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Thinking About The North End

Okay, last time I had us in Boston’s North End. We had just finished lunch at Al Dente’s. But, we still had some time to play with, and we had one other great task to manage.


I suppose we could have spent our time touring. The North End is a fascinating place all in itself. We have spent hours just walking about it, watching the locals and many, many tourists. It is the tourists, I suppose, who form the majority of people you see on the street. People like ourselves, in other words. But, still, the locals are interesting, and some of them grew up here. Others are from all over.




About the photos: Two today. The first is a photo of the street out in front of Al Dente’s which I’ve modified in an attempt to make it look like an illustration. As an aside, the people are dining outside (Al Fresco instead of Al Dente) in a special area in the street that’s buffered from the traffic with that white barrier. This is new. It was an attempt to give restaurants a way to stay in business during Covid. As I understand it, the city would like to go back to inside dining only, but the restaurants are pushing back. It seems people liked being able to eat of our doors.


The second photo is, of course, Martha. This time she is having lunch at a little restaurant in Liberty Hill, Texas, which is an interesting and up-&-coming little town. I’ll write about it someday.



It wasn’t always like that. The North End has a ...complicated...history. It is, I’m told, the oldest neighborhood in Boston. Remember when I said that the city used to be almost an island? A peninsula, I mean? Well, this was it. This was the heart of the city and the near-island upon which it was built.(1)


So it was that the area was inhabited by Europeans at least as early as the 1640s (though, obviously, Native Americans had been there before hand). As time went on, and the city grew, it became a fashionable sort of area for Boston’s up and coming. For instance, the Mather family lived here--to be precise, the father, Increase Mather, who is famed for being a clergyman, an early president of Harvard, an important member of the colonial administration, and...a supporter of the Salem Witch Trials.(2) His son, meanwhile, was Cotton Mather, who was probably the most important intellectual, writer, and clergyman in the Anglo-America of his day.(3)


I’ve always found Cotton rather a fascinating character because he seems (to me at least) to function as a kind of link between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. On the one hand, he genuinely believed in magic and devils and spirits and all the rest of the stuff that makes for good Harry Potter movies and really bad national politics. He was an active participant in the Salem Witch trials, and he provided that shameful exercise in judicial madness with a kind of intellectual air cover. If he...a recognized expert in legal and religious affairs...said that witches existed, and that “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” well, then, surely they did and thou shouldn’t.


Yet, on the other hand, there was a weird streak of rationalism in his makeup. He was an early advocate of smallpox inoculation and led a movement to get as many people protected from the disease as possible -- and this at a time when even the germ theory of infection was largely unknown. Moreover, he had a lasting interest in science and technology, and encouraged their study and teaching.


So...not good or bad, not wise or fool, but...as with most of us...both at the same time.


Anyway, the Mather clan had a house in the North End. It was lost to the Great Fire of 1676.(4) Then, a new house was build on the site by a Mr. Robert Howard, a wealthy merchant (yes, trading in slaves). It was bought and sold over the years.(5)


And, then, in the middle of the eighteenth century, it was acquired by someone else. By, in fact, someone who had some importance to our vast, shared, national story.


An artisan. A political radical. A silver smith. One Mr. Revere. First name Paul.


Or, to be a bit more precise, he... of the Midnight Ride.


More to come.



Footnotes:


1. The North End has its own Wikipedia page, and you can see it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_End,_Boston

2. Increase Mather’s Wikipedia page is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Increase_Mather

3. For more on Cotton Mather, go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton_Mather

4. For information on the *many* “Great” fires which have plagued Boston over the years, see the Boston Public Library’s page on the subject, which you can find here: https://guides.bpl.org/bostonfires

5. The house has its own wikipedia page, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Revere_House




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~mjt



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