As Boston's population grew in the early nineteenth century, so did the town's need for usable land. While large-scale landfills provided a solution, they also permanently altered the area's topography. Earth from Boston's three hills filled ponds, marshes and estuaries, and in particular between 1811 and 1812, Beacon Hill provided the fill for the Mill Pond and the construction of Charles Street. These excavations were sketched from various viewpoints around the hill by J. R. Smith. The original drawings, done in ink and pale watercolor washes, are owned today by the Boston Public Library. Bufford noted on the chromolithographs that the drawings were "done on the spot." The artist was possibly John Rubens Smith (1775-1849), born in England and son of the English engraver John Raphael Smith. Known to be working as an engraver in Boston in 1811, Smith moved to New York by 1816 and spent much of the rest of his life working there as a portrait painter, engraver, and drawing teacher. (Footnote 1)
The Beacon Hill Memorial Column appears in each of Smith's drawings at the summit of the hill. Designed by the architect Charles Bulfinch, it was erected in 1790 to commemorate the American Revolution. Constructed of stuccoed brick and stone, the sixty-foot-high Doric column and pedestal was topped by an American eagle made of gilded wood and set to serve as a weathervane. It replaced the old-style "beacon" first ordered by the General Court in 1634—1635, a utilitarian timber mast firmly anchored at the base and fitted at the top with a crane to carry a bucket of combustible material lighted as necessary. (Footnote 2)
Together with Bulfinch, the ubiquitous Jeremy Belknap coauthored the inscriptions, carved on slate tablets and set into the four sides of the pedestal, listing the events which led to the American Revolution and the securing of independence from Great Britain exhorting Americans to "forget not those who by their exertions Have secured to you these blessings." Though the memorial column was demolished along with the summit of the hill in 1811, a granite reproduction was approved in 1899 and placed behind the east wing of the new State House. The original tablets were placed in the new pedestal where they can be viewed today. (Footnote 3)
John Henry Bufford, son of a New Hampshire sign painter and gilder, began his career in lithography in 1829 as an apprentice of the Pendleton brothers, the pioneers of the medium in Boston. By midcentury Bufford had developed into a prolific and successful lithographic artist and a major printer and publisher of prints. After participating in several partnerships, he opened his own firm in 1850 on Washington Street. (Footnote 4)
In 1857—1858 the lithography firm of J. H. Bufford issued a series of five chromolithographs based on J. R. Smith's drawings of the Taking Down of Beacon Hill. The general title of the series, "Old Boston," indicates a nostalgic look back to the removal of some of the landmarks of earlier times and the beginnings of nineteenth-century growth and industrialization. One of the first Boston lithographers to experiment with printing in color in the 1840s, the series illustrates the bright, clear color Bufford had achieved by the 1850s. (Footnote 5)
1. Whitehill, Walter Muir. Boston: A Topographical History. 2d ed. Boston: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968, ch. 4; Hitchings, Sinclair H. "Fine Art Lithography in Boston: Craftsmanship and Color, 1840-1900." In Art & Commerce: American Prints of the Nineteenth Century. Proceedings of a Conference held in Boston, May 8-10, 1975, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: The Museum ; Charlottesville: distributed by the University Press of Virginia, 1978, p. 111; Fielding, Mantle. Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. rev. ed. Greens Farms, Conn.: Modern Books and Crafts, 1974, p. 339.
2. Stanley, Raymond W., ed. Mr. Bulfinch's Boston. Boston: Old Colony Trust Co., 1963, p. 25.
3. Kirker, Harold. The Architecture of Charles Bulfinch. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969, pp. 33-35.
4. Tatham, David. "John Henry Bufford, American Lithographer." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 2nd ser., 86 (1976), pp. 47-51.
5. Hitchings, Sinclair H. "Fine Art Lithography in Boston: Craftsmanship and Color, 1840-1900." In Art & Commerce: American Prints of the Nineteenth Century. Proceedings of a Conference held in Boston, May 8-10, 1975, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: The Museum ; Charlottesville: distributed by the University Press of Virginia, 1978, p. 111.