Edward Howe and the Ferry

“One Mr. Howe, of Lynn, a godly man, and a deputy of the last general court, after the court was ended, and he had dined, being in health as he used to be, went to pass over to Charles-town, and, being alone, he was presently after found dead upon the strand, being there (as it seemed) waiting for the boat, which came soon after.”  So states page 299 of Winthrop’s Journal, “History of New England,” 1630-1649, by John Winthrop and James Kendall Hosmer, and published by C. Scribner’s Sons in 1908.

Site of the Boston- Charlestown Ferry

Site of the Boston-
Charlestown Ferry

A ferry between Boston and Charlestown, across the Charles River, was needed as soon as settlements were established there, according to an article on the Harvard College Ferry, which provides the quotations in this post.  It’s worth reading in detail at http://www.kellscraft.com/EventsBoston/EventsBoston05.html (accessed 5/19/2013.)  This may have been one of the first enterprises undertaken by the new colony, and it continued for 155 years.

The first ferries were probably operated by individual entrepreneurs.  The ferry operation became more formalized, when “…on June 14, 1631, it was ordered that Mr. Converse should receive twopence for every single person, and one penny apiece if there were two or more persons to be ferried.”  “Oars were probably the sole means of propulsion, the channel being narrow and the current strong.  In winter, when the ferry could not run, no doubt the thick ice made a convenient bridge between the shores for a least part of the season. At first the ferry served only foot-passengers…”

“On November 9, 1636, the ferry was leased to Mr. Converse for three years, at £40 a year, on condition that he should see that the ferry was efficiently run and equipped with the proper number of boats, and that he

Boston ferry area

Approximate site
of ferry today

should build a convenient house on the Boston side of the river and keep a boat there when it was needed.  Besides the fees for persons…he was allowed to charge sixpence for every pig ferried across.  ‘And if any shall desire to pass before it be light in the morning, or after it is dark in the evening, he may take recompense answerable to the season and his pains and hazard, so as it be not excessive.'”  Since Edward Howe died in April 1639, Mr. Converse would have been the ferryman at the time.

The ferry had a long history thereafter.  “In 1640 the General Court ordered that the ferry privilege between Boston and Charlestown be granted to Harvard College for the financial benefit of the institution.  In 1639 £50 had been received from the ferry, and it was expected that this sum would increase yearly with the growth of population.  For one hundred and fifty-five years Harvard received the ferry tolls…”

Boston ferry area

Charlestown Bridge

A bridge was approved for construction in this area in 1785.

Although Boston’s terrain has been altered over the years by considerable landfill, the photos show the approximate location of the old ferry today, overlooking the Charles River toward the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill and near the Charlestown Bridge.  The banks of the Charles River, as it looked 374 years ago, provided the last view of this earth experienced by Edward Howe, the respected gentleman who brought the Howe line to America.