This was our third trip to the Boston area. The last time we were here for three weeks and did a thorough job of exploring the sights. We had explored Boston, but we had not walked the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is Boston’s 2.5 mile historic walking tour of 16 nationally significant original sites related to the American Revolution. We also saw a number of historical sites not related to the Revolutionary period. The Trail is marked by a red brick path and tells the tales of brave men and women who dared to challenge the mightiest country on earth to win their freedom.
There are guided tours, but we chose to download an audio tour from the Freedom Trail Foundation for only $15 that we could use on both of our MP3 players, and a tour map that I put on my smart phone. We thought this worked best because we could move at our own pace, stay as long as we wanted at any spot, and stop for lunch along the way.
The tour started at the Boston Common where cattle were grazed and British soldiers camped. In 1634 Puritan settlers established the Commons, making it the oldest public park in the country.
The Massachusetts State House is a formidable structure with a rich history as well as being the seat of state government. Paul Revere laid the cornerstone for it in 1795. There are daily tours on the second floor.
Across the street from the State House is the Shaw Memorial that commemorates the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. Colonel Robert Shaw and his family were staunch abolitionists and he raised a regiment of African-American soldiers. He and the regiment fought with distinction at the battle of Fort Wagner during the Civil War, proving that African-Americans could fight alongside white regiments as equals. The movie, “Glory” with Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman does a good job of telling this story.
The Granary Burying Ground is next to the Park Street Church and holds the remains of many Revolutionary heroes such as Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, James Otis, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.
The Old State House was the primary governmental building in colonial Boston. It was from here that the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Boston. Only a few steps from the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre. This was one of the key acts that set in motion the series of events that would lead to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution.
Faneuil Hall was another major meeting place for the city of Boston. Attendees (at town meetings that were held here) heard Samuel Adams and others lead the cries of protest against the British taxes. The ground floor is currently used by vendors to market their wares much as it was during colonial days. Quincy Market was built directly behind Faneuil Hall to expand the market and is still used for this purpose. We had lunch in the Quincy Market and, while the place was packed with shoppers, we had no problem finding a place to sit. Don’t let the crowd scare you off.
Boston’s North End is the oldest residential neighborhood and includes Paul Revere’s house, built in 1680. The Revere family occupied the house from 1770 to 1800. The house was used as a cigar factory and a bank before it was purchased and restored by the Paul Revere Memorial Foundation. Revere was quite the businessman and had several successful business endeavors, he even gave dentistry a try.
Probably the most famous church in Boston is the Old North Church, although it is actually Christ Church. It is Boston’s oldest church building and remains an active Episcopal Church. Inside you can see the pews that were owned by the various families. A new exhibit next door is the Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. Here we saw how chocolate was made in colonial times and had a free sample. It was good, but certainly not the milk chocolate we are used to today.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill. Approximately two months after the British troops fired on the local militia at Lexington Common and Concord Bridge, the Massachusetts Militia built an earthwork redoubt to defend the Charlestown Peninsula. The British troops moved by boat across the Charles River and assaulted the Militia’s left flank. The Militia beat off two British attacks and, only because they ran out of ammunition, they were defeated in the third assault. The British may have won the battle, but the cost was huge, they lost more troops than they could afford and they realized that the Colonists were a force to be reckoned with.
The Charlestown Navy Yard was an active naval yard from 1800 until 1974. It is home to the USS Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides.” The Constitution is the oldest serving warship in the world still afloat and is still on the Navy’s rolls as an active warship. Also on display is the USS Cassin Young, a destroyer representing the type of ship built here during WW II.
Before the famous Battle of Bunker Hill, Colonial spies discovered that the British were going to march to Lexington and Concord to capture stocks of hidden arms and ammunition and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock. This set in motion the events that led to the “shot heard round the world.”
Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback to warn Adams and Hancock and to alert the Minute Companies of the Militia. The Minute Companies, or Minute Men, were volunteers from within the local militia who were the most motivated and best trained citizen soldiers, and the forerunners of today’s National Guard.
I suggest that you start your tour of the Battle Road at Lexington. It was here that the British were first met by the militia, then go to the North Bridge in Concord where the British were forced to retreat back to Boston after being repulsed by militia at the North Bridge. The retreat to Boston is the Battle Road where the British were continuously attacked by ambushes and sniping by militia for more than ten miles. Let me lead you through the events of that fateful day.
On the night of April 18, 1775 Revere and Dawes were dispatched. At 1:00 AM on April 19th Dawes and Revere met Samuel Prescott, who joined them on their mission. They were stopped by a British patrol and Revere was captured.
At 5:00 AM, 77 members of the Lexington Militia, under the command of Captain Parker, formed on Lexington Commons to face the British. The British fired a volley, eight militia were killed, and the remainder retreated.
As I looked at the Lexington Commons, I could imagine the thoughts going through the minds of these 77 militia men as they faced several hundred well-trained British Redcoats and understood why they fled after the first volley.
By 7:00, the British column had arrived in Concord and began searching the houses for the hidden munitions. At 9:00 the British marched to the North Bridge in Concord where they were confronted by militia from several towns. Militia Major John Buttrick ordered his men to march to the bridge but not to fire unless ordered to do so. British soldiers fired, killing two militia and Buttrick ordered his men to fire. This order was an act of treason against the Crown and the “shot heard round the world” was the first true shot of the American Revolution.
The British withdrew from Concord, regrouped, and began their march back to Boston.
At 12:30, the British reached Meriam’s Corner and were ambushed by militia Minute Companies. This was the beginning of the running battle back to Boston.
Along the route you can see the stone fences lining the Battle Road. At the time of the battle there were more open fields than we see today. There are restored buildings along the route, such as the Wittemore House, the Hartwell Tavern, and the home of Captain William Smith who commanded one of the militia companies in the battle. As you look down the route, picture the British column, marching four abreast, getting ambushed from a nearby woodlot or stone fence line. British soldiers described it as “an incessant fire like a circle that followed us as we marched.”
Throughout the day 4,000 reinforcements from neighboring militia joined the fight along the Battle Road. They continued to snipe and ambush the British column. British flankers from their “light” companies tried to force the militia away from the column. The militia fought from abandoned homes along the route and from behind stone fences along the fields, leapfrogging to keep ahead of the British column. At 2:00, Captain Parker and his Lexington militia got their revenge by attacking the British column near the site of Paul Revere’s capture.
At 3:00 the British column was at the end of their resolve and feeling defeated, they staggered into Lexington and were joined by reinforcements from Boston who fired their cannons into the colonial militia.
Although reinforced, the British column continued to retreat toward Boston. At 4:30 newly arrived militia units fought from within homes in the town of Menotomy and inflicted the greatest number of casualties of the day.
By 7:00 the British finally reached the safety of Boston. The militia encircled the British garrison in a siege that would last for eleven months. Two months later the British attacked the colonial fortifications in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Writers of the history of the Revolutionary War often discuss the militia as an undisciplined and unreliable force, compared to the better trained and equipped Continental Army. However, in April and June of 1775, along the Battle Road and at Bunker Hill they fought, and fought hard, with bravery and skill, in these opening days of our war for freedom.