- Old State House
As all the civic buildings in this historic area of Boston have lost their original function, there is a lot of Trail Sites whose title begins with the word ‘Old’. From Site number 8, the ‘Old’ South Meeting hall, we walk not far along Washington Street to the ‘Old’ State House. The sign on the left is taken from a poster nearby to the Old State House, advertising that we are now in the centre of the revolutionary area of town. It was built in 1713 and it is the oldest surviving public building in Boston and one of the oldest in the USA. From 1713 to 1768, the building housed various levels of Local and Colonial Government under the rule of the British Empire. With the rise of resistance to British rule, much of which came from the assembly that met in this building with citizens like Sam Adams and James Otis being prominent, the British Government took over the building. Considerable damage was done over the four years 1768-1772 by the British soldiers to this building. Four years later the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the Old State House and the symbols of British government, the Unicorn and the Lion, were pulled down from the building and burnt. These two symbols were restored to the building in 1883 as can be seen in images below. In memory of these events, the Declaration of Independence is read from the balcony of Old State House during July 4 celebrations each year.
The stone circle in front of the Old State House in the image on the left is the commemorative medallion marking the spot of the Boston Massacre discussed in the next section. There is a museum inside the refurbished Old State House and it is well worth a visit. The building’s interior is very special to inspect but there are lots of resources on display for the visitor to gain a broader understanding of the Revolution that began in this building.
10. Site of the Boston Massacre
Just a little further down State Street is the site of the Boston Massacre that was to be one of the pivotal events in triggering the American Revolution. The event occurred on March 5, 1770 when 5 people were shot and killed by nervous British troops. Some characters in this story keep reoccurring and the poster below illustrates this. At the bottom of the image is the sentence highlighted in yellow; “Engrav’d Printed & Sold by Paul Revere Boston” A framed copy of Paul Revere’s poster is on one of the walls of the Museum in Old State House where the hall can be seen emerging from the smoke in the background. This print has been handed down in the family of the lawyer, Josiah Quincy Jr, who defended the British soldiers in the Massacre trial.Beside the print, the Museum gives this summary of the events.
“On the night of March 5, 1770, groups of armed men roamed the streets confronting soldiers. As church bells clamoured and shouts of ‘fire’ swelled the crowd, several hundred townspeople congregated near the Old State House.
The turmoil ended abruptly when eight soldiers, taunted and surrounded by an angry mob, responded with gunshots. The soldiers killed five and wounded nine. Patriots immediately labelled the incident, the ‘Boston Massacre’ and seized upon it as a symbol of British tyranny.”
Another note attached to the framed print comments that “Paul Revere deliberately distorted the facts and inflamed colonial anger.”
11. Faneuil Hall
The plaque on the side of Faneuil Hall to the right has a slight element of irony in it given that it finishes with the words, ‘Still used by a free people’. Faneuil Hall was a market hall and meeting place originally opened in 1743, built and paid for by a slave merchant with the profits of slave trading. However it is known as ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ as its meeting room was the site of speeches by founding fathers Samuel Adams and James Otis promoting independence from Britain. There is a statue of Samuel Adams (1722-1803)at the front of the market place today as it was here he vehemently opposed the British attempts to tax their American colonies without their consent. The Tea Party process flowed from speeches in this building.
This building has been burnt down and rebuilt a number of times and it has been largely renovated in the twentieth century. It is now a very popular shopping area with large numbers of visitors here to check out the sales rather than the history of Site 11 on the Freedom Trail. If stopping to shop, look up to the roof line and note the famous grasshopper weather-vane.
If Freedom walkers need a break from the trail, the Dreamland Wax Museum is nearby and it is a strangely interesting place to visit. (See Appendix 1)
The next stop on the Freedom Trail is Paul Revere’s House which is an extended walk away. Walking along Union Street, take the time to have a walk through the New England Holocaust Memorial. On a plaque near the memorial there is a famous prose poem based on the words of a German Lutheran pastor, a great reminder of the price of freedom.
12. Paul Revere House
Paul Revere’s home between 1770 and 1780 is on 19 North Square but was built a century earlier so is the oldest house in downtown Boston. It was saved from demolition in the late 19th century when purchased by Revere’s great grandson and so was renovated to become a small house museum. Since 2016 there is a connected educational facility to more completely cover the various phases of Revere’s life, but in 2011 when we knocked on the door (See below), nobody was at home to answer.
Following the trail to our next stop, Old North Church, we turn off Hanover St into a plaza, the Paul Revere Mall. The centre of the plaza holds an equestrian statue of Paul Revere, no doubt on his midnight ride. The sculpture was modelled in 1885, but it took until 1940 before it was cast in bronze and erected here. Paul Revere’s life was a very full one but he is most famous for his midnight boat and horse ride to warn two of the Independence leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that the British soldiers were on the move to Lexington where the two were staying. Why Paul Revere? Presumably he was still working as a silversmith but he also worked as an express rider for organisations leading the push for independence from Britain. The details of his horse ride on April 18, 1775 are contested by historians but it is clear he got the news of British troop movements to Adams. The main version of the story was retold in the early 19th century by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who was the most popular poet of his day; his poem is the one most quoted when details of the ride are discussed. His ride no doubt ensured that the colonial militiamen were ready and prepared for the arrival of British troops the next day when the Battle of Lexington and Concord started. The map here of Paul Revere’s route (Thanks to paulreverehouse.org) is helpful in understanding the extent of the achievement. Paul Revere was eventually stopped by British soldiers, his horse confiscated but he was let go and he returned towards Lexington to witness the end of the Battle of Lexington.
13. Old North Church
Another block away in 193 Salem St is the oldest church still standing in Boston, the Old North Church, founded in 1722. It‘s claim to fame in the history of the American revolution is due to the Church sexton Robert Newman and his vestryman who climbed the steeple of their church and held aloft two lanterns for a few minutes to signal Paul Revere and the militiamen on the lookout as to how the British were going to get to Lexington on the other side of the Charles river. Robert Newman’s actions were unusual as much of the Church’s parishioners were supporters of the King and Empire and I am not sure if history ever noted that Robert may have got the sack for his patriotic actions that night.
There is a bust in the church of George Washington that was credited by contemporaries as one of the best likenesses of the first President of the United States. If the Freedom Trail walker has time this is a very interesting church to have a look through.
From the Old North Church it’s not far to walk down Hull Street to reach Site 14 on the Freedom Trail.
14. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
This cemetery was laid out in 1659. Come the revolutionary actions of 1775, this burial ground became a strategic location overlooking the harbour. It was here that the British army constructed earthworks and set up their artillery to shell the area around Bunker Hill. This shelling also ensured that Charlestown would go up in flames and this is captured in the image below from the wall of the Old State House museum.After exploring the Burying Ground and taking in the view across the water, it’s time to cross the inner harbour to stop 15 on the Freedom Trail. The walker no longer has to use a rowboat like Paul Revere or walk across the Charlestown Bridge beside all the traffic, visitors can now use the pedestrian bridge (built in 2012) attached to the North Washington St Bridge that connects North Point Park to the Paul Revere Landing Park in Charlestown.
15. USS Constitution
Whilst the War of Independence officially ended in 1783, it was more of a pause in hostilities rather than a complete finish. The new Government was in great debt and needed many aspects of the new state to be developed quickly. One of these necessities was a navy and the story of its creation is captured at Stop 15 of the Freedom Trail. Moored here today is wooden hulled Frigate, USS Constitution, that was built in 1797 and is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. It was heavily involved in the War of 1812 when conflict with Britain restarted where it never lost a battle. The image above shows ‘Old Ironsides’ in 2011 with the Bunker Hill memorial in the background, taken from a ferry taking us on a cruise of Boston Harbour.
This old ‘warhorse’ can be visited as well as the small museum on the site.
16. Bunker Hill Monument
The map above shows the short walk from the USS Constitution site to the Bunker Hill Monument which was erected over 16 years, being dedicated in 1843. It is a 221 ft tall and has 294 steps to the top. It commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill which was one of the first battles at the start of the Revolutionary War. Colonial militiamen had occupied the hill which would give either side control of Boston Harbour. The British troops first two assaults on the hill were repulsed but the third one resulted in them taking the hill; the militiamen retreated due to running out of ammunition. The British thus won the battle but realised their heavy losses meant that defeating the colonial army was going to be difficult.
The visitor today can climb the monument if they desire and/or visit the museum on site.
At the start of the first article on the Freedom Trail, I assured you that it was a four kilometre walk with the vague inference that it would only take the reasonably fit walker 3 or 4 hours to complete. Clearly there is so much to see and do in central Boston that a sensible visitor would set aside a couple of days to see all the 16 sites and visit them in a manner that would include side trips to other places for morning coffee and cake and to local restaurants for a chowder lunch!
To finish…let me allow Longfellow to capture the spirit of the Freedom Trail.
APPENDIX 1: DREAMLAND WAX MUSEUM
We discovered we were able to get free entry into the Wax Museum with our ‘Hop On Hop Off’ bus tickets and we decided to make use of them. It is just over the road and around the corner from Faneuil Hall. It was a slightly bizarre process as we found ourselves compelled to get our picture taken with some of the early presidents of the United States well as one of the controversial twentieth century presidents who was in the news so much back from 1969 to 1974.