You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Massachusetts? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Massachusetts city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Bay State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Westfield (Photos)
- Attleboro (Photos)
- Worcester (Photos)
- Boston (Photos)
- Holyoke (Photos)
- Springfield (Photos)
- Revere (Photos)
For being 385 years old, Hingham doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Massachusetts? That would be Northampton — a brand spanking 113 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Massachusetts… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Massachusetts, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 99 out of 118 in Massachusetts with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 83.9% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Hingham turning out to be the matriarch of Massachusetts at the ripe old age of 385.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 5,954 Founded: 1633
The town of Hingham was dubbed ‘Bare Cove’ by the first colonizing English in 1633, but two years later was incorporated as a town under the name ‘Hingham’. The land on which Hingham was settled was deeded to the English by the Wampanoag sachem Wompatuck in 1655. The town was within Suffolk County from its founding in 1643 until 1803; and Plymouth County from 1803 to the present. The eastern part of the town split off to become Cohasset in 1770. The town was named for Hingham, a village in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, whence most of the first colonists came, including Abraham Lincoln’s ancestor Samuel Lincoln (1622–90), his first American ancestor, who came to Massachusetts in 1637. A statue of President Lincoln adorns the area adjacent to downtown Hingham Square.
Population: 41,667Founded: 1669
The area was originally inhabited by the Pocomtuc tribe, and was called Woronoco (meaning ‘the winding land’). Trading houses were built in 1639–40 by settlers from the Connecticut Colony. Massachusetts asserted jurisdiction, and prevailed after a boundary survey. In 1647, Massachusetts made Woronoco part of Springfield. Land was incrementally purchased from the Native Americans and granted by the Springfield town meeting to English settlers, beginning in 1658. The area of Woronoco or ‘Streamfield’ began to be permanently settled in the 1660s. In 1669, ‘Westfield’ was incorporated as an independent town; in 1920, it would be re-incorporated as a city.
Population: 44,326Founded: 1694
In 1634, English settlers first arrived in the territory that is now Attleboro. It was later incorporated from Rehoboth in 1694 as the town of Attleborough. It included the towns of Cumberland, Rhode Island, until 1747 and North Attleborough, Massachusetts, until 1887. The town was reincorporated in 1914 as the City of Attleboro, with the ‘-ugh’ removed from the name, although North Attleborough kept it. Like many towns in Massachusetts, it was named for a British town.
Population: 184,743Founded: 1722
The area was first inhabited by members of the Nipmuc tribe. The native people called the region Quinsigamond and built a settlement on Pakachoag Hill in Auburn. In 1673 English settlers John Eliot and Daniel Gookin led an expedition to Quinsigamond to establish a new Christian Indian ‘praying town’ and identify a new location for an English settlement. On July 13, 1674, Gookin obtained a deed to eight square miles of land in Quinsigamond from the Nipmuc people and English traders and settlers began to inhabit the region.
In 1675, King Philip’s War broke out throughout New England with the Nipmuc Indians coming to the aid of Indian leader King Philip. The English settlers completely abandoned the Quinsigamond area and the empty buildings were burned by the Indian forces. The town was again abandoned during Queen Anne’s War in 1702. Finally in 1713, Worcester was permanently resettled for a third time by Jonas Rice. Named after the city of Worcester, England, the town was incorporated on June 14, 1722. On April 2, 1731, Worcester was chosen as the county seat of the newly founded Worcester County government. Between 1755 and 1758, future U.S. president John Adams worked as a schoolteacher and studied law in Worcester.
Population: 5,633 Founded: 1778
Settled in 1704 and incorporated in 1778, the town of Foxborough was named for Charles James Fox, a Whig member of Parliament and a staunch supporter of the Colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution.
Population: 669,158Founded: 1822
Boston’s early European settlers had first called the area Trimountaine (after its ‘three mountains,’ only traces of which remain today) but later renamed it Boston after Boston, Lincolnshire, England, the origin of several prominent colonists. The renaming on September 7, 1630 (Old Style)[b] was by Puritan colonists from England who had moved over from Charlestown earlier that year in quest of fresh water. Their settlement was initially limited to the Shawmut Peninsula, at that time surrounded by the Massachusetts Bay and Charles River and connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. The peninsula is thought to have been inhabited as early as 5000 BC.
In 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor John Winthrop led the signing of the Cambridge Agreement, a key founding document of the city. Puritan ethics and their focus on education influenced its early history; America’s first public school was founded in Boston in 1635. Over the next 130 years, the city participated in four French and Indian Wars, until the British defeated the French and their Indian allies in North America. Boston was the largest town in British America until Philadelphia grew larger in the mid-18th century.
Population: 40,362Founded: 1850
Englishmen first arrived in the Connecticut River Valley in 1633—a post was established at Windsor, Connecticut, by traders from the Plymouth Plantation. In 1636, Massachusetts Bay Colony assistant treasurer and Puritan iconoclast William Pynchon led a group of settlers from Roxbury, Massachusetts, to establish Springfield on land that scouts had vetted the previous year. They considered it the most advantageous land in the Connecticut River Valley for farming and trading. This settlement, on fertile farmland just north of the Connecticut River’s first major falls (at Enfield Falls), the place where seagoing vessels necessarily had to transfer their cargo into smaller shallops to continue northward on the Connecticut River, quickly became a successful settlement—largely due to its advantageous position on the Bay Path to Boston, the Massachusetts Path to Albany, and beside the Connecticut River. Originally, Springfield spanned both sides of the Connecticut River; the region was eventually partitioned. The land on the western bank of the Connecticut River became West Springfield, Massachusetts. West Springfield’s northernmost parish (alternately called Third Parish, North Parish, or Ireland Parish) became Holyoke, named after earlier Springfield settler William Pynchon’s son-in-law, Elizur Holyoke, who had first explored the area in the 1650s. The village of Holyoke was first settled in 1745 and was officially incorporated on March 14, 1850. Following its establishment, the first official town meeting took place a week later, on March 22, 1850.
Population: 154,613Founded: 1852
Springfield was founded in 1636 by English Puritan William Pynchon as ‘Agawam Plantation’ under the administration of the Connecticut Colony. In 1641 it was renamed after Pynchon’s hometown of Springfield, Essex, England, following incidents that precipitated the settlement joining the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During its early existence, Springfield flourished as both an agricultural settlement and trading post, although its prosperity waned dramatically during (and after) King Philip’s War in 1675, when natives laid siege to it and burned it to the ground.
The original settlement – today’s downtown Springfield – was located atop bluffs at the confluence of four rivers, at the nexus of trade routes to Boston, Albany, New York City, and Montreal, and with some of the northeastern United States’ most fertile soil. In 1777, Springfield’s location at numerous crossroads led George Washington and Henry Knox to establish the United States’ National Armory at Springfield, which produced the first American musket in 1794, and later the famous Springfield rifle. From 1777 until its closing during the Vietnam War, the Springfield Armory attracted skilled laborers to Springfield, making it the United States’ longtime center for precision manufacturing. The near-capture of the armory during Shays’ Rebellion of 1787 led directly to the formation of the U.S. Constitutional Convention.
Population: 53,864Founded: 1871
Revere’s first inhabitants were Native Americans who belonged to the Pawtucket tribe and were known as the Rumney Marsh Indians. The leader, or sachem, of the Pawtuckets was Nanepashemet of Lynn. In 1616, an epidemic, probably smallpox, swept the region, killing thousands in its wake. Nanepashemet retired to the Mystic River, in what is now Medford, but was found murdered in 1619 at his fort on the brow of Rock Hill overlooking the river. Three sons succeeded him in his reign. One of them, Wonohaquaham, also called Sagamore John, had jurisdiction over the Native Americans at Winnisemmit (later Chelsea) and Rumney Marsh.
Population: 25,377 Founded: 1904
Settled in 1635 by people from Roxbury and Watertown, Dedham was incorporated in 1636. It became the county seat of Norfolk County when the county was formed from parts of Suffolk County on March 26, 1793. When the Town was originally incorporated, the residents wanted to name it ‘Contentment.’ The Massachusetts General Court overruled them and named the town after Dedham, Essex in England, where some of the original inhabitants were born. The boundaries of the town at the time stretched to the Rhode Island border.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Massachusetts
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Massachusetts. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Massachusetts.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Bay State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Massachusetts:
- Northampton (Founded in 1905)
- Rockport (Founded in 1905)
- Lexington (Founded in 1905)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Massachusetts
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