I received an email today from someone who attended the Edward Everett Square Dedication, asking if I would post the remarks I made at the dedication. Here they are:
I am pleased to be here today as a representative of First Parish Church in Dorchester, the oldest religious congregation in present day Boston and a landmark on Meeting House Hill since 1670.
We stand today at the historic crossroads of Edward Everett Square. Massachusetts Avenue begins here which is fitting given the role Dorchester has played in the founding of this Commonwealth and in American history.
The English settlers of Dorchester arrived in 1630 and found that Native Americans had been using Dorchester for fishing and food cultivation for centuries and without their help, the English would have faced much longer odds for survival. After a hard winter, the settlers built Dorchester's first church, the one I represent today, near this site in 1631. The Town of Dorchester created the first tax supported free public school in America in 1639 and in 1645 the town declared that the school "shall equally and impartially receive, and instruct such as shall be [sent to the school] whither their parents be poor or rich, not refusing any"
The road to American independence went through Edward Everett Square. In March of 1777 the cannons which convinced the British to evacuate Boston went up Boston Street to Dorchester Heights under the leadership of Henry Knox.
Dorchester people have long been at the forefront of civil rights, from the Dorchester Anti-Slavery Society in the 1840s to women's rights champion Lucy Stone to Jones Hill resident William Monroe Trotter, who advocated on behalf of African-Americans to First Parish in Dorchester, which conducted the first same sex marriages in Dorchester in 2004. Even animals and plants are represented in Dorchester's history—the founder of the Animal Rescue League, Anna Clapp Harris Smith lived at 65 Pleasant Street and several of the most prominent 19th century members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society developed important varieties of fruits and flowers in Dorchester.
Although Dorchester is often overshadowed by Boston, we have a long history here of which to be proud.
Most important however, is that this place is where Dorchester residents held the first recorded town meeting in American history, on October 8 1633. At that meeting the men of Dorchester agreed to elect representatives, abide by their decisions, and to work together for a common good. This town meeting form of representative democracy quickly spread from Dorchester throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony and ultimately helped form the American republic.
There will soon be several sculptures here in Edward Everett Square reflecting every day community life and each will have quotes from people connected with Dorchester. The bricks under our feet will have the words of many others, making Edward Everett Square the site of a virtual town meeting with voices spanning the centuries, talking, arguing, sharing, and dreaming with each other, united in both time and space. Everyone here has the chance to contribute to the conversation by donating a brick to the effort and I encourage everyone to add their own voice.