Thursday, October 3, 2013

Boston - Day 1: The Freedom Trail

On Saturday, September 28, we rode the "T" (subway) into Boston and did our first day of touring the city by walking along the Freedom Trail.

The Freedom Trail is a red line on the ground through the city. If you follow it, you will see many of the most popular historical sites in the city. The trail is 2.5 miles long and begins in Boston Common.

Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States, established in 1634 by the Puritans. Overlooking the Common is the Massachusetts State House, whose cornerstone was laid by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere in 1795.

Down the hill from the State House is Park Street Church. The hymn "America" was first sung here, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison gave his first antislavery speech here in 1829.

Nearby is the Granary Burying Ground. Not to be too macabre, but I found this place fascinating! Patriots John Hancock, Paul Revere, James Otis, Samuel Adams, Robert Paine, and the victims of the Boston Massacre, as well as whole families of settlers ravaged by fire and plague, are interred in this old cemetery.

After another short walk, we came to King's Chapel and Burying Ground. This church was built in 1749; but because it was a stronghold of Loyalist opposition, most of the congregation left for England and Nova Scotia in 1776. The burying ground next door contains the remains of John Winthrop, the colony's first governor, as well as the gravestone that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter.

Continuing around the corner we saw a statue of Benjamin Franklin overlooking an inset mural in the sidewalk. This was the original site of the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America, established in 1635 by the Puritans. Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams are among the school's notorious alumni.

Down the street we saw the Old Corner Bookstore. Originally built in 1718 as an apothecary, it eventually became a literary center in the mid-1800's as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others brought their manuscripts here to be published. Even Charles Dickens was known to hang out here when in Boston.

A few steps away is the South Meeting House. This building was under renovation so we didn't go inside, but we learned its historical significance anyway. In the days leading up to the American Revolution, citizens gathered here to challenge British rule, protesting the Boston Massacre and the tax on tea. It was here at an overflow meeting on December 16, 1773, that Samuel Adams launched the Boston Tea Party.

Our next stop was especially interesting! The Old State House served as the seat of colonial and state governments as well as a merchants' exchange. Built in 1713, the building is very reminiscent of British imperial buildings and even still carries the symbols of the British throne on its exterior:  the lion and the unicorn. In 1761 patriot James Otis opposed the Writs of Assistance here, inspiring John Adams to state, "Then and there the child Independence was born." Fifteen years later in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed from its balcony to a jubilant crowd. When Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1976, she addressed a crowd from this same balcony, saying:

"If Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and other patriots could have known that one day a British monarch would stand on the balcony of the Old State House, from which the Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of Boston, and be greeted in such kind and generous words...well, I think they would have been extremely surprised! But perhaps they would also have been pleased to know that eventually we came together again as free peoples and friends to defend together the very ideals for which the American Revolution was fought."

The inside of the Old State House is a museum today. Besides the many other interesting exhibits, we saw personal belongings of John Hancock, as well as the *actual*Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolution in 1783. That was very cool!

Outside the Old State House we saw costumed militia demonstrators mustering and shooting their muskets, which impressed our youngest kids! On the other side of the building, underneath the famed balcony, was a cobblestone circle marking the site of the Boston Massacre, where in 1770 British soldiers fired into a crowd of Bostonians killing five people including a fugitive slave named Crispus Attucks.

As we continued our walk along the Freedom Trail, we came to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. From 1763 to 1774, the years leading up to the American Revolution, the assembly room on the second floor played host to many important meetings. For example, Dr. Joseph Warren, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill, led a protest against the Sugar Act in 1764. Protests against the Stamp Act and the Townsend Act soon followed. In the morning of the Boston Massacre, the victims were brought here and their funeral was held here two days later. Later, in the 1800's, antislavery activists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison spoke here, as did advocates for women's rights like Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony.

We sat and ate our picnic lunch in the square around Faneuil Hall while watching street performers entertain us. I believe it was the first time our boys have seen street performers, and they were much taken by it!

Our next stop along the trail was the Paul Revere House. It sits in Boston's oldest residential neighborhood, and to get to it we had to walk through an open-air farmer's market as well as through "Little Italy". The Paul Revere House is the oldest building in downtown Boston, built around 1680. The Revere family lived in the house from 1770 to 1800.

Following the Paul Revere House, we made our way to the famous Old North Church. However, we were diverted slightly along the way when we found a house giving free demonstrations of how colonists made chocolate and how a 1700's printing press operated. We were given samples of the colonial chocolate, but no one liked it, especially my 7yo whose eyes started to water from it!

In the square behind the church we saw a statue of Paul Revere on horseback and a fountain. By this point in the day, the young guys were starting to lose interest and were more interested in the fountain than the historical church, so we let them play around out there for a little while before we entered the church.

On the night of April 18th, 1775, around 10:00 PM, the caretaker of the Old North Church, Robert Newman, climbed up the fourteen-story steeple under the cover of darkness, and hung two lanterns. ("One if by land, and two if by sea.")  Watching and waiting were patriots, including Paul Revere, who rode through the countryside (Lexington and Concord) alerting the minutemen that the British were coming.

The lanterns were not lit for very long. It is said that the British also saw the lanterns and tried to capture Newman who escaped by jumping through a church window.

Interestingly, in 1975, on the 200th anniversary of the hanging of the two lanterns, President Gerald Ford along with direct descendants of Robert Newman hung two commemorative lanterns in the steeple, along with a third lantern which still hangs in the church today.

After the Old North Church, we passed by Copp's Hill Burying Ground. British soldiers placed cannons here to bombard Breeds Hill on June 17, 1775. Robert Newman, black educator Prince Hall, and blacks and mulattos who worked in the shipyards are buried in these grounds dating back to 1660.

From here we walked across the Charlestown Bridge (where we could see glimpses of Boston Harbor where the Boston Tea Party occurred) to see the USS Constitution, also known as "Old Ironsides". This ship is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, one of six warships commissioned by George Washington in 1794. Legend has it that during the War of 1812 against the British, the British were astonished to see their cannonballs bounce harmlessly of the hull of the ship, and thus the ship's nickname was born.

Our final stop on the Freedom Trail was the Bunker Hill Monument. Two months after the British suffered heavy loss at the battles in Lexington and Concord, the British still held control of Boston. The colonists slipped by night onto Breeds Hill and Bunker Hill to fortify their positions, but they were discovered, and battle ensued the next day. Ultimately the British won this battle, but they suffered such heavy loss that their general said it was "A hill too dearly bought." Just over 1000 of their 2000+  soldiers were killed or wounded. The colonists lost about half that number. In 1825 the monument cornerstone was laid. There are 294 steps to the top of the monument, and Steve and three older boys actually climbed to the top, even after all the day's walking up to that point!

This ended our long, full first day in Boston. We were exhausted! But it was a trip worth the effort.