We know so many stories about the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, but the rivalry between the two cities runs even deeper. In the spirit of rivalry week, let’s look at how the rivalry between these two locations became forever ingrained in the land.
Even in their outward appearance, New York and Boston could not be any more different. One city’s colonial-era architecture dominates the city’s foundation, the other is filled with 20th century skyscrapers. One city is built on a grid structure, a feat of urban planning; the other had its road layout designed by cattle.
New York and Boston remained intrinsically tied together from their very beginning. Dutch trade posts established in 1614 in the Hudson River Valley and run by the New Netherland Company represent the first European settlements in either area, while just six years later, the Pilgrims, initially intending to settle in the Hudson River, founded the first colony in Cape Cod in 1620. The mid-1620s saw the founding of New Amsterdam on Manhattan island by the Dutch West India Company and 1630 Boston by the Puritan colonists. Both cities — one mercantile and heterogeneous, one religious and conforming — laid conflicting claims to wide swathes of territory in the Northeast, desiring to control the lucrative fur trade.
As part of two separate colonial empires, New Amsterdam and Boston fought over the region, a competition that ended online when the Treaty of Hartford of 1650 established as the boundary between the Dutch and English colonies the current border between New York and Connecticut.
The capture of New Amsterdam by English forces in 1664 brought the two regions both under English dominion, with New Netherlands and New Amsterdam both being renamed after the King’s brother, the Duke of York, who had advocated for the seizure of the Dutch colonies. That did not, however, end the hostility between New York and Boston. New York traders, for example, were often accused by New Englanders of selling weapons to Native American tribes in exchange for furs, weapons that were then used against New England during the many small wars among the English colonies, French colonies and Native American tribes that dotted the 17th and 18th centuries.
Over the course of the 18th century both cities prospered, becoming two of the largest ports in the American colonies. Lacking fertile land suitable for farming but abundant in timber, New England became a premier center for shipping — not only in America, but across the British Empire. Fueled by immigration from throughout Europe, New York became a multicultural city early in its history, with 25,000 residents in 1776 (second only to Philadelphia, with 30,000); its primary exports included agricultural products and manufactured goods, both of which, at this time, often involved slave labor. Both cities, meanwhile, became centers of higher education and law, although New England had the edge here for quite some time: New College (the future Harvard) was founded in Massachusetts in 1636, while New York would not receive King’s College (now Columbia) until 1754.
During the American Revolution, Boston became the leading city for resistance to British rule, first by organizing resistance to the Stamp Act in 1765; even before the Boston Tea Party in 1773, British officials began to believe that the city could only be controlled through military force. New York, on the other hand, remained very much divided, with its two political factions — the Livingston and de Lancey families — siding with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and the British Crown, respectively. When war broke out in 1775, the colonial militias kicked British forces out of New England, while British General William Howe took New York from General George Washington and the Continental Army in the summer of 1776. The city would remain occupied by the British army and a Loyalist bastion until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 recognized American independence.
After the Revolution, New York took over as the seat of government from Philadelphia for the new United States, serving as the seat of Congress under the Articles of Confederation and as the first capital under the US Constitution. It remained that way for only a year, despite the intention of Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Party. They ceded to Thomas Jefferson’s proposal for a capital on the Potomac in exchange for Congressional approval for Hamilton’s financial debt plan.
Losing the US Capital, however, did not stop or even slow New York’s ascension — as the musical Hamilton aptly says, “We have the banks, we’re in the same spot.” New York had gradually been usurping Boston’s role as the financial capital of the new nation, and its location — closer to the western territories — made it the natural harbor of choice for the growing agricultural industries west of the Appalachian mountains — only New Orleans had easier access to the Great Lakes’ natural resources, through the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 eliminated this advantage, and by 1835, New York surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the country.
That is not to say that Boston became a backwater town; nay, on the contrary, the city became a center of industry and education, and served as a pioneer in the railroad industry as a way to combat the difficulties in building canals in New England. Ultimately, however, New York’s superior location continued to win out, and despite the best efforts, Boston struggled to prevent itself from becoming a provincial town dependent on New York.
The mid- and late-18th century saw New York become the first city of the United States, if not the world. Despite this, Boston continued to vie with the city for, if not economic supremacy, at least cultural and intellectual influence. Whereas commerce and Tammany Hall ruled New York, education, art and athletics (both basketball and volleyball have their origins in Massachusetts) ruled Boston. In many respects, Boston retained a sophisticated, aristocratic-like atmosphere, compared to New York’s reputation as overpopulated, uneducated, physically dirty and politically corrupt.
Over time, however, New York’s superior resources allowed the city to overcome Boston as a center of culture and academics. Broadway invented musical theatre in the 1860s and went on to become, along with West End, the center of the thespian world; dozens of colleges, furthermore, would come to call New York their home, so much so that New York City today has more college students than Boston has people.
As with all good intercity rivalries, competition eventually turned to sports, and in particular, baseball. Prior to the Civil War, two forms of early baseball existed, each with slightly different rules. The “Massachusetts Game,” as it was called, had no foul territory, had the batter stand halfway between first and home, 10-14 players per side and underhand pitching. There was only one out per inning, fielders recorded outs by striking a runner with a ball and the first team to 100 runs won. The New York rules, also called the Knickerbocker style, was played to 21, involved foul territory and had three outs per inning. Over the course of the Civil War, the New York rules became standard within the Union Army, and the Massachusetts Game became obsolete.
Within the New York style, modern baseball evolved. The Boston Red Sox as an organization were founded in 1901, while the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York and became the Highlanders in 1903. 13 years later, the Red Sox would sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and the rest is history.