Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Boston Harbor Islands

Boston skyline from Spectacle Island

Name: Boston Harbor Islands
Tribe: Nipmuc, Massachusett, Wampanoag, Pokonoket
Location: Boston, MA
Type: National Park, State Park
Visiting Info: May-October, Ferry Schedules; Ferry tickets: $10-17, round trip.
Contact: Website, telephone ("Ask a Ranger") 617-223-8666

"Histories and other studies prepared by and with American Indians are needed in order to adequately present Indian connections with the islands. In that those studies are not complete, the following sketch is offered to introduce the complex Native American topics associated with the park."

So begins the National Park Service's webpage about the Native history of the Boston Harbor Islands. The document gives an overview of the seasonal use of the harbor before European colonization and tells about the later forced removal and imprisonment of Natives on the islands after King Phillip's War.

The main prison camp was located on Deer Island, but there is evidence that Native people were also relocated to Peddocks, Long Island, and possibly one of the Brewster Islands. Records show that about half of the people died of starvation, exposure, and illness over the winter of 1675.

Today, as with so much of Indian Country, incredible beauty intermingles with historical horror. The islands, and the harbor itself, have been cleaned up and rejuvenated for public use after decades of environmental degradation. The area is both a state park and a national park and is managed in cooperation by several different agencies. More than 30 islands offer a variety of recreational opportunities and are served by a fairly extensive ferry service.

Hiking trail along the shore of Deer Island overlooking Boston

The park includes three National Historic Landmarks: Long Wharf, Fort Warren, and the 300-year old Boston Light, which is the oldest lighthouse station in the US. Spectacle Island offers a swimming beach, there's camping on Grape, Lovell, Bumpkin, and Peddocks Islands, hiking trails on most of the islands, a marina, and lots of other tours and activities.

The ferry leaves from Long Wharf in downtown Boston (also from ferry docks in Hingham and Hull, MA) and goes to Georges, Spectacle, Peddocks, Lovells, Thompson, Grape, and Bumpkin Islands. You can also make hops between islands if you go early and plan your day carefully. Deer and Nut Islands, Webb Memorial Park, and World's End are accessible by car year-round. Little Brewster Island, home of the Boston Light station, is available only on Ranger-led tours.

Planning for a Native American Memorial is underway, with a site dedicated on Deer Island and a sculpture commissioned from Native artist Lloyd Gray–Nessatako (Mohawk Iroquois of the Onondaga People). There is currently a plaque and signage in place that gives a brief history of the island as a concentration camp.

A model of the proposed Memorial statue by Mohawk sculptor Lloyd Gray-Nessatako.
photo from nps.gov

A display in the Visitors' Center on Spectacle Island and informational signage on Peddocks Island also briefly present Native history and life on the islands.

Additionally, the National Park Service sponsored an award-winning video series called Living in Two Worlds: Native American Voices on the Boston Harbor Islands. Representatives of the Nipmuc, Massachusett, and Wampanoag tribes give the Native history of Eastern Massachusetts and the Harbor Islands and demonstrate preservation efforts and the resilience of living Native communities in New England today.



  1. It's good to visit Boston, MA and its beautiful surroundings because all the places including Harbor are wonderful. Nice post. compare airport parking deals

  2. Wonderful blog. When people think of cruises, they think of The Boston harbor as it is filled with many interesting and unique sailing destinations. Thanks for the information.

    Corporate Cruises Sydney