Boston is a city rich in history. Many of the events that shaped our country happened right here in Beantown!
Much of our history can be learned on a 2.5-mile walk through our beautiful city. The Freedom Trail is a walking trail through Boston that passes by 16 spots that were instrumental in shaping American History. The trail begins at the Boston Common and ends 2.5 miles later at the USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Its stops include:
The Boston Common
The Boston Common is America’s oldest public park! How did it come to be? When the Puritans first came to Boston, they bought the land from William Blackstone. They then turned the land into a common area where they could bring their cows to graze on grass!
The Common was also used by British soldiers for camping and training in 1775, before the American Revolution began.
The Massachusetts State House
The State House was built in 1798 on land that used to be John Hancock’s cow pasture! The golden dome that sits atop the building today was originally made of wood. After the wooden dome leaked in 1802, Paul Revere’s company covered it with copper. It was painted a light yellow before being gilded with gold leaf in 1874, which shines still today.
Though not an official stop, the Black Heritage Trail crosses the Freedom Trail between the State House and Park Street Church — it is worth visiting!
Park Street Church
The Park Street Church was built in 1809, and it was once the tallest building in Boston! The Church was a firm supporter of the abolitionist movement, and on Independence Day in 1829, William Lloyd Garrison made his first major speech against slavery at the Park Street Church.
During the War of 1812, church members stored brimstone to make gunpowder in the basement of the church!
Granary Burying Ground
The Granary Burying Ground was created in 1660. Many important people are buried here, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.
Because King James II wanted all the colonists to follow the Church of England, he ordered that an Anglican Church be built in Boston. Most people in Boston at that time were Puritan, and nobody would sell good land to a non-Puritan church! Thus, when King’s Chapel was built in 1688, the king ruled that part of a cemetery would be taken and used to build the church!
King’s Chapel Burying Ground
King’s Chapel Burying Ground was created before King’s Chapel and is Boston’s first cemetery. Many important Bostonians were buried here, including Mary Chilton, the first person to step foot off the Mayflower, and John Winthrop, Massachusetts’ first governor.
Benjamin Franklin Statue and Boston Latin School Site
Boston Latin School was the first public school in America. It opened on April 23, 1635. Boys were welcome to attend school there for free, no matter their income level. Girls at that time were taught at home. Many famous Bostonians attended Boston Latin, including Benjamin Franklin (though he dropped out before graduation), Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.
Although the original building that housed the Boston Latin School was torn down in 1745, the school still exists in a different location, now educating both male and female students. A statue of Benjamin Franklin marks the place where the original school stood. Ironic, considering he didn’t even graduate!
Old Corner Bookstore
The Old Corner Bookstore is the oldest business building in Boston. It was built in 1718 as an apothecary shop, selling medicine.
Before it became a business, Anne Hutchinson lived in this building and held religious meetings for up to 80 people at a time in her home. That was more than 10% of the population of Boston at that time! At that time, no women were allowed to be preachers — she was accused of heresy for preaching and was exiled to Rhode Island in 1638.
In the 1800s, the Old Corner Bookstore became one of the most important book publishing companies in the U.S., publishing books by many famous authors including Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott.
Old South Meeting House
Many of the events leading up to the American Revolutionary War happened at Old South Church, including the beginning of the Boston Tea Party in 1773! Samuel Adams gave the famous signal to the Sons of Liberty to destroy the tea while at a meeting in the Old South Church.
Years later, British soldiers occupying Boston took revenge on the Old South Church, ripping out the pews and turning the space into a horse stable where they taught their soldiers how to ride horses. In 1783, after the Revolutionary War ended, the members fixed the building and made it into a church again.
Another “bonus stop” along the way is the Irish famine memorial, which can be seen on the way to the Old South Meeting House. During the Irish potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and another million immigrated to the U.S., most settling in Boston. The memorial portrays two families — one suffering during the great famine, and one prospering after emigrating to Boston.
Old State House
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read to the people of Boston for the first time from the balcony of the Old State House.
Site of the Boston Massacre
In 1770, the Boston Massacre happened in front of the Old State House. After British soldiers occupied Boston, many people in Boston got angry. On March 5, 1770, an angry mob of Bostonians surrounded British soldiers. Gunfire broke out, and five Bostonians were killed.
Faneuil Hall was built by the merchant Peter Faneuil in 1741 as a place for trade and business. It became an instrumental meeting place for those who wanted to fight against British rule, housing America’s first town meeting in 1764!
Sitting on top of Faneuil Hall is the famous golden grasshopper weathervane. It is said that Bostonians used the weathervane to determine whether people were spies during the War of 1812. If a person was not able to answer what sat on top of Faneuil Hall, they were suspected of being a spy!
In the 19th century, the abolitionists Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Lucy Stone spoke against slavery at Faneuil Hall.
Paul Revere’s House
This house is famous for its long-ago tenant — Paul Revere, the man who embarked on that fateful midnight ride. It is also the oldest remaining building in downtown Boston — built around 1680!
Old North Church
The Old North Church is best known for its role in the American Revolution. The Sons of Liberty hung two lanterns in the church’s steeple, which was the highest in Boston, to signal soldiers that the British were approaching. “One if by land, two if by sea!”
The Old North Church, which opened in 1723, is the oldest church building still standing in Boston, and the first church bells ever brought to America still hang in its steeple.
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground was the largest cemetery in colonial Boston and served as a place where British soldiers put their cannons during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Many famous people are buried at Copp’s Hill, including Robert Newman, the man who hung the lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church on the night of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride; Edmund Hartt, the man who built the USS Constitution; Cotton and Increase Mather, two Puritan preachers who were instrumental in the Salem witch trials; and Prince Hall, a free African-American man who fought to end slavery in Massachusetts and opened the first Black Masonic Lodge.
The Bunker Hill Monument
The Bunker Hill Monument was created to honor the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution. Even though the British won this battle, the Americans fought so hard that it proved they would be exceptionally difficult to beat.
The USS Constitution
The USS Constitution was first put into the water in 1797, and became famous during the War of 1812. It earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” due to the way cannonballs would bounce off the sides of the wooden ship, as if they were made of iron! Even after all these years, the Constitution is still a United States Navy warship.