The Early Eighteenth Century
Cambridge in the early eighteenth century grew slowly, continuing trends established in the 1600s. Until the middle of the century, most of the residents were descendants of Puritan settlers.1 Most of them were farmers, with some traders and artisans. Voters had not been required to be church members since 1691, which indicates that the government was beginning to depart from its religious roots, but in the first half of the 1700's, there were no major religious controversies and not much religious diversity.2 During this period, Cambridge's public schooling system became more organized. Administration of the local grammar school had originally been a duty of the town selectmen, but in 1744, the town appointed a separate school board.3 The largely rural village saw some development in the first ten years of the 1700s and again in the 1750s, with larger, improved courthouses and meetinghouses built in both decades.4 Harvard participated in this trend, and some of the oldest Harvard buildings that still stand, were built during this period, starting with Massachusetts Hall in 1720.
Beginning in the 1740s, and picking up considerably in the next few decades, there was a small but influential influx of wealthy English settlers. Some of these came directly from England, and others had previously settled on estates in the West Indies.5 They were Anglicans, belonging to the Church of England, which made them the de facto rivals of the original settlers. In 1761, they opened Christ Church, and the original building is still standing and still an Episcopal church. The wealthy Anglophiles were concentrated in seven elegant manors, along with their farms and gardens. The families who lived there were closely interconnected through blood, marriage, and social ties. William Brattle, a Brigadier-General in the British army, built one of those manors in 1740, and the street where the Anglicans lived is still called Brattle Street.6 However, put off by the Anglicans' religion, ostentatious displays of wealth, extravagant private parties, and perhaps most of all their Loyalist political alignment with the King of England, the locals viewed the street as its own miniature community, an island of Englishness in a New World village. They called the street Tory Row, Church Row, or sometimes, the King's Highway.7
Cambridge and the American Revolution
You've heard of Paul Revere's ride, on April 18, 1775. Revere was in fact one of several riders who alerted the countryside that the British troops were on the move. As a part of the same journey, William Dawes rode out Massachusetts Avenue to alert Concord. The next day, the Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred. It was immediately evident that the war would be very present here in Cambridge. The Committee of Correspondence, a provisional government, confiscated many loyalist properties, especially from “Tory Row,” and many loyalists fled the area, feeling unsafe. Harvard classes were canceled on May 1. Students who didn't join the militia resumed classes that October in Concord; the Harvard campus wasn't used as a school again until June 1776.8 More than 20,000 militiamen from around New England camped in Cambridge in April of 1775. They took over Loyalist homes, Christ Church, and Harvard for various military uses, and the Common served as a training ground and a site where soldiers camped out. In fighting the war, Cambridge established the first state arsenal in what is now Arsenal Square, and an important magazine (a location for storing gunpowder) by what is now Magazine Street.9
On July 3, 1775, George Washington formally took command of the Continental Army, as the militia was now called, in the Cambridge Common. The site is now commemorated with an archway on the side facing Mass. Ave. For nine months, in 1775 and 1776, Washington used one of the Tory Row manors as his home and headquarters, even bringing his family to stay with him.10 That manor had been inhabited by several prominent locals, but its most famous owner, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, had not yet been born.
Cambridge in the Early Republic
In 1779, Massachusetts held a convention in Cambridge in order to decide upon a new constitution for the state. John Adams presided, and had a big hand in writing the document. This constitution, adopted in 1780, is still in effect, and it is the oldest written governing constitution in the world.11 Modern Cambridge residents would likely be very comfortable with most, but not all, of the original document. It included Enlightenment ideas about equality and natural rights; the first article begins, “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.” Seven years later, when the federal Constitution was created, the framers looked to the constitution of Massachusetts as one of their models. The Massachusetts constitution includes several provisions about religion, permitting citizens to worship the way they chose, but also authorizing the government to require and support Protestant churches and schools. In 1781, a Massachusetts court ruled that slavery was not permitted in the state because of Article I, and in 1783 the state supreme court agreed.
After the war, Cambridge's resources probably looked somewhat spent. The use of so many public and private spaces for military needs took its toll.12 However, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the city saw improvements that set a good precedent for industrialization in the years to come. In 1793, Cantabrigians created a Fire Society – a formal way of organizing their corps of volunteer firefighters. This was essential to protecting homes and other buildings, as there was not yet a professional fire department.13 In the same year, the West Boston Bridge was constructed, connecting Cambridge and Boston in a very convenient location, where the Longfellow Bridge is now.14 This proved to be a boon for the local economy, allowing an increased flow of trade with the Port of Boston.
1 Martin, Mary L. and E. Ashley Rooney. Cambridge, Massachusetts Past and Present. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008), 7.
2 Seaburg, Alan. Cambridge on the Charles. (Cambridge: Anne Miniver Press, 2001), 18.
3 Seaburg 130.
4 Seaburg 19.
5 Rooney 7.
6 Douglas, Adeline. "Tory Row." Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 26.
7 Douglas, 25.
8 Rooney 7.
9 Rooney 7.
10 Rooney 8.
11 Seaburg 22.
12 Rooney 8.
13 Seaburg 65.
14 Rooney 9.