Boston History for Kids: From Red Coats to Red Sox, with 21 Activities

Boston History for Kids: From Red Coats to Red Sox, with 21 Activities


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Few American cities are as steeped in history as Boston. Starting with its Native American and Puritan roots, through its pivotal role in the Revolutionary War and its many contributions to art and literature, Boston has earned its reputation as a modern, cultural metropolis. This mix of old and new makes Boston a fascinating place to learn about and explore.

Boston History for Kids spans 400 years of history, covering many of the major events that have occurred, from witch hunts to an unexpected earthquake, from the Tea Party to the Great Fire, from the Civil War to the Boston Marathon attack. Author Richard Panchyk chronicles the lives of Bostonians both famous and infamous—and many colorful characters that readers may not yet know.

This lively history also includes a time line, a list of online resources, and 21 engaging hands-on activities to better appreciate this Massachusetts city. Kids will:
  • Take a tour along the Freedom Trail
  • Write a poem in the style of Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Create a nautical chart like those of Boston Harbor
  • Bake a Boston cream pie
  • Design a museum display of historic items
  • Draw the facade of a Federal style mansion
  • And more!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613737125
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Series: Chicago Review Press For Kids Series
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,152,391
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Richard Panchyk is the author of New York City History for Kids, Baseball History for Kids, and World War II for Kids. Michael Dukakis served three terms as governor of Massachusetts and was the 1988 Democratic nominee for president.

Read an Excerpt



IN THE EARLY 17TH CENTURY, Europeans did not know much about what is now the Boston area. In 1614, English captain John Smith, who had established Jamestown, Virginia, sailed on a voyage of exploration from Maine south to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, charting and making observations. When Smith returned to England, he described the area to Prince Charles, who was very pleased and named the region New England. In the years that followed, several ships sailing from England visited the Massachusetts coast.

First Exploration

In 1606, the Plymouth Company was formed with the purpose of recruiting people to settle in America and making a profit for the company. Finally, after it reorganized in 1620 as the Council for New England, the company achieved its goal when 102 settlers landed at a site in Massachusetts they called Plymouth (about 40 miles south of Boston). During the 1620s, English colonists made further exploration and settlements along the coast, with varying success.

An attempted settlement at Weymouth (15 miles from Boston) in 1622 ended in failure due to unprepared colonists and inadequate supplies. By 1624, some of the Pilgrims had established posts at Hull (8 miles south of Boston) and Cape Ann (40 miles north of Boston). Quincy (about 10 miles south of Boston) was first settled in 1625, as was Salem (about 20 miles north of Boston). Around this time, a few men had settled on the islands and peninsula in Boston's inner harbor: David Thompson lived on Thompson Island, William Blackstone lived at Boston, Samuel Maverick lived on Noddle's Island (East Boston), and Thomas Walford at Charlestown. By 1628, Salem was a settlement of about 50 or 60 people, and by 1629 there were 350 people there.

The Massachusetts Bay Company

In 1628, the Plymouth Company granted a strip of land between the Merrimac and Charles Rivers to six men, who soon after formed a commercial venture called the Massachusetts Bay Company, which the King of England chartered and authorized to settle New England. Though the land was technically owned by England, this colony would not be governed by the English monarchy. It would be governed by the stockholders of the company, or "freemen," who would elect a governor, deputy governor, and assistants from their own company every year. Though one of the main reasons for this venture was clearly to make money, a paper called "Reasons for the Plantation in New England" stated the number-one reason as "it will be a service to the Church of great consequence to carry the Gospell into those parts of the world."

In 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company selected John Winthrop as its first governor and others as deputy governor and assistants, (representatives of the people). They were to hold a General Court several times a year to create laws and make rulings. Colonists were recruited to establish the colony. Unlike their predecessors, the Pilgrims at Plymouth, these colonists were not religious outcasts or exiles; they were members of the Church of England. Still, their settlement was to be a bold and difficult adventure. Leaving their comfortable and familiar homes in England for the unknown across the ocean was a huge step. At a farewell dinner among friends before departing England, Governor Winthrop broke into tears and set the entire party to crying. Before they began their journey, members of the company published a declaration directed to fellow members of the Church of England in which they laid out the goals of their trip but also asked for prayers while they were in their "poor cottages in the wilderness."

Arrival in the New World

In the early spring of 1630, 17 vessels carrying 1,500 people along with a supply of pigs, sheep, goats, and horses, set sail for Massachusetts. The colonists also brought nails, glass, and iron works to use to construct buildings until they could make their own supplies. The ships arrived at different times between April and July 1630. Governor Winthrop's ship took 84 days to make the journey from England. Soon after their arrival, the governor and his men looked for a location for the capital. The governor's first home was a house on the north side of the Charles River at Charlestown, erected hastily by those who had arrived first. The majority of the settlers lived at first in tents and huts, which offered minimal shelter.

One of the settlers, Roger Clapp, wrote an account of life in the spring of 1630: "In our beginning, many were in great straits for want of provision for themselves and their little ones. Oh, the hunger that many suffered, and saw no hope in an eye of reason to be supplied, only by clams, and muscles, and fish. But bread was with many a very scarce thing, and flesh of all kinds as scarce. It was not accounted a strange thing in those days to drink water and to eat samp or hominy without butter or milk. Indeed it would have been a strange thing to see a piece of roast beef, mutton, or veal." At one point the desperate settlers traded an English puppy to the local Native Americans for a peck (a dry measurement equivalent to two gallons) of corn.

The settlers at Charlestown were not entirely impressed with the location they'd chosen. One of their main complaints was that there was only a freshwater spring, and it was not large enough or clean enough for their water needs. William Blackstone (or Blaxton) visited the new settlers and told them there was an excellent spring on his property, in what was then known as Blackstone's Neck. So it was that the settlers began to populate Shawmut, also known as Boston.

Among the proclamations the General Court issued at its first meetings in 1630 were a fine of £10 to anyone who allowed an Indian to use a gun. (A second offense would result in a fine and imprisonment.) Another order offered a reward to anyone who killed a wolf, a creature that endangered precious livestock. The court also issued an order giving a commission to anyone who set up a ferry between Boston and Charlestown: one penny for every person and one penny for every £100 of goods that were taken across on the ferry.

Boston's Geology

Boston's geography and geology are due in large part to the forces at play during the Ice Age. For example, Boston Harbor was created by moving glaciers wearing away the bedrock that underlies the land. The granite under the areas north and south of Boston is harder than the bedrock under the immediate Boston area, so those areas were not affected as much by the glaciers. As the glaciers eroded the bedrock, a valley was formed. When the glaciers melted and the sea level rose, this depression was filled with water, creating the harbor we know today.

The glaciers' movement was also responsible for creating the many drumlins (smooth-sloped, circular-shaped hills) in the Boston area, which are made up of glacial debris or till, clay-soil containing many pebbles and even boulders. Some of the islands in the Boston Harbor are actually drumlins. At the end of the Ice Age, when the glaciers melted and retreated north, they left behind sediment, sand, gravel, and larger rocks that had been frozen within the ice.

The Patron Saint of Boston

The story of Boston's name dates back to the seventh century AD in England, when a Saxon noble named Botolph (Old English name meaning "boat helper") was educated in an abbey in France. When an inspired Botolph returned to England, he received a land grant from King Onna to build a monastery in Lincolnshire in the East Anglia region of the country. This abbey and the village that grew around it became known as Botolphston.

After his death in 680, Botolph was sainted for his good works. In the years that followed, more than 60 English churches were dedicated to St. Botolph. The name Botolphston was eventually corrupted into Boston, which is the name of a town about 130 miles north of London. Puritan settlers from this region of England wound up giving their settlement in the New World the same name.

St. Botolph is the patron saint of the US city of Boston, and the name can be found across the city. The St. Botolph District is a historic eight- block neighborhood there. A St. Botolph public housing apartment building sits on St. Botolph Street, and a St. Botolph Club for the arts was founded in Boston in 1880.


Stratigraphy Game

Stratigraphy is the natural or artificial layering of the ground. Different layers of soil represent the different forces that were in play over time. Decaying twigs, leaves, and even animal remains make up the top, and often darkest and richest, layer of soil. Over the years, earthworms help make new soil, which is deposited over the older soil. New plants grow well in the topsoil because it is rich in organic material. The dirt below the surface, which was once at the top, has lost some of its nutrients. Beyond these top layers, soil holds clues to the past. Archaeologists use stratigraphy to help them date artifacts buried in soil. In this activity, you'll explore your local soil. If you live in Boston or other parts of the northern United States, you will try to find evidence of glacial activity.



* Small shovel

* Brick trowel

* Ruler

* Pad of paper

* Pencil

First, ask an adult for permission to dig outside. Use a shovel to dig a hole that is at least 4 inches wide. Dig the hole as deep as you can, at least 8 inches deep if possible. Use the trowel to level one side of the hole so it is relatively flat. Now look at the cross section (view from the side) of soil you just revealed. See if you can identify different layers of soil by the soil colors. How many different layers did you reveal?

Use the pad to sketch what you see. Measure and record the depth of each layer, give each layer a color name (for example, black, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, mustard, or gray), and describe it as fine, rocky, or coarse. You can also note how it feels in your hand — gritty, dry, moist, claylike, and so on.

If you live in the northern United States and see sandy, light-colored soil a few inches beneath the surface, chances are good that this layer was a deposit from retreating glaciers. Also, any smooth pebbles you excavate might be the product of glaciers or perhaps of the waves of an ancient ocean or lake in your area millions of years ago.


BOSTON'S GEOGRAPHY HAS undergone more changes than almost any other city's in the history of the world. The topography and shape of modern Boston would be unrecognizable to a colonist visiting from the past. When it was first settled, the city was only 783 acres in size. The Boston of 1630 was situated on a small, irregularly shaped peninsula reachable from the mainland by a very narrow neck two blocks long by mere feet wide.

As with many of the country's coastal colonial cities, landfill was used to increase Boston's size over the years, and leveling its high ground helped create a more easily navigable city. Over the course of the years, landfill was added both east and west to massively increase the size of the city, completely transforming its geography. Areas that have been filled in since the early 19th century include West Cove, South Cove, East Cove, Mill Pond, South Boston, South Bay, and Back Bay. Landfill was even used to create Logan Airport.

Boston's size grew even larger when its borders were expanded to the west, into suburbs such as Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park. By 1893, Boston's size was 23,700 acres, and today it is 33,989 acres.

John Winthrop

John Winthrop, son of Adam and Anne Winthrop, was born in 1588 in Edwardston, England, about 60 miles northeast of London. As a child, he lived at Groton Manor, the estate of his father's family, which was granted to them by King Henry VIII. Young Winthrop was precocious and enrolled at Trinity College in 1602 at the age of 14. Winthrop may have been extremely bright, but in his mind he was "wild and dissolute" until finally, he said, "I fell into a lingering fever which took away the comforts of my life … and, being deprived of my youthful joys, I betook myself to God."

Winthrop's education was interrupted by his marriage to Mary Forth at the age of 17 and the birth of his son John Jr. (future governor of Connecticut) at the age of 18. Winthrop next opened a law practice and soon became a justice of the peace. His wife died in 1615 and he quickly remarried, but his second wife died giving birth a year later. He married a third time in 1618, to Margaret Tyndal (daughter of a knight), who bore eight children, four of whom wound up in New England.

Ironically, when Winthrop's eldest son wanted to sail to New England with a party of settlers in 1627, his father discouraged him. Instead, John Jr. went on a 14-month-long voyage to places as far away as Turkey. When he returned to England in the summer of 1629, he learned to his surprise that his father was about to depart for New England himself. John Winthrop Sr. had been employed in England's Parliament, but in 1629 he found himself out of work when the king dissolved Parliament.

Winthrop was ready for a new adventure, and managing Groton Manor was expensive. After being appointed as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629, Winthrop left England with two of his sons while his wife and two other sons remained in England until they could sell the family estate. Personal tragedy marred the start of the family's American life. Soon after Winthrop's arrival, his son Henry drowned in a creek near Salem. His wife Margaret finally arrived at Boston in November 1631, but their baby daughter Anne had died at sea.


What's in a Name?

The name Massachusetts comes from the Algonquin Massachusett tribe, members of which Captain John Smith encountered when he landed in the area in 1614. The name means "great hills place" or, more precisely, "at or near the great hills." The hills in question are the Blue Hills near Milton, about 15 miles south of Boston. The highest point among the hills, which are now part of Blue Hills Reservation (a state park), is Great Blue Hill, at 635 feet. Great Blue Hill may pale in comparison to the mountains in the western part of the state, but it is the second- highest hill in the Boston area, so to the natives it was a majestic sight. The natives named the bay Massachusett, and the colonists pluralized the name and gave it to their new colony.

Chances are, wherever you live in the United States, there are nearby place names that were inspired by Native American words. Look at a detailed local map and see if you can identify names with Native American origins. Check not only towns and villages but also rivers, mountains, counties, and even streets. Some of the country's most well-known cities have Native American names, such as Chattanooga and Tuscaloosa. Which tribes lived in your area in centuries past? See what research reveals. You might be surprised at what you find.



FROM THE VERY START, the young settlement of Boston thrived and grew, as did a neighboring settlement called Newtown, later to be known as Cambridge. The settlers built homes, churches, and a windmill and set up a colonial government. Soon more settlers arrived. Before long, a ferry began operation and the settlers founded a college. By 1640, Boston was one of the largest and most important settlements in the New World.

Buying Blackstone's Boston

The General Court held its first meeting in October 1630 in Boston. In November, the governor and his deputy and their assistants moved to Boston from Charlestown. The colonists built homes and laid out streets, but the land still belonged to William Blackstone even though he had no official grant or deed. The General Court decided to make his ownership formal and in 1633 granted Blackstone 50 acres of land. In 1634, the inhabitants of Boston purchased most of the property from Blackstone for the price of six shillings per household. Under the deal, Blackstone (who lived with his wife, a son, and a daughter) got to keep six acres of land where his home was located. He bought some cows with the money he received and worked in his orchard and gardens. Blackstone eventually left Boston and moved to what is now Rhode Island, becoming the first European settler to make a home there.

The Governor Almost Lived in Cambridge

In 1630, a new town was settled across the Charles River from Boston, between Watertown and Charlestown. Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley and other settlers built the first houses there in 1631. The settlement was first called The New Towne, then New Town and Newtown, until 1638, when the General Court ordered that it be called Cambridge.


Excerpted from "Boston History for Kids"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Richard Panchyk.
Excerpted by permission of Cognella, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Governor Michael Dukakis,
Time Line,
1 Roots,
Stratigraphy Game,
What's in a Name?,
2 Early Boston,
Archaeology in Your Backyard,
Gravestone Designs,
3 Revolution!,
Create a Walking Tour of Your Neighborhood,
Walk the Freedom Trail,
Make a Liberty Broadside,
4 Federal City,
Make a Time Capsule,
Draw Your Own Federal-Style Mansion,
Make a Nautical Chart,
Write a Poem in the Style of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Create Your Own Museum Display,
5 A Time of Growth,
Write a Civil War Letter,
Be a Headline Writer,
Create a Bill of Lading,
Make a Boston Cream Pie,
Level Measurement Experiment,
6 Modern Boston,
Calculate Home Run Percentage,
Make a WPA Wish List,
Make a Cut-and-Cover Tunnel,
Walking Tour of the Boston Common,

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