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Quincy's Market /
John Quincy, Jr.
Boston : Northeastern University Press, c2003.
xviii, 283 p. : ill.
1555535526 (acid-free paper)
More Details
Boston : Northeastern University Press, c2003.
1555535526 (acid-free paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
John Quincy, Jr., is an eleventh-generation direct descendant of one of America's founding families. He lives in the Boston area
First Chapter

Divisions over a Marketplace: From Open Fields to Faneuil Hall

The peninsula that holds today's downtown Boston was first named Shawmut, meaning "living fountains or waters," by the Native Americans. This desolate peninsula wilderness was less than four miles in circumference and surrounded by Massachusetts Bay. Barely linked to the mainland by a narrow ribbon of land called the Neck, at flood tides Shawmut became a virtual island because the waves of the bay washed across this bridge of an isthmus. Mauled by the sea for centuries, the coastline had been shaped with shallow coves and small hallows. Yet, up from its barren shoreline, through the middle of the peninsula swept lofty hills. The highest hill was named Tramountain (or Trimountain) by early white explorers because of its three bold peaks. And from that hilly landmark the peninsula received its second name, Tramountaine.

The native inhabitants of the area used the barren peninsula and its nearby harbor islands only for access to good fishing, especially during the warm summer months. Shawmut remained an otherwise uninhabited windswept tract until 1625. It was then that Reverend William Blackstone, or Blaxton, a bachelor Anglican minister, abandoned a Rhode Island expedition led by Robert Gorges and was mysteriously lured northward to the uninhabited Tramountaine. Blackstone, an admitted eccentric and bookish recluse, claimed settlement rights to the peninsula and built a solitary dwelling on the west side of the three hills. There he planted a sizable orchard, tapped a freshwater spring, and lived in solitude for five years until the arrival of the Puritans, who came to settle somewhere along the coast of Massachusetts.

In the summer of 1630, a convoy of eleven ships arrived from England in search of a site for a new colony. Led by the Arbella and carrying mostly English Puritans known as the Massachusetts Bay Company, the group was enticed by Tramountaine's deep and protected harbor waters. Governor John Winthrop, the steering force and righteous minister of this company, was in charge. The new settlers first disembarked across the harbor, on a nearby spit of beach on what is now called Charlestown, and during that summer they hurriedly erected a primitive settlement with crude and drafty shelters. Over the long weeks crossing the Atlantic, the lack of food and fresh water had caused rampant illness. Such diseases as scurvy and hectic fever had lowered their number from the original group of about a thousand. Recovery was hampered by the settlers' discovery that there was a lack of fresh drinking water where they chose to disembark. Running springs were scarce and those that were there were tainted with brine. The use of wells was not an option for them, since it was a Puritan custom at the time to shun well water unless absolutely necessary.

A scouting party discovered Reverend Blackstone's solitary habitation at Tramountaine and conveyed to him the misfortunes plaguing their settlement. Blackstone led the party to a freshwater spring not far from his home and pointed out that it would amply accommodate the group. Although Blackstone was sympathetic to the plight of his fellow Englishmen, he insisted that if the Puritans were to relocate to Tramountaine, they would have to respect the sanctity of his seclusion and not encroach upon his cottage, gardens, or apple orchard.

That September, the Puritans moved across the harbor and founded a permanent colony not far from that spring, alongside Mill Creek, which flowed down Tramountain to the harbor. The creek connected a pond (later called Mill Pond or Mill Cove) to an inlet of Massachusetts Bay. There, nestled on a small plain at the base of Tramountaine's hills, Governor Winthrop proclaimed, "We shall be as a City upon a Hill." The settlers renamed the peninsula Boston, in honor of the city in northeast England whence many of them had emigrated. This area, at what is now known as Adams Square, was the birthplace of Boston.

Unlike Blackstone, who had settled on the sunny western declivity of the three hills, the Puritans built rudimentary huts and thatched-roof houses at the base of the eastern side, directly facing the harbor and the weather it brought to the land. Enclosed by the headlands of two hills (later called Copps Hill and Fort Hill), the Great Eastern Cove or Great Cove, as they called the inlet, divided the north and south ends of the marshy coastline. It also afforded a most convenient access to the sea. The Puritans soon built a common dock there, extending into Great Cove, to make access even more convenient. They removed timber, stones, and other obstructions, then piled rocks to build a common dock where vessels could be loaded and unloaded. It was decreed that the land near this "orderly and convenient Town Dock" was their "chief landing place." Soon Great Cove became known as Town Cove, and the chief landing place used for trading and storing goods was called Town Dock.

Once settled, the Puritans began to set up a government; to do so, they executed the terms of their Massachusetts Bay Company charter: "By that charter a governor, deputy-governor, and eighteen assistants were annually to be chosen out of their own number by all who, as `freemen,' had the franchise in the Company." A Great and General Court was convened four times a year to create the first laws of the colony and "to elect and commission the officers and to vote upon the admission of new members, or `freemen.' The Assistants soon assumed the name of `Magistrates,' with all the requisite and implied functions." A year later, membership in the First Church of Boston was made a requirement to being elected.

The Bay Colony charter, signed by King Charles I, was intended to set up not a government but a business venture by which private English investors would profit from an overseas plantation. But the Crown became preoccupied with other affairs, and the colonists were left to set up their own form of government. Inevitably, without close monitoring from the mother country, these idealistic Puritans converted many of their religious and political ideals into law. In doing this, they developed a habit of resistance to arbitrary political and religious authority. This sometimes worked for them and sometimes against them, but they based their civil government on the needs of the people.

These independently written laws were tolerated back in England because of more immediate turmoil occupying the Crown's attention around the world. From almost the very beginning, Boston became accustomed to functioning on its own, thus laying the foundation for an eventual free and independent republic. As one source aptly described the situation, "[T]hrough temporary experiment of the Puritan Commonwealth, the corporation of the Massachusetts Bay Company became, by anticipation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

These early settlers were faced with hostilities and hardships totally alien to life back in England. Yet, they were somehow able to survive the ordeals of the wilderness and maintain their seaport colony, and in late 1633 other settlers arrived from England. Among them were two people who would make their names in the New World for different reasons. The Reverend John Cotton later became known for his controversial stands against dissenters. Edmund Quincy, who lived for only four years after his arrival, served the colony wherever he could and left a line of heirs who would do the same.

Trade was intrinsic to the colony's existence. In an effort to aid the ships now approaching Boston on a regular basis, the Court of Assistants ordered that a signal light be placed atop the highest peak of Tramountain. On March 4, 1634, a lantern was positioned there, and the hill became known as Sentry Hill. (It was later renamed Beacon Hill.) Ships could now bring supplies and take goods for trade more safely. But during the winter, the precarious icy conditions of Massachusetts Bay forced many merchant ships laden with supplies to bypass Massachusetts for the southern colonies. This left Boston to fend for itself during the harsh winters, when much of the livestock succumbed to exposure or to natural predators.

The most crucial element of winter survival became the availability of food. A bounty of one penny was awarded to any man who killed a wolf while protecting the cows, horses, goats, and swine. There were widespread shortages of grains, fruits, vegetables, and meat (which depended on grains to survive). Although some fish, along with mussels and clams, could still be easily gathered along the seashore in winter, many colonists died from starvation. "Muscles [ sic ], groundnuts and acorns, the chief dependence now of many, the snow and frozen state of the earth rendered hard to be procured. Under these distressing circumstances, the perils of the ocean, danger from pirates, and the hostility of known belligerent powers, were taken into view."

Despite all this, the colony grew. When the weather permitted, native men and women, led by Chief Chickatabot, visited Boston and exchanged goods like pumpkins and baskets of corn for cutlery and clothing. And ships from Holland, Ireland, and the southern colonies brought provisions like salted beef and pork, porridge, and coffee beans.

Since most of Boston's commerce was conducted around the Town Dock, all merchandising, town meetings, and public gatherings also took place there. It was therefore natural that the Town Dock should host the colony's marketplace. This makeshift marketplace was, at first, devoid of any suitable structure, so a nearby field was used. It was called, at various times, the Corn Market or the Dock Market. (There was also an open-air market called the Fish Market, which was situated a little north of the Town Dock.) In order to clear the Town Dock area for the market, in 1634 the Court of Assistants ordered "that all of the timber [trees] be taken away from the market, and gotten clear, and ... pitts gotten filled up."

During the ensuing years the open marketplaces at the Town Dock and elsewhere were used for the buying and selling of goods. But the old English custom of hucksters and peddlers selling foodstuffs house-to-house continued in the New World as well. This method had the added benefit of being unregulated by government, which appealed to the colonists' independent way of thinking.

Still later, according to a 1635 entry in John Winthrop's diary, "By order of Court a mercate [market] was erected in Boston to be kept upon Thursday the 5 day of the week, being the Lecture Day. Samuel Cole set up the first house for common entertainment, and John Cogan, merchant, the first shop." This new market was situated on the spot where the Old State House stands today, just southwest of the Town Dock.

Held once a week as the decree states, the gathering of buyers and sellers was mostly convened, as it had been before at the Town Dock area, at an open-air market, not within a structure. "It [the field where the open-air market was held] was a convenient place, and a safe shelter [haven] for the fishermen who supplied the inhabitants with cod and mackerel, and for farmers who came down the Charles River in their boats with vegetables. It was equally convenient for farmers of Roxbury and Dorchester, coming over the `Neck' with their teams. The topography made it a natural market-place and commercial center of the town." Boston's market district changed into one with structures only gradually during the seventeenth century.

As more colonists immigrated, the need for regulating trade grew. "The market was an important institution in the mother country, and its need was early recognized by the founders of Boston, who brought with them the ancient `common law of the market.'" Boston's early seventeenth-century laws attempted to provide reliable, fairly priced food and to protect both buyers and sellers. But the Puritans, who saw themselves as escaping the power of the Crown, objected to regulated trade, which had been strictly enforced in England, following them to Boston.

Nevertheless, the laws provided for officials to inspect the market for cleanliness, to regulate weights and measures, and to settle any disputes through a court proceeding. The court used to settle such contentions was conducted at the market with few formalities; it was called the Pie Powder Court, named after the appearance of its members, who often ended up with baking flour covering their feet.

By 1649 the position of "Clerks of the Market" was created. There would be two of them and their duties were similar to those of the Market Clerks of England. The first clerks were Jeremy Houchin and James Penn; they served two years and were compensated "one third part of all forfeit for his pains [with] the remainder going to the poor."

In 1658 the Town House was built of wood on the first open-air marketplace site, adjacent to the Town Dock Oust southwest of Faneuil Hall today), by an order of the General Court. This two-story structure was intended for public gatherings of all sorts. It was begun with capital donated by Captain Robert Keayne in his voluminous 1656 last will and testament. One of the founders of the oldest military company of citizen-soldiers in the Western Hemisphere, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, he left the "sum of ú300, current money," for the building of the Town House. Two years later an equal amount of money was contributed by the citizens to effect its completion. "The town, in accepting this legacy, was under obligation to make provision for the Artillery Company [to store their supplies there]. ... It is the reason that no rent is charged to the Company-a fact which ... at times caused considerable controversy."

The Town House provided rooms for a court, a library, and the artillery company; it also had an open ground floor to shelter a merchants' exchange. At first, this merchants' exchange was open only on Thursday, and most merchandise was sold in bulk at wholesale prices. Those who purchased smaller amounts of goods were charged excessively. Then, in 1695, "An Act was passed forbidding the sale of imported provisions at wholesale, until after three days' notice had been given by a public crier; this was considered to be in favor of the poor, who were thus to have an opportunity to buy in small quantities at wholesale prices."

The second floor of the Town House was constantly in use as a court or as a gathering place for town meetings, which had evolved into a cornerstone of colonial practice. Here, voters annually chose a host of officials that included selectmen and constables; shire reeves; water bailiffs and wardens of the waterworks; hog reeves; the measurer of salt; town scavengers; town criers; and a keeper of the town clock.


Excerpted from Quincy's Market by John Quincy, Jr. Copyright © 2003 by John Quincy, Jr.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2004-01-01:
This work stands at the intersection of family, local, and urban histories. The author writes clearly and purposefully about the construction project undertaken by his ancestor and former mayor of Boston in the early 19th century. Three main themes are of interest to the educated reader. The first concerns the role of city government. Public financing of a wholesale market for fresh produce was controversial. People debated whether or not government should fund projects at public expense for the benefit of local merchants. The second theme covers the changing function and reputation of the Quincy Market and Fanueil Hall area. Once the heart of a vibrant commercial district, its fortunes declined as the city expanded outward. Immigration reshaped residential and commercial patterns until the market became old and disreputable by the Depression. Boston's resurgence as a hub of high-tech industry and tourism in the 1960s signaled the resurgence of Quincy Market as a focal point for urban redevelopment. The final theme is topography. The market initially stood at the wharves of Boson Harbor. Over time, it "moved" farther inland as the shoreline filled in, increasingly isolating Quincy Market from ships engaged in trade. The fate of the market was mirrored in the changing shape and economic base of the city. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Highly readable and useful for general audiences. J. Kleiman University of Wisconsin Colleges
This item was reviewed in:
Reference & Research Book News, August 2003
Choice, January 2004
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bowker Data Service Summary
A bustling commercial centre and tourist attraction on Boston's historic waterfront, Quincy Market draws throngs of visitors to the magnificent granite buildings and cobblestone concourses. In this book, John Quincy tells the story of the market's unique evolution over the centuries.
Main Description
A bustling commercial center and favorite tourist attraction on Boston's historic waterfront, Quincy Market, the popular name for Faneuil Hall Marketplace, draws throngs of visitors to the magnificent granite buildings and cobblestone concourses that house the area's specialty shops, restaurants, boutiques, pushcarts, and food stalls. Yet few are aware of the history of this legendary public place and its importance in the history of Boston and the nation. In this elegantly written and lavishly illustrated work, John Quincy, Jr., tells the absorbing story of the Market's unique evolution over the centuries. Beginning with John Winthrop's landing at the Great Cove on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630, Quincy weaves together a remarkable tapestry of the district's rise, fall, and rebirth. He describes how the site was transformed from open field courts that supplied food stuffs to the early settlers in the town of Boston, to a maze of haphazard wharves, alleys, and buildings, to the permanent market house and town hall generously donated by Peter Faneuil in 1742. By the end of the eighteenth century, the area had lapsed into decay and Boston's means of provisioning its rapidly growing population was in a state of chaos. In the 1820s, visionary Josiah Quincy, Boston's second mayor, proposed the unprecedented and highly controversial redevelopment of the dilapidated, congested, and noisome Market Square. Drawing on a treasure trove of historical, architectural, and anecdotal material from family papers, the author chronicles in lively detail how Mayor Quincy successfully spearheaded the massive project, a masterpiece of civic design and accomplishment that served as Boston's chief wholesale food distribution center for the next 125 years. By the early 1950s, Quincy Market had once again deteriorated, spurring plans for demolition. The book concludes with an account of how civic leaders reversed their thinking about the preservation of historic structures, and describes how a coalition of federal, state, city, and private agencies restored the market buildings and nearby streets to their nineteenth century grandeur, reopening the new Faneuil Hall Marketplace in the late 1970s.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. xiii
Divisions over a Marketplace: From Open Fields to Faneuil Hallp. 1
Faneuil Hall and the Marketplace Witness a Revolutionp. 21
A Need for Renewal: Josiah Quincy Proposes a New Marketplacep. 40
Negotiating for a Grand Marketp. 60
Building the New Marketp. 81
Faneuil Hall Market Is Bornp. 108
Quincy's Market: Decline and Survivalp. 144
Rebuilding the Marketsp. 181
Faneuil Hall Marketplace: Sustaining the Resultsp. 207
Conclusionp. 229
Author's Notep. 235
Notep. 239
Bibliographyp. 268
Indexp. 275
Table of Contents provided by Rittenhouse. All Rights Reserved.

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