Joe Bagley Picks His Best Bostonians of All Time

The city archaeologist reaches back in time to round out his picks for Best Bostonians.

We’re asking prominent locals who they think are the Best Bostonians of all time. Below, Joe Bagley shares his picks. Play along by voting in our online game.

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Photo by Toan Trinh for ‘Back to Schoool. Way Back.’


“Nanepashemet was the Great Sachem of a confederation of Native People that included Shawmut, the place we now call Boston. He died in 1619 and his wife, whose name has been lost to history but was known as the “Squaw Sachem,” led the Native People in and around Boston until 1650. As the first leader recorded by Europeans in Boston, he deserves credit as one of the great Bostonians.”

Katherine Nanny Naylor

“Naylor is the daughter of John Wheelwright and niece of Anne Hutchinson, both of whom were banished from Boston for their Antinomian preaching. Naylor’s first husband died, leaving her and her children with a small fortune. Her second husband was physically abusive to her and her kids and impregnated their maid. After her pregnant maid attempted to murder Naylor through poisoned beer, Naylor filed for divorce in the 1670s. Naylor was granted the first divorce in the country after a long hearing with more than 20 witnesses testifying against her husband. Naylor’s privy (outhouse) was discovered in 1992 during an archaeological survey ahead of the Big Dig; it revealed thousands of artifacts from her family.”

Zipporah Potter

“Potter was the first-recorded African American woman to own land in Massachusetts. At the time, Massachusetts’ law made all children of slaves free upon birth. Potter was the daughter of two Boston slaves owned by Captain Robert Keayne. In 1670, she purchased land in Boston’s North End with money inherited from her father. In 2014, a memorial was installed at the site of her home, now in the Greenway.”

Grace Parker

“Parker and her husband, Isaac, founded in 1714 what would become the largest pottery production factory in Charlestown. After her husband’s death in 1742, she chose to remain unmarried so that she could continue to own and operate their business, even successfully petitioning the court to maintain her husband’s monopoly on stoneware. Parker was one of the earliest and most successful female business owners in Boston. Despite the death of several of her children and struggles with her business, she was able to maintain the largest pottery production in the region until her death in 1755. Her wares are visible in archaeological sites throughout New England. Her pottery kiln was subject to a massive archaeological excavation ahead of the Big Dig tunnel in 1985.”

Nancy Seasholes

“No other individual has done more to further our understanding of the physical growth of Boston over the last 400 years. Seasholes’ Gaining Ground, A History of Landmaking in Boston, published in 2003, began as her exhaustive dissertation at BU’s Archaeology Department, and since its publication has remained the single greatest resource for charting the evolution of Boston’s landscape.”


Whom would you choose? Help us pick the Best Bostonians of all time.