History of Long Island, Boston Harbor, MA

Camp Harbor View
April 13, 2009

Known for its scenic views of the city and breathtaking location, Long Island has an impressive history:

  • Long Island is the largest out of 34 islands located in Boston Harbor
  • Originally home to Native American Indians, tenant farming began with forty families in 1634.
  • During the French and Indian War, colonists rounded up local Indian population and forced them onto barges in Watertown.  Transported to nearby Deer Island, the Indians were abandoned.  The terrible conditions  resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Indians during the winter of 1676-77, virtually left to die on the island.  In the Spring, many of the remaining survivors were relocated to Long Island.
  • In 1690, a man by the name of John Nelson purchased nearly all the land from tenants on Long Island.  While imprisoned in Quebec two years later, he learned of secret French plans to attack the colonies.  From his cell he managed to alert authorities, resulting in 10 years imprisonment.   His heroism was celebrated upon returning to Long Island following his release.
  • In March of 1776, British ships began evacuating under pressure from George Washington’s troops located in Dorchester, but the fleet formed a blockade in the outer harbor for 3 months.  As tension escalated, intense artillery battles were fought between the British and American shore batteries.  On June 13, 1776, American General Ward commanded Colonel Asa Whitcomb and 500 cannoneers with a 13-inch mortar and 2 field cannons to the East Head of Long Island, with a similar installation set up in Hull.  Both batteries opened fire at once on the British fleet, and the fleet was ordered out to sea upon the direct hit of the British flagship Milford.  Having played a crucial role in the Revolution, Long Island battery, in conjunction with other batteries throughout the harbor, shot a thirteen-gun salute in celebration of the Declaration of Independence on July 17, 1776.
  • During the War of 1812, authorities requested the ship Independence be moved down the harbor in the hopes that Boston could avoid British shelling by allowing them to easily capture it.  Commodore Bainbridge refused, instead recommending Long Island be equipped to keep the British at bay. 
  • During the 1840s, the population of the island dwindled to two, one of which was a Portuguese fisherman.  Over the next few decades, the island became known as Portuguese Village, with the inhabitant’s family and friends increasing the population to over 30 families.   Soon after, Long Island became home to a beautiful hotel, known as the Long Island House.
  • Given the rising tension and the impending Civil War, Camp Wightman, a military post, was established on Long Island, with the hotel serving as headquarters.  From the 1860s and onward, Long Island continued to serve as a military installment and it was an important defensive and artillery location for the Union Army during the Civil War. 
  • Fort Strong was relocated to Long Island from East Boston in the late 1800s.  Reportedly named for Major General George C. Strong, a ten gun battery was installed in 1874. These batteries remain on the island today.  Inactive for many years, 500 soldiers were stationed at the fort during World War I, which was later used as a radar site in the 1950s during the Cold War. 
  • During the later portion of the 1800s, the City of Boston began building institutional care facilities on Long Island, including an Almshouse (later a residence for unwed mothers), a chronic disease hospital, a nursing school.  The hotel became home to different Boston charities.  Since 1885, the land has never been privately owned.  The island remained remote until the 1950s, as it was only accessible by boat.
  • In addition to Camp Harbor View, Long Island is currently home to several social service agencies, including the Long Island shelter, as well as Boston Fire Department’s Engine Company 54 Station.