I found myself at North Station one fine summer morning on my trip to Boston and decided to walk the Freedom Trail. I think it is a smart way to see some of the important and significant sites that shaped the American History.
The trail covers an era starting from the 1600s till the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Typically, people start the trail at the Boston Common and end it at the Bunker Hill Monument. I started in a rather unconventional way – from the Copp’s Hill Burial Ground and abandoned the trail at Boston Common giving the Bunker Hill a miss. In a way I am glad I did it because what started as a regular beautiful summer day threatened to turn into a wet and rainy afternoon. So this way I had covered all but one site.
For the uninitiated, here is some historical background that will help appreciate the trail:
- Boston, is the capital of the state of Massachusetts.
- The word Massachusetts is derived from the Native Indian tribe Massachusett that lived in the area long before the English Settlers landed there in the early 1600s. Coming in contact with the Europeans meant trade, war and illnesses that diminished the indigenous population.
- Subsequently, Massachusetts became one of the 13 British Colonies on the Atlantic Coast of North America.
- North End in Boston was a popular and a much sought after place to settle down in. The area of less than 1sq. km has been occupied since the 1630s. Today it is predominantly an Italian-American settlement with many Italian restaurants. This 1sq. km is important to the Walk because many of the sights are in it and around it.
My first stop on the trail was the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. When the first burial ground at Kings Chapel was getting crowded, a second burial ground came up at ‘North Burying Ground’ which later took the name of the property owner William Copp, a shoemaker. His family is buried here and so also some important Bostonians like Increase Mather and his son Cotton Mather, both influential Puritans, the stonecutters Mumford, Emmes and Codner, Robert Newman, a sexton and Patriot in the American Revolution who hung lanterns on his church’s steeple using the code devised by Paul Revere to warn the Patriots of an eventual attack by the British forces are buried here.
The gravestones carry typical designs of that time– a winged skull or a cherub or urn & willow and sometimes heraldic designs.
The second stop on the route is sexton Robert Newman’s church – the Old North Church. Besides being the oldest church in Boston, it is better known for the tiny but important role it played during the American Revolutionary War. Paul Revere, a successful silversmith and Patriot had told Robert Newman to hang lanterns from the church’s steeple using the code ‘One if by land, two if by sea’ (immortalised by H. W. Longfellow’s poem ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’) to notify the Patriots who had gathered across the Charles River of the mode of advancement of the British Troops. Two lanterns were hung for a brief time that night. Paul Revere and his mates used the signal to warn as many people and towns along the way. This helped gather the Patriots together to launch the first battle of the American Revolutionary War, the Battles of Lexington & Concord.
Paul Revere’s House is the third stop. I go in to see downtown Boston’s oldest structure which housed the Revere family. The house was owned by different people before the Revere’s bought it and it changed hands many times after he and his family moved out. It was purchased and restored several years later by a descendant of the family.
The North Square Park and the Rachel Revere Square opposite the Revere House have some interesting sites that are worthy of a dekko.
I continue along the marked trail, walking past Hayworth Market and the Union Oyster House, arriving at the ‘Cradle of Liberty’ and ‘Home of Free Speech’, the place that established the doctrine of ‘no taxation without representation’ – Faneuil Hall. Peter Faneuil, a wealthy and successful businessman gifted the Hall to the City in 1742. It was a thriving market place and has seen the likes of Samuel Adams (Statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States), John Otis (Lawyer and Political Activist) and several others use their oratory skills to encourage and justify independence from the British. Today too it is possible to shop and dine here. I found these interesting trivia in the basement loos 🙂
Marching on, I arrive at the spot of the Boston Massacre in front of the Old State House. Taxation issues created uneasy times between the Civilians and the British. One small skirmish snowballed into firing by British troops, killing unarmed citizens which further increased tension and anger and deteriorated the already declining relationship between the Colonists and the British. It only emboldened the Patriots to further their insistence for Independence. The Boston Massacre took place on 5th March, 1770.
The Old State House was the seat of British Power. The Governor who represented the Monarchy met with advisers here. For a brief period after the American Revolution (1765-1783) it was the seat of the Massachusetts State Government. It was Boston’s City Hall too for a certain time period. Today it is a museum and preserved for posterity.
Benjamin Franklin was baptised here, at this the next stop on the Freedom Trail, and the African-American poet Phillis Wheatley worshipped here. But this church has landed a place in history for something else. It was here, at the Old South Meeting House that Samuel Adams was addressing a gathering of a few thousand people about taxation by the British. The ‘Tea Act’ had enraged the Colonists and in a fit of protest about 30 men disguised as Native Indians boarded the ship that carried boxes of tea and flung them all into the sea on December 16, 1773! Students of history would have learnt about this incident as the ‘Boston Tea Party’ 🙂
Continuing along the trail, I walk past the Old Corner Bookstore, Boston’s oldest commercial building that housed the publisher Ticknor and Fields who published works of H. W. Longfellow, Mark Twain, Louisa May Scott and many other famous writers. Walking along School Street, I reach the site of the Boston Latin school which was a boys-only school until 1972. Benjamin Franklin was a student at this school but had to discontinue due to lack of money. Of the 56 signatories to the United States Declaration of Independence, five studied in the Boston Latin School and these include Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine and William Hooper. The school still exists today but at a different location.
New England’s first Anglican church, the King’s Chapel and Burying Grounds is my next stop. The pulpit here is the oldest in America to be in continuous use. And the church bell that tolls even today was recast by Paul Revere when the original one that came from England cracked. The Governor’s Pew stands apart and is not easy to miss, its grandeur will catch your eye. It was for the exclusive use of the British Governor and other important government officials. The burial grounds was the first and only resting place for the departed Bostonians until the site in North End was bought and developed into a new burial ground.
I walk further ahead to the Granary Burying Ground and quickly catch a glimpse of the Obelisk that marks the site of the burial of Benjamin Franklin’s parents.
Next door is the Park Street Church with what used to be the tallest steeple that would be the first thing anyone coming into Boston by sea would see. I make a turn and straight ahead is the golden dome shining in the afternoon sun of the Massachusetts State House. To my left is one corner of Boston Common.
Boston Common used to be pastoral land used for grazing cattle before it became the park that we see today. The public grounds witnessed public hangings, was a venue for free speeches, a camp for the British troops and much more. A walk through the park will reveal many important sites such as the Brewer Fountain, Frog Pond, Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the site of the Great Elm. It is a great place to relax and stretch your legs after all that walking!
The overcast skies and growling tummy forced me to end my walk here. Before I sign off, I would like to let you know that this walk took me a good part of the morning. There are detours from the trail that lead you to other equally important places and sites such as the Financial District, the oldest continuously running restaurant and oyster bar, other churches of various denominations, the USS Constitution, the Boston Tea Party ship to name a few. All this will want a full day and some more! So plan wisely!
History buffs who love to walk, run or bicycle must do the ‘Battle Road Trail’ between Lexington and Concord. This path is literally the war path that started the American Revolution on 19 April 1775. For me, that’s a date with history for another day and another time on another visit!