Oldest Towns in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts is home to many historic towns and historic sites. The oldest towns in Massachusetts date back to the early 17th century and were settled during the Great Puritan Migration by colonists from the Massachusetts Bay Company, the Plymouth Company, the Dorchester Company and others.

The following is a list of the oldest towns in Massachusetts:

Plymouth: 1620

Plymouth was settled by the Plymouth Company in December of 1620 when the Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, making it the oldest town in Massachusetts.

Plymouth Rock, Plymouth, Mass
Plymouth Rock, Plymouth, Mass

Plymouth Colony was later merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691 to become a part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay royal colony. The town is famous for being the place where the First Thanksgiving was held in 1621.

Weymouth: 1622

Weymouth was settled in 1622 when it became the site of the short-lived Wessagusset Colony (sometimes called the Weston Colony because it was founded by London merchant Thomas Weston), which makes it the second oldest town in Massachusetts.

The town was settled in August of 1622 by 60 men from the migratory population of London. The colony failed in March of 1623 and the colonists abandoned the settlement and joined Plymouth colony.

In September of 1623, a second colony was established in Weymouth by Robert Gorges but this also failed after a year. Some of the settlers remained in the village and it was later incorporated as a town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635.

Gloucester: 1623

Gloucester was a originally a fishing settlement settled by the Dorchester Company in 1623.

In 1625, the settlement failed and the governor, Roger Conant, and several members of the settlement abandoned it and relocated to Salem.

In 1642, Gloucester was settled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and officially incorporated as a town and then reincorporated as a city in 1873.

Gloucester is famous for its maritime history, particularly for being the home of the Andrea Gail fishing boat which sank during the Perfect Storm in 1991.

Hull: 1624

Originally known as Nantasket, Hull was settled in 1624 by some of the Plymouth colonists.

The name Nantasket was changed to Hull, after Kingston upon Hull in England, when it was officially incorporated as a town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1644.

Roger Conant lived in Nantasket for a year in 1624 before relocating to Gloucester and then finally to Salem.

Boston: 1625

Originally known as Shawmut, Boston was first settled by William Blackstone, a lone member of the failed Wessagusset Colony, in 1625.

In June of 1630, the Winthrop fleet of Massachusetts Bay colonists landed at nearby Charlestown and Blackstone invited the colonists to live with him in Shawmut, which they did.

Trimount or Boston as it was, illustration published in Gleasons pictorial, circa 1850
Trimount or Boston as it was, illustration published in Gleasons pictorial, circa 1850

In September of 1630, Shawmut was named after Boston, England and incorporated as a town and later became the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1632. Boston was reincorporated as a city in 1822.

Salem: 1626

Originally known as Naumkeag, Salem was first settled in 1626 by Roger Conant and several members of the failed fishing settlement at Gloucester.

Location of the first settlement in Salem, map published in Old Naumkeag, circa 1877
Location of the first settlement in Salem, map published in Old Naumkeag, circa 1877

In 1628, the New England Company (which later became the Massachusetts Bay Company) purchased the rights to settle Naumkeag and arrived that June to take it over.

In 1629, Naumkeag was renamed Salem when it was officially incorporated as a town. Salem was reincorporated as a city in 1836.

Lynn: 1629

Originally known as Saugus, Lynn was settled by Salem colonist Edmund Ingalls and four others in 1629 and was incorporated as a town into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. The first tannery in the colonies opened in this new settlement in 1629.

Saugus was renamed Lynn in 1637 after Lynn Regis, England. A section of Lynn split off in 1815 and became modern day Saugus. Lynn was reincorporated as a city in 1850.

Watertown: 1630

Watertown was settled in July of 1630 by Sir Richard Saltonstall and Reverend George Phillips and others from the Winthrop fleet that arrived in Boston in June of 1630.

The town was officially named Watertown when it was incorporated as a town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in September of 1630.

Cambridge: 1630

Originally known as Newtown, Cambridge was settled in December of 1630 by Thomas Dudley who wanted to make Newtown the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Dudley managed to persuade the Massachusetts General Court to make Newtown the colony’s central fortified town and persuaded the magistrates to settle there but they quickly changed their minds and settled in Boston instead.

Newtown was incorporated as a town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 and renamed Cambridge in 1638. Cambridge was reincorporated as a city in 1846.

Sources:
“Getting to know your neighborhood: Dorchester.” BU Today, 10 March. 2017, bu.edu/articles/2017/getting-to-know-your-neighborhood-dorchester/
“Historical Sketch of Weymouth.” Weymouth Historical Society, weymouthhistoricalsociety.org/historical_sketch_of_weymouth.htm
“Lynn Reconnaissance Report.” Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, May 2005, mass.gov/doc/lynn/download
“Historic Timeline 1614 – 1699.” Charlestown Historical Society, charlestownhistoricalsociety.org/history/historic-timeline-1600/
“A Brief History of Weymouth Ma.” Boston University School of Public Health, sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/Weymouth/
“A Brief History of Cambridge Mass.” Cambridge Historical Commission, cambridgema.gov/historic/cambridgehistory

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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