Making History on the Common

Students Live and Learn History on the Common


On Monday, June 6, 2016, almost 1,000 Boston Public Schools students in grades 3-5 will experience the rich history and culture of Boston while participating in the Friends of the Public Garden’s seventh annual “Making History on the Common.”

“It is great to see kids experiencing our rich history in tangible ways,” says Friends Executive Director Elizabeth Vizza. “Making History on the Common works because it’s simple yet profound.” She thanks event sponsors Motor Mart Garage and Mass Humanities for their generous support of the program.

The event is by invitation only – for further information please contact Karin at

Mass Humanities

This program is funded in part by MassHumanities.

Motor Mart Garage

Thank you to the Motor Mart Garage for their generous sponsorship. 

Friends of the Public Garden Seventh Annual Making History on the Common Day

This event is for Boston Public School groups BY INVITATION ONLY. For further information, please contact Karen at

Activities and Participants

Historic New England: Colonial Games and Trades
Educators from Historic New England will demonstrate carding and spinning techniques used to process wool gathered from sheep, which once grazed the Common. In addition, students will play games popular during colonial times and get a paper-doll farmer to make at home.

Three Sisters Garden
Before the arrival of European colonists the Native American family groups living in this area traditionally planted corn, beans, and squash in the late spring. Referred to as the three sisters, these plants benefit by being planted close together on small mounds of soil, and were fertilized with local herring and seaweed. School groups are invited to learn about this planting method, and receive a set of seeds and information for planting a three sisters garden at their school.

The Ancient Fishweir Project and the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
5,000 years ago fishweirs were built in tidal water near what is now Boston Common to catch fish during the spring spawning season. Remnants of early fishweirs still exist, buried in clay below the streets of Boston’s Back Bay. The Ancient Fishweir Project connects school students with members of the Native American community, public artist Ross Miller, archaeologists, and educators, to build a fishweir replica along the Charles Street side of Boston Common. To further celebrate Native American traditions, the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers will perform throughout the event.

Food Will Win the War: Victory Gardens on the Common
Educators from Historic New England will introduce students to the use of the Common for Victory Gardens to support the war effort especially during World War I. Students will take a food pledge and learn more about how the U.S. Government aimed to shape attitudes towards food through school textbooks and math problems.

Freedom Trail Foundation: Colonial Punishments
The Freedom Trail Players lead exciting educational tours displaying Boston’s rich history. They will be on hand during Making History on the Common to describe how Boston Common was used during the Colonial period, from grazing land to military encampments to a site for hangings and punishments. In addition, the Freedom Trail Foundation will demonstrate the use of wooden pillories, a hinged wooden framework used for punishments in Massachusetts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company
The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest chartered military organization in North America. Each year on the first Monday in June, the company reenacts a drumhead election on Boston Common, where its officers are chosen in a ceremony overseen by the Governor of the Commonwealth. This year the parade begins at Faneuil Hall and arrives on Boston Common at approximately 12:30 p.m. with a historic cannon blast occurring shortly thereafter.

The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment
In 1863, the Governor of Massachusetts authorized the recruitment of an infantry regiment that was to be composed of African American enlisted men, commanded by white officers: the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was the first regiment of African American soldiers to be raised in the North. They were greatly heralded for their valor in their first major engagement in the assault on Ft Wagner in Charleston Harbor, SC, July 1863. Their valiant performance in that battle changed the opinion of the Federal government about the ability and willingness of black Americans to fight for the Union and freedom. In 1897, a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Colonel Robert G. Shaw, was dedicated on the Boston Common and is prominently located across from the State House. Re-enactors of the 54th Massachusetts regiment are participating in Making History on the Common to tell the story of the “Glorious Fifty-Fourth.”

New England Contra Dances
Contra Dances are an American melting pot of dance and music that came with the Colonials from England, Ireland, Scotland & France. They were popular from the 17th century onward and were later influenced by Scandinavian and German dances. These dances and music were blended and modified by the New Englanders who kept them alive. They are now danced all over the country and world. The ‘Jefferson & Liberty’ ensemble from MIT’s Contra Dance for All will play and lead students in these traditional dances which are enjoyed all over the U.S. and the world.

Archeology of Boston Common
Boston City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley, will discuss the Native American history of Boston Common through the Frog Pond site, found on Boston Common during an archaeological dig in 1986. This site contains the oldest artifact known in the city, a 7,500 year old spear point, as well as a 3,000 year old shell midden containing clams from Back Bay and artifacts from daily life on the place we now call Boston Common. Joe will also be giving flintknapping demonstrations on the art of making stone tools such as spear points, knives, and arrowheads. Joe will be giving flintknapping demonstrations of the art of making stone tools such as spear points, knives, and arrowheads. Students will also participate in a hands-on pottery making activity where they are invited to make their own pots, decorate them in traditional Massachusetts Native pottery design, and attempt to reconstruct broken vessels.

Protests on the Common
Throughout its nearly 400-year history, people have used Boston Common as a place to gather and protest. However, it is the 1960s and 1970s that are most well known for bringing crowds to the Common – some of the largest demonstrations against the Vietnam War had up to 100,000 people. At this station, school groups will re-enact a protest relevant to their lives, and will learn the power of many voices united for one purpose.

Mapping the Common
With guidance from the Leventhal Map Collection at the Boston Public Library, school groups will learn about the early geography of early Boston: how quickly can they complete an interactive 5-foot wide puzzle of how the city looked in 1722? What routes would settlers take to bring their livestock to graze on the Common? Students will also play an active trivia game to reinforce geography concepts of early Boston.

Where is the Original Shoreline?
When the first European colonists arrived in this area the geography was very different from the landscape you see today. The waters’ edge was right along Charles Street, at the edge of the Boston Common. Twice each day tidewater flowed in and out of the Back Bay exposing mudflats, shellfish beds, and in some places sandy beaches. Soon after the colonists arrived they began to increase their usable land area by filling in these mudflats, making land for the Public Garden, and for buildings in the Back Bay. A line of blue survey flags marks the line of the pre-colonial shoreline along the Charles Street edge of the Boston Common.

Whole Foods Market is providing apples in commemoration of the orchard believed to have been planted on Beacon Hill by William Blackstone in 1623.

The Carousel at the Boston Frog Pond has generously offered to provide complimentary rides during the event.