History & Tourism

How Charles River was Named

Archaeological evidence indicates the Watertown area was first occupied by Indians nearly 6,000 years ago. The area was inhabited by two Native American tribes, Pequossette and the Nonantum, who settled along the river banks. John Smith explored the coast of Massachusetts in the early 1600s naming the river that flows through Watertown, the Massachusetts. It was later changed to the Charles River, in honor of King Charles I.

Roger Clap & the Dorchester Men

In May 1630, a party led by Roger Clap, landed on the steep banks of Charles River at a point near the present site of Perkins School for the Blind. He tells of the first encounter with the Pequossette Indians when they approached Clap’s landing party with a large bass for which they were given a biscuit by the settlers. This scene is commemorated on the official Town seal. Soon after Clap’s group left, at Governor Winthrop’s order, to settle in Dorchester where it was thought the land was better for cattle.

Watertown Became an Official Settlement

In July of that same year, a small company of Englishmen and those who had arrived from England on the Arbella, made their way up the Charles and landed at a point near the present location of Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. These Englishmen were led by Sir Richard Saltonstall and his Minister George Phillips. At first called Saltonstall Plantation, their settlement officially became Watertown in September 1630.

Roger Clap
Watertown Seal 2.jpg

Economic Development in Watertown

Watertown initially encompassed the present communities of Weston, Waltham, and large sections of Lincoln, Belmont, and Cambridge – One of the largest American settlements of its time. It soon grew to be an important center for trade, commerce, and industry. Subsequently, by order of the General Court of Massachusetts, Cambridge and Watertown were obligated to pay the Indians what would be $10,000 by the 1980s. For more information visit History of Economic Development in Watertown.