My knowledge of the history of the United States looks like Frankenstein’s head: a strange mix. How’s that? Maybe I’ve been watching too much movies, and they slowly shaped my mind: Dances with Wolves, westerns movies, The Godfather, Good Morning Vietnam, Sex and the City… I also learnt some concepts in High School, such as Sunbelt or Megalopolis. I read books which make me fear slavery, prohibition, guns, death penalty. To sum up, I came to the US with a messy knowledge of the country and its history, full of urban legends and mythologies.
Boston’s Freedom Trail could change that! Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States (founded in 1630). The Freedom Trail is a path of 2.5 miles (4 km), linking the most emblematic monuments and buildings of the city. Perfect for a good upgrade! I just have to follow the red line on the ground. Here’s a tour with my own explanation, my mash-up of internet and tourist guides (feel free to comment). I agree, this post won’t be LOL material. Time to put your glasses on, take a notebook and a pencil.
There are 11 steps along this first part of our Freedom Trail tour. They lead me to learn more about 3 main steps of American history.
- The founding of Boston in New England (1630).
- The Declaration of Independence in 1776 (13 colonies of New England wanted to get rid of British government), followed by the American Revolution, until 1783. That’s when occurred the famous event of the Boston Tea Party.
- The abolition of slavery, at the end of the Civil War – 1861-1865.
1- Boston Common. Let’s start our tour near the tourist office (Park Street Station). We are in the oldest park in the United States, opened in 1634 (Central Park in New York was inaugurated in 1857). Even if nowadays people can have a pleasant walk on Sunday or ice skating in winter, the park has not always been such a lovely place. At first it was a pasture, then it became a training field for the British army. It has also been a place for hangings, duels and public celebrations. Now Shakespeare’s plays or operas are staged outdoors during the summer. You can also go in a swan-boat on the pond: kitsch!
2 – Massachusetts State House. This imposing building overlooks the Boston Common. As suggested by its name, this is the seat of Massachusetts government, which is not strictly a state but a Commonwealth, governed by Democrat Deval Patrick (Deval is really his first name). July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson (not yet president) read the Declaration of Independence. And since, July 4 is Independence Day, a National Day (and not only a movie about aliens).
3 – Park Street Church. In the early 19th century, the church was erected on the ruins of a grain storage. Why this detail? This is the name of the cemetery close to the church. The white steeple has long served as a landmark for travelers (and now for tourists). Why is the church important? It was here that was delivered the first speech against slavery in 1829 (in 1865, slavery was abolished in all the U.S. – it was abolished in 1783 in Massachusetts).
4 – Granary Burying Ground. This is the cemetery of the stars, the Bostonians ones, especially politicians: John Hancock (a wealthy merchant who was so annoyed by all the British taxes that he became a revolutionary; he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776), Samuel Adams (a Founding Fathers of the United States, leader of the Revolution), Paul Revere (a revolutionary guy, again, well known for his “Midnight Ride” which enabled him to warn the patriots), Benjamin Franklin’s parents (also one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, involved in the Declaration of Independence; he was a physicist too, he worked on electricity, he’s not buried there, but in Philadelphia), Peter Faneuil (philanthropist AND slaves merchant), and possibly Mother Goose (author of children’s stories).
5 – King’s Chapel. Under orders from King James II, the first Anglican church was constructed in 1688. The condemned prisoners were allowed to seat in a special gallery where they could hear their last sermon before being hanged in the Common. It seems that it’s worth going inside… We’ll try next time. Close to the chapel is the oldest cemetery in Boston. Elizabeth Pain, unfortunate heroine of the The Scarlet Letter novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is buried there (I loved that book …).
6 – School Street: the first public school, Boston Latin School, and the statue of Benjamin Franklin. From the first public school (1635) remains only the mosaic on the sidewalk… I didn’t take a pic of Ben Franklin’s statue. The sculptor attempted to represent the glory of his intelligence on the left side of his face, and his humor and spirit on the right side. Ambitious! The monkey in the courtyard of the old town hall represents the Democratic party.
NB: This is probably the windiest street in Boston, I nearly lost my fingers because of the cold.
7 – Old Corner Bookstore. This building was originally the home of Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts in 1638 because for her nontraditional religious ideas. During the mid-19th century, the house became a flourishing literary center, hosting authors such as Dickens, Hawthornee, Emerson, Longfellow, etc.. Today it is a Mexican restaurant. >>> Hello?! Unesco?!
8 – Old South Meeting House. This church was built in 1729 and was mainly used for political meetings. Indeed, most political events of the Revolution took place here. The most famous is the demonstration made by 5000 people to protest against the tea tax (= this is the famous Boston Tea Party where people threw the cargo of three vessels into the sea). Today this building is a museum about the Revolution.
The statue recalls the massive immigration of Irish people, one of the largest communities in Boston. A famous Bostonian, Irish-born: John F. Kennedy.
9 – Old State House Museum. It’s the oldest building in Boston (built in 1713). A merchant’s exchange was on the ground flour. On the upper floor was a political center, where the assembly of Massachusetts met. At the time of the Stamp Act (taxes imposed by England to the American colonies), a gallery was built so that the people could follow the meetings. This building is gorgeous … surrounded by tall modern buildings. I love this sight!
10 – Boston Massacre. Below the Old State House balcony, there is a ring of cobblestones which commemorates the Boston Massacre (the English refer it as “the incident of King Street”). British soldiers were stationed in Boston to keep on eye on the population. In 1770, before the Revolution, tensions between English and Bostoniana reached a peak. For no apparent reason, five civilians, including a black man (“the first to die for the cause patriot”) were shot. This event is one of the triggers of the Revolution.
11 – Faneuil House. This building, built in 1742, was a gift of Mr. Faneuil (the philanthropist AND slave merchant, mentioned above). This is both a market and a place of meeting. Here began the Revolution, with patriotic speeches delivered by Samuel Adams and James Otis (who is not the inventor of the elevator). After the Revolution, this building remained a place where important issues were discussed: anti-slavery speeches, feminist struggles, debates about wars. The Faneuil House is now surrounded by several market halls and restaurants. It is a very lively place close to the sea.
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