I've long stopped trying to correct people who claim that Boston's first streets were created by following cow paths. While a romantic notion, cows generally didn't walk the streets of Boston. Boston Common served as the town's cow pasture for many years and the penalty for having a pig or cow wander off encouraged owners to keep an eye on their animals. In some New England towns one can still find the remains of "piggeries," which functioned as holding pens for errant livestock. Upon payment of a fine to the town warden, an animal could be redeemed by its rightful owner. There is a certain irony that the path known as Cow Lane, now High Street, is a relatively straight downtown street with a curve that can be ascribed to the shoreline rather than a wandering cow.
I have in my possession a document dated Boston, June 5, 1804: Received of Mr. Nye 75 Cents, in full of the Tax for his Cow, for the present year. John Gammell. This would appear to be a charge for the use of Boston Common for cow grazing. Boston banned cows on the Common in 1830, a few years after incorporating as a City in 1822. It is unclear whether this decision had something to do with the bicentennial of Boston's founding in 1630, the City's self image, or some combination thereof. Soon after Boston annexed Dorchester in 1869, a decision was made not to allow Dorchester cows to graze on the Town Field, which is just past Fields Corner on Dorchester Avenue. A friend recently informed me that cattle used to be driven through Dorchester on their way to the stockyards in Brighton. Cattle grazed in fields down along the Neponset and were driven to market up Adams Street in Dorchester, over Meetinghouse Hill, down Hancock Street along the back side of Jones Hill, and then through Roxbury. The practice apparently continued into at least the 1870s, if not the 1880s. We tend to forget that the economy of towns around Boston in the pre-Civil War era was generally based on agriculture, with Boston as a ready market.