It is time for the second part of our few days in Boston (you can read the first part HERE). As much as I had thought that I wouldn’t write too much about the history, I found myself getting swept away in it all. So, here we are, a second post. Todays post is going to be all about The Freedom Trail located within Boston. We split the Freedom Trail into two days, doing half each day, but it is completely feasible to do it in one day if you’d like. I always appreciate when a city puts something like this together (and trust them when they do) as they usually have the best directions to hit everything you want to see- Luxembourg City did this very well too.
The Freedom Trail is a highlight of a trip to Boston as it is a 2.5 mile red line that wanders through the city, taking you to all the important spots in Boston history. Dating back to 1950, it allows you to view museums, meeting houses, churches, and other buildings that hold a special significance to the city. Anything from churches and cemeteries (with Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others gravesites) to a plaque on the side of a building signifying the first book store, The Freedom Trail will give you a little bit of everything. The tour (or at least the direction we went with) starts you off in Boston Commons.
Boston Common is America’s oldest public park, dating back to 1634. The Puritans purchased the grounds from William Blackstone, it was originally used as a common grazing land for local livestock. It also became a spot for public punishments (featuring everything from stocks and pillory for theft to the hanging of witches and others). During the Revolution it served as a training and camp ground for the British. Today it serves as a public park (the smaller park across the street is where you can find the famous ducks) and a place for rallies and marches, as well as live music and festivals. Towards the end of the park there is a monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This memorial honors and commemorates the first all-Black volunteer regiment during the Civil War. Most of them died during an assault in South Carolina, but they are forever memorialized here.** You also get a glimpse of the Massachusetts State House as you exit the Common. This has been the home of the state government since it was opened in 1798.
The next stop on The Freedom Trail that we made was to the Park Street Church and Granary Burying Ground. The church dates to the early 1800’s, but the burying ground is the real attraction at this stop. This cemetery is the final resting place for some of the key players of the founding and fighting for the colonies of America. This is the final resting place for around 5,000 of Boston’s own, though there are only markers and knowledge of 2,300. Notably buried here are Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and a memorial for those massacred at the Boston Massacre. On these headstones you won’t find religious markers, rather these motifs of skulls with wings (to symbolize flying to heaven). Keep an eye out for grave markers- similar to those in Plymouth, there are metal markers signifying when the person participated in a momentous occasion, such as the Boston Tea Party. You are also able to go to another church and burying ground- the oldest in the city. We didn’t end up going in the church, but we did have a peak at the cemetery. Similar to Granary, this boasts several “big names”, the first woman off the Mayflower, Mary Chilton, William Dawes Jr, messenger sent to warn that the British were coming, as well as many others.
The next few stops on the trail are “bunched” together in that you have the first public school of America (which boasts educating 5 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), a statue of Benjamin Franklin (who actually dropped out of the school just mentioned), and the Old Corner Bookstore, which is the oldest commercial building in the city (it’s now a Chipotle).
From there we headed over to the Old South Meeting House (this deviates slightly from the trail, but as I said, we split this in half so there was some deviations here and there). The Old South Meeting House is “the room where it happened”. It was the center piece to debate, to sermons, to public meetings. The largest building in colonial Boston, this was originally built as a Puritan meeting house. The congregation boasted members such as Samuel Adams, William Otis, William Dawes, Benjamin Franklin, and Phillis Wheatley, the first women and enslaved women to publish a book. The building also served as THE site, where the Boston Tea Party was decided, with 5,000 men in attendance debating the tax and what to do about it. It now is recognized as the first in what are now regular history conservation projects. But the road was not easy, the building was actually sold in the 1870’s and it took a group of 20 women to save the building from being demolished (which also makes it the first building to be saved due to historical significance- lots of history in just one building). It has been a museum since 1877 thanks to their efforts.
We made a last stop on our first day of the Freedom Trail over to the site of the Boston Massacre and the Old State House. The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in the city, dating back to 1713. It now serves as a multi functional museum, documenting not only life in Boston, but the revolution, the Boston Massacre, and has a hands on second floor exhibit for kids to see what certain aspects of life were like. The boys especially loved this as they got to play “King” and “Governor” and dictate things. Right in front of the Old State House is a marker for the location of the Boston Massacre. Taking place on March 5, 1770 the Boston Massacre was a fight between the Redcoats and the people of Boston that ended with the death of 5 people. The tension between the two groups of people had finally boiled over and this tragedy became a turning point leading to the fight for independence.
The next stops on the Freedom Trail are to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. I talked about Quincy Market in my previous Boston Post (HERE) and we didn’t actually get to properly go into Faneuil Hall during our time in Boston. Faneuil Hall served as a meeting place for public speech and commerce. You were able to protest, loudly, you could conduct various forms of business, you could swear an oath of allegiance. Basically it was a center of politics, conveniently located right next to the markets and commerce place.
And that was the end of our first half of the Freedom Trail. I am noting this BECAUSE I feel like, if you want to split it into two days, that is a good place to split it. Most of the above attractions are within the same are of Boston, with convenient and easy walking distances. Then, the below would be the other half of The Freedom Trail. Again, you can do it in one day if you like (and public transport is actually decent if you need it), but this would also be a good stopping point for the day.
**I also want to note, that there is an African American portion of The Freedom Trail. This trail takes you through the sections that the freed African Americans would have lived, their meeting house, the various monuments (including Phillis Wheatley) and other spots. You can find the trail right off of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial at the end of the Boston Common.
The second half of the Freedom Trail gets a little bit more into the battles of the city. Starting at Paul Revere’s home, you are able to get a good glimpse into how folks of his stature, in his time, would have lived. Built sometime near 1680, his home is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston. It is also the only “home” listed as part of the Freedom Trail. You are able to walk through the home, see the kitchen, the sleeping areas, AND see quite a few of the artifacts from his life. You can also see the famous Revere Bell (as we always seem to forget the Paul Revere actually was a craftsman by trade). THis is a quick but easy stop to make and a great way to start off a second day of the trail.
From the house, you then head over to your third and final church The North Church. This church plays an important role (maybe even more important than the other two) as it was THE church that the light was put up in to signal the midnight ride. Dating back to 1723, inside the church you are actually able to see one of the lanterns that was placed in the window for the ride. You are also able to see the bust of George Washington that Lafayette said was the best representation of him. Right around the corner from the church is Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. This was, by and large, the burying site of many of the craftsmen and merchants that lived on the North side of Boston. A couple notable people buried are two of the ministers involved in the Salem Witch Trials, the founder of the Black Freemasonry, as well as the man who hung the lanterns on the night of Pau Revere’s ride, and a builder of the USS Constitution. This particular burying ground was also a marker for the British to aim at during the Battle of Bunker Hill (which we ARE getting to, I promise).
Speaking of, the next stops that you can make are entirely up to you. You can either go up to Bunker Hill at this point (which is what we did), OR you can go down to the USS Constitution. We chose to go up first, then back down, and at the end we took the Ferry back to the “main” part of Boston. It is entirely up to you how you want to walk this part.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first battle of the Revolutions, and while the British technically won (after three assaults) it did prove that the colonists were not going to go down without a fight. The order of “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is believed to have originated in this very battle. The monument was started with the laying of the first stone by Lafayette (excuse me, The Marquis De Lafayette) in 1825. It was completed in 1842.
The final stop (for us) on the trail was at the USS Constitution (and then the USS Cassin Young DD 793). The USS Constitution is the oldest, still afloat, commissioned warship. It was launched in 1797 as a three-masted heavy frigate, one of six authorized by the Naval Act of 1794. The ship is known for the War of 1812 and the defeat of 5 British Warships and where the nickname of “Old Ironsides” was given. The Constitution was retired in 1881and was designated a museum ship in 1907. It is still a fully commissioned Navy ship and is manned by active duty Navy personnel on special duty assignment.
The USS Cassin Young is a destroyer from World War II. It was launched in 1943 and is only one of four of the Fletcher Class destroyers still afloat. The ship served in both World War II (where it was damaged in two kamikaze attacks) and the Korean War, being retired in 1960 and serving as a memorial ship ever since. The ship was intended to serve as an escort to the larger ships and defend them from attack. Unlike the USS Constitution, this ship has been permanently loaned to the National Park Service and it maintained and operated by them rather than The Navy.
And that wrapped up our time in Boston! Boston was a definite highlight for our entire family. The boys loved the history, the boats, the endless exploring and my husband and I loved the pace of the city (and obviously the history). I don’t know that we’d ever be “city people” (most are just too crowded and busy for us), but Boston was such a nice surprise!