Around the World: Celebrating Boston’s Freedom Trail
Boston’s Freedom Trail is designed to help travelers from across the US and around the world celebrate and contemplate our nation’s origins, as well as the freedoms we enjoy and our responsibilities for safeguarding and sustaining them.
Looking back at historic events that brought us to our current state of affairs is a good point of departure for considerations of the future, and travel to places of historic importance – like those highlighted on Boston’s Freedom Trail -- is the vehicle to greater understanding of today’s process and progress.
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile tourist walking route -- defined by a red path (most of it is old-fashioned brick) -- through the heart of downtown Boston. It leads to sixteen historic sites, each of which was important in the establishment of our independence.
The route begins at Boston Common, our nation’s first public city park (established in 1634!), where you will find a Visitors’ Center (near Tremont Street) for information, maps and brochures, and Boston’s original Central Burying Ground (near Boylston Street), where you will find the graves of early patriots (including Samuel Sprague who participated in the Boston Tea Party and fought in the Revolutionary War), poets (Samuel Sprague‘s son, Charles) and artists (Gilbert Stuart who painted the celebrated portrait of George Washington).
From Boston Common, using the map provided at the Visitor Center -- or just following the red road, which is clearly defined -- you will discover all of the Freedom Trail’s sixteen historic sites, and find reasonably detailed explanations of their importance presented on ground markers and plaques.
Among the sites are graveyards, churches, meeting houses and other buildings, and an historic naval frigate. Most of sites are accessible free of charge, some with suggested donations for upkeep. Several do charge small admissions fees.
Among the most significant stops (and those that require the most time) are:
The Old South Meeting House, a church that was built in 1729 and was, at the time, the largest building in Boston. This was where, on December 16, 1773, some 5,000 angry colonists gathered to discuss the problem of British taxation. The meeting resulted in the raid of a British tea ship. Yes, that’s what’s referred to in the annals as the Boston Tea Party. The church had various influential ministers and was the stage from which famous leaders (John Hancock, among others) addressed the people of Boston. The British raided, gutted and converted the building into a horse stable in 1775. But it was later restored and served its congregation until the 1870s, when it was almost destroyed by fire. Today, the congregation, which moved to a new ‘Old South Meeting House’ in Copley Square, returns to the original church for services once a year -- at Thanksgiving Day, but not on Independence Day.
The Old State House, built in 1713, is Boston’s oldest surviving public building. It served as the home of the state’s legislature until 1798. The building was the location of many notable historic events. In 1761, in the Royal Council Chamber, James Otis argued against the infamous Writs of Assistance -- and lost his case, but spurred public opinion towards revolutionary fervor. On July 18, 1776, Col. Thomas Crafts stood on the building’s balcony to proclaim the Declaration of Independence to the gathered crowd. After the revolution, the Old State House was the seat of the Massachusetts state government, and it served as Boston’s City Hall from 1830 to 1841. After several interim uses, it now houses the Boston Society’s history museum, which deserves a thorough browse.
Paul Revere House, built in 1680, was the home of the patriot who played such a significant role in establishing America’s independence. Located at 19 North Square, it was built on the site once occupied by the Second Church of Boston‘s parsonage, which had been occupied by Increase Mather and Cotton Mather. The Paul Revere House is a typical colonial wooden structure, as is the adjacent Pierce-Hichborn House, a brick structure built in 1711, and now housing the Paul Revere Memorial Association‘s museum. Both houses are of architectural as well as historic interest.
Boston’s Freedom Trail terminates at the USS Constitution, a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate commissioned by the U.S. Navy. Named by President George Washington, she was launched in 1797, and is the world’s oldest surviving commissioned naval vessel still afloat. She saw action against pirates along the Barbary Coast and during the War of 1812, during which she was nicknamed “Old Ironsides.” She served actively until 1881, when she was retired. In 1907, she was designated a museum ship. She sailed again in 1997, to mark her 200th anniversary. Now, she’s birthed at Pier 1 in the former Charlestown Navy Yard, and you can board her and take a guided tour free of charge.
Boston’s Freedom Trail was initiated during the early 1950s as a way of showcasing the city’s role in the American Revolution. Walking the route through history is also a greatly inspiring way to celebrate America‘s independence and remember to honor the freedoms that are fundamental to our way of life. Give yourself a day to fully explore all of the trail’s historic sites. You can take a guided tour or get out by yourself with a map of the attractions. Either way, you’ll find a great deal to enjoy and feel proud about. For more information, visit the Freedom Trail Foundation at https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/ on the internet. For information about travel to Boston, visit the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau at https://www.bostonusa.com/.