Throwback Thursday: The Village of Shawmut Becomes Boston

It's kind of Boston's birthday.


Detail from a 1692 French map of the Shawmut Peninsula / Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Boston became Boston 386 years ago.

On September 16 (or 17, depending on who you ask) the small village of Shawmut, Massachusetts, switched its name to Boston. Originally, the Massachusett people referred to the area as Shawmut, which is derived from a word that is said to mean “place of clear waters” in Algonquin. A group of settlers led by John Winthrop admired these clear waters, and moved to present-day Boston after stints in Salem and Charlestown.

They settled on all 780 acres of the Shawmut Peninsula, joining Reverend William Blaxton, who had previously lived in Shawmut by himself (Shawmut was apparently a lonely village). According to, when the colonists arrived, there were scarcely any natives left on the peninsula or on the North Shore of Massachusetts Bay—they had succumbed to diseases transported by European fisherman between 1617 and 1619. In 1630, the group dubbed the area “Boston,” after an English town where many of them hailed from. The name is also inspired by Saint Botolph, the patron saint of travelers.

With its new name, the village on the peninsula slowly became a city. Englishmen built homes in between the harbor and the three large hills that dominated the land. As Winthrop famously declared, “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Four years later, Bostonians cleared more than 40 acres of the Common for grazing cattle. Next came marketplaces, government buildings, and most importantly, the first tavern. The rest, as they say, is history. So pour one out for your fair city this weekend, and for the good old Shawmut Peninsula.