Governors Island (now part of Logan Airport)
1888 map of Boston, East Boston & Islands
Governor's Island was taken down in the 1920s to create Logan Airport. It was a high green island, conspicuous in all views of the upper harbor, and had lied within two miles of Long Wharf and less than a mile from Castle Island. Governor's Island was first known as Conant's Island, probably in honor of Roger Conant, a conspicuous citizen of Hull. In 1632, the Colony granted the island to John Winthrop, the Governor of the infant State. It was then called Governor's Island, and its annual rent was placed at a hogs-head of wine that should be made thereon; and afterwards two bushels of the best apples there growing, which meant the resourceful Winthrop secured an exemption until such time as his vineyard or orchard became productive. As to the apples, one bushel was to be given to the governor of the Colony, and another to the legislature: so he thus secured for himself one-half of his own tribute.
Here, in his famous "Governor's Garden," with his Indian servants, the worthy Puritan chieftain enjoyed many a happy day, and, regarded his rising metropolis across the narrow channel with dignity and comfort. Here he doubtless smoked many a sweet and contemplative pipe, amid whose blue wreaths of incense he may have built strange prophetic air-puffs along Beacon Hill, as the sun went down behind its august height. In a letter written to his wife in 1637, Winthrop says: "I pray thee send me six or seven leaves of tobacco, dried and powdered;" and so, in common with his great contemporary John Milton, and his doughty Dutch neighbors at New Amsterdam, he found joy in the most un-Puritanical of habits. The present lord of the island maintains the ancient traditions, both as to devoutness and smoking.
The governor planted here the first apple and pear trees in New England, and made gallant efforts to also raise grapes, plums, and other fruits. Many a noble orchard of the bay towns may show lineal descent from this island nursery; and the Yankee Pomona can justly claim this as her birthplace and shrine. His Puritanical Excellency found it worth while to erect a small fort, or blockhouse; and also had some kind of a house in which to live during parts of the heating season. The hospitality of the place was bestowed freely on visitors and immigrants of distinction. In 1638, Josselyn wrote that there was not an apple or pear tree in all New England, save those on Governor's Island; and described how he had enjoyed the fruits produced there.
In 1643, the Huguenot noble La Tour, who had been driven from his fort at St. John by D'Aulnay, an adventurous relative of Cardinal Richelieu, sailed into Boston Harbor in a ship with 140 Huguenots from La Rochelle, had visited Winthrop on his island, seeking refuge from his Catholic enemy. The austere Puritans referred to the Bible to see if they could find any precedent for such action, but found no certain response from that oracle. The eventually assured themselves that it would be allowable for them to aid the distressed nobleman, but in the meantime a large fleet was dispatched, and D' Aulnay's forces had been scattered.
In Winthrop's first will, he wrote: "I give to my son Adam my island called the Governor's Garden, to have to him and his heirs forever; not doubting but he will be dutiful and loving to his mother, and kind to his brethren in letting them partake in such fruits as grow there. I give him also my Indians there, and my boat, and such household as is there." Soon afterwards, and eight years before his death, the governor decided the island would go to Adam and his heirs, reserving for himself one third of its fruits.
In 1661, the owners petitioned the General Court to end its tribute of apples, saying that the product had greatly fallen off. Adam Winthrop was an ancestor of the Cambridge Winthrops, so-called because his great grandson, Professor John Winthrop, was for forty-plus years connected with Harvard College, where he achieved great works in science. It was the professor's great grandson, Colonel John Winthrop of Louisiana, who owned the island when the United States took possession of it in 1833.
Margaret Winthrop, John Winthrop's wife, often dwelt on the island among the pleasant orchards of apples, pears, plums, and grape-vines. Here her sturdy sons made visits, when the cool harbor breezes wooed them from the little town of wood and thatch close by. Of these were John (her stepson), the founder of Ipswich and New London and governor of Connecticut; Stephen, who became one of Cromwell's colonels, and member of the English Parliament from Aberdeen; Adam, the heir of the island; Deane, a resident of the present town of Winthrop; and Samuel, who became deputy-governor of Antigua.
The colonists had trouble enough with this mountainous guardian of the port. Not only did it lure onto its shore the good shipFriendship, bound for St. Kitts in 1631; and in 1635 hold here for a week a half-dozen good Puritan burgher while an angry sea beat on all of its shores; but also, in 1643, terrible voices were heard issuing from there, which could not have been the accents of the good governor, and sparks of fire rose on its heights. For a brief time the Governor's Garden was regarded as an isle of demons by the superstitious and witch-ridden Bostonians.
In 1696, however, the committee on defenses ordered the construction of an eight-gun battery on the southeast point, and a ten-gun battery on the southwest point, the cannon to be taken from the works on the town wharves. Exactly fifty years later new and more formidable fortifications were begun here by Richard Gridley, the chief bombardier in the siege of Louisburg, colonel of the First Massachusetts Regiment, Provincial Grand Master of Masons in America, a Harvard man, editor, lawyer ("the Webster of his day"), mathematician, and military engineer.
We cannot learn much of the residents of the island in those days, but at least one hero was cradled there. When David Williams was born on this island in 1759, it might have been an easy task to cast his horoscope, and predict that the infant whose eyes first rested on a broad rim of blue waters, across lines of redoubts, should become (as he did) a famous and valiant pilot and privateers man. But little is heard of the island until 1776, when several British transports were driven ashore here by the furious gale which prevented Lord Percy from being annihilated on Dorchester Heights. It does not appear that the rattling skirmishes and cannonades with which nearly every other island was visited came to this spot
In 1793, the Massachusetts Historical Society held a meeting here; with James Winthrop, one of its owners, being then a member of the society. Fifteen years later the summit of the island was occupied by Fort Warren, an enclosed star-fort of stone and brick, with brick barracks, officers' quarters, magazine, and guard house. During the War of 1812, these works were fully garrisoned; but General Dearborn considered this point the key of the harbor, and laid out new defenses, inviting the men of Boston to come down with spades, pick-axes, and wheelbarrows, to aid in its construction.
The low battery on the southern point of Governor's Island was built several years before the War of 1812, of brick and stone, with a brick guard house and magazine; and once mounted fifteen cannon. It was a picturesque bit of antique fortification, whose purpose was to sweep the wide flats adjacent, and deliver a level point-blank fire at the hulls of hostile vessels passing in the channel. Later, in the War of 1812, the "Sea-Fencible" forces went on duty to guard the batteries; and mortars were placed in the works. Furnaces stood ready, so that all the shot required for the guns could be heated; and the presumably gallant-defenders dreamed fondly of British ships bursting into flames, as these red-hot globes of iron punched into them from water-line to shrouds. The commanders of the Shannon and Tenedos must have heard that the irate Sea-Fencibles were dashing their top-lights on this gloomy isle, for they kept their ships far out in the harbor until the war was over.
The last fort erected at Governor's Island was commenced some years before the Civil War, under the direction of General Sylvanus Thayer. The name of Fort Warren was then transferred to the modern work on George's Island; and the new defense received the name of Fort Winthrop, in honor of the ancient Puritan governor. In 1861, it had received no armament, and had never been occupied as a military post; but when General Schouler inspected the defenses in late 1863, he found at Fort Winthrop 25 large Rodman guns, and 11 pieces of other calibers and forms. Various companies of state militia and volunteers garrisoned the post during the civil war, and found it an ineffably dull station.
The island had contained seventy acres of land, was comparatively low on the east, and rose to a fine commanding height on the west. Here were the great military works, on which vast sums of money were expended by the Nation. There was little of the delusive symmetry of masonry to be seen; for vast mounds of well-turfed earth covered the entire hill, with ponderous outworks on the bluff to the eastward, mountainous magazines, and skillfully contrived traverses.
Here and there long underground passages, arched with masonry, led from one battery to another, or entered the main stronghold. At the crest of the hill was the citadel, --a massive granite structure, so well curtained by impenetrable earthworks that only its top is visible from the harbor, and entered by a light wooden bridge high above the ground. The lower story, with its roof hung with small stalactites, contained the cistern; the second story held the barracks of the garrison, with rooms opening on an interior court; the third story contained the officers' quarters; and above, on the top, covered by a temporary roof to protect them from the weather, was the immense Parrott rifled guns, which looked down upon the harbor. On the south of the hill was a long stone stairway, so built that it couldn't be raked, or carried by a rush, that led to a battery at the water's edge. Among these heavy mounds lurked scores of powerful 10 and 15 inch guns, well mounted, and peering grimly out on the channel, as if hoping, with a dogged iron patience, that some time their hour may come.
(Source: History of East Boston)