Handdrawn image of timbering
At the time of first European settlement in the Boston Harbor area, some of the Harbor Islands apparently retained their original vegetation while others had been at least partially cleared by Native Americans for cultivation. In a visit to Boston Harbor in 1621, for example, Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony noted, “Many, yea, most of the Ilands have beene inhabited, some being cleared from end of end” (Shurtleff 1890:434). Trees grew on the islands that were not cleared or were not bare bedrock like Green or Little Calf, but what species of trees is still a subject of research. Macrofossils and pollen analysis indicate that birch, oak, ash, maple, pine, cedar, hickory, linden, and sassafras were probably present (Richburg and Patterson 2005:17). In addition to these, Martin Pring in 1603 and John Smith in 1616 also observed beech, cherry, chestnut, cypress, elm, hazel, mulberry, plum, walnut, and witch hazel (Richburg and Patterson 2005:19). Regardless of what species were available, colonists soon began to use the wood on the islands for building construction and firewood, especially since the Shawmut Peninsula had already been deforested. Early wood gathering on Deer Island, for example, is documented in the Boston town records. In November 1636 the town gave Boston inhabitants permission to cut wood on Deer Island (Boston Record Commissioners [B.R.C.] 1881a:13–14). The right to cut wood on that island continued even when it was leased to private parties in December 1644 and in January 1648 (B.R.C. 1881a:82, 92). In 1655, however, the town prohibited further wood cutting on Deer, saying that only enough remained for the farm then on the island (B.R.C. 1881a:125). And in 1662 the town permitted the Deer Island tenant to clear all the timber in the island’s swamp as well as all other wood left on the island except for some timber trees (possibly red maple and Atlantic cedar)—probably marking the end of forestation on Deer Island (B.R.C. 1881b:18; Patterson and Richburg 2003:14).