In 1630 Boston was a small peninsula of 739 square acres, where a dedicated community of 30 English families survived a brutal winter and were able to develop a vibrant economy of over 100 families in five years. John Morrison, President of the Partnership of Historic Bostons (PHB), told the story of how Massachusetts formed and became self-governing during the Winthrop Improvement and Historical Association’s (WIHA) first Members Dinner and Lecture of the new year, on Feb. 4, in the Deane Winthrop House barn.
“Acting together, they would make a new form of government that is both civil and ecclesiastic, and that’s care is for the needs of the public,” explained Morrison, who produces walking tours for Boston by Foot.
From 1625-1630, a whole society of English tenant farmers executed a mass emigration to America in hopes of religious freedom and safety. They carefully planned the supplies that were needed to begin a successful base of operation, including every material necessary to continue their crafts.
“The desire to commercialize England’s economic system forced people off the land and resulted in a huge increase in the money people earned for a day’s labor,” said Morrison. “There was a great number of people in the late 1500s and 1600s who needed a place to go.”
Puritans received a royal charter from the king, granting migrants independence from England and those who financed them. They had the right to make their own decisions, a privilege that other colonies in Massachusetts did not have. People were expected to sell their properties in England, and permanently move.
“It was unique to the colonies of America, all of which had to report back to their board of directors in England,” Morrison explained. “That made it possible for us to become who we are.”
Gov. John Winthrop was among the administrators who sailed on the Arabella, the admiral of the first fleet of 11 ships that voyaged to America. When they arrived in Salem, the original settlers were in poor condition: sick, and without food. During a 1950 excavation in Boston Common, remains of a large campfire, where people survived their first, frigid winter, were found.
“Captain William Pierce was a mariner. He and his brothers were active in the development of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay,” Morrison described about the original owner of the Deane Winthrop House, Captain Pierce, who was granted 100 acres in Pullen Point (now Winthrop) in 1637. “Captain Pierce went back to England and brought as many supplies as he could back to Massachusetts Bay. He found people starving when he got back on March 5, 1631.”
Eventually, the colonies learning how to sequentially plant crops from interactions with peaceful Native Americans helped them thrive. The natives fertilized mounds of dirt with alewife, a herring fish found in North America. Corn seeds were first planted, and once the shoots appeared, natives planted beans around them. When the beans twined around the corn stalks, melons and pumpkins were planted, and the broad leaves shaded weeds from growing. English settlers were then able to consume higher calorie, nutritious food, rather than the grains that they had expected to grow in Massachusetts climate and soil. “November 7, 1631 was officially proclaimed as a day of thanksgiving in Boston,” concluded Morrison.