What They Don’t Teach Us

Sara Benincasa
7 min readJun 1, 2021
A sepia toned 19th century photograph of the brick retail building at 283 Washington Street in downtown Boston, MA.

The pretty brick building at 283 Washington Street in Boston is still known as the Old Corner Bookstore. In 1832, William Davis Ticknor and a business partner turned the space into what would become a bustling bookshop as well as the publishing house and hangout spot of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and dozens of other famous authors, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, who called Boston “The Hub of the Solar System.” Abolitionist and editor George William Curtis, enchanted with the bookstore, called it “the hub of the Hub.” Today it is a Chipotle.

In the 17th century, an earlier building on the site served as the residence of Anne Hutchinson, an English-born Puritan colonizer kicked out of the Massachusetts Puritan cult for being too culty. Today it’s not far from a very convenient parking deck with rather lovely views of Boston’s historic downtown core. Across from the Old South Meeting House, where several thousand angry white men once gathered to complain about taxes they were made to pay on the stolen land they occupied, there is a profoundly elegant Walgreens.

Hutchinson and six of her children were later killed, a couple hundred miles to the south, in the colony of New Netherland, on land the Dutch West India Company stole from the local Indigenous peoples. The people who killed the family had apparently given a warning ahead of time that they would invade the tiny settlement near Pelham Bay.

I cannot tell you why 283 Washington Street caught my eye, or why I had to learn more about it, and who had lived in the buildings that were built before this one. I am not a historian. I am piecing this together on my own.

I wanted to write about an old bookshop. I did not want to write about this, because I did not know about this. They did not teach us this in school. They never do, when it’s like this. It’s ugly. There is nothing scenic about this story.

The Hutchinson murders constituted an act of retribution for the mass extermination of over 120 Lenape people, including women and children, by Dutch settlers during the so-called Pavonia Massacre, also known as the Slaughter of the Innocents. This took place in what is now Hudson County, New Jersey, near or perhaps in what is now Jersey City. Dutch navigator and farmer David Pieterszoon de…

Sara Benincasa

Author, REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS & other books. Writer of scripts. Host of WELL, THIS ISN’T NORMAL podcast. Patreon.com/SaraBenincasa