Established in 1634, Boston Common is America’s oldest public park. Puritan colonists purchased the land rights to the Common’s 44 acres from the first settler of the area, Anglican minister William Blackstone. The price was 30 pounds, and each homeowner paid him six shillings. The pasture then became known as the Common Land and was used to graze local livestock until 1830. A town shepherd was paid two shillings and sixpence per head of cowe to tend townspeople’s livestock.
Also referred to as a trayning field, the Boston Common was sometimes crowded with soldiers. Over 1000 Redcoats made camp on the Common during the British occupation of Boston in 1775. It was from the shore of the Charles River, which was then at the southwest corner of the Boston Common, that three brigades of Redcoats embarked on the fateful trip to Lexington and Concord.
The Boston Common was a place for celebration as well. Bonfires and fireworks celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act and the end of the Revolutionary War. Boston Common continues to be a stage for free speech and public assembly. Here, during the 20th century, Charles Lindbergh promoted commercial aviation. Anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies were held, including one led by Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass. Today Boston Common, which is located on the Freedom Trail, hosts several citywide festivals and performances throughout the year. It is still open for all to enjoy.
COMMON CRIMINALS The Common wasn’t always a place of recreation. It also was a site for puritanical punishments, home to a whipping post, and the confining framework known as the stocks. Pirates, murderers, and witches were hanged from the tree known as The Great Elm, now gone. Mary Dyer and three other Quakers who refused expulsion from Boston for their beliefs were also hanged on the Common.
HOSTESS HANCOCK As the Governor’s wife, Dorothy Quincy Hancock was obliged to entertain 300 naval officers during a visit from Admiral D’Estaing’s French fleet in 1778. She faced a shortage of milk and so improvised and sent servants to the Common to milk the community cows. If the Hancocks felt free to take from Boston Common, it was because they also added to it. Hancock provided a large cask of Madeira wine and a fireworks display for the celebration held on the Common in 1765 for the repeal of the Stamp Act, and built a bandstand on the Common in 1771.
Visitor Information Center
139 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02111
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