Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lazy Map-Makers

By 1617, European-borne disease had reduced the Native American population of Massachusetts Bay from three thousand to around five hundred. Although the situation was everywhere devastating, it was particularly horrific on the peninsula that would one day be known as Dorchester Point (or Dorchester Neck, or Dorchester Heights, depending upon what eighteenth-century map one consults), & in 1804 would be annexed as "South Boston." There, disease was so rampant that surviving tribe members were forced to leave their dead unburied, in piles & in mounds. They took to calling the place "Mattapannock," roughly translated to mean "the place where evil is spread about."

Decades later, English cartographers found themselves in need of a name for the southern-most region of Dorchester. After what was undoubtedly not much consideration, they opted to use the original "Indian" name, but only in part. Mattapannock was such an awfully long word, after all. So, Mattapannock became — well, what else? — "Mattapan." It would, along with Dorchester, be annexed by Boston in 1870.


Blogger Gary McGath said...

So when can we start a movement declaring that the name "Mattapan" is insulting and degrading to its residents? :)

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Night Owl City said...

Where did you find the Mattapannock translation?

3:57 PM  

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