Nestled beside a peaceful bay in the middle of Massachusetts is one of America’s oldest and most prized jewels: the city of Boston. It is a city known for its rich history and pride—and, perhaps most importantly, its strength. Throughout its history it has weathered both figurative and literal storms. It symbolizes, in many ways, the strength and resolve of not only the American dream, but of the human spirit.
Birth of a Nation
Boston played an important role during the formative years of the United States. Several famous and pivotal moments of the American Revolution happened in or around Boston: the Boston Massacre, the Siege of Boston, the Boston Tea Party, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, the battles of Lexington and Concord, and the battle of Bunker Hill.
The ideals of American liberty, which would shape this young nation’s future, were born in Boston.
The Boston Massacre proved to the young colonists that imperialism was a violent and unjust way of government. The Boston Tea Party symbolized the colonists’ resistance to British rule, and it was a major step toward the Revolution. And the first battles for American independence occurred just outside Boston, on the battlefields of Lexington and Concord. Even from its beginnings, Boston has been more than just a town or city to its people and its country. It has been an icon of resolution and commitment. It has been an icon of strength.
Nearly a century and a half before the American Revolution even began, the Boston area established its standing as a center for higher learning. In 1636, Harvard University was founded in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston. Notable graduates like US presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have walked the halls of Harvard at one point or another. Harvard began as a simple school, but 381 years later, it is widely hailed as one of the premier universities in the world.
Boston has been a center of educational strength since its inception, and today, other prestigious universities in the area include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts, and Boston College. Amanda Claybaugh, the Zemurray Stone Professor of English at Harvard University, says that to her, “Boston is the city of higher education. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in the metropolitan area.”
In addition to being an educational hub, the Boston area was an important center of literary strength in the United States. Some of the earliest American texts come from the Boston and greater Massachusetts areas, as the pilgrims wrote personal narratives of their journeys. Once small settlements were founded, Puritan literature took hold in the area. In the late eighteenth century, colonial leaders drafted America’s founding documents, and the United States began to shape its own literary voice—one distinct from its British forebears. This voice became much stronger in the nineteenth century, when such writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau published their transcendental writings. Though these weren’t the first American texts, they continue to be among the most studied and influential ones. It is significant that these authors wrote in and around Boston, and that one of America’s most treasured spaces, Walden Pond, is just a short drive from the city.
Amanda Claybaugh recognizes the importance of these writers, and she realizes her great responsibility to her students to “keep the great works of the past alive in the present. . . . That is, it’s good for students to learn how nineteenth-century authors viewed the world, but it’s also good for nineteenth-century texts to have twenty-first-century questions asked of [them].” Such influential works continue to shape students’ and readers’ minds and beliefs today. Though the literary center around Boston dissolved, and American literature moved across the nation to encompass all perspectives and cultures, Claybaugh offers a reminder: “Why do we trace the nation’s origins back to the Puritans of Boston rather than the slave traders of Virginia? In large part, because Boston managed to make the case that its history and values were the central ones for the nation.”
This rich history and these values would expand beyond the literary sense and begin to shape every aspect of Bostonian life. Take sports, for example. Few cities in the US value sports the way Boston does. The sports teams of Boston are a fantastic metaphor of its passion. Boston native Diana Hafen Aylett says “there are few things that will unite people from all walks of life, and nowhere is more evident of that than Boston. Boston sports teams are the lifeblood of New England.” Her remarks could not be any truer, and Bostonians have good reason to celebrate their sports teams.
The Boston Celtics, founded in 1946, currently hold the record for the most NBA championships won by a single franchise, with 17 titles. Despite the Boston Red Sox’ 86-year drought before 2003, they are one of the top five MLB franchises when it comes to World Series wins, as they hold six championship titles and have enjoyed recent successes.
The New England Patriots have set a new league record for Super Bowl appearances, and are currently tied for second in all-time Super Bowl wins with five, including a dramatic comeback win in Super Bowl LI. Finally, the Boston Bruins have the fourth-most Stanley Cup victories in the NHL, with six. That brings the number of Boston major league sports wins to 34—and it rightfully earns Boston the nickname “Titletown, USA.”
It follows that a city with such pride and resolve as Boston would have sports teams that reflect those qualities. And maybe it’s because of the city’s strength of character that the athletes who play for its teams find such success. Maybe, when they wear the city’s colors and name, it reminds them of its bold past—and the past reminds them of their obligation to give their best to the future. In the end, the Boston sports teams bring the city together in a powerful way, which is another example of its solidarity.
This solidarity of Boston would prove to be incredibly important. On April 15, 2013, the city faced its most recent test of resilience. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and 16 people lost limbs. Hundreds of others were injured. Aylett recalls, “There is no way to adequately describe my feelings about the Boston Bombing. . . . The way that the city was able to rally together, lift one another up, and strengthen each other was incredible to see. I never had so much pride to be a Bostonian as I did after the bombings took place.” Truly, the city came together in mourning and in a sense of pride. In the hours following the brutal attack, #BostonStrong took to Twitter, and promoted unity in the city.
Amanda Claybaugh was in Boston the day of these attacks, and she remembers that “the city came together in grief, without turning on one another or scapegoating outsiders.” Aylett agrees, saying that “the bombings really helped unite Boston and helped us realize the strength we had within ourselves. We were able to show the world what it really meant to be a Bostonian, and just how much heart and strength our city really has.”
The world took note. #BostonStrong stopped applying just to Boston and Bostonians, and the nation joined in with the grieving city. People from all over the country and even the world mourned with the people of Boston and pledged their support from afar.
Once more, as it has in the past, Boston showed America and the world what unity means. It taught the world how to overcome something as tragic and earth-shattering as those attacks. It reminded the world of its founding principles of resolve and tenacity. It proved to the world that love eclipses hate.
Boston is a treasure not only to the United States, but to the world. And in a world so full of fear, hatred, and darkness, it is comforting to know that such cities still stand as pinnacles of strength. Boston’s history is one of progress. Its people are one of solidarity. Its spirit is one of hope. When asked what it means to be a Bostonian, Aylett replied, “it means to find strength and hope when your world is literally crumbling around you. It means to always be a brother or sister to your fellow men, and to lift, support, and carry them in times of need. . . . Boston symbolizes strength, family, unity, hope, pride, and above all, love.”