A BRIEF HISTORY
The following is a description of Roxbury written in 1634:
Dorchester which is the greatest Towne in New England: well wooded and watered: very good arable grounds, and Hay-ground, faire Corne fields, and pleasant gardens.... A mile from this Towne lieth Roxberry, which is a faire and handsome Countrey-towne the inhabitants of it being all very rich...Vp westward from the Towne it is something rocky, whence it hath the name of Roxberry: the inhabitants have faire houses, store of Cattle, impaled Corne-fields, and fruitful Gardens. Boston is two miles North-east from Roxberry: its situation is very pleasant.... Their greatest wants be Wood and Medow-ground, which were never in that place being constrained to fetch their building-timber, and fire-wood from the lands in Boates, and their Hay in Loyters.... This Towne although it be neither the greatest nor the richest, yet it is the most noted and frequented, being the Center of the Plantations where the monthly Courts are kept. Here likewise dwells the Governour: This place hath very good land, affording rich Corne-fields, and fruitefull Gardens: having likewise sweete and pleasant springs.
The inhabitants of this place for their enlargement, have taken to themselves Farme-houses, in a place called Muddy-river, two miles from the Towne: where is good ground, large timber, and store of Marsh-land and Medow. In this place they keepe their Swine and other cattle in the Summer, whilst the Corne is on the ground at Boston, and bring them to the Towne in Winter.... On the North-side of Charles River is Charles Towne. This Towne for all things, may be well paralel'd with her neighbour Boston, being in the same fashion with her bare necke, and constrained to borrow conveniences from the Maine, and to provide for themselves Farmes in the Countrey for their better subsistence....
By the side of the River is built Newtowne, which is three miles by land from Charles Towne, and a league and a halfe by water. The in habitants most of them are very rich, and well stored with Cattell of all sorts: having many hundred Acres of ground paled in with one generall fence, which is about a mile and a halfe long, which secures all their weaker Cattle from the wilde beasts. On the other side of the River lieth all their Medow and Marsh-ground for Hay. Halfe a mile Westward of this plantation, is Watertowne: a place nothing inferiour for land, wood, medow, and water to Newtowne....
The last towne in the still Bay, is Winnisimet: a very sweet place for situation, and stands very commodiously, being fit to entertaine more planters than are yet seated. The chief Ilands which keepe out the Winde and Sea from disturbing the Harbours, are first Deare Iland and Long Iland.... Divers other Ilands be within these: viz. Nodles Ile, Round Ile, the Governours Garden, where is planted an Orchard and a vineyard, with many other conveniences.... These Iles abound with Woods, and Water, and Medow-ground, and whatsoever the spacious fertile Maine affords. The inhabitants use to put their Cattle in these for safety, when their Corne is on the ground.”
From Wood's New England's Prospect, 1634.
Roxbury today exists because of landfill. As annexed, it is the geographical center of the City of Boston. In 1630, Roxbury was connected to Boston only by a narrow strip of land along Washington Street. Early on, it was a farming town. As farms subdivided, it became residential.
Roxbury was one of six villages settled by the English settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Boston was the main "village", located on the Shawmut Peninsula. Old Roxbury was three miles south along the only land route to Boston giving it an advantage in transportation and trade.
The area was open farmland and timber, with native "puddingstone" for building and the Stony Brook for waterpower. The original boundaries of the town included the neighborhoods of Mission Hill, West Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain as well as present-day Roxbury.
Buildings constructed by the colonists still define the neighborhood today. Washington, Dudley, Centre, Roxbury, and Warren streets were all laid out in the first years of settlement. Three of early Roxbury's milestones still remain, marking the distance from Centre Street in Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and West Roxbury, to downtown Boston.
The town center was at John Eliot Square, where the first meetinghouse was built in 1632. Nearby is the John Eliot Burying Ground, at the corner of Washington and Eustis streets, established by the English colonists in 1630.
A Roxbury landmark was the suburban Williams mansion, the property having been the large family farm for over 150 years, well known for its orchards. The Williams apple, like the Roxbury Russet, was a famous local variety. Due to business setbacks, Williams was forced to sell Abbotsford. By 1923, the mansion was too large for private use. It was converted to a disciplinary school for boys, and in the 1970s became a museum.
Suburban Development of Roxbury
Not all suburban development in Roxbury was as grand as Abbotsford. In the later years of the 19th century, the old farms in the highlands were subdivided for housing. When electric trolley service began in 1887, more and more families poured into the neighborhood, creating a market for rowhouses and three-story and single-family homes.
Later suburban development is reflected in the Harriswood Crescent, a group of 15 Queen Anne Revival rowhouses at 60-88 Harold Street. The heirs of Horatio Harris commissioned the rowhouses for speculation in 1890. Fountain Square (now Horatio Harris Park) was just across the street. Like Abbotsford, this development harks back to a preindustrial time in rural England with its wood and stucco half-timbering combined with brick and rough-hewn stone. This was the suburban ideal of the late 1800s. On small lots, they face the park, creating the feel of more land.
As far back as colonial days, Lower Roxbury (bordering the South End) was industrial with mills and tanneries. When the marshes were filled in, the area filled in with factories and warehouses. See Boston History.
The early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a series of seven villages in 1630. Originally called "Rocksbury" because of its hilly geography and the many large outcroppings of Roxbury puddingstone, the town was located about three miles south of Boston. At the time the latter was a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, "Roxbury Neck". This led to Roxbury becoming an important town as all land traffic to Boston had to pass through it. The town was home to a number of early leaders of the colony, including colonial governors Thomas Dudley, William Shirley, and Increase Sumner. The Shirley-Eustis House, located in Roxbury remains as one of only four remaining Royal Colonial Governor's mansions in the United States.
The settlers of Roxbury originally comprised the congregation of the First Church Roxbury, established in 1630. The congregation had no time to raise a meeting house the first winter and so met with the neighboring congregation in Dorchester, Mass. One of the early leaders of this church was William Pynchon. The first meeting house was built in 1632. The fifth meeting house is the oldest such wood-frame building in Boston. The Roxbury congregation is still in existence as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The Roxbury congregation (along with those at Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown and Dorchester) founded Harvard College. The first Bible published in the British Colonies (1663) was published in Roxbury. It was a translation into the Massachusett language by the congregation's minister/teacher, John Eliot, who was known as "The Apostle to the Indians".
William Dawes took his "Midnight Ride" from the First Church Roxbury on April 18, 1775. He went in a different direction than Paul Revere, but on the same mission to warn Lexington and Concord of the British raids.
OUR ROXBURY ANCESTORS
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