A Brief History of Dorchester
Settled by passengers from the Mary and John about June 1, 1630, Dorchester originally was one of the largest towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and included South Boston, Hyde Park, Milton, Wrentham, Stoughton, Dedham, Sharon, Foxboro, and Canton. The town remained a rural farming community until its annexation to Boston on January 4, 1870. Each of Dorchester's villages has played a part in its history: Mattapan, Neponset, Cedar Grove, Lower Mills, Peabody Square, Field's Corner/Commercial Point, Codman Square, Franklin Park/Franklin Field, Meeting-House Hill, Glover's Corner/Savin Hill, Grove Hall, Upham's Corner, and Edward Everett Square/Columbia. Dorchester's residents have seen and participated in many famous events in our country's history including the Salem witch trials, the King Philip War in 1675-76, the French & Indian Wars, Shay's Rebellion and many others. The population has grown from 2,347 in the year 1800 to 8,000 in 1850 to 40,000 in 1892 to 125,000 in 1917. The explosive increase in numbers occurred after Dorchester's citizens passed the motion for annexation with 928 voting in favor and 726 opposed.*
Dorchester is now the largest and most populous community in Boston (on par with the population of Cambridge, the 4th largest city in Massachusetts) with many European Americans (and is still a center of Irish American immigration), African Americans, Caribbean Americans, Latinos, and East and Southeast Asian Americans. Recently, there has been an influx of young professionals, gay men, and working artists to the neighborhood, adding to its diversity. The last half of the 20th century was particularly influential for the current culture of Dorchester, as immigrants from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Vietnam, Cape Verde, as well as other Latin American, Asian, and African nations, began to settle here. Dorchester is now more diverse than at any point in its long history, and home to more people from more countries than ever before. These immigrants helped revive economically many areas of the neighborhood by opening ethnic stores and restaurants.**
Dorchester is the home to the first community health center in the United States, the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center; the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum; the oldest surviving home in the City of Boston, the James Blake House; the oldest public elementary school in North America, the Mather School; the first chocolate manufacturer in the United States, Baker's Chocolate; and the largest copyrighted work of art in the world, the Rainbow Tank.
For more information check out:
- The Dorchester Atheneum
- A brief history of Dorchester and Codman Square, written by the CEO and co-founder of the Codman Square Health Center, Bill Walczak.
- The Dorchester Reporter's resources on the history of our great neighborhood.