This should be a very busy time in Dorchester: neighbors should be out sprucing up the place, finishing details applied to floats and to costumes, politicians should be getting out their comfy shoes, and the city should be busy putting up “no parking” signs along a 3.2 mile route. But as a result of COVID-19, there will be no Dorchester Day Parade on the first Sunday of June in 2020. So what exactly is the parade celebrating? What exactly is Dorchester Day (aka Dot Day)? Let’s find out together in this Caught in Dot History Lesson!
First we have to go back to 1629. A group obtained a charter from the English king, Charles I, granting them permission to settle along the Massachusetts shore*. Ships set sail, carrying around 1,500 people, and the first ship to arrive at the Massachusetts Bay was the Mary and John with 130 settlers onboard. After arriving, the settlers scouted their new territory and on June 6, 1630 they decided on where to build. The site they picked? On top of present day Savin Hill! In September of 1630. They decided to call the area “Dorchester” naming it after the place where many of the settlers came from in England.
Dorchester was settled and grew, at times jockeying with Boston in importance. But eventually, as we’ve learned in previous History Lessons (you have read them all, right???), it was fully incorporated into the City of Boston by 1870.
On June 5th, 1904 the Dorchester Historical Society organized and celebrated the first Dorchester Day to commemorate the founding of Dorchester in 1630. In the mid-1800s, the Dorchester Historical Society formed with a mission, in part, “to collect, preserve, and disseminate knowledge of the history of that section of the City of Boston which was formerly the Town of Dorchester.” One of the important aspects of their mission was to preserve the top of Savin Hill where the settlers first built. On that first “Dorchester Day,” around 200 people celebrated under a tent at the top of the hill; there were speeches and the Boston Municipal Band played.
The next year, 1905, was the first parade associated with Dorchester Day and that parade ended on Savin Hill, with, you guessed it, speeches. The first two celebrations were so successful that for the 3rd Dot Day, the City of Boston appropriated $2,000(!) for the daylong event and the mayor of Boston, John F. Fitzgerald, attended the celebration. Two US Cruisers, the Tacoma and the Cleveland, were even ordered to Dorchester Bay to shoot their cannons off at noon!
The breakdown of the $2,000 for the 3rd Annual Dot Day is really fun to read: $150 for Historical expenses; $200 for yacht races held between Commercial Point and Savin Hill; $200 for athletic games; $500 for fireworks shot from Franklin Field; $100 for baseball, the game was held on the Dunbar Ave Grounds and was played between the Dorchester and the Somerville High School teams; $50 for water sports held off the Public Pier on Freeport St.; $150 for the Dorchester Driving Club (that’s horse racing!); $300 for a parade; and $350 for “Contingent” expenses!
In July of the following year, a month after the 4th Dot Day Celebration, one of the original goals of the Historical Society was met when Mayor Fitzgerald made the top of Savin Hill into a City of Boston Park which it still is to this day.
Dorchester Day has grown and changed since its inception in 1904. During that first celebration the Reverend Father Ronan spoke to the crowd of 200 and said, “Let us stand shoulder to shoulder until this occasion shall be placed upon the calendar of Boston’s annual celebrations.” To that I would say, “Mission accomplished!” and I’m sure that when it is safe to gather in large crowds again, the Dot Day Parade will be bigger and better than ever!
*People were living here for generations before European settlement. People with their own culture, tradition, history and civilization. Charles I gave away land he had no actual right to.
Image via Dorchester Historical Society: It looks as if the Dorchester Day Parade was marching from northern Dorchester to Lower Mills in 1967. St. Ann’s of Neponset leads the parade through Fields Corner, celebrating the 337 anniversary of the settlement of Dorchester.