William Blaxton, the first English settler in Boston, chose the south-facing slope of Beacon Hill as a building location. The Massachusett people already lived here, and the hill was a particularly desirable location due to its freshwater springs. After the American Revolution, Beacon Hill became central to Boston’s rapid growth.
The building of William Blaxton’s house, located near what is today the corner of Walnut and Beacon Streets, set off a dramatic era of change. By 1634, hundreds of Puritans had usurped most of Blaxton’s land, leaving him with only 50 acres. Meanwhile, English settlers pursued a destructive policy of warfare and enclosure that pushed Native people out of their ancestral homelands around Boston. Blaxton later sold most of his land to the growing English town, and it became the basis for the town’s commons. Here, residents pastured their livestock, punished transgressors, and attended public assemblies.
In 1634, John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, ordered a beacon placed atop the tallest peak of the original Trimount, giving Beacon Hill its name. He intended the beacon to warn of hostile ships, particularly the ships of King Charles I of England, who wished to reclaim the colony from Puritan control.
After the American Revolution, Beacon Hill became central to Boston’s rapid growth. The hilltop was carted away for fill, smoothing the way for new development. An elegant new State House replaced John Hancock’s estate, and wealthy insiders bought up Beacon Hill to sell as house lots. Within a few decades, gracious townhouses lined the new streets of Beacon Hill, and Boston Common became a park.