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Why Is Boston Called "Beantown"?

By Andy Josiah
Updated May 17, 2024
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The origin of Boston’s predilection for beans and its eventual Beantown nickname can be traced to even before the city was founded on 17 September 1630. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, an English establishment set up in North America in 1620, possibly learned from the American Indians how to bake the seeds in bean pots and sweeten them with maple syrup. They ate the baked beans with dark breads, which they made in the colony by mixing barley and corn meal.

With the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, another English settlement in North America established in 1628, baked beans and dark bread had become a customary Sunday meal in the colonies. This developed when the settlers would cook the beans on Saturday and leave them in a bean pot overnight in the hot brick oven, since they were forbidden on religious terms to work or cook on Sundays. When Boston emerged as a major international trading center during the 1700s, beans were still popular in the New England area, which is the northeastern part of the U.S. that includes Massachusetts and five other states. One of its major exports was rum, and the city relied on molasses to distill the alcoholic beverage; this product was obtained from the West Indies.

Molasses, which is the by-product of sugar cane processing, replaced maple syrup as the sweetener of baked beans. Many historians believe that was when Boston baked beans, or baked beans prepared with molasses and salt pork or bacon, came into existence. Inhabitants still adhered to decades-old tradition by cooking it the day before Sabbath and leaving it in the hot brick oven overnight.

The stage was then set for Boston to become Beantown. This officially happened during the week of 28 July 1907, which was called Old Home Week, a New England tradition that involved inviting former area residents back to their hometowns. On that particular week, residents handed out promotional stickers that each depicted a bean pot clasped in two hands. From then on, the Beantown nickname stuck. Ironically, the very recipe that led to Boston being called Beantown is no longer popular in the city.

Boston is one of the largest cities of Massachusetts, and the capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is also one of the United States’ oldest cities. Other famous nicknames for Boston include “The Athens of America,” “The Cradle of Liberty” and “The Walking City."

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