From the Stump to the Statue
reported by Neil Wright on September 9th 2019
A symposium was held in Boston, Lincolnshire at the Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre on Saturday, September 7th to address the role of Boston (Lincs) in the foundation of the USA, and in particular the role of people from Boston, and elsewhere in Lincolnshire, in the founding of Boston (Mass) and the colony of Massachusetts Bay in New England in the 1630s. The inspiration for the symposium and much of the organisation of the event was by Richard Austin, BEM, a former Mayor of Boston (Lincs), who was assisted by many other people.
The Symposium Chairman was Dr. Jonathan Foyle, an author of seven books on historic architecture, presenter of several series on BBC television, and a former Chief Executive of the British office of the World Monuments Fund.
There were three speakers, of whom two came from the USA.
Barry Arthur Cotton is the 7th great-grandson of the Rev. John Cotton, the Puritan Patriarch of New England. Barry has served as National Chairman and President of the Winthrop Society is a Trustee of the Partnership of the Historic Bostons and has authored articles for the Winthrop Journal and the Mayflower Quarterly.
Eve LaPlante is a direct descendant of Anne Hutchinson and John Cotton with degrees from Princeton and Harvard. She has published articles, essays, and five non-fiction books, including American Jezebel, the story of the colonial heretic and founding mother Anne Hutchinson. LaPlante’s second ancestor biography, Salem Witch Judge, won the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction.
Neil Richard Wright has been researching and writing books and articles on the history of Boston (Lincs) since the 1960s. He has published 17 books, many about the history of Boston, and over 50 articles. He is a past Chairman of the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology and a Trustee of the Partnership of the Historic Bostons. He has visited Boston (Mass) several times in recent years and has given talks at some Charter Day events (which mark the foundation of Boston (Mass) in 1630).
The Symposium was a sell-out success with all 224 seats in the theatre being taken. The theatre was built in the 1960s and the front of house facilities are located in the remains of part of the Dominican Friary which was built in the 13th century, hence the name of the theatre. Blackfriars went through a difficult patch about ten years ago but is now flourishing.
The Symposium began about 10am with a welcome and introduction by Jonathan Foyle.
The first contribution was an illustrated presentation by Neil Wright, describing the natural, architectural and cultural environment of Boston (Lincs) in the 1630s and comparing and contrasting that with the situation in Massachusetts when the immigrants from England arrived there. In referring to the Puritan culture of old Boston at that time he described how that had arisen, and referred to some of the people involved in both Bostons.
Barry Cotton then spoke on “Leading Men of the two Puritan Bostons”, describing their role in the companies created to facilitate immigration to the New World, and the involvement of other prominent figures including the Earls of Warwick and Lincoln, the Dowager Countess of Lincoln, John Winthrop, and Ferdinando Gorges. He indicated the origins of some of the 166 people who went from the wider Boston area to New England in the Great Migration of the 1630s and ‘40s, and showed the dominance that the men from old Boston had in the new Boston for the first 60 or so years. Barry enjoys sharing his information and I hope much will appear in his forthcoming books on John Cotton and the Boston Men.
Before the lunch break, Jonathan Foyle officially launched a new book on the history of Boston (Lincs), entitled “Boston – The small town with a big story”. It contains fifty-five contributions from numerous authors, including Eve LaPlante, Barry Cotton, and Neil Wright, dealing with aspects of Boston’s history from 1066 to the 21st century. It is well illustrated with many pictures of Boston past and present. The numerous authors appeared on stage for a group photograph and many signed copies of the books that were for sale during the day.
The lunch arrangements ran very smoothly. The attendees went from the theatre through the garden of Fydell House (1726) into the side entrance of the Guildhall (c.1390) where they each picked up a box filled with selected delicious items, and could also get a drink. They then demonstrated their ingenuity in finding places to sit and eat their lunch in the garden or the Guildhall. We were very lucky to have good weather, sunny and not too cold.
After lunch, everyone returned to the theatre for the final talk, an inspiring address by Eve LaPlante on her ancestor Anne Hutchinson. Hutchinson came from Alford in Lincolnshire, and many times made the long journey on horseback with some of her family to hear John Cotton preach in Boston (Lincs). She then followed him to America and her knowledge and ability as a midwife made her a respected member of society. Hutchinson’s ability to interpret the sermons she heard and to discuss them with the women of the new colony, and later with many men, made her a controversial figure, a heretic, and she was eventually driven out of Massachusetts. She then co-founded the colony of Rhode Island which adopted a more tolerant approach to freedom of religion, as later reflected in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
There then followed a Question Time session, chaired by Jonathan Foyle, when the three speakers responded to questions from the audience. The first question was, “how should Boston prepare to commemorate the migration of 1630 in 2030?” Several ideas were suggested, including some from the audience. It is not too soon to start to prepare for that event, and perhaps a few people with a particular interest could take a lead in preparing for it in the original Boston. The creation of a Heritage Centre, and perhaps a genealogy centre, were possibilities. It would be necessary to try to make young people aware of this important period in the history of both Bostons’. Young people are concerned about global warming and the environment, so they might respond to the matter of how settlers reacted to the new environment they encountered in the New World.
The Symposium finished at 3pm, and attendees then had the chance to join one of three tours. One group went to visit the original building of Boston Grammar School (1567), which inspired John Cotton to found the Boston Latin School (which still flourishes) in the new Boston in the 1630s. A small group went to look at Shodfriars, a 15th-century half-timbered building with an 1877 addition, which it is hoped will be restored in the near future and made available for public use, such as, perhaps, a visitor centre or cultural centre. The third option was a guided tour of historic sites within Boston.
The Symposium and the new book are both intended to make old Boston’s history better known, and thereby to attract more tourists to the area. They should also help to inspire people to start to prepare for the events in 2030 to commemorate the foundation of the new Boston. It had been commented that the information on display at Tattershall Castle, run by the National Trust, suggested that nothing important had happened there in the 17th century. As that was the home of the Earl of Lincoln, who was actively involved and whose sister Arbella gave her name to the flagship of the Winthrop fleet, we need to try to persuade the National Trust that it needs to remedy that omission in its literature and to prepare for the Castle to become involved in the 2030 celebrations.
On the evening of 7th September, a Symposium dinner was held at the Boston and County Club, located just off Wide Bargate. About one hundred people attended, including His Worship Councillor Anton Dani, Mayor of Boston, and Councillor Tony Bridges, Chairman of Lincolnshire County Council. An excellent meal was served, and many toasts were made and drunk before Jonathan Foyle gave an excellent impromptu after-dinner talk. Neil Wright attended as his alter ego, Sandra Lezinsky, in a strappy, glittery, yellow full-length dress, and had conversations with many people who said how excellent the whole day had been. I hope that this enthusiasm will lead to attendees spreading the word of the umbilical connection between the two Bostons, and help to prepare for 2030.