Port of Boston
Review and History

The Port of Boston lies on Massachusetts Bay off the Atlantic Ocean on the United States' East Coast. Capital of the State of Massachusetts, it is about 90 nautical miles southwest of the Port of Portland in Maine and some 300 nautical miles northeast of the Port of New York. More than a quarter of the land area of the Port of Boston is water, and it covers a relatively small land area for one of America's major cities. The colleges and universities (including world-famous Harvard University) in the Port of Boston are an important part of the Port of Boston economy, not only due to the many students they bring to the city but also due to the high-tech industries that come there for the skilled labor market. In 2005, almost 560 thousand people lived in the Port of Boston, and more than 4.4 million called the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metropolitan area home.

The Port of Boston is rated as the country's top life sciences center in the country by the Milken Institute. A hub for the biotechnology industry, the Port of Boston received more annual funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other city in the US in 2004. Being one of the most popular convention and vacation destinations in the United States, tourism is a huge part of the Port of Boston's economy. Other important economic contributors to the Port of Boston are financial services, insurance, publishing, federal government, and manufacturing. High-technology is an increasingly important part of the economy, and the Port of Boston is considered one of the leading high-tech centers in the country.

Port History

The area that would become the Port of Boston was originally home to Algonquian tribes that included the Wampanoag, Massachuset, Nauset, Mahican, Nipmuc, and Pocomtuc. The tribes were hunters, gatherers, and fishers. Many of the indigenous peoples died after Europeans arrived when they contracted smallpox, measles, and influenza. Historians think that as many as 90% of the native peoples of the Massachusetts Bay area died between 1617 and 1619 from smallpox.

English Puritans settled the Port of Boston area in 1630 for the Massachusetts Bay Company seeking religious freedom from the Church of England. They named the new town Boston after the town from which many of the new American's departed England. While it was considered a commercial venture, the Massachusetts Bay Company and its governor, John Winthrop, regarded their charter as authorization for a self-governing settlement.

The Port of Boston is the Western Hemisphere's oldest continually active seaport. For some four thousand years before Europeans arrived, the indigenous peoples used Massachusetts Bay as a busy trading area. After the European Massachusetts Bay Colony was established, the seaport became a major commercial center.

The new residents of the Port of Boston settled the Shawmut Peninsula, recognizing its rich potential as a seaport. The Puritans became shipbuilders, seamen, fishermen, and merchants. By 1648, the new settlement was flourishing, and trade and family ties linked the Port of Boston to London and England. By the end of the 1600s, the Port of Boston's fleet was the third largest in the English-speaking world after London and Bristol. It was the biggest town in the English colonies until the middle 18th Century when the Ports of Philadelphia and New York City outpaced its growth.

Port of Boston merchants were not happy with their complete dependence on British ships for trade, so they established their own shipbuilding industry and began to cultivate trade relations with other colonies and countries. For much of the 17th and 18th Centuries, the Port of Boston was the biggest and busiest port in North America. It provided English goods to the growing colonies and exported lumber, salted fish, rum, and newly-built ships.

During its first half century, the Port of Boston was a homogeneous Puritan settlement ruled by the Massachusetts Bay Company. There were three Puritan churches in town, and other congregations were not accepted. Some Quakers were hanged for their refusal to leave the Port of Boston. However, successful trade and commerce made the settlement more valuable to the British government, and they nullified the charter in 1684. In 1686, the first royal governor, Sir Edmund Andros, arrived to rule the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The Church of England arrived, and Puritan dominance came to an end.

When the Glorious Revolution was taking place in England in the late 1680s, Port of Boston citizens imprisoned the royal governor. Responding to the rebellion, the English tried to impose laws on navigation and taxes on goods. By the mid-18th Century, the mid-Atlantic colonies were growing rapidly, and Philadelphia and New York began to compete with the Port of Boston for cargo Volume. The Port of Boston began to focus on developing foreign trade networks that created wealth, cultural diversity, and prestige to the "Athens of America." Part of the wealth came from the infamous "triangle route" where sugar was imported to the Port of Boston to make rum that was traded for slaves in Africa who were taken to West Indies sugar plantations to make the sugar for Boston's rum distilleries.

Maritime merchants in England began to envy the Port of Boston's success, demanding that the Colonies limit their trade to Britain. Their insistence that Boston's merchants withdraw from trade with other ports of the world fueled the movement of middle-class residents toward the Colony's radical groups that were calling for revolution.

When the Stamp Act was enacted by the English Parliament in 1765, residents of the Port of Boston invaded and destroyed the governor's house. In 1770, British forces killed several people in the Boston Massacre. Colonists dressed up as American Indians in 1773 and dumped shiploads of tea into the Harbor, sparking on one of the famous first events of the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party.

With increasing conflict, the British sent their army to Concord to take the military stores in 1775. Paul Revere made his famous ride from his home town of Boston to Lexington to warn the colonists. That year, the first shots of the revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord. George Washington and his army besieged the British in the Port of Boston during the winter, and in the spring of 1776, the British and Loyalist residents, including several prominent merchants, left the city.

When the Constitution of the United States was established in 1780, John Hancock, its first signer, was elected the first governor of the United States' Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After the colonies gained their independence, Port of Boston merchants were considered foreigners to British ports. They had to find other trade opportunities.

As the American republic grew, the Port of Boston expanded its trade with world ports. While the British had destroyed the Boston fleet during the war, it was soon replaced with newer faster deep-water vessels. Captained by Port of Boston seamen, American-flagged ships entered ports from Tripoli to Shanghai. The profits they generated built Beacon Hill homes and funded many Port of Boston development projects.

The Port of Boston began to trade with China and India, bringing the local economy to new heights. During the first part of the 1800s, many locals made their fortunes from maritime commerce in the Port of Boston. Other commercial activities and manufacturing grew in the Port of Boston as well. Textile mills appeared along the banks of the Merrimack River. In the 1830s, railroads and new immigrants further stimulated growth. The Port of Boston's population increased dramatically during the 19th Century. In 1822, the Port of Boston was granted a city charter by the State legislature.

As the industrial revolution was born, international trade declined as an important part of the Port of Boston economy. The Port of Boston became an important coastal trade center. Raw materials like cotton, wool, sugar cane, and turpentine were imported from the south and made into finished goods that were sold in the south or exported to Europe. In the middle of the 19th Century, the Port of Boston's shipyards reached their peak as they produced the fastest commercial clipper ships in the world.

The 19th Century was also a time of cultural growth for the Port of Boston. It quickly became a religious and educational center for the new country. As immigrants began to outnumber the descendants of the original Puritan colonists, the city's cultural character changed as well. By the end of the Century, there were more Roman Catholics than Protestants in the Port of Boston. Congregational reforms led to the birth of a new more liberal Unitarian church, and the Unitarians led the blossoming new liberal movements.

Port of Boston leaders were instrumental in the abolitionist movement, and many citizens were involved in social causes. Mary Baker Eddy founded Christian Science in the Port of Boston in the latter half of the 19th Century, and it continues to be the international headquarters for that faith. As the town's progressive movements grew, so did the Port of Boston's cultural and educational institutions. Founded in 1636 and named after Minister John Harvard, Harvard University was the only college in the Port of Boston until after the American Civil War, yet it retained its prestige when other colleges were established in the city. Soon, the Port of Boston was famous across the nation for its cultural and scholarly sophistication.

Shipping and maritime commerce began to decline in the Port of Boston in 1825 when the Erie Canal was opened and New York City gained access to the country's hinterland. The American Civil War ended the Port of Boston's access to Southern cotton, further reducing the port's importance to the local economy. Banking, manufacturing, railroads, and development of the frontier became the most important economic activities in the Port of Boston during the latter half of the 19th Century.

The latter part of the 19th Century was a time of economic growth for the Port of Boston. While the port was busy, New York's new millionaire barons were taking control of the shipping lines and trading houses. International trade was increasingly centered in the Port of New York. Furthermore, when the Port of Boston's shipbuilders failed to adapt to modern assembly-line production techniques and refused to move from wooden crafted ships to new iron and steam-powered vessels, the city's shipbuilding industry collapsed.

In the early 20th Century, the Port of Boston's economic face continued to change. Larger cities like Chicago and New York eclipsed Boston, and development of the American West reduced the capital available to the city. The financial management industry in the Port of Boston honed its skills in investment, and mutual funds became a major element in the city's economy.

After the American Civil War, a flood of immigrants from Ireland had changed the Port of Boston's political and social character. By the early 20th Century, Irish politicians dominated the political scene. However, the descendants of the Puritans resented the new Irish ways and rejected their politicians. The decades of the 1930s and 1940s saw difficult struggles between the Irish-Catholic Democratic political system and the Protestant Yankee Republican economic system. The city's economy and infrastructure suffered from the conflicts.

Textile mills in the area went out of business or moved to the South to find cheap labor. While textile mills and railroads decreased in importance to the city's economy, the influence of investment companies increased. The Port of Boston waterfront deteriorated while the railroads built new port facilities in the South Bay and in East Boston.

By the mid-20th Century, more moderate Irish-Catholic politicians worked to close the gap with the Port of Boston's earlier residents. A new technology-based economy also began to grow in the Port of Boston and surrounding area. A building boom financed by government funds and private investment transformed the city.

During World War II, the US military became a more prominent feature of the Port of Boston. The Charlestown Navy Yard that had always been the homeport of the famous USS Constitution gained three new annexes and a Naval air station. The nearby Fore River Shipyard in the Port of Boston produced more warships than any other shipyard in the United States.

While the Irish and Yankee segments of the population were finding common ground, the city's ever-increasing African American population was ignored. During the 1960s, the city's black community demanded fair treatment in housing, work, and education. In 1974, a federal judge ordered students to be bused to integrate the public schools, and other court orders required the integration of public housing in the Port of Boston. Ten years of white resistance, strikes, boycotts, and violence followed these court orders, but the Port of Boston eventually accepted the new way of life.

By the beginning of the 21st Century, racial conflict was lessened by economic prosperity and generational transformation. Twenty-first Century Boston enjoys a reputation for economic strength and rich cultural diversity. While the modern Port of Boston is one of America's great historic cities, it is not locked in the past. It continues to grow as a sophisticated cosmopolitan world-class city. Having survived decades of industrial and economic transitions, political and social conflict, and cultural transformations, the Port of Boston has emerged as a leader in higher education, medical research, computer technology, and urban renewal and development.

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