We’re all familiar with the age-old, colorful tales that make Boston one of the most exceptional historic cities in the States. And while the history that inhabits Boston streets is crucial, we can’t overlook those thirty-four dynamic, storied, and distinct harbor islands, the likes of which no other American city can claim as its own. That’s why we’re vowing to discover the beauty of these small sanctuaries for ourselves throughout the summer! Check back every Wednesday to learn more about the harbor islands as we profile a different landmass each week from now until September. (And to brush up on your island history while on the go, be sure to download our new, free smartphone app based on Christopher Klein’s hit book, Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands.) Today, we’re kicking things off with Georges Island—and for good reason.
In a way, Georges Island is representative of the thirty-four small sanctuaries that lie in the Boston Harbor: it’s home to historic intrigue and, quite literally, the stuff of legends—along with a few things in between. Easily the most popular and accessible of the chain, Georges Island boasts a famous Boston Harbor structure, Fort Warren, which most notably served as a friendly prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. (The Yankees permitted their Johnny Reb captives to receive such luxury items as letters and alcohol, and Union troops never killed any Confederates on the island.)
If the fort’s military history doesn’t spark your interest, then its straight-out-of-a-horror-movie story about “The Lady in Black” undoubtedly will. According to Boston lore, at the time that Fort Warren was doubling as a prison, a Confederate’s wife snuck onto Georges Island in an attempt to free her husband. Disguised as a man and bearing arms, the woman got as far as her husband’s cell before her discovery. In the midst of the ensuing confrontation between the couple and Union troops, the woman’s gun exploded and killed her husband. Legend tells us that before the Yankee soldiers hanged the woman for her crime, they allowed her to change into women’s robes that were, of course, black. “The Lady in Black” reportedly still haunts the island today.
Many native Bostonians who are familiar with Georges Island will tell you that its mysteriousness is only surpassed by its romance and beauty. Reachable by ferry, the island truly features something for everyone. Rangers provide guided tours of Fort Warren; public programs offer Civil War reenactments; and a food stand serves up the delicious fried seafood that is so emblematic of the Boston Harbor.
For more on the stories behind the city’s sanctuaries, pick up a copy of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands by Christopher Klein. To help you explore the islands on the go, download our free smartphone app. Anchors away!