Colonial Boston at the time of the Revolutionary War



Boston, which has crowned Beacon Hill, pressed over the Neck, and even covered with a magnificent quarter a large surface that was once the bed of the Charles River, was in 1774 a town of fifteen thousand or eighteen thousand inhabitants, closely confined to the neighborhood of the bay. . The Boston of 1774, which proclaimed freedom and defied the power of England, would scarcely rank to-day among the more important country towns. New York was more populous, but it was still confined to the narrow point of land below the Park. The thickly-built part of the town lay in the neighborhood of Whitehall. Some fine houses lined Broadway and Broad Street, but to the west of Broadway green lawns stretched down from Trinity and St. Paul's to the water. Trees were planted thickly before the houses; on the roofs railings or balconies were placed, and in the summer evenings the people gathered on the house tops to catch the cool air. Lamps had already been placed on the streets. Fair villas covered the environs, and even the Baroness Riedesel, who had visited in the royal palaces of Europe, was charmed with the scenery and homes of the citizens. Extravagance had already corrupted the plainer habits of the earlier period. The examples of London and Paris had already affected the American cities. The people of New York drank fiery Madeira, and were noted for their luxury. Broadway was thought the most splendid of avenues, although it ended at Chambers Street. And twenty years later, when the City Hall was built, it was called by Dwight the finest building in America.

The streets of New York and Boston were usually crooked and narrow, but the foresight of Penn had made Philadelphia a model of regularity. Market and Broad Streets were ample and stately. The city was as populous as New York, and perhaps the possessor of more wealth. It was the first city on the continent, and the fame of Franklin had already given it a European renown. Yet Philadelphia when it rebelled against George III. was only an insignificant town, clinging to the banks of the river; and New York invited the attack of the chief naval power of the world with its harbor undefended and its whole population exposed to the guns of the enemy's ships. The Southern cities were yet of little importance. Baltimore was a small town. Virginia had no large city. Charleston had a few thousand inhabitants. Along that immense line of sea-coast now covered with populous cities the smallest of which would have made the New York and Boston of our ancestors seem insignificant, only these few and isolated centres of commerce had sprung up. The wilderness still covered the shores of Long Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Carolinas almost as in the days of Raleigh.





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