Walking the Boston Freedom Trail

Paul Revere House - Boston Freedom Trail

Take a trip through American Revolution History on the Boston Freedom Trail. The trail is a 2.5-mile trek through the urban city of Boston. Marked with a red line, you can visit 16 historical sites that will educate you in the story about how the American Revolution began in Boston. With over 4 million people visiting the Boston Freedom Trail annually, be ready for the crowds you will encounter. Bring your patience for “these are the times that try men’s souls.”

How to Visit the Boston Freedom Trail

You have many options on how to explore the trail. The Freedom Trail begins at the Boston Common. You can sign up to take a tour with guides dressed in period costumes. Or you can grab a brochure/map and head out on the trail by yourself following the line the whole 2.5 miles. Or you can do what my mom and I did when we came into town. We hopped right into the trail in the middle and just followed the crowds. We did miss a few stops out of the 16 historical sites. But, we saw quite a bit and walked too much, according to my mom. Who ended up taking a break in the hotel while I continued to explore the rest of Boston. It doesn’t matter how you start the Boston Freedom Trail, just that you do see it while you are visiting Boston.

Boston CommonBoston Common

The Boston Common is the central location in Boston, where everything has and continues to happen. This park is the oldest public park since 1634. The park was originally a pasture that housed sheep and cattle for the people of Boston. Each family had to pay six shillings for the everyday use of the 44-acres of land. These grounds have seen everything from celebrations (repealing the Stamp Act and the end of the Revolutionary War), being a militia campground (British Army lived here during the occupation), demonstrations held here on free speech (Anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies), and public executions (pirates, murders, and accused witches). Today the Boston Common is still open for everyone to enjoy.

Massachusetts State HouseMassachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House sits majestically as one of the oldest buildings (1798) on Beacon Hill overlooking the Boston Common. This is the place where the current government officials (senators, representatives, and governor) conduct their business for the Commonwealth of Boston. Some fun facts: the golden dome used to be made of wood, overlaid with copper, and in 1874 it was covered with 23-karat gold leaf. The dome was even painted gray during World War II. If you have a zoom lens on your camera, you might be able to see the gilded wooden pinecone sitting atop the dome. The pinecone represents the states’ dependence on logging back in the 18th-century.

Park Street Church

The Park Street Church is standing at 217-feet high used to be the first thing people saw when approaching Boston. The church has been the site for encouraging human rights and social justice. The church supported abolitionist causes, prison reform, and the women’s suffrage movement. Another name the church has is the Brimstone Corner. There are debates about where the name originated. Whether it is from the storing of brimstone or sulfur in the basement of the church or it is because of the old-school ministers preaching hell-fire and brimstone for the parishioners, you can decide.

Granary Burying GroundGranary Burying Ground - Boston Freedom Trail

At the Granary Burying Ground, you can find some of the most important people from Boston here. See if you can find the gravestones for Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Peter Faneuil, James Otis, Paul Revere, and all five of the Boston Massacre victims. There is a total of three signers of the Declaration of Independence buried in this cemetery. Do you know who the third person is?

The organization of the stones is very orderly, which allows you to meander through the grounds quickly. Although with that organization, it leads to discrepancies for how many people are buried here. It was a common practice for families to use one headstone and bury the entire family under it. The Infants Tomb itself has over 400 babies buried in it. There are a total of 2,345 gravestones in the cemetery, but estimates place the number of people buried within the grounds around 5,000.

King’s ChapelKing's Chapel

One of the oldest churches in Boston is the King’s Chapel. The history of how this church was built is fascinating. The original wood structure from the late 1680s grew too small for the growing congregation. To keep the services going, they built the existing stone church around the little wooden church. When the church was completed, they tore down the wood structure and tossed it out the windows. When you look at the exterior and admire the large stone columns, here is a fun fact for you. They are not stone. The columns are painted wood.

The interior is considered one of the most beautiful Georgian church architecture example in North America. The church bell recast by Paul Revere in 1816 still rings today to bring people to worship. Many affluent families of Boston belonged to this church. Unfortunately, loyalists fled to Canada during the American Revolution. The name of the church was changed to Stone Chapel during this timeframe. More fun facts for you. Some stories tell of prisoners condemned to hang in the Boston Common were allowed to come and say their last prayers in pew 13. The location of Pew 13 is not known, but how unlucky for them to have that be their last spot before The Great Elm (hanging tree in Boston Common).

King’s Chapel Burying GroundKing's Chapel Burying Ground

The King’s Chapel Burying Ground is the first official cemetery in Boston. Some of the famous Bostonians buried here are John Winthrop (Massachusetts’ first governor), Joseph Tapping (shopkeeper with an elaborate tombstone), Mary Clifton (first woman off Mayflower). Puritans didn’t believe in religious icons, so they used the headstones for the artistic expression of their belief of the afterlife. You will see many skulls with wings which depicts the “Soul Effigy” flying to heaven after death. Along with the skulls, you will see images of the Grim Reaper and Father Time. Spend some time admiring the artwork on the stones, especially Joseph’s with a skeleton battling Father Time.

Boston Latin School SiteBoston Latin School Site - Boston Freedom Trail

You can find the site of the boys-only Boston Latin School next to the King’s Chapel on the sidewalk. This is the original site of America’s oldest public school in 1645. It was torn down in 1745 to make way for the expansion of the King’s Chapel. Notable alums are Benjamin Franklin, Samual Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, and William Hooper. When the shots were fired in Lexington on April 19, 1775, words spread throughout Boston with “Cose your books, School’s done, and the war’s begun!” How drastic these boys lives changed on that day. Today the school is located in Fenway and admits boys and girls.

Benjamin Franklin StatueBenjamin Franklin Statue

Even with Ben Franklin’s strong adult ties to Philadelphia, he was born and raised in Boston. Benjamin Franklin as famous as he is the only one of the five Boston Latin School alums who did not graduate. But, even as a dropout, he made his mark on Boston and American history. He invented the lightning rod, the Franklin Stove, the glass harmonica, the post office, bifocal lenses, and is the first to chart the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.

Old Corner BookstoreOld Corner Bookstore

The building, formerly known as an apothecary shop (1718), became the Old Corner Bookstore in 1828. Located at the corner of School and Washington Streets, the Old Corner Bookstore was the center of American publishing in the mid-1800s. Literary works from Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Louisa May Alcott were published here, to name a few. Saved from demolition, the Old Corner Bookstore is Boston’s oldest commercial building.

Old South Meeting HouseOld South Meeting House

The Old South Meeting House built-in 1729 was the most prominent building in colonial Boston. As a Puritan meeting house, it was the stage for several dramatic events leading up to the American Revolution. On December 16, 1773, over 5,000 Bostonians assembled here to decide what to do about the 30 tons of tea in the harbor. The anger against no representative in the British government gave way to Samual Adams, telling the crowd, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” And subsequently, the Sons of Liberty signal to destroy the crates of tea and dumping it into the harbor. Besides this event, this spot is where the crowds gathered to protest the Boston Massacre.  To this day, the Old South Meeting House continues to offer a public forum to exchange ideas.

Old State HouseOld State House

The Old State House is the original government working building and the center of debates about British rule over the colonies. This is where James Otis, in 1761, rallied against the Writs of Assitance (warrants for custom officials to search without cause). And as James Adams declared, “Then and there the child independence was born.” The colony’s House of Representatives in 1768, announced united resistance to British taxes. And in 1770, the site of the Boston Massacre happened right in front of the building. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was first read from the balcony of the Old State House. Today you can find Boston’s Revolutionary Museum inside.

Boston Massacre SiteBoston Massacre Site

This is the site where an angry crowd of Bostonians clashed with the occupying British ‘redcoats.’ On March 5, 1770, nine soldiers opened fire on the crowd killing five Bostonians. Where the British called it an ‘Unhappy Disturbance at Boston,’ Paul Revere labeled it a bloody massacre. This is probably the first time you could see the same event being spun differently by who was talking. Paul Revere used this event to whip up anti-British sentiment in the colonies.

Faneuil HallFaneuil Hall

Often referred to as the “Cradle of Liberty,” Faneuil Hall is one of America’s first public meeting venue since 1742. The first floor is where the merchants sell their goods today the same as they did in Paule Revere’s time. The second floor is the Great Hall, where Bostonians protested the British taxation policies. Besides the “Sons of Liberty” debates, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Charles Summer, Frederick Douglass, Daniel Webster, Jefferson Davis, and Susan B. Anthony gave notable speeches here. Today Faneuil Hall still serves as a public meeting house, although the food stalls and restaurants have expanded to several buildings. You might even see people gathering in front of the hall to watch music and dance performers entertaining tourists.

Paul Revere HousePaul Revere House - Boston Freedom Trail

Paul Revere’s House is the only home on the Boston Freedom Trail. Built-in 1680, this house is the oldest building existing in downtown Boston. You can purchase tickets for $5 to tour what life was like in the 17th-18th century in Boston. And how Paul Revere managed to live here with 5 to nine of his children from his two wives. There will be crowds of people, so remember to bring your patience while you wait to explore Paul’s home.

Old North ChurchOld North Church

The oldest standing church in Boston played a critical role in the American Revolution. The Old North Church is the church where the Sons of Liberty after discovering the British plan for arresting John Hancock and Samuel Adams, hung two lanterns to warn others that the British were coming by boat, “one if by land, two if by sea” on April 18, 1775. Visiting the church, you can sit in the same box pews that the colonials used for a $3 donation. The box walls are so high I don’t know how you could see anything but the preacher on the raised pulpit. You can also take a behind the scenes tour to see the crypt and the bell-ringing chamber for $6.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Copp’s Hill was the largest colonial cemetery in 1659, where merchants, artisans, and craftspeople from the North End were buried. But, even though the burying ground was for the common folk, there are some notable people buried within such as Robert Newman, Prince Hall, Cotton Mather, and Increase Mather (Puritan ministers associated with the Salem witch trials), and Edmund Hart (builder of the USS Constitution. One headstone was a particular dislike to the British. Captain Daniel Malcolm was a staunch patriot who sold tea and smuggled wine into Boston. When he died, the British used his gravestone as target practice before the Battle of Bunker Hill. Copp’s Hill had a great vantage point, so the British used the high ground to fire cannons on Charlestown during the battle of Bunker Hill.

USS Constitution

The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship made with three layers of wood of live oak and white oak. Known as “Old Ironsides,” cannonballs would bounce off her frustrating the British Navy who thought she was made of iron during the War of 1812. The Constitution could out-gun and out-run any other ship in the water during its time. The vessel can be found either in Charlestown Navy Yard or in the Boston Harbor.  Even after 200 years, the Constitution is still in the United States Navy. The ship is free to visit, and the museum has a suggested $10-$15 admission fee. As the ship is still active in the US Navy, remember to bring your federal or state ID (driver’s license or passport) with you.

Bunker Hill MonumentBunker Hill Monument

The first major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought on Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. The British had to muster over 2,200 Redcoats to beat the ill-equipped militia back from Breed’s Hill. During the battle, Colonel William Prescott uttered the infamous words, “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” This mantra gave the colonists the determination to keep fighting the British and eventually winning the war!

Summary

When visiting Boston, take some time to follow the trail or portions of it. Walking the Boston Freedom Trail is a beautiful experience to step back into American Revolutionary history. Exploring these historic sites will show you how the colonists shared a unified idea that liberty is something precious and worth fighting for. And something definitely to be remembered!

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Further Reading

If you are coming to New England for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

3 Comments

  • Cindy 8March2020 at 4:34 PM Reply

    Funny. All the times I’ve been in Boston I’ve never walked the Freedom Trail in a purposeful way. And now I see there are a few things I’ve missed!

    • Heather 11March2020 at 10:48 AM Reply

      Cindy, That is funny! But, not unusual. Most people don’t spend the time to explore what is in their own backyard. When you do go on it purposefully, let me know what you think. Have fun!

  • Two days in Boston itinerary - Two days in a CityTwo Days in a City 3March2020 at 12:49 PM Reply

    […] Freedom Trail is a two and a half mile walk which will help you begin to understand Boston’s history. You […]

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