The first Boston Charter Day celebration took place on September 7, 2001 when the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Rappaport Institute hosted a panel discussion at the MHS in Boston. At the event, Governor Jane M. Swift issued an official proclamation naming September 7 “Boston Charter Day.” Speakers included the Reverend Peter Gomes of Harvard University, Professor Thomas O’Connor of Boston College, and Professor Will Holton of Northeastern University.
During the 1620s, the two main settlements in modern-day Massachusetts were Plymouth and Salem. The area in between was sparsely populated. What we now know as Boston was called Shawmut by the Native Americans and Trimountaine by the colonists. William Blackstone (or Blaxton), an agent for Robert Gorges, was its sole white inhabitant. Blackstone was a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University and the roommate of Isaac Johnson, the primary investor in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Johnson married Lady Arbella Clinton-Fiennes, sister of the the 4th Earl of Lincoln.
In 1630, a Puritan fleet of 11 ships with nearly 1,000 passengers sailed for New England. Their flagship was the Arbella, named after Lady Arbella, and their leader was Governor John Winthrop. Midway through the voyage, Winthrop made his famous speech: “We must be knit together in this work as one man, … we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together … for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” With this ringing charge, the fleet landed … at Salem.
The settlers soon found that Salem was in no condition to take on another thousand residents. Food was scarce, so the new colonists moved down the coast. Because of abysmal living conditions, 200 had died by the time the group reached modern-day Charlestown. Meanwhile, Native Americans had told Blackstone of the settlers’ suffering. Blacstone, who made use of a pure spring on Trimountaine, saw that access to clean water would vastly improve the Puritans’ condition. He made contact with Isaac Johnson and told him the group needed no second bidding to move across the river to Trimountaine.
Many of the Puritan settlers had come from Boston in Lincolnshire, England, a port city that would contribute ten percent of its population – including five future Governors – to Massachusetts. One Bostonian, Thomas Dudley, who served as steward to the Earl of Lincoln and latter became Governor of the Massachusset Bay Colony, suggested that Trimountaine be renamed after the English city. The Court agreed, and on September 7, 1630, the new town of Boston came officially into existence as the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The name Boston itself comes from a 7th-century monk named St. Botulph or Botolph. Botulph, whose name means “boat helper,” opened a monastery at what may have been the future location of Boston, Lincolnshire. Whether the monastery was there or elsewhere, the church in Boston attained the name of St. Botolph’s, and it is probable that “Boston” is a shortening of “Botolph’s town".
Massachusetts was soon established as the nucleus of the rapidly growing colony. The town’s humble origins became lost in its rapid growth as William Blackstone sought the refuge of the wilderness and moved on to what is now the town of Blackstone on the Rhode Island border. Yet the names of Tremont Street (for Trimountaine) and St. Botolph Street serve as a reminder that Boston’s early legacy is still with us today.