Notes from the Archives: 150 years ago, Dorchester Joins Boston!


The Town of Dorchester was incorporated in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in September of 1630. In the 1800s, Boston annexed various sections of the smaller town. In 1803, “Dorchester Neck,” now known as South Boston, joined the Town of Boston. About 30 years later, “Little Neck,” also known as Washington Village, left Dorchester for Boston. Finally, in the spring of 1868, Dorchester’s male residents held a vote to decide if their entire town would become part of Boston. Nine hundred and twenty-eight residents voted to join Boston and 726 opposed the annexation. On January 3, 1870, Dorchester officially became a part of the City of Boston. 

The City Archives holds a large group of records documenting the town and neighborhood of Dorchester. Our earliest records documenting Dorchester are from the late 1700s. This 1790 record from a Dorchester town meeting lists residents who worked on Dorchester’s highways. To see a full list of records from Dorchester’s early years, take a look at our Guide to the Town of Dorchester records. 

A page from a dictionary of popular slang terms compiled by the students of Dorchester High.

Some of our most popular Dorchester records are records from Dorchester’s schools. We have student records, photographs, yearbooks, school publications, teacher records, school publications, and textbooks. One of our favorite records from Dorchester High School is a slang dictionary written by students in 1986. Some of the words are still used today, like “chicken” or “chill.” Some have fallen out of use, like using the word “celery” to mean “for real!” We’ve digitized the dictionary, and you can view it in the City’s digital repository.  The slang dictionary is just one of many Dorchester High publications that we’ve digitized. You can see the full set of digitized Dorchester High records. We’ve only digitized a a very small part of this collection, but if you visit the City Archives, you can see much more!

Union Street, Dorchester, 1888

Many of our patrons are also very interested in our photographs of Dorchester.  Boston’s Public Works Department, Traffic and Parking Department, and Transit Commission all took photographs of the infrastructure work that they did in Boston.  The photographs that these City departments took show the dramatic changes in Dorchester’s neighborhoods over time. For example, take a look at this 1888 photograph of Union Street. To zoom in on the image, view it in our digital repository.


Or fast forward to 1903, when a Public Works Department photographer snapped this 1903 photograph of Dudley Street. Zoom in on the details.


Fields Corner 1948

Forty years later, the Traffic and Parking Department took this image of Fields Corner as part of project documenting Boston’s streets and intersections. Take a closer look.

Are you interested in learning more about our records of Dorchester? Do you have a Dorchester research project? Call us at 617-635-1195 or email us at [email protected]!

Contact Department: Archives and Records Management

Publish Date: Tue, 01/07/2020 – 12:01pm