“Milch Cow” returns to Boston Common


Activists brought a cow to Boston Common on May 10 to protest the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’s restrictions on raw milk buying clubs. They’re a little late; cows were banned from the Common in 1830.

That said, our bovine friends had a very respectable off-Broadway run. Boston’s first families started grazing cows on the Common in the 1630’s. They were continuing a tradition of holding a portion of a village’s lands “in common” for all to use, a tradition that dates back to Roman times in western Europe. As more new settlers arrived, though, more and more of the Common disappeared into houses and garden plots. The Puritans had to take action!

In 1646, Boston’s most prominent citizens declared “There shal be kept on the Common bye the Inhabitants of the towne but 70 milch kine [cows],” and that  “no dry cattell, yonge cattell, or horse shal be free to goe on the Common.”  You want a calf?  Tough luck!  Go graze it in the harbor. The Common was for hard-working milk-making cows that could earn their keep. And so, with a little government regulation, privately-owned cows continued to extract natural resources from public land for well over a century.

By 1830, though, the Common was no longer the productive center of a rural Puritan economy, but a park in the middle of a shipping port. Cows were banned, and Bostonians flirted with renaming the place “Washington Park.” The name change has been dropped, but the cows are resurgent!  And Suzanne, the milch kine in question, is clearly neither dry nor yonge, but mature and milky.

But still, an important question lingers: what protest would bring the sheep back to town…?

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