Duxbury is a coastal town in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States. A suburb of Boston, located on the South Shore approximately to the southeast of the city, the population was 15,059 at the 2010 census.
The area now known as Duxbury was inhabited by people as early as 12,000 to 9,000 B.C. By the time European settlers arrived here, the region was inhabited by the Wampanoags, who called this place Mattakeesett, meaning “place of many fish.”
In 1620, the English settlers known as the Pilgrims established their colony in Plymouth. Per the terms of their contract with financial backers in London, they were required to live together in a tight community for seven years. At the end of that term in 1627, land along the coast was allotted to settlers for farming. Thus, the coastline from Plymouth to Marshfield was parceled out, and many settlers began moving away from Plymouth.
At first, those who settled in Duxbury came to work their new farms just in the warmer months and returned to Plymouth during the winter. It was not long, however, before they began to build homes on their land, and soon requested permission from the colony to be set off as a separate community with their own church. Duxbury, which originally included land that is now Pembroke, was incorporated in 1637.
Some of the most influential men in the colony received grants in Duxbury and became its first leaders. Captain Myles Standish, the military leader of the colony, lived in “the Nook,” an area now known as Standish Shore. Elder William Brewster was for many years the religious leader of the colony, in which he led services to the colony until it received its own minister in 1637. John Alden was another important settler. His house, now a museum on Alden Street, was the site of many important meetings of the colony’s leaders. The graves of some of Duxbury’s first settlers can be found in the Old Burying Ground on Chestnut Street, next to the site of original meetinghouse. Theory has it that the town was named by Myles Standish after the family estate of his childhood in Lancashire. The ancient Standish family in northern England owned much land and large estates, including the two main family headquarters of Standish Hall and Duxbury Manor, in Lancashire, since the before the Middle Ages. Myles Standish's will delineates his inheritance rights to very particular lands near and around Standish and mostly Duxbury Manor, stating his descent from both lines of the Standish family; and so it has been suggested that he named the new town in Massachusetts after the estate where he grew up.
The most remarkable period in Duxbury’s history, the shipbuilding era, began immediately after the American Revolution. Following the Treaty of Paris, the newborn nation was granted fishing rights on the Grand Banks. Several families took advantage of the new opportunity and began to build large fishing schooners. Soon, the schooners built in the 1790s gave way to larger brigs and eventually three-masted ships. As several merchant families began to amass large fleets, shipyards and other ancillary industries flourished and Duxbury prospered. By the 1840s, Duxbury boasted about 20 shipyards and produced an average of ten large sailing vessels per year.
The largest industry in Duxbury was owned by Ezra Weston, who came to be known as "King Caesar" due to his success and influence. Weston began building small vessels in 1764 and soon became famous for his successful merchant fleet. His son, Ezra II, who inherited his father’s kingly sobriquet, would bring the industry to its height. By 1841, the younger King Caesar had constructed the largest vessel built in New England up to that time. The ship Hope was an astounding 880 tons. Lloyd's of London recognized Weston as the owner of the largest fleet in America, and this judgment was confirmed by Daniel Webster in a speech in 1841. His empire, a fore-runner of vertical integration, dominated the town. The King Caesar House is now a museum owned by the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society.
The shipbuilding era in Duxbury ended as quickly as it began. By the 1850s, sailing vessels were made obsolete by other modes of transportation such as steamships and railroads. While other Massachusetts towns grew, Duxbury went into a long economic decline.
There was, however, a silver lining. By the 1870s, Duxbury’s rural character and unspoiled bay began to attract summer visitors. Duxbury soon gained a reputation as an idyllic summer resort. With the 1871 completion of the Duxbury & Cohasset Railroad, large numbers of city-folk from Boston could pay $1.50 for a round-trip ticket and enjoy Duxbury’s refreshing environment. Boarding houses sprang up everywhere. The Miles Standish Hotel on the Nook soon became enormously popular. The Myles Standish monument, completed in 1898, was a result of this tourist influx.
This pattern continued in Duxbury well into the 20th-century. It was not until the construction of Route 3 that transportation to Boston became expedient and the town’s population exploded with the arrival of thousands of year-round residents.