Boston’s Freedom Trail: A deep dive into the American Revolution

The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile stretch that leads to 16 historic sites, including the park, burial grounds and meeting houses (iStockphoto)
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile stretch that leads to 16 historic sites, including the park, burial grounds and meeting houses (iStockphoto)


The Freedom Trail celebrates the history of Massachusetts’ capital city and the role it played in the American war for independence

It’s too hot to be dressed in colonial fashion—waistcoat, breeches, cravat, tricorne hat—but our guide isn’t concerned about the heat. He’s impassioned about the history of Boston and the role the capital of Massachusetts played in the American war for independence.

The expansive Boston Common, the oldest city park in downtown Boston, is our first stop on the Freedom Trail, an iconic 2.5-mile stretch that leads to 16 significant historic sites, including the park, churches, burial grounds and meeting houses.

Founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630 by Puritan settlers and named after Boston in Lincolnshire, England, the city was the site of several events central to the American Revolution and subsequent Revolutionary War (1775-1783). These include the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773), Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride (1775), the Battle of Bunker Hill (1775), and the Siege of Boston (1775–1776). The Freedom Trail, preserved by the citizens of Boston in 1951, celebrates the city’s history and tells the story of the American war for independence. “Founded in 1634, Boston Common was used as a military camp by the British Redcoats; it’s where they set out for the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Years later, the colonial militia readied for the Revolution in this very park," says Jacob Quincy, our niftily-dressed guide. “The Common is where George Washington, John Adams and General Lafayette came to celebrate our independence."

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History is everywhere in Boston—the buildings and cemeteries, the markers and statues, even in the pubs. A sign outside a welcoming pub declares, “Sam Adams drank here, Paul Revere ate here, you should too!"

The local Samuel Adams beer is far too inviting for most people to pass up on a summer day as we walk by the Massachusetts State House, in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood. It was designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in January 1798. The gold-domed structure, one of the oldest state capitols in use, has been designated a National Historic Landmark for its architectural significance. “It’s still used to conduct the daily business of government," the guide says.

From where I am standing, I can spot the 217-feet steeple of Park Street Church. Designed by Peter Banner, it’s strongly reminiscent of Christopher Wren’s St Bride’s Church in London and was founded in 1809, atop the granary, Boston’s town grain storage building. “It became known as ‘Brimstone Corner’, due to the fervent preaching of the time and the storage of gunpowder during the 1812 war," Quincy says. The church seems juxtaposed between life and death, positioned as it is between the Common and the Granary Cemetery.

We move into the shaded confines of the Granary Burying Ground, the final resting place for some of Boston’s most notable citizens. Established in 1660, it was named for a granary that once stood where Park Street Church now stands. As many as 5,000 people are buried here, including Declaration of Independence signers John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Robert Paine; and victims of the Boston Massacre. We pass by King’s Chapel, founded in 1686 as New England’s first Anglican Church. The bell tower has an object of interest: a 2,400-pound bell that was crafted by Paul Revere. A statue of Benjamin Franklin stands tall at the original location of the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635. Franklin was a student at the oldest public school in America.

We take a break to grab some ice-cold lemonade, and trudge to the Old Corner Bookstore, glasses in hand. Built in 1718, it once housed Ticknor and Fields, a 19th-century publishing company. Not too far is the Old South Meeting House, the setting for some of the most dramatic events in the fight for independence. Public meetings were held here to protest against British actions in colonial Boston from 1768-75, including the Boston Massacre. “Things came to a head on December 16, 1773. About 5,000 Bostonians crowded into the Old South to discuss the controversial tea tax. With no compromise likely, Samuel Adams signalled the start of the Boston Tea Party. The Sons of Liberty headed to Griffin’s Wharf, and tossed 342 chests of tea, valued at £18,000, into the water," Quincy recalls. The political and mercantile protest against the monopoly of the East India Company escalated into the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party became an iconic event, one that kindled the fire that everyone around the world learnt about in history class.

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The Old State House, built in 1713 and the oldest surviving public building in Boston, is surrounded by skyscrapers but stands out with its lion and a unicorn on the roof. “The Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of Boston from that balcony," Quincy tells us. Just outside the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre. The death of five civilians by gunfire after a skirmish between Bostonians and Redcoats added fuel to the anti-British fire.

We walk up to Faneuil Hall, built by shipping merchant Peter Faneuil near the waterfront in 1741, and one of America’s first public meeting venues during the revolution. “Samuel Adams, James Otis, and many others gave rousing speeches here. Faneuil Hall is the cradle of liberty," Quincy says.

There are other sites: Paul Revere’s House, the only Freedom Trail historic site that’s a home; the Old North Church, where a light signal was used to facilitate the midnight ride of Paul Revere; USS Constitution aka Old Ironsides, the world’s oldest commissioned naval warship still afloat; and the Bunker Hill Monument, a 221-foot granite obelisk built to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Quincy ends the walking tour by recalling the Siege of Boston, the first major military operation of the American Revolutionary War. “After the first shots were fired at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, American colonial militias laid siege to Boston from April 19, 1775, to March 17, 1776. That day, Evacuation Day, 11,000 redcoats left the city by boat," he says. A few months later, on July 4, 1776, the US formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. The fight for freedom had been aided, in no small measure, by Boston and its people. Today, the red brick line is a cultural footpath that showcases Boston’s rich and multifaceted history. Walking the Freedom Trail is like taking a crash course on the American War of Independence.

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