Upon Gov Winthrop's arrival he was invited to dine with Samuel Maverick, who was living like a baron of the marches where the Chelsea Marine Hospital now is.

None of those pioneers being Puritans, nearly all, soon or late, betook them to other scenes. Although Blackstone, by advising Winthrop and his colony to settle here, had made Boston bigger and busier, he grew doubtful if he had made it better. Having doffed the surplice of the Episcopal clergy and quit England to be rid of the Lord Bishops, he declined to wear the yoke of the Lord Brethren, as he chidingly called the theocrats of the colony. Soon he fled the madding crowd that had destroyed his seclusion and found a new solitude in a Rhode Island wilderness.

The American frontier thus begun its long retreat across the continent. But never was it to be more picturesque and fantastic than it was 300 years ago, when those widely scattered English men and women, with only Indians for their nearest neighbors, lived in various lonely places on the rim of Boston Harbor.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Jul 14, 1930, p. 14