Object of the Month

Indian deed for Boston, 19 March 1685

Quitclaim deed for the peninsula of Boston, Massachusetts, from Charles Josias and the Massachuset Indians to the inhabitants of Boston, 19 March 1684/5 [1685]

Quitclaim deed for the peninsula of Boston, Massachusetts, from Charles Josias and the Massachuset Indians to the inhabitants of Boston, 19 March 1684/5 [1685]

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  • Carrie Supple
    Assistant Reference Librarian

    This 1685 quitclaim deed formalized the transfer of the peninsula that became the town of Boston from the native Massachuset Indians to the English colonists. Charles Greely Loring exhibited the deed at the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1879 and several nineteenth-century histories of Boston refer to it. Loring's children donated the deed to the Historical Society in 1904.

    Making it official

    In March 1685, fifty-five years after John Winthrop and a group of English settlers established the seat of government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on a hilly peninsula that they named Boston, several colonists procured a quitclaim deed for this land from the Massachuset Sachem Wampatuck. The Massachuset Indians relinquished any claim they had to Boston or Deer Island in Boston Harbor, granting it to the colonists in exchange for "a Valuable Summe of Money." According to the deed, Wampatuck (who was also known as Charles Josias or Josias Wampatuck) was simply renewing a similar agreement that his grandfather, the Sachem Chicatabut, made with the English when they first settled in Boston in 1630, although there is no evidence of this initial transaction in John Winthrop's writings or the colony's official records.

    What took so long?

    Boston town records from June 1684 suggest that the colonists sought a formal deed soon after local Native Americans asserted a claim to Deer Island and other Boston Harbor islands. In response, the Boston selectmen commissioned Simon Lynde to negotiate an agreement in which the town would purchase any claim the Massachuset Indians had to Boston and Deer Island.

    Historians also have speculated that English colonists felt compelled to formalize land agreements with local Native Americans amid the charter crisis of the 1680s. In 1684 the Crown revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter, and in 1686 installed a royal governor to preside over a consolidated colony named the Dominion of New England. The colonists may have feared that the annulment of the Massachusetts Bay Charter would render their land grants worthless, and therefore sought to bolster their property rights by procuring deeds from the Indians.

    Boston's Charter Day celebration

    Each year in September, the City of Boston and other local organizations host a series of events to commemorate the founding of Boston. For a schedule of events, please see the Historic Bostons website.

    Suggestions for Further Reading

    Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, volume XVII (1879-1880). Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1880.

    A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, City Printers, 1881.

    For commentary on the deed and its context, see:

    Jennings, Francis. The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

    Drake, Samuel Gardner. The History and Antiquities of Boston. Boston: L. Stevens, 1856.

    Winsor, Justin. Memorial History of Boston, Volume 1. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1881.

    For accounts of the charter crisis, see:

    Brown, Richard D. and Jack Tager. Massachusetts: A Concise History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.

    Hart, Albert B. Commonwealth History of Massachusetts. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966.

    For an overview and bibliography of recent scholarship on Indian-White relations in New England, see:

    Vaughan, Alden T. "Indian-European Encounters in New England, An Annotated, Contextual Overview." In Alden T. Vaughan (ed.), New England Encounters: Indians and Euroamericans ca. 1600-1850: Essays Drawn from The New England Quarterly. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999.


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