The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, February 17, 2020

5 Ways Cambridge, Massachusetts Made History

Sometimes it seems like you can't turn around in New England without stumbling upon the site of a notable historic event. The area around Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a stellar example of this rule. Over the last 400 years, Cambridge has been the site of many happenings that changed the course of American history. Here are five historic hallmarks that make Cambridge unique:

A Big Name in Education

As the most recent Massachusetts settlement at the time of its founding, Cambridge was originally called Newtowne. In 1638, it was renamed after the university in Cambridge, England, in recognition of the settlement’s own new academic institution: Harvard.

First U.S. Army Camp

During the Revolutionary War, the Cambridge Common hosted the first American army camp. George Washington used the nearby Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House as his headquarters.

Massachusetts Constitutional Convention

When it came time for Massachusetts to formally secede from England, the young state needed a constitution. John Adams and the other delegates spent three months in Cambridge debating, writing, and finally ratifying the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which went into effect in 1779.

First U.S. Printing Press

The written word has always been an integral part of American government. The Founding Fathers based many of their ideas about revolution on the writings of the famous philosophers John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others. Once Stephen Day set up the first American printing press in Cambridge in 1638, it didn't take long for entrepreneurs to establish a thriving publishing and printing industry, eventually helping colonial leaders spread the teachings that encouraged support for American independence.

First Published Poet in America

Life in the American Colonies was hard, and the average life expectancy was short. While some wealthier people had access to the latest literature, books were scarce for the average colonist. Cambridge resident Anne Bradstreet overcame the odds to become an accomplished poet. In 1650, a collection of her poems was published with the ambitious title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America.

If the study of history shows us anything, it's the fact that unlikely people in unlikely places can make an impact on our timeline every day. In 400 years, who knows what sites our descendants will cherish? Cambridge’s track record suggests that it may be the perfect place to make a little history of your own.

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