The capital of Massachusetts since colonial times, Boston has also been an important immigrant city since its founding in 1630. Although settled by Puritans, many non-Puritans chose to settle in Boston. By the early 18th century it had become a diverse commercial, fishing, and shipbuilding center in British North America. Bostonians were among the most prominent leaders of the patriot movement of the 1760s and 1770s that led to the American Revolution and the independence of the United States of America. As a thriving port of the rapidly developing new republic, Boston’s population included a large number of foreign merchants and mariners, but at the turn of the 19th century, its permanent population was decidedly Anglo- Saxon. The character of the city was greatly transformed after 1830 by the influx of Irish settlers escaping economic hardship and, after 1847, the devastating effects of the potato famine. The port of Boston, which had not been a major receiving area for immigrants prior to 1847, took in 20,000 Irish immigrants annually between 1847 and 1854. By 1860, more than one-third of the population of 136,181 was foreign born, and nearly three-quarters of these were Irish. After 1880, Boston was second only to New York in number of immigrants received. It reached its peak in 1907, taking in 70,164.
Throughout the 19th century, immigrants provided the backbone for the industrial development of Boston. Before World War I (1914–18), Boston became the center of American settlement for the Irish and Albanians, with substantial communities of Armenians, Greeks, and Italians. The high percentage of immigrants led to widespread nativism and discrimination. Many immigrants nevertheless improved their positions, in part because of their dominance in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. By the 1870s, the police and fire departments were dominated by the Irish, and by the 1880s, one in four teachers was Irish. By the early 20th century, second- and third-generation Irish were moving into positions of prominence in business, public services, and politics and by the 1940s, had moved into the economic and political mainstream. After World War II (1939–45), Barbadians, Brazilians, Haitians, Hasidic Jews, Soviet Jews, Hondurans, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Panamanians established substantial communities in Boston.