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The Sociological History of Boston Massachusetts as It Relates to Work and Culture

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Boston is both the capital of and the largest city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is considered the unofficial capital of the New England area, and one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most expensive places in the country to live. Its citizens are known as "Bostonians" and their city is home to the nations first school, first college, and has been called "The Athens of America" for its great intellectual and cultural influence and "The Cradle of Liberty" for its role in instigating the American Revolution. The city of Boston has played a huge part in our nation's history and development. However, an exploration of the checkered history of the city itself will be necessary before it is related to the structure of the nation as a whole.

Boston was first settled by an eccentric Anglican reverend and hermit, William Blaxton, also spelled Blackstone. He lived on the Shawmut peninsula for about 5 years before, weary of his solitude, he rowed across the Charles River in August of 1630 and invited the Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to join him and settle there. They were quick to accept as their previous choices, the sites of present Charlestown and Salem, were insufficient. The city was named Boston by the 700 or so Puritan settlers. (Jennings, 15)

John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony gave a speech to his puritans commonly called the "city upon a hill" speech. Boston, which is where the Puritans settled, still bears this nickname. It is also said that city upon a hill refers to the area's original three geographical hills, but this would be impossible, as many now believe that the speech was given before the Puritans left England. In any case it inspired the Puritans with a sense of holy duty that would be crucial if they wanted to increase their chances of survival in the New World. The speech basically outlined that the Puritan's settlement would be ordained by God. In order to avoid incurring God's wrath, they sought to maintain perfect order in their society and create a model protestant community. It was in this well structured and stable society that Boston became the home of the aforementioned school and college. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635, and Harvard College was founded in 1636.

Two years later, however, two things happened that offer distinct contrast from the Puritans' seemingly well structured society. Anne Hutchinson was banished as a heretic from Boston for opposing the Puritan way of life, especially how they regarded women. She traveled with 60 followers and founded the town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She later died at the hands of the Siwanoy tribe, who scalped her and several of her children. (Howe, 23) A statue now stands in front of the state house in Boston commemorating her. Also in that year, slavery first became a part of the city of Boston. Massachusetts may have later been the first state to abolish slavery, but it was also the first colony to recognize it as a legalized institution. The first Africans arrived in Boston aboard the Desire, the first authenticated American ship to engage in the Atlantic Slave Trade. In Boston, as in the rest of New England, slavery never took hold as an economic industry like it did in the southern states. The Africans that began to arrive after 1638, principally from the British West Indies, became an integral part of the labor force needed to keep Boston's economy running. They worked as distillers in the rum houses and they were the unskilled laborers in the port at Boston harbor where they served as stevedores, cargo handlers, and dock workers. Some of these Africans even worked as skilled laborers, becoming experts in trades like printing, seamstressing, blacksmithing, carpentering, and watchmaking. Yet the actual number of Africans in Boston remained small. Less than 12% of the white population in Massachusetts owned slaves, and the average number of slaves owned was between two and five. By 1700, there were less than 500 Africans in the colony, with almost half of them living and working in Boston. With the African population of New England numbering only 1000 in 1700, Massachusetts was the largest slaveholding colony in the region. (Kaplan, 120)

The Boston economy was based largely on shipping and trade and Boston became the most important port on the east coast. The codfish industry was the root of the wealth that flowed through the city. Boston then committed another national first when it showed the earliest signs of the United States labor movement. In 1648, coopers and shoemakers were allowed to form guilds to protect their interests and to maintain standards. (Ely, 86) Later, in 1675, the Boston ship carpenters organized a formal protest against working conditions. By this time, Boston had become a considerable town. Trade continued to boom until the sudden death of King Charles II in 1785. New England as a whole stood aghast at the announcement. Charles II was succeeded by James II, who in 1687, appointed Sir Edmund Andros as governor of The Dominion of New England. It was sort of a coincidence that Andros was a soldier and therefore used to the men under him obeying his command, and having come at a time when the colonists were in a naturally rebellious mood because of the recent removal of their charter. The Puritans hated Andros. He openly affiliated himself with the Church of England, and the Puritans were not fond of his noisy "sinful" soldiers. In 1689 the colonists deposed and arrested him. He was sent to England for trial the next year, but was immediately released without any such trial. A provisional government was set up following the lines of the old company with the old governor, Simon Bradstreet, at its head. Massachusetts slipped quickly back into its old ways. Trade revived and increased, and so ended an era. (Jennings, 66)

In these first 60 years, Boston grew from a struggling settlement to a thriving town. It survived two great fires, 1676 and 1682. It survived considerable opposition from England, wars with the Native Americans, and several instances of widespread pestilence. The witchcraft superstition, but for one last dying fling, had run its course. In 1690 Boston is estimated at no more than 5,000 people; hardly a village by today's standards. Yet it was one of the four great colonial centers, and it now began its rapid rise to first place among them all.

Between 1690 and 1760, Boston would earn its title as the "cradle of liberty". The previous Navigation Act of 1650 was the beginning in a long string of attempts on England's part to meddle in the commerce of the colonies. The end result of this interference is obvious. The Staples Act of 1663, the Molasses Act of 1733, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767 angered colonists because



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