|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
During the early colonial era, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony worried about attack by the native tribes. But they worried about attack by the pirates, French and Spanish even more. These fears resulted in a search for a new capital city to replace Boston, which they feared was too vulnerable to attack by sea.
Search for a New Capital
On September 30, 1630, John Winthrop and several other men rowed up the Charles River in search of a new site. Thus began their quest for, in the words of John Winthrop, "a fit place for a fortified town." Their requirements were few, but crucial. The site had to be accessible by sea, yet easily defensible from marauding ships. There had to be an adequate water supply. The found a likely site on the first high near the river's channel. After disembarking, legend states that the men crested a rounded hill where Winthrop speared the ground with his cane, saying. "This is the place." The site was ideal. It was inland. The river was navigable by oceangoing ships at high tide. The narrow river channel would make it difficult for war ships to attack without exposing themselves to the colony's cannon. In addition, the hill was perfect for the construction of a palisade.
Meetings and a Decision
The group returned to Boston to discuss their choice. Then they made a return trip. Finally, by December 28, 1630 they signed an agreement to build their new capital at the new site, which they would call simply, Newe Towne.
First Planned Town in the English Colonies
The men laid out the new town with care. First, they constructed a palisade, and then laid out three streets parallel to the river and four perpendicular to it. The grid would contain 64 house lots, a meetinghouse, a school, and a market square. There would be common land to the north to graze cattle and a future planned college. By spring, 1631 they began constructing the first houses. The planners used some of the first building codes to govern home construction in the new town. They wanted a compact, neat town and forbade owners from building homes too close to their garden plots. They required all roofs to be of slate or tile to protect against fire. There would be no new homes outside the palisade until all the building lots were taken.
New University and a Name Change
The General Court appropriated funds for a college in New Towne in 1636, which at the beginning was referred to as "New College." In honor of Cambridge University in England, the residents changed the name of the town to Cambridge in 1638. That same year John Harvard died of tuberculosis and bequeathed his 400-volume library and 779 pounds sterling to the new college. Thus, the College Board named the college "Harvard."
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016