Boston was first discovered by an European when John Smith explored the New England coast in 1614. However it did not become an established settlement until the arrival of John Winthrop with 700 immigrants from England in 1630. Boston was an early centre of Puritanism and in 1865 established America's first public school. The Shawmut Peninsula, where the town was settled, was originally nearly completely surrounded by water.

The long shoreline provided ample space for wharves and shipyards. In 1800 the Boston Naval Shipyard was built and the waterfront was extended, with Black Bay being dammed (1818-21).

The growth of Boston as an industrial area attracted a large number of immigrants. It was especially popular with the Irish and in 1906 John Francis Fitzgerald became the mayor Boston. In doing so, Fitzgerald became the first mayor in the United States whose parents had been born in Ireland. He now joined forces with his former rival, Patrick Joseph Kennedy, to run the city. Fitzgerald's daughter, Rose Fitzgerald, was later to marry Kennedy's son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy: the parents of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy.

James Curley was elected mayor of Boston. in 1914. This period of power ended in 1918 but he served again from 1922 to 1926 and 1930 to 1934. Although he was twice sent to prison and was generally believed to be a corrupt politician, Curley was popular with the large Irish population in Boston. However, his opponents described him as the "Irish Mussolini"

The city includes former neighbouring towns: Roxbury, West Roxbury, Dorchester, Charleston, Brighton and Hyde Park. Boston is 46 square miles (119 square kilometres) and in 1990 had a population of 574,283.

Primary Sources

(1) In 1849 a Health Committee investigated a cholera epidemic in Boston. The committee reported that the disease had badly affected the Irish population in the city.

The average age of Irish life in Boston does not exceed fourteen years. In Broad Street and all the surrounding neighbourhood, including Fort Hill and the adjacent streets, the situation of the Irish is particularly wretched. During their visits last summer, your committee were witnesses of scenes too painful to be forgotten, and yet too disgusting to be related here. It is sufficient to say, that the whole district is a perfect hive of human beings, without comforts and mostly without common necessaries; in many cases, huddled together like brutes, without regard to sex, or age, or sense of decency: grown men and women sleeping together in the same apartment, and sometimes wife and husband, brothers and sisters all in the same bed.

(2) Rosalind Franklin, letter to Charlotte Franklin (31st August 1954)

Boston prides itself on being a cultural centre and really to some extent is so. The public library is beautifully laid out around a large pseudo-Italian courtyard and fountains, with seats around where people sit and read and keep cool on hot evenings. There is even one-half of the courtyard reserved for non-smokers.