King of the Beggars - Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVII

A Description of the City and Harbour of Boston

            From hence he went through Piscataqua and Marblehead to Boston, the capital of New England, and the largest city in America, except two or three on the Spanish continent. It is pleasantly situated on a peninsula, about four miles in compass, at the bottom of a fine bay, (the Massachusetts,) guarded from the roughness of the ocean by several rocks appearing above water, and by above a dozen islands, many of which are inhabited. One of these, called Nettle's island, within these few years, was esteemed worth two or three hundred pounds a year to the owner, Colonel Shrimpton. There is but one common and safe passage into the bay, and that not very broad, there being hardly room for three ships to come in abreast; but, being once in, there is room for the anchorage of five hundred sail.

            The most remarkable of these islands is called Castle Island, from the castle there built. It stands about a league from the town, upon the main channel leading to it, and is so conveniently situated, that no ship of burden can approach the town, without the hazard of being torn in pieces by its cannon. It was now called Fort William, being mounted with one hundred pieces of ordnance: two hundred more which were given to the province of Queen Anne, are placed on a platform near high water mark, so as to rake a ship fore and aft, before she can bring her broadsides to bear against the castle. Some of these cannon are forty-two pounders. Five hundred able men are exempt from all military duty in time of war, to be ready to attend the service of the castle at an hour's warning, upon any signal of the approach of an enemy, of which there seems to be no great danger at Boston; where in twenty-four hours' time, ten thousand effective men, well armed, might be ready for their defence. To prevent all possible surprise, there is a light-house built on the rock appearing above water, about a long league from the town, which in time of war makes a signal to the castle, and the castle to the town, by hoisting and lowering the union flag, so many times as there are ships approaching, which, if they exceed a certain number, the castle fires three guns, to alarm the town of Boston; and the governor, if need be, orders a beacon to be fired, which alarms all the adjacent country; so that unless an enemy can be supposed to sail by so many islands and rocks in a fog, the town of Boston must have six or more hours to prepare for their reception; but, supposing they might pass the castle, there are two batteries at the north and south end of the town that command the whole bay, and make it impossible for an enemy's ship of any burden to ride there in safety, while the merchant-men and small craft may retire up into Charles River, out of the reach of cannon.

            It is equally impossible for any ship to be run away with out of this harbour by a pirate; for the castle suffers no ships outward-bound to pass, without a permit from the governor, which is never granted without a clearing from the custom-house, and the usual notice of sailing, by loosening the fore-top sail.

            The bay of Boston is spacious enough to contain, in a manner, the whole navy of England. The masts of ships here, at the proper season of the year, make a kind of a wood of trees, like that which we see upon the river Thames about Wapping and Limehouse, which may be easily imagined, when we consider, that, by the computation given in by the collectors of his majesty's light-house, it appeared that there were twenty-four thousand tons of shipping cleared annually.

            There is a larger pier at the bottom of the bay, one thousand eight hundred, or two thousand feet in length, with a row of warehouses on the north side. The pier runs so far into the bay, that ships of the greatest burden may unload without the help of boats and lighters. The chief streets of the town come down to the head of the pier. At the upper end of it is the town-house, or exchange, a fine building, containing, besides the walk for merchants, the council-chambers, the house of commons, and a spacious room for the courts of justice. The exchange is surrounded with booksellers' shops, who have a good trade. There are five printing-houses, at one of which the Boston Gazette is printed, and comes out twice a week. The presses here are generally full of work, which is in a great measure, owing to the colleges and schools for useful learning in New England; whereas, at New York, there is but one bookseller's shop, and none at all in Virginia, Maryland, Carolina, Barbados, or any of the Sugar Islands.

            The town of Boston lies in the form of a half-moon round the harbour, consisting of between three and four thousand houses, and makes an agreeable prospect; the surrounding shore being high, the streets long, and the buildings beautiful. The goodness of the pavement may compare with most in London; to gallop a horse on it is three shillings and fourpence forfeit.

            It is computed the number of inhabitants is not less than twenty-four thousand, which is one-third more than the computation of the city of Exeter, and consequently Boston is one-third bigger than that city, which is pretty near the matter. [Note: It is proper to remark, that these and other computations do not apply to the present time.]

            There are ten churches in Boston, viz. Old Church, North Church, South Church, New Church, New North Church, New South Church, the Church of England Church, the Baptist Meeting, and the Quakers' Meeting.

            The conversation in this town is as polite as in most of the cities and towns in England; many of their merchants having traded in Europe, and those that stay at home having the advantage of society with travellers; so that a gentleman from London would think himself at home in Boston, when he observes the number of people, their furniture, their tables, their dress, and conversation, which perhaps is as splendid and showy as that of the most considerable tradesmen in London. Upon the whole, Boston is the most flourishing town for trade and commerce in all America. Near six hundred sail of ships have been laden here in a year for Europe and the British plantations. Here the governor commonly resides, the general court and assembly meet, the courts of judicature sit, and the affairs of the whole province are transacted.

            The streets are broad and regular; some of the richest merchants have very stately, well built, convenient houses. The ground on which the town stands is wonderfully high; and very good water is found all over it. There are several wharfs built, which jet into the harbour, one of which is eight hundred feet in length, where large ships with great ease may load and unload. On one side are warehouses almost the whole length of the wharf, where the merchants stow their goods; and more than fifty ships may load and unload there at the same time.

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