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Cambridge, Massachusetts

Among the new Puritan settlements that fanned out from Boston, Massachusetts was one called Newtowne (later known as Cambridge). Cambridge is well-known for some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world and is one of the more culturally diverse cities in the United States. After a fleet of 11 ships filled with 700 Puritans landed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1630 and settled in that area, those looking for relief from religious persecution were undecided about where the capitol of their colony ought to be. John Winthrop and others decided their capitol called Newtowne was to be established five miles up the Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts. Having a deep, but somewhat treacherous, channel that permitted the large ships of the day to go upriver, Newtowne, made an excellent location for the finely-laid out town. By 1636, there was a meeting house, school, marketplace, along with the founding of Harvard College which was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the country. Two years later, Newtowne was renamed Cambridge after its namesake in England. American Revolution Cambridge played a significant role in the American Revolution due to its proximity to Boston, Lexington, and Concord. William Dawes made his ride, along with Paul Revere, from Cambridge in April 1775 to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that a large mass of British redcoats were on their way to Lexington for a fight that signaled the beginning of the War of Independence. That same year, General George Washington assumed charge of the soldiers at Cambridge, using the Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House as his headquarters for nine months. Washington gained early success by forcing the British out of nearby Boston. Growth and expansion during the 1800s The three rivaling villages of Old Cambridge, Cambridgeport, and East Cambridge gained in population, along with Cambridge, when such bridges as the West Boston (now Longfellow) (1793) and Canal (1809) bridges were built. The Longfellow Bridge in Old Cambridge cut the length of travel from Boston to Cambridge from eight miles to three. The completion of the Canal Bridge, in East Cambridge, led to that area of the city to become an industrial center until the 1880s. A new wave of immigration to the Cambridge area occurred when a devastating potato blight struck Ireland in 1845. Thousands of Irish immigrants landed in Boston and Cambridge without skills and an uncertain future due to their limited skills. Settling in North Cambridge, these Irish Catholics acquired unskilled positions at the glassworks and furniture factories. The following year Cambridge became a incorporated city, swallowing up those three villages in the process. An influx of immigrants from Italy, Poland, and Portugal began to arrive around the turn of the nineteenth century. These immigrants settled primarily in Cambridgeport and East Cambridge. French Canadians and Russian Jews began to arrive at the same time and settled in North Cambridge and Cambridgeport, respectively. A small population of blacks had settled in the Cambridge area in the early Colonial years. Drawn from Boston to Cambridge for education in its integrated public schools in the early 1880s, such Cambridge citizens as former North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs ran a boarding house there. Jacobs had written about her seven years in hiding prior to her escape to the North in a book called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Maria Baldwin, a native “Catabrigian” as persons from Cambridge are called, home-schooled such Harvard black students as W.E.B. DuBois. Baldwin became headmaster of the Agassiz Grammar School, the first black American to hold such a position in the North. Cambridge today With the infusion of so many ethnic groups, Cambridge maintains one of the most culturally diverse populations in the country. With a population of more than 100,000 as of the 2000 U.S. Census, the city’s economy went from heavily industrial to one of high technology with an emphasis in electronics, self-developing film and cameras, software and biotechnology research. Colleges and universities Cambridge is home to some of the most prestigious learning institutions in the world. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, Cambridge College, Leslie University and Longy School of Music call Cambridge home.