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The Native Americans' River
The River in the Revolution
Mills and Dams: An Engine of Economic

Shaping The Environment: Mapping, Moving
and Bridging the Charles


The River in the Revolution

Any tourist visiting Boston quickly learns the crucial role that the Hub played in the American Revolution. Bostonians set the pace of the rebellion from the Stamp Act protests in 1765, through the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Tea Party in 1773 and the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Many leaders of the Continental Congress hailed from Boston, as did several influential newspaper publishers, pamphleteers, merchants and ministers.

But the history of the American Revolution in Boston extends beyond these human actors to the landscape of the city itself. Boston's position as a natural harbor for New England gave rise to its commercial prosperity and strong merchant class, and also placed it at the center of struggles to negotiate the boundaries of imperial trade policy. Boston's shape as a peninsula attached to the mainland by a thin strip of land at the Neck made it an easy town for the British Regulars to occupy and fortify.

The map above, drawn by Richard Williams in 1776, is one of many that depict Boston and the surrounding areas and waterways during the American Revolution. This map emphasizes the vast size of the harbor that seems to almost entirely circle Boston. The Charles River in the upper right hand corner of the map appears a tiny detail. The rest of this page examines some of the ways that the water around Boston impacted the Revolution by looking at the Boston harbor, Paul Revere's crossing the Charles to begin his famous ride, and the Siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776.

Harboring the Revolution

Revere's River Ride

The Siege across the River

The Charles River affected military strategy during the Siege of Boston. The location of the river created a natural boundary between the British soldiers besieged inside Boston, and the Americans surrounding them at camps in Cambridge and Roxbury. In the winter of 1775/6, the Americans considered a plan to attack the city by marching soldiers across the ice. So too, they constantly worried that the British might attack them. The shape of the river mattered too. The Charles was not deep enough for the British fleet to sail up, which kept the American camps out of the range of British bombardment. The most famous battle of the Siege of Boston was the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, when the British Regulars crossed the Charles from Boston to attack American positions in Charlestown. But there was other fighting before and after then all around the River.


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