I first visited Boston in 2012. We did most of the touristy things including walking the Freedom Trail. We purchased the guide, followed the trail and learnt a little about the history of the city. Over the past few months I have seen the Freedom Trail tour guides all over Instagram and Facebook. This persuaded me to try the trail again and see the heritage of Boston from a different perspective.
In short, this was an absolutely brilliant decision. I’m going to provide an overview of the type of tour that was offered then highlight five stops on the tour that were of particular interest.
Basically I want to answer the question why should you go on this tour as opposed to walking the Trail yourself? If you don’t like walking tours then fair enough. I love them because you often get the stories to go along with the heritage in a succinct and entertaining way. Hearing stories from another person can bring heritage to life, unlocking fascinating stories. To me, this is more interesting than reading the information in a booklet or online.
This tour was absolutely amazing. From a historian’s perspective, I appreciated the amount of research that went into the script. A few times on the tour the guide corrected historical inaccuracies which permeate the Colonial history of America. Not only did this happen, but, it was done in an incredibly entertaining way.
Everyone on the tour was absolutely mesmerised by the history because it was being told in a fun way. There was also a great attempt to include other perspectives. Stories of women, African Americans and Native Americans were included allowing the tour to be way more interesting than when I walked the trail solo. Obviously not every story could be included and things had to be simplified. But, this wasn’t meant to be an academic paper. It was meant to engage people and I think it achieved this goal.
I should also say here that after this tour I went on the African American Freedom Trail. This will be another blog post because there is just too much to mention in both! The following will be addressed in order of stop number and not preference.
Stop 1 – Park Street Church
After a lengthy amount of time wandering around Boston Common, we crossed the street to see Park Street Church. Here, we learnt so much about Boston’s role in the Civil Rights Movement – both good and bad. It amazed me to learn the last public school was de-segregated in Boston.
Anyway, this particular building was first where Puritans stored their grain and then became a church. It was a place of safety for abolitionists in the North including Frederick Douglass. It is still a running church.
Stop 2 – Granary Burying Ground
In this one location, our guide busted so many of the myths that persist in American history. Inside the cemetery there are some names you may recognise – John Hancock, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. If you have no idea who they are, they were all involved in the Revolutionary War/War of Independence. The guide was great in that he talked about these individuals not as great men of history, but, as products of their context.
One of my favourite stories was on why John Hancock’s signature is so huge on the Declaration of Independence. This story involved explaining his role in the early colony and the workings of early political America. He signed the document when it was completed so it could be copied and sent to the other colonies. Then, others wanted to sign so had to fit their signatures in somewhere.
The social, cultural and political climate of the colonies during this period were all touched on. It has actually spurred me to look a little closer at the role of women in the War. They were operating in the same contexts and it would be interesting to hear their stories.
Stop 3 – Old South Meeting House
You have probably heard of the Boston Tea Party. When boxes of tea, totalling in today’s money approximately 1.8 million, were thrown into Boston Harbour. So for over 100 years the colonies weren’t taxed. Then it started with paint and of course tea. There were a few other things mentioned that I forget! The people of Boston boycotted these goods but when they were promised much cheaper prices, still with tax, drastic action was decided. This building is where over 5000 people gathered to discuss the tax situation.
What heritage adds to these kinds of tours is the fact you can actually see remnants of the past. You can start to imagine the physicality of the event.
Stop 4 – Faneuil Hall
If the walls of this building could speak I am sure they would have very interesting things to say. Faneuil Hall is otherwise known as the Cradle of Liberty. The second floor of this Hall was a meeting place crucial for spreading revolutionary ideas. It continues to have a strong political association, often selected as a location for political speeches. It is also where new citizens to Massachusetts are sworn in by taking the Oath of Allegiance.
What stood out to me the most was it’s beautiful architecture style. It was built in a Georgian style with a small white dome on the top. This is juxtaposed against the modern buildings that surround. It really stands out and demands attention.
Stop 5 – Omni Parker House
So I am cheating a little. Omni Parker House isn’t on the official Freedom Trail, but, we stopped here so that’s how I’m justifying it. This is one of the oldest operating hotels in America. In here the Boston Cream Bun was invented, Ho Chi Minh worked, JFK had his bachelor party and John Wilkes Booth stayed before heading to Washington. Sure the hotel has been renovated over time, but there are original fixtures and features. Considering it’s link to JFK and food, it addresses many of my specific interests.
If it wasn’t for this physical heritage surviving in the city this tour would not have had the same impact. Maybe there wouldn’t even be a tour. Sure it’s a bit of a tourist trap but anything that promotes history and heritage I just have to support. At least people are engaging with the city’s past and perhaps becoming inspired to learn and discover more!