A Little Local History: Cambridge Site Selected

Cambridge seal Today marks the 378th anniversary of the site selection for the city of Cambridge. At the time, it was named Newtowne, and would be the colony capital for a total of six years. In 1638, the General Court moved permanently to Boston, but, according to state history website Mass Moments, the General Court gave Newtowne a “consolation prize”: the colony’s first college. Not bad, as far as consolation prizes go! Newtowne was renamed for the alma mater of many of its English clergymen in May of 1638.

Here’s a contemporary description of Cambridge written by William Wood in a 1634 report to inform English puritans at home about New England:

This is one of the neatest and best compacted towns in New England, having many fair structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants, most of them, are very rich and well stored with cattle of all sorts, having many hundred acres of ground paled in with one general fence which is about a mile and a half long, which secures all their weaker cattle from the wild beasts.

A few things have changed since then. I haven’t seen any cattle–though being fairly new to the area, it’s possible they’re hiding somewhere–and the only creatures I’d qualify as wild beasts are the fat squirrels in Holmes Field!

For more local history, check out Mass Moments, a project of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. Courtesy of Google Books, you can also read William Wood’s complete account of the area, New England’s Prospect, described as “a true, lively, and experimental description of that part of American, commonly called New England; discovering the state of that Countrie, both as it stands to our new-come English Planters; and to the old Native Inhabitants. Laying downe that which may both enrich the knowledge of the mind-travelling Reader, or benefit the future Voyager.”

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