Dorchester, Massachusetts - Encyclopedia

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DORCHESTER, a residential and manufacturing district of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., a separate town until 1870, between the Neponset river on the S. and South Boston and Boston proper on the N. It is served by three lines of the New York, New Haven & Hartford railway. A ridge, with an average height of about ioo ft. above the sea, extends through the district from N. to S. and commands delightful views of Boston Bay to the E. and of the Blue Hills to the S. There are many large private estates, with beautiful lawns, and Franklin Field and Franklin Park, one of the largest parks of the Boston park system, are in Dorchester. The Shawmut school for girls is in the district. Among the landmarks are the Barnard Capen house, built in the fourth decade of the i 7th century and now probably the second oldest house in New England; and the James Blake house (1648), now the home of the Dorchester Historical Society, which has a library and a museum. Opposite the Blake house formerly stood the house in which Edward Everett was born. Not far away is the old Dorchester burying ground, which dates from 1634; it has many curious epitaphs, and contains the graves of Barnard Capen, who died in 1638 (probably the oldest marked grave in the United States); of William Stoughton (1631-1701), chief justice of the court which tried the Salem "witches" in 1692, lieutenant-governor of the colony from 1692, acting governor in 1694-1699 and 1700-1701, and founder of the original Stoughton Hall, Harvard; and of Richard Mather, pastor of the First Parish church here from 1636 until his death. In Dorchester Maria Susana Cummins (1827-1866) wrote The Lamplighter (1854), one of the most popular novels of its time, and William T. Adams ("Oliver Optic") and Charles Follen Adams ("Yawcob Strauss") did much of their writing; it was long the home of Mrs Lucy Stone (Blackwell). Among the manufactures are cocoa, chocolate, &c. (of the long-established Walter Baker & Co.), paper, crushing and grinding machinery (Sturtevant Mill Co.), chemicals, horseshoe nails, valves, organs and pianos, lumber, automobiles and shoe machinery.

Dorchester was founded by about 140 colonists from Dorsetshire, England, with whom the movement for planting the colony in Massachusetts Bay was begun under the leadership of Rev. John White. They organized as a church while at Plymouth, England, in March 1630, then embarked in the ship "Mary and John," arrived in Boston Bay two weeks before Governor Winthrop with the rest of the fleet, and in June selected Savin Hill (E. of what is now Dorchester Avenue and between Crescent Avenue and Dorchester Bay) as the site for their settlement. At the time the place was known as Mattapanock, but they named it Dorchester. Town affairs were at first managed by the church, but in October 16 3 3 a town government was organized, and the example was followed by the neighbouring settlements; this seems to have been the beginning of the town-meeting form of government in America. Up to this time Dorchester was the largest town in the colony, but dissatisfaction arose with the location (Boston had a better one chiefly on account of the deeper water in its harbour), and in 1635-1637 many of the original settlers removed to the valley of the Connecticut where they planted Windsor. New settlers, however, arrived at Dorchester and in 1639 that town established a school supported by a public tax; this was the first free school in America supported by direct taxation or assessment on the inhabitants of a town.' In October 1695, a few of the inhabitants of Dorchester organized a church and in December removed to South Carolina where they planted another Dorchester (on the N. bank of the Ashley river, about 26 m. from Charleston); by 1752 they had become dissatisfied with their location, which was unhealthy, and they gradually removed to Georgia, where they settled at Medway 1 In 163 5 the general court of the colony of Massachusetts Bay had granted to Dorchester Thompson's Island, situated near the coast of the township. By the township of Dorchester this island was apportioned among the freemen of the township. On the 10th of May 1639 it was ordered that the proprietors of land in this island should collectively pay a "rent of twenty pounds a year forever," this rent "to be paid to such a school-master as shall undertake to teach English, Latin, and other tongues, and also writing," it being "left to the discretion of the elders and the seven men for the time being whether maids shall be taught with the boys or not." In 1642 the proprietors of the island conveyed it to the township "for and toward the maintenance of a free school in Dorchester aforesaid for the instructing and teaching of children and youth in good literature and learning." (half way between the Ogeechee and Altamaha rivers), their settlement soon developing into St John's Parish (see Georgia: History). It was the fortification of Dorchester Heights, under orders from General Washington, on the night of the 4th and 5th of March 1776, that forced the British to evacuate Boston. At one time Dorchester extended from Boston nearly to the Rhode Island line; but its territory was gradually reduced by the creation of new townships and additions to old ones. Dorchester Neck was annexed to Boston in 1804, Thompson's Island in 1834, and the remaining portions in 1855 and 1870.

See W. D. Orcutt, Good Old Dorchester (Cambridge, 1893).

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