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Roxbury (1630-1868)

Roxbury was a town in Norfolk County before it was annexed to Boston in Suffolk County. This guide discusses the records created by this town and includes references to material of present-day Roxbury (the neighborhood of Boston) as well. Be careful of the time period you are researching here as the records you need may be in one of two counties or one of two towns.

Contents


Brief History

Roxbury was one of several towns settled by the passengers from the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. The settlement grew when the famed Rev. John Eliot (called "the Apostle to the Indians") arrived in 1632 with a group of his followers called "Nazeing Christians." It is under Eliot that the church is established (with residents attended Dorchester's church before his arrival). Some settlers moved away when the wealthiest resident, William Pynchon, moved in 1636 to establish Springfield. The leadership void was filled by Thomas Dudley moving to town. There were strong connections to East Anglia among the residents. The land was distributed quickly unlike other towns around. It was not until the town was granted more land in 1660 by Massachusetts Bay Colony that this situation changed. The grant, called New Roxbury, was later renamed Woodstock and eventually became part of Connecticut.

While the northeastern section was becoming one of America's first streetcar suburbs, the rural southwestern section became home to Brook Farm in 1841, a utopian commune based of the ideals of the Transcendentalism movement. English, Irish, and German immigrants were attracted to the industrial sections in the north arrived by the mid-1800s. The town was split in 1851 and the rural western two-thirds was established as a new town of West Roxbury. The east become more integrated with the city until it was annexed to Boston in 1868, after which it was referred to as Boston Highlands. The Irish concentrated in the Dudley Square area and Neponset. After 1900, a large Jewish community settled along the Blue Hill Avenue corridor (before annexation called Grove Hall Avenue). Twenty years prior to the Great Depression and after World War II through the 1950s, there was a massive migration of African-Americans from the South to the northeast. In Boston, the community settled in Roxbury.

Historical Data

The basic data is from the "Historical Data" publication series[1] with additions from various sources.

Associated names

Roxbury at one time was called Rocsbury and Rocksbury. After annexation, it was called Boston Highlands.

Village or section names include Dudley Square, Egleston Square, Grove Hall, Highland Park, Jamaica Plain (until 1851), Lower Roxbury, Mission Hill, Punch Bowl (now Brookline Village), Roslindale (until 1851), Roxbury Crossing, South End (partially in downtown Boston), Washington Park, and West Roxbury (until 1851).

Border changes
Dates Events
28 Sept. 1630 Listed the plantation "Rocsbury" as being taxed [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 77].
4 Mar. 1633 Border between Roxbury and Boston established.
7 Apr. 1635 Border between Roxbury and New Towne [now Cambridge] established.
25 May 1636 Land granted to Roxbury.
2 May 1638 Land granted to Roxbury.
16 May 1638 Border between Roxbury and Dedham established.
7 Oct. 1641 Border between Roxbury and Boston at Muddy River established.
16 Oct. 1660 Land granted to Roxbury.
12 May 1675 Border between Roxbury and Dedham established.
16 Mar. 1836
19 Apr. 1837
Border between Roxbury and Boston established.
23 Apr. 1838 Part of Newton annexed.
24 Feb. 1844 Part annexed to Brookline.
25 Mar. 1846 Roxbury incorporated as a city per act of 12 Mar. 1846.
3 May 1850 Part annexed to Boston and the border between Roxbury and Boston established.
24 May 1851 Southwestern two-thirds set off as the town of West Roxbury.
8 May 1860 Part annexed to Boston per act of 3 Apr. 1860 and the border between Roxbury and Boston established.
5 Jan. 1868 City of Roxbury annexed to Boston per act of 1 June 1867 [Mass. Acts 1867, ch. 359, sec. 1, p. 754].
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Town Histories

[[Image:
MassachusettsSuffolk CountyNorfolk CountyPlymouth CountyMiddlesex CountyEssex CountyNorfolk CountyBostonChelseaRevereWinthropNeedhamBrooklineDedhamWestwoodNorwoodCantonRandolphBraintreeWeymouthHinghamHullQuincyMiltonNewtonWatertownWalthamLexingtonWoburnWinchesterArlingtonBelmontCambridgeSomervilleMedfordStonehamMelroseMaldenEverettSaugusLynnNanhantCharlestownBrightonRoxburyWest RoxburyDorchesterHyde Park
Roxbury was annexed by Boston in 1868. This shows Roxbury in Boston on a map of Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

]]Works written on the town include:

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Vital Records

All the pre-1646 town records were lost, those most were recreated. The town's vital records are available in many locations:

Published records
This includes, in part, church records from the First Religious Society (Unitarian) (C.R.1), First Congregational Parish of West Roxbury (Unitarian) (C.R.2), First Congregational Society of Jamaica Plain (Unitarian) (C.R.3), Dudley St. Baptist Church (C.R. 4), St. James Episcopal Church (C.R. 5), Eliot Congregational Church (C.R. 6), and South Congregational Church, West Roxbury. (C.R. 7). Deaths are included from Eliot Cem. (G.R.1), Westerly Cem. (West Roxbury) (G.R.2), Walter Street Cem. (West Roxbury) (G.R.3), Jamaica Plain Cem. (G.R.4), and Warren Cem. (G.R.5).
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City Directories

Roxbury was published in 1847, 1848, 1848/9, 1850, 1852, 1854, 1856, 1858, 1860, 1862, 1864, 1866.

The Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.) has one of the largest collections of city directories in the country. They are likely to own most of the years listed above. Their collection is in microfiche, microfilm, and books, but there is no online inventory of their holdings except for microfilm. See their guide online.

Other holdings:

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Maps

After the city of Roxbury was annexed to the city of Boston, this area appeared in numerous atlases of the city of Boston, being the closer annexed area to downtown Boston. Below are the published atlases that include Roxbury (the neighborhood).

Most of the following Bromley atlases are viewable at The Boston Atlas. Select your viewer and then unclick the top layer maps. Choose the top item, click "Boston Public Library," then "Bromley Atlases," then "Roxbury," and last the map you want. Play with the other options to see more maps than listed here.

  • George W. Bromley and Walter S. Bromley, Atlas of the city of Boston Roxbury : from actual surveys and official plans (Philadelphia, 1889), 40 colored double maps.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
  • George W. Bromley and Walter S. Bromley, Atlas of the city of Boston, city proper and Roxbury, from actual surveys and official plans (Philadelphia, 1890), 40 colored double maps.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
  • George W. Bromley and Walter S. Bromley, Atlas of the City of Boston : Boston Proper and Roxbury (Philadelphia, 1895), 43 colored double maps.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
  • George W. Bromley and Walter S. Bromley, Atlas of the city of Boston : Roxbury : from actual surveys and official plans (Philadelphia, 1915), 40 colored double maps.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
  • Atlas of the city of Boston : Roxbury : from actual surveys and official plans (Philadelphia, 1931), 37 folded leaves.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.

For other maps of Roxbury, see the links in the blog Fort Hill History.

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Cemeteries

The following is a list of cemeteries in old Roxbury. Cemeteries in the western part of town set off as West Roxbury will be found there.

  1. Eliot or Eustis Street Burying Ground, 1630. (A)
    "Historical Sketch of the First Burying Place in Roxbury [Eustis Street Burying Ground] also Inscriptions on all Gravestones and Biographical Notes and Record of Deaths and Burials from First Church Records and First Town Records from 1630 to 1689" in Annual Report of the Cemetery Department of Boston, Fiscal Year 1903-1904 (Boston, 1904), p. 39-148.
    Typescript transcription (MS70/Rox/1) at New England Historic Genealogical Society in cataloging.
  2. St. Joseph's or Tommy Rock Cemetery, 1847.
    This cemetery was closed by the church in 1868 as the cemetery was full. Most were Irish immigrants from co. Donegal, Ireland, and their graves were unmarked. Remains were were uncovered in 2006 under a playground when the land had been sold. All 1200 burials were re-interred in the Calvary Cemetery in Waltham.
  3. Warren or Kearsarge Avenue Burying Ground site, 1818. (A)
    Note: Cemetery was closed in 1883. The graves were removed to Mount Hope and Forest Hills cemeteries and the area converted to a playground in 1890.
    Copy of Inscriptions upon the Grave-stones in the Kearsarge-Avenue cemetery, Kearsarge Avenue, Roxbury : copied July 1890, by Garrett & Wood, surveyors (Boston, 1890), 28 pp.
    Not in WorldCat or at FHL, but found at New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston.

Abstracts of the cemeteries above are marked and keyed to:
(A). Vital Records of Roxbury, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Boston, 1925) [see links above under Vital Records].

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Churches

The following is a list of churches established in town in order of organization date (if known) and condition of records in the 1889 survey if listed. It is a record of churches up to 1900 only. For a list of churches of Boston in 2000, see the Emmanuel Gospel Center's Boston Church Directory (Millennium Edition).

  1. First Religious Society of Roxbury (then later First Church of Roxbury) [Congregational, then Unitarian], 1631.
    Church records, 1630-1956, held by the Andover-Newton Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, that include baptismal, marriage, and burial registers, 1774-1862.
    A Report of the Record Commissioners containing the Roxbury land and church records (Boston, 1880; 2nd ed. 1884), vi, 225 pp., being v. 6 in the series of reports.
    Digital versions at Internet Archive and Mesa FamilySearch Library.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.461 H2b v. 6 with digital link.
    Walter Eliot Thwing, History of the First Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1630-1904 (Boston, 1908), xxi, 428 pp.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL film 1697480 Item 1.
    Robert J. Dunkle and Ann S. Lainhart, The Records of the Churches of Boston and the First Church, Second Parish, and Third Parish of Roxbury (Boston, 2002), 1 CD (see review with details).
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL CD-ROM no. 1547 (internal library computer link).
  2. Second Church of Christ of Roxbury, 1712 [see West Roxbury churches].
  3. Third Church of Christ of Roxbury, 1769 [see West Roxbury churches].
  4. First Baptist Church (later Dudley Street Baptist Church), 1821.
    From the dismissed membership of this church, the following churches have been established: Brookline Baptist Church (1828), First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain (1842), Tremont Street Baptist Church (1845, below), and Dearborn Street Baptist Church (1871, below). This church merged with the Centre Street Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain to form a merged church called United Centre-Dudley Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury in 1867.
    Church records, 1821-1884, FHL film 837132 Item 2.
    A History of the Dudley Street Baptist Church, Boston, (formerly Roxbury) Mass., : the declaration of faith, the church covenant, and list of members (Boston, 1871), 82 pp.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
    Directory of Members : Dudley Street Baptist Church, Boston, Mass. December 1, 1915 (Boston, 1915), 26 pp.
    Not in WorldCat or at FHL.
  5. Universalist Church, 1820-151.
    The first meeting house was destroyed by fire in 1894 and the current building built in 1895.
    Church records, 1818-1951, held by the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School.
    The Semi-Centennial Memorial of the Universalist Church, Roxbury, Mass. (Boston, 1871), 108 pp.
    Digital versions at Internet Archive, Google Books, and Hathi Trust.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
  6. St. James's Protestant Episcopal Church (later St. James Episcopal Church), 1833-after 2009.
    This church building is still standing. The congregation merged with St. John Episcopal Church to form St. John St. James Church in Roxbury, though this church was last reported open in 2009.
    The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Boston, holds the early original records.
    Records of marriages and baptisms, 1833-1858, FHL film 1298903 Item 6.
  7. Eliot Congregational Church (website not working 2012) (a United Church of Christ), 1834.
    The congregation was first on Kenilworth Street in the Highlands section of town. Some members left to form the Vine Street Church in 1857 and that church merged with another to form the Immanuel-Walnut Congregational Church. This new church and the Eliot church merged about 1925 and moving to the new church buildings on Walnut Avenue (see Vine Street Church below for more details. The original Eliot Church on Kenilworth Street was razed by fire in 1953.
    A. C. Thompson, Eliot Memorial : sketches historical and biographical of the Eliot Church and Society, Boston (Boston, 1900), viii, 503 pp.
    Digital version at Internet Archive.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
  8. Old South Evangelical Church, 1835. [see West Roxbury church #2].
  9. St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 1836.
    Baptisms to 1968, marriages to 1955, first communions, 1947-1988, and confirmations, 1871-1960, are held by the Archdiocese of Boston Archives. All records after 1930 are closed to research. Baptisms between 1 May 1870 and 12 Feb. 1871 were recorded in the Cathedral records.
    This church received the records of All Saints Catholic Church in 1973, St. Joseph's Catholic Church in 2002, and St. Richard's Catholic Church at an unknown date.
  10. St. John's Protestant Episcopal Church, 1839 [see Jamaica Plain church #2].
  11. First Methodist Episcopal Church, 1839-1939.
    After the fire of 1868, some First Church members left to form the Highland Methodist Episcopal Church on Warren Street in 1869. This church sold its building to the city in 1927 and met at the nearby Universalist Church. The name reverted back to the First Church of Roxbury in 1935. The church closed in 1939. Its parsonage was given to the Fourth Church.
    Records, 1838-1939, held by the School of Theology Library, Boston University.
    Church records, 1839-1939 (vital records to 1907), FHL film 1509062 Items 27-33.
  12. First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain, 1842 [see Jamaica Plain church #3].
  13. Roxbury Freewill Baptist Church, 1842-1854.
    Little is known about this church beyond its existence before being dissolved in 1854.
  14. Mt. Pleasant Congregational Church (now Unitarian), 1845-closed between 1889 and 1898.
    Nothing more is known about this church or its records.
  15. St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 1845-2002.
    Baptisms and marriages to 1901, baptisms at the New England Hospital, 1885-1901, and confirmations, 1869-1871, are held by the Archdiocese of Boston Archives.
    This church closed in 2002 and records send to St. Patrick's Catholic Church (1836) above.
  16. Tremont Street Baptist Church, 1845-1866.
    This church was formed by members dismissed from the Dudley Street Baptist Church in 1845 and dissolved in 1866. It was succeeded by the Ruggles Street Baptist Church (see below).
  17. German Methodist Episcopal Church, 1852-1955.
    This was a German mission of the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. It became the First German Methodist Episcopal Church of the New York Conference in 1866 and part of the East German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church moved to the New England Conference in 1936 under the name St. Paul's Methodist Church. It absorbed the Walnut Avenue Methodist Church in 1948 (see Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, 1880-1948, below). This church was absorbed by St. Andrew's Methodist Church of Jamaica Plain.
    Church records, 1852-1955, held by the School of Theology Library, Boston University.
  18. St. Francis de Sales's Roman Catholic Church, 1855-2005.
    Baptisms and marriages, 1861-1928, and confirmations, 1876-1932 (closed after 1930), are held by the Archdiocese of Boston Archives.
    This church merged with the new St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in 2005.
  19. Vine Street Congregational Church, 1857-ca. 1925.
    This church was formed by members from the Eliot Congregational Church (above) in 1857. The congregation moved to Moreland Street and renamed the Immanuel Congregational Church in 1876. This church merged with the Walnut Avenue Congregational Church to form the Immanuel-Walnut Congregational Church in 1907. The Walnut church building was built in 1873. The new congregational built a chapel next to it in 1889. This congregation merged back with the Eliot Church (see above) about 1925 and stayed in the Walnut church buildings. The chapel suffered from a raging fire in 1929, but the original church building was left intact. The chapel was rebuilt.
  20. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1867.
  21. Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (a Mission Church), 1869.
    This current church was built in 1878 and its spires in 1910.
    Baptisms to 1901, marriages to 1913, and confirmations to 1909 are held by the Archdiocese of Boston Archives.
  22. Highland Congregational Church, 1869-2006.
    This church was located at 738 Parker Street in Roxbury. The church suffered a fire in 1978 and by 1980 was using rooms of the Trinity Lutheran Church on Centre Street in Roslindale. The church remained there until it closed in 2006. Their old building is now the Spanish Church of God.
    Church records, 1869-2006, held by the Congregational Library, Boston.
  23. Highland Methodist Episcopal Church, 1869-1885.
    After the fire of 1868, some First Church (1839) members left to form the Highland Methodist Episcopal Church on Warren Street in 1869. It was called the Ruggles Street Methodist Episcopal Church before it was dissolved.
  24. Dearborn Street Baptist Church, 1871-1958.
    This church was established by members of the Dudley Street Baptist Church and renamed Bethany Baptist Church between 1889 and 1898. This church was completely destroyed by fire on 30 Dec. 1958. Its membership joined the Stoughton Street Baptist Church in Dorchester, see church #9.
  25. New Jerusalem Church (Swedenborgian), 1870-after 1946 (extinct).
    This church was located at 3 Regent Street on the corner of St. James Street where now (2009) is a vacant lot with a new foundation. Nothing is known about this church or its records, but the parent church is on Beacon Hill in Boston.
  26. Ruggles Street Baptist Church, 1870-1885.
    Members of the dissolved Tabernacle Baptist Church (above) formed this church that was dissolved in 1885. Nothing more is known about this church or its records.
  27. Walnut Avenue Congregational Church, 1870-1907.
    This church merged with the Vine Street Congregational Church and formed the Immanuel-Walnut Congregational Church in 1907. See more details under the Vine Street church above.
  28. Mount Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church, 1871-1888.
    This church started at the corner of Dudley Street and North Avenue in 1871 and moved to Howard Avenue and thus renamed the Howard Avenue Methodist Church in 1876. Called Roxbury now, this was technically just south of the old town border of the Line Brook and placing it in Dorchester, so see Dorchester church #21.
  29. St. John's Protestant Episcopal Church, 1871.
    This church was located at 1282 Tremont Street, Roxbury Crossing. The building was destroyed by fire about 1968. It merged with St. James Episcopal Church (1833) above sometime after that.
  30. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1871-1960s.
    This church was located on the corner of Gore and Parker streets at Roxbury Crossing. The building is still standing and houses the Parker Hill Fenway Head Start in 2009. The congregation moved / merged in the 1960s with the Trinity Lutheran Church at 1195 Centre Street, Roslindale, on the northwest corner of the Arnold Arboretum. That church was founded in 1941.
  31. Egleston Square Methodist Episcopal Church, 1872-1913.
    The church was located at 3098 Washington Street. The elevated railway being built down this street forced the sale of the church in 1911. The congregation moved to Walnut Avenue and became the Warren Park Methodist Episcopal Church. The church was sold to the First Swedish Methodist Church (see below, 1880).
  32. Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1873-1877.
    This church was dissolved in 1877. Nothing more is known about this church or its records.
  33. Har Moriah, 1878.
    This synagogue was first on Westminster Street in the Boston Highlands and later on Warren Street in the heart of Roxbury. This became a mutual aid society.
  34. Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, 1880-1948.
    This Swedish Mission began in 1880 and later became part of the Eastern Swedish Conference as the Boston Swedish Church. It was at the corner of Ferdinand and Isabella streets from 1889 to 1913, when the church moved to Walnut Avenue and became the First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church. It became part of the New England Conference of Methodist churches in 1942 and changed its name to the Walnut Avenue Methodist Church. The merged merged with St. Paul's Methodist Church of Jamaica Plain in 1948.
    Church records, 1880-1948, held by the School of Theology Library, Boston University.
    Church records, 1880-1948, FHL film 1509062 Items 24-26.
  35. Congregation Baron Hirsch, 1891-1892.
    Established on Amory Street and then incorporated as the Roxbury Mutual Society.
  36. Adath Jeshurun, 1894-1967.
    Established as an offshoot of Beth Israel in the North End first on Tremont Street in Roxbury, it moved three years later to Dudley Street. It moved numerous times along Blue Hill Avenue before it closed in 1967.
  37. Mishkan Tefila, 1894.
    Originally in the South End, it opened a synagogue on Shawmut Avenue on the end of Roxbury Crossing and the South End in 1898. By 1907, it moved into a former church building on Moreland Street. The congregation moved to Chestnut Hill in 1958.
  38. All Saints Catholic Church, 1894-1973.
    Church baptisms and marriages, 1896-1908, held by the Archdiocese of Boston Archives.
    All other records moved to St. Patrick's Catholic Church.
  39. St. Philip Catholic Church, 1895-1990.
    Baptisms to 1923, marriages to 1908, and confirmations to 1937 (records after 1930 closed to research) are held by the Archdiocese of Boston Archives.
    This church merged with the new St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in 1990.
  40. St. Hugh's Catholic Church, ca. 1897-2005.
    This church merged with the new St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in 2005.
  41. Novey Zedek, 1898-1936.
    This congregation was located in the Ruggles Street area before closing in 1936.
  42. Adath Israel, 1900.
    Seemingly no connection to Temple Israel whose original name was this.
  43. Temple Anshej Bres Choolum, 1900-1951.
    Located at 65 Bickford Street, the congregation sold their building in 1951. No further information.
  44. Swedish Methodist Church (later called the Howard Avenue Methodist Church), 1903.
    This church merged with Greenwood Memorial Church in 1953 -- see Dorchester church #19.
    Church records, 1905-1952, held by the School of Theology, Boston University.
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THIS PAGE BEING POPULATED IN SECTIONS. MORE TO FOLLOW SOON.

References

  1. William Francis Galvin, Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities and Towns in Massachusetts (Boston, new ed., 1997), 99. WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.4 H2h 1997
Adjacent towns: Norfolk Co: Brighton | Brookline | Dedham | Dorchester | Hyde Park | Needham | West Roxbury Middlesex Co.: Cambridge | Newton Suffolk Co.: Boston


 

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