Seventeenth Century Boston Unearthed:
San Angelo, (Texas) Standard Times (November 12, 1998)
BOSTON (AP) —Under a $9.25-a-day parking lot under an downtown highway, urban archaeologist Ricardo Elia is searching for 17th century Boston.
Elia and a team of Boston University archaeologists are using trowels and
brooms to probe repositories of urban detritus before construction workers using
dynamite reclaim the land forever to move the Central Artery underground.
“You just couldn’t conceive of someone getting a research grant to rip up a
parking lot under the artery and see what’s there,” said Elia, who heads a
10-person Boston University archaeology team staying several steps ahead of
construction, said as traffic rambled overhead.
After about a month of digging, the team of archaeologists have unearthed the
soggy timbers of a wharf that a John Eustis bought in 1709 on property abutting
what was then a waterfront.
The $846,000 federal and state-funded project to search Colonial Boston is
part of a gradual movement to recognize the significance of what lies buried
under America’s cities.
While maps, deeds, bills of sale and other historical documents have been preserved, the physical remains of early America are scarce, archaeologists said.
Urban or historical archaeology is only as old as the National Historical
Preservation Act of 1966. Since then, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia,
Alexandria, VA, Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA all have let archaeologists
examine land before development.
“What we are getting nationwide are little snapshots on what happened in the
past in the centers of cities,” said Ron Anzalone, staff archaeologist for the
federal Advisory Council on Historic, Preservation in Washington.
“We learn an awful lot about how Boston developed, about how everyday life occurred, that you just can’t get-from tax records,” he said, “in many communities there would be no other way to know about the early history and how it relates to the development of the United States.”
The university team has moved from Eustis’ land a quarter mile to the other
shore of old Boston, digging under the asphalt on the site of a 19th century
mattress company warehouse and below that the l7th century estate of John
“So much of Boston has been dug up that you’ve lost much of the
archaeological history already,” Elia said, “The 17th and 18th century are just
not very visible today.”
Boston prides itself on history, yet very little remains of Colonial Boston.
In fact, the Paul Revere House In the North End is the only 17th- century house
standing and it has been heavily restored.
One reason is that 1630 Boston was much smaller than 1988 Boston, much of
which consists of landfill upon which the city gradually expanded. Another is
that many of the city’s old buildings burned down.
Elia said the planned excavation of 10 sites along the Boston highway could indicate how houses were designed and built, what people ate and how commerce occurred.
Preliminary digging about one foot deep into a 40-by-20 feet L-shaped site on
the Blackstone Allright parking lot has revealed a stone foundation of the
three-story mattress warehouse. An elixir bottle half-filled with a yellow
liquid turned up Thursday.
The deeper archaeologists go the more artifacts they find in the site, which
housed stables, outhouses and a variety of buildings.
So far, they have found shards of Wedgwood pots, a wide-bore stem pipe, a
layer of manure from stable and other urban artifacts.
The archaeologist, used computer generated overlays of a 1630 outline of the
Shawmut Peninsula, modern maps and utility charts to determine potential
excavation sites along the multi-billion-dollar Central Artery project,
scheduled to be completed in 1998.
Three of the 10 sites have been excavated and the others should be completed
by mid. December. Archaeologists will spend the winter analyzing timber samples
and other artifacts before deciding whether a more thorough digging is needed.
Whatever they find, much more will remain hidden.
John Eustis mentioned in the article titled Seventeenth Century Boston
Unearthed on page 27 of this issue, was the eldest son of William and Sarah
Eustis of Rumney Marsh (now Chelsea, Massachusetts).
John was born December 8, 1659. He first married Elizabeth Morse, who died
about November 20, 1714. He married next to Mercy Tay, who died April 3, 1718.
On July 7, 1719, he married Mary Moulds. John Eustis died April 5, 1722, age 63
and is buried at King’s Chapel.
John’s will mentions wife Mary, only son John, and three grandchildren, who
were the children of his daughter Abigail Butler. The will was signed March 26,
1722. Inventory shows two houses on Back Street, valued at 900; and personal
property valued at 149 3 6. He was a member of the Ancient and Honorable
There were eight children born to John Eustis, only two for whom we find records; Abigail, born February 21, 1690, married James Butler; died December 15, 1713 and John, born November 16, 1700, who married Hannah Flood on January 1, 1723 and second probably to Rebecca Dodge on November 23, 1723. John the son was a brazier and had two children by his first marriage and four children from the second.
Long Wharf was the pride of Boston Harbor. It extended for a half-mile out
into the water. Here the largest ship afloat could anchor, even during low
tides! Buildings and shops were built along it, making it look more like a
street than a dock. During the 18th Century, the Long Wharf was alive with the
hustle and bustle of shipping activities. English ships would dock here to
unload their goods: the latest fashions from London, coffee, tea, pots and pans,
paper and glass.