Thompson Island (Massachusetts)

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Thompson Island, Boston Harbor, 2008 Thompson Island - Massachusetts.jpg
Thompson Island, Boston Harbor, 2008

Thompson Island is an island in the Boston Harbor, about 1 mile offshore from downtown Boston, Massachusetts. The island is managed by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, a non-profit education organization. The island is open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day; otherwise access is by arrangement only. Thompson Island is one of the largest, most accessible and ecologically diverse islands in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. [1]

Island Any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water

An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, cays or keys. An island in a river or a lake island may be called an eyot or ait, and a small island off the coast may be called a holm. A grouping of geographically or geologically related islands, such as the Philippines, is referred to as an archipelago.

Boston Harbor estuary and harbor of Massachusetts Bay in the northeastern United States

Boston Harbor is a natural harbor and estuary of Massachusetts Bay, and is located adjacent to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. It is home to the Port of Boston, a major shipping facility in the northeastern United States.

Mile Unit of length

The mile is an English unit of length of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards, and standardised as exactly 1,609.344 metres by international agreement in 1959.


The island has a size of 170 acres (0.69 km2), and the highest point is a drumlin that reaches a height of 78 feet above sea level. The rest of the island comprises low rolling hills and a salt marsh. The island has a mixed vegetation, including hardwood tree stands, remnant pear and apple orchards, ornamental trees and shrubs, and salt marsh grasses. The island has open meadows, forests, marine wetlands, sumac groves, and a variety of other geological features as well. Amenities include a formal school campus complete with classrooms, dormitories, dining hall, auditoriums, gymnasium, lab space, outdoor challenge courses, and climbing towers. [1] At low tide, a sandbar connects it to Squaw Rock on the Squantum peninsula, allowing land travel between the two..

Drumlin Elongated hill formed by the action of glacial ice on the substrate

A drumlin, from the Irish word droimnín, first recorded in 1833, in the classical sense is an elongated hill in the shape of an inverted spoon or half-buried egg formed by glacial ice acting on underlying unconsolidated till or ground moraine. Swarms of drumlins create a landscape which is often described as having a 'basket of eggs topography'.

Sea level Average level for the surface of the ocean at any given geographical position on the planetary surface

Mean sea level (MSL) is an average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's bodies of water from which heights such as elevation may be measured. The global MSL is a type of vertical datum – a standardised geodetic datum – that is used, for example, as a chart datum in cartography and marine navigation, or, in aviation, as the standard sea level at which atmospheric pressure is measured to calibrate altitude and, consequently, aircraft flight levels. A common and relatively straightforward mean sea-level standard is instead the midpoint between a mean low and mean high tide at a particular location.

Salt marsh A coastal ecosystem in the upper coastal intertidal zone between land and open saltwater or brackish water that is regularly flooded by the tides

A salt marsh or saltmarsh, also known as a coastal salt marsh or a tidal marsh, is a coastal ecosystem in the upper coastal intertidal zone between land and open saltwater or brackish water that is regularly flooded by the tides. It is dominated by dense stands of salt-tolerant plants such as herbs, grasses, or low shrubs. These plants are terrestrial in origin and are essential to the stability of the salt marsh in trapping and binding sediments. Salt marshes play a large role in the aquatic food web and the delivery of nutrients to coastal waters. They also support terrestrial animals and provide coastal protection.


In 1626, four years before the Puritans arrived, David Thompson began living on the island where he had been conducting a trading post to trade with the Neponset Indians on the island that now bears his name. Thompson was a Scot who had been superintending the settlement of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. For the next two centuries, Thompson Island was leased to several families for farming. Thompson's son eventually inherited the island after obtaining affidavits from William Blaxton and William Trevore attesting to David Thompson's grant and occupancy. [2]

David Thompson (New Hampshire settler)

David Thompson (1593–1628) was the first non-native settler of New Hampshire and the namesake of Thompson Island in Boston Harbor. He may have been a descendant of Sir Thomas Stewart, Master of Mar.

Scottish people ethnic inhabitants of Scotland

The Scottish people or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically, they emerged from an amalgamation of two Celtic-speaking peoples, the Picts and Gaels, who founded the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. Later, the neighbouring Celtic-speaking Cumbrians, as well as Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons and Norse, were incorporated into the Scottish nation.

Ferdinando Gorges English military officer; colonialist

Sir Ferdinando Gorges was a naval and military commander and governor of the important port of Plymouth in England. He was involved in Essex's Rebellion against the Queen, but escaped punishment by testifying against the main conspirators. His early involvement in English trade with and settlement of North America as well as his efforts in founding the Province of Maine in 1622 earned him the title of the "Father of English Colonization in North America," even though Gorges himself never set foot in the New World.

Boys school, 1833-1975

Farm School, Thompson's Island, 1838 1838 FarmSchool ThompsonIsland BostonAlmanac.png
Farm School, Thompson's Island, 1838

In 1833, the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys was moved to the island, and in 1835 it merged with the Boston Farm School Society to become the Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys. Many of the students who went to school on the island lost one or both parents, or had parents who were unable to care for them. [3] In order for a student to be enrolled in the school, the parents or guardians had to sign a form giving the school guardianship of the boys until they were 21 years old. [4] While on the island, parents were only able to see their child once a month during visit days and for two weeks during the summer when the boys were allowed to return home. [5] Many "distraught mothers" [5] changed their minds about having their boys at the school and wanted to have them withdrawn. There are several documented cases where the school returned guardianship to the parents, who were then able to have their child come back home. [6]

In 1955 the name was changed again to Thompson Academy. Thompson Academy became a college preparatory boarding school and continued the tradition of shelter and guidance to boys from the Boston area and beyond. During some very turbulent times, the school was a model of successful community integration based on friendship and brotherhood for several hundred boys of all backgrounds each year during the late 60s and into the mid-70s. Students participated in private school sports leagues, involved themselves in meaningful community service projects in Boston, maintained educational ties with local colleges and universities and assisted with the upkeep of Thompson Island and their school. The boys and their teachers traveled back and forth between Kelly's Landing in South Boston and the Island via the boats "Pilgrim III" and its successor, "Pilgrim IV", regularly. There were two fatal boating accidents which resulted in the death of several students and faculty. The first was in 1842, where 29 individuals died. The second was in 1892, where 9 individuals died [7] In 1971 a fire destroyed the main school building. The school continued to operate for another four years, closing in 1975. Many Thompson Island graduates went on to study at prestigious colleges and universities in the USA and elsewhere.

In 2015, Connie Hertzberg Mayo published a historical fiction novel, The Island of Worthy Boys, set in late 19th century Boston and at the Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys on Thompson Island. Superintendent Bradley (served 1888-1922) and his wife are prominent characters.

[8] Outward Bound, 1994-present

In the early 1990s, David Manzo of Community Providers of Adolescent Services, Inc. d/b/a COMPASS, John Verre of the McKinley Schools, Edward F. Kelley of RFK Children's Action Corp, and Peter Willauer of Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, created a comprehensive residential treatment program called Citybound, for adolescents with emotional and behavioral disabilities on Thompson Island. [9]

Thompson Island, 2006 2006 Thompson Island Boston Harbor 215014855.jpg
Thompson Island, 2006

The Willauer School, an expeditionary learning Outward Bound school operated from 1994 to 2006. The island is currently owned by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center and operates Outward Bound programs that brings more than 5,000 students and 3,000 adults a year to the island. Thompson Island Outward Bound supports its mission through donations and profits from Thompson Island Conference Center (event business running corporate outings and social events) and Outward Bound Professional (adult team-building). [1]

In 2002, the National Park Service and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management purchased a conservation restriction for Thompson Island. With the assistance of The Trust for Public Land, who helped negotiate the deal, future development was limited to only the existing school campus. It also guaranteed permanent public access to the island, completing the permanent protection of all of the Boston Harbor Islands. [8] Representative Joseph Moakely was instrumental in raising the $2 million of funding appropriated by Congress, and another $2 million matched by Massachusetts. [8]

In Season 3 of the WGBH children's reality game show Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman , in the episode "What's Bugging Ruff?", Thompson Island is where Jay, Noel & Sammy are sent for their challenge of learning about various species of insects.

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  1. 1 2 3 "Thompson Island Factsheet". Boston Harbor Islands Partnership. Archived from the original on September 17, 2006. Retrieved October 6, 2006.
  2. The New England Magazine 1900 - New England, Volume 22, pg. 196
  3. "Saved by Boston Boat." (1894, May 23). Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922). pp. 12.
  4. Thompson Island: Collection, 1814-1990, University Archives & Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Boston
  5. 1 2 Mock, Elizabeth(1991)Thompson Island: Learning By Doing
  6. Thompson Island: Collection, 1814-1990, University Archives & Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Boston
  7. Thompson’s Island Collection Records, 1814-1990 (Bulk, 1814-1977). SC-0040. Descriptions of UMass Boston’s Collection (Finding Aids). Open Archives: Digital Collections at the University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA. 17 June 2015
  8. 1 2 3 "Thompson Island". The Trust for Public Land.
  9. Boston Globe, Don Aucoin, April 30, 1990

Coordinates: 42°18′51″N71°00′37″W / 42.314133°N 71.010265°W / 42.314133; -71.010265