As a young girl I went on a historical adventure across the East Coast. My parents and I visited America’s past over a couple of weeks and many different cities , states, and provinces. We stopped in Salem to visit the site of witch hysteria—an aura seemed to still linger over the city. In my recollection the sky was black and purple that day. I tried to fool pilgrims to drop their 17th century character at Plimoth Plantation. No luck—they were way too good for me. In Maine, I learned about the sea…and developed a life-long obsession with lobster. Is there anything more delicious than the sweet meat of a fresh lobster claw dripping with butter? On our way home to Michigan, we drove through Toronto, Canada. I saw my first castle, Casa Loma. The Great Hall boasted the tallest ceilings I had ever seen. I was enchanted by its medieval character which had me dreaming of shining knights on armored horses. The stop that delighted me the most though was our stay in Boston. Boston was a revolutionary city, a national treasure. It was the home of rebellious tea tossers and the site of massacre. And for a young history buff, it was nirvana.
Several years ago, my husband and I were trying to figure out where to take our summer holiday. Boston came to mind. My husband had never been, but had a prurient interest in Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger (he was being held at the federal courthouse on the harbor). He was game for a visit. I could barely control my excitement as I couldn’t wait to re-visit the city that had contributed to a lifetime dedicated to historical study.
I chose a hotel in the heart of the historical district within an easy walk of the harbor and near the city’s most famous tourist attraction—The Freedom Trail. The red line denoting the Trail was right outside our hotel’s door so every time I stepped out of our temporary home, I would walk in the footsteps of those lofty rebels who had dared to dream of a separate nation. I would be able to dine (and hoist a glass) in the same places as those who had believed in a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people—not one ruled by monarchy. How this democracy would take shape and who would receive the blessings of liberty (and in what part) would continue to be battled long after the war was over, but Boston’s historical sites give us insight into the beginning. Boston’s Freedom Trail highlights important moments in our nation’s founding and in the struggle of different groups for freedom.
The red line starts at Boston Common and ends across the river in Charlestown. Walking the Freedom Trail, I was struck by the magnitude of what happened in this city. I thought about how the American Revolution was also a civil war. I pondered the courage it took to rebel. I reflected upon the myriad of issues at stake. Besides political problems, at hand were also economic questions and issues of race, class, and gender. There were differing visions of freedom and hot debate over the best form of government. The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on every man’s capacity for rational thought, had influenced thinkers in our country as much as it had those of Europe. The world would forever be a different place.
As you take a march of liberty along the Freedom Trail, I would highly recommend downloading the map from the Freedom Trail website. Also, I would buy a Freedom Trail guidebook from a local gift shop. The pamphlet’s present the history of each site on the Trail in an accessible manner. I like the one by Charles Bahne.
The following places are stops on the official Freedom Trail
- Boston Common—America’s oldest park, this was where the cows of Boston’s first white settler, William Blackstone, grazed. His land later became “common land,” but not for cows—Bostonians ousted bovine animals from the land in 1830.
- Massachusetts State House—Finished in 1798, this government building sits on the edge of ritzy Beacon Hill neighborhood and stands on land once owned by the man of the grandiose signature, John Hancock. Across from the State House is an important Civil War monument, the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial commemorating an African-American regiment.
- Park Street Church—Founded in 1809, its parishioners were known for supporting abolitionist causes.
- Granary Burying Ground—Established in 1660, this burial ground houses some of the who’s who of Boston and the American Revolution.
- King’s Chapel & Burying Ground—The current chapel dates from the mid-18th century, but the burying ground and original chapel date from the 1600s. Massachusetts first governor, John Winthrop, is buried there.
- Boston Latin School & Benjamin Franklin Statue—The school, founded is 1635, is the oldest public school in America. Five signers of the Declaration of Independence attended this school: Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, and William Hooper.
- Old Corner Book Store—Boston was once known for its literary greatness with the nation’s leading book publisher, Ticknor and Fields, operating in the city and authors meeting there regularly. The building sits on property once owned by the ever-daring Anne Hutchinson.
- Old South Meeting House—Built in 1729, this meeting house was the location where the Boston Tea Party was planned on December 16, 1773.
- Old State House—Built in 1713, this public building was where Patriots stoked the flames of revolution.
- Site of Boston Massacre—On March 5, 1770, Redcoats opened fire on a mob killing five (soon-to-be) Americans: Crispus Attacks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick, Patrick Carr.
- Faneuil Hall—Built in 1741, this town meeting-hall later became the place where dissenters to the Crown, like the Sons of Liberty, spoke their mind.
- Union Oyster House—Although not on the official Freedom Trail, this house, built around 1714, served as a place where Isaiah Thomas published Massachusetts Spy before the Revolution. The nearby Green Dragon was dubbed by Daniel Webster as the “Headquarters of the Revolution” it being a place where rebellion was toasted.
- Paul Revere House—Revere purchased this 1680 house in 1770. This is where he and his family lived when he made his famous midnight ride immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
- Old North Church—Speaking of Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, this church played a pivotal role in that story being the place where lanterns in its steeple would signal “one if by land, two if by sea.”
- Copp’s Hill Burying Ground—This was Boston’s largest colonial burying ground dating from 1659.
- Bunker Hill Monument—Across the river in Charlestown, the Battle of Bunker Hill (confusingly fought on Breed’s Hill) occurred on June 17, 1775; it was the first major battle of the American Revolution. This 221-foot obelisk commemorates the fight. Word to the wise, do not try to climb it when the heat index breaks 100 Fahrenheit.
- USS Constitution—Also across the river, “Old Ironsides” earned its nickname during the War of 1812. It launched in Boston in 1797.
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