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Town of Dorchester records

 Collection
Identifier: 1100.001

Scope and Contents note

This collection contains the records for the Town of Dorchester from the late eighteenth century to 1870 when the town was annexed to the City of Boston. The bulk of the records date from 1823 onwards, although there are some records from the 1780s and 1790s, and two volumes of Assessor's records cover 1807-1812 and 1818-1823. One item has been dated [1750] although this date is not conclusive. The majority of the records are either tax based or center around the proceedings of the town meetings. There is also a substantial amount of financial material including bills, receipts, and account books. Military records make up about half of the material from the Civil War period (1861-1865). There are also town publications including a small number of reports from various town offices, as well as a near complete run (the year 1858 is missing) of annual town reports for the fiscal years 1850 through 1868.

Dates

  • 1784-1870 (bulk, 1806-1870)

Creator

Historical note

The Town of Dorchester was incorporated in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on 7 September 1630 by Puritan settlers who had arrived earlier in that year from England on the ship Mary and John. Dorchester originally included the present-day surrounding areas and towns of South Boston, Hyde Park, Milton, Wrentham, Stoughton, Dedham, Sharon, Foxboro, and Canton. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half centuries various pieces of Dorchester were annexed and/or established as these towns and areas.

The original settlers built their homes on a road between the first Meeting House (located at the intersection of East Cottage St. and Pleasant St.) and Savin Hill. This line of homes followed the present-day path of Pleasant Street and Savin Hill Avenue. In 1633 the citizens of Dorchester established a form of local government by appointing twelve “selectmen” who would meet monthly to deal with town business and decisions. This form of governance would become the predominate form of local government throughout New England well into the Twentieth century. In the fall of 1635 a large segment of Dorchester’s population migrated westward into Connecticut and settled at what would become Windsor, Connecticut.

In 1639 the people of Dorchester established the first “free school” for all the children of Dorchester, regardless of class, to attend (girls were not admitted until 1784 however). The school was funded through a direct tax levied on the inhabitants of Dorchester who owned property on Thomson Island. This was the first school, in what would become the United States, to be funded with public monies. By the time of the American Revolution (1775-1783) Dorchester needed more than one school; and by 1836 there were six schools throughout the town.

In 1803 a group of leading Boston citizens urged that Dorchester Neck (a.k.a. “Dorchester Point”) be annexed to Boston. On 6 March 1804 the annex of Dorchester Neck was completed (Chap. 111, Acts of 1803). This area would become what is today South Boston. In 1805 the road that would eventually become Dorchester Avenue was laid out between Milton Lower Mills and the east side of the South Bridge (located in the area known previously as Dorchester Neck) to Boston. The railroad (The Old Colony Railroad) would come to Dorchester in 1844 amidst much controversy and would replace the hourly stagecoach service from the Lower Mills to Boston.

Dorchester was always primarily an agricultural town but that is not to say that it did not know its share of industry and manufacturing. At different points throughout its history Dorchester supported the milling of grain, shipbuilding, fishing and whaling, papermaking, and the production of chocolate. In the 1830s Hayward’s Gazetteer described Dorchester as “an agricultural and manufacturing town of about 3,500 inhabitants, large farms covering broad acres, card factories, cotton, chocolate, and starch mills.” William Orcutt, in his book Good Old Dorchester, notes that: “Dorchester once contained the only powder-mill, the only paper-mill, the only cracker manufactory, the only chocolate-mill, and the only playing-card manufactory in the whole country.

In 1836 it was first proposed to annex the Little Neck section of Dorchester (a.k.a. Washington Village) to Boston. On 21 May 1855, after much opposition, Little Neck was finally annexed to the City of Boston (Chap. 468, Acts of 1855). The final annexation of Dorchester took effect 3 January 1870 when the entire Town of Dorchester officially became a part of the City of Boston. The previous spring the residents of Dorchester had voted 928 in favor and 726 opposed to annexation by Boston.

Sources:

Dorchester Tercentenary Committee. Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930. Dorchester Historical Society, 1930.

First Church at Dorchester. Records of the First Church at Dorchester in New England, 1636-1734. Ed. by Rev. C. R. Eliot, et al. Boston, Mass., 1891.

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1893.

Taylor, Earl. Dorchester MA, Town History 1630-1870. Available at: www.dorchesteratheneum.org (last accessed 3 January 2008).

Extent

35.0 Cubic feet (35 Document Cases, 149 Volumes, 6 Flat Boxes, 2 Publication Boxes, 1 Flat File)

Title
Guide to the Town of Dorchester records
Author
Finding aid prepared by Patrick T. Collins
Date
7 May 2008
Sponsor
With funding from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

Repository Details

Part of the City of Boston Archives Repository

Contact:
201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury MA 02132 United States
617-635-1195
617-635-1194 (Fax)