Boston: A Cradle of Liberty Where Freedom Still Rings Out

Boston's Old State House has been a symbol of American liberty for over 300 years.

The Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776 from the balcony of the Old State House (shown at night above). John Adam’s bright and articulate wife, Abigail, wrote to her husband that as soon as the Declaration was read… “three cheers rended the air.” She went on to report, “Thus ends the royal authority in this state.”

A fierce desire for independence and freedom has existed in Boston dating back to its very beginning in 1630 when the city was granted a charter to self-govern. Britain’s decision to limit the city’s freedom and tax its citizens starting in the 1760s led to protests that ended in the Revolutionary War and American independence. Beginning in the early 1800s, a strong abolitionist movement opposing slavery grew up in the Boston that would play a key role in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. When Peggy and I visited the city in December, we were able to visit a number of sites that reflected Boston’s historical contributions to liberty in America, but we also found ample evidence that the call to freedom still rings out in the city.

My experience in Boston combined with the fact that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President this week led me to ponder some the most powerful statements that underlie our nation’s commitment to freedom and equality. Here are my favorites:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —US Declaration of Independence

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. —Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. —The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Slightly different but reflecting America’s original openness to immigration, and I might note, recognizing that we are a nation built by and with immigrants…

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! —Quote on America’s Statue of Liberty

These are words of wisdom from the folks who “made America great,” and have inspired generations of people in the U.S. and around the world. It is my hope that our new president will take these words to heart  in his efforts to “make America great again.”

 

Neither Peggy nor I had been to Boston before, which is a bit surprising considering the importance of Boston to the nation’s history— and to my own. My Great Grandfather to the umpteenth on my mother’s side arrived there in early 1630s from England, when the city was founded. Ultimately, we are all immigrants.

Boston Commons plaque that commemorates the founding of Boston, Massachusetts in 1630.

This plaque located on Boston Commons commemorates the founding of Boston in 1630. My Great Grandfather to the umpteenth is helping pull the boat in. (Just kidding.)

It was ‘love at first sight’ when we arrived. I had managed to find us an affordable hotel in the center of the city. Most of Revolutionary Boston was within walking distance and I am a big fan of Revolutionary War history. The red brick Freedom Trail was a short 10 minutes away. “Just follow the yellow brick road” was bouncing around in my mind. Instead of skipping off to Oz on yellow bricks with encouragement from Munchkins, however, the red bricks of the Freedom Trail connected us with many historical sites central to America’s struggles for freedom and equality.

Today, I want to share some of the things we saw in Boston that seem particularly relevant to this week in American history. Next Monday, I’ll be more focused on Boston’s Revolutionary history.

The Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts.

I photographed the Tremont Temple because I thought it was a unique building…

Tremont Baptist Church was the first integrated church in America.

Not having a clue that it was a Baptist Church, or that it was the first integrated church in the U.S. It is a fitting photo to commemorate the week of Martin Luther King’s birthday.

I normally wouldn't take a photo of a Chipotle Restaurant, but this one happens to locate in the Old North Bookstore Building where Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published, which was both a classic of the Abolition Movement and a key factor in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

I normally wouldn’t take a photo of a Chipotle Restaurant, but this one happens to be located in the Old North Bookstore Building where Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published. The book was both a classic of the Abolition Movement and a key factor in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

Historic Faneuil Hall located in Boston, Massachusetts

Faneuil Hall is located just across the street from the Old State House. It was from this building that the fateful words were uttered, “No Taxation without representation.”  Maybe today’s declaration would be focused on the ultra-wealthy and declare “No representation without paying your fair share of taxes.” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We found this Gatling Gun in the military museum on the third floor of Faneuil Hall. While it may seem strange to include it here, it's inventor, Richard Gatling, believed that by employing increasingly deadly weapons that the size of armies could be reduced and that deaths due to combat and disease could be reduced as well. History has taught us a much different lesson, one that should be considered in any discussion of renewing the nuclear arms race.

We found this Gatling Gun in the military museum on the third floor of Faneuil Hall. While it may seem strange to include it here, the inventor, Richard Gatling, believed that by employing increasingly deadly weapons, the size of armies could be reduced and deaths due to combat and disease could be lowered. He also believed it would show us the futility of war. History has taught us a much different lesson. Millions upon millions have died because of the ever-increasing sophistication of weapons. And now our new president is talking about renewing the nuclear arms race…

This plaque on School Street notes where the Latin School stood. Founded on April 23, 1635, it is the oldest public school house in America. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock attend the school. Public education in America may become a thing of the past under Betsy DeVos, his new Secretary of Education, who will gut public schools in favor of private schools whose motivation is either profit or the promotion of a particular belief system,.

This plaque on School Street notes where the Latin School stood. Founded on April 23, 1635, it was the first public school in America. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock attended the school. Public education in America may become a thing of the past under Betsy DeVos, Trump’s new Secretary of Education, who’s proposed voucher system will gut public schools in favor of private schools whose primary motivation is profit or promoting a particular belief system. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy and I wondered what the significance of theses rocks were when we were on our walk. The we come on the plaque featured below.

Peggy and I wondered what the significance of theses rocks were we found on our walk. Then we came upon the plaque featured below.

The Boston Peace Garden.

The Boston Peace Garden.

Peggy and I walked over to Newbury Street where the New England Genealogical Society is located. Along the way we came across the very impressive First Church of the Covenant that has long been a leader in promoting social justice.

We walked over to Newbury Street where the New England Genealogical Society is located. Along the way we came across the very impressive First Church of the Covenant that has long been a leader in promoting social justice.

This banner was stretched above its door...

This banner was stretched above its door…

Peggy and I found these T-shirts featured in Boston's Old State House where freedom still rings.

Peggy and I found these T-shirts featured in Boston’s Old State House.We decided that they would serve as an appropriate conclusion to this blog.

NEXT BLOG: Back to the Sierra Trek

 

 

 

36 comments on “Boston: A Cradle of Liberty Where Freedom Still Rings Out

  1. The freedom to migrate for a better life has been the story of humankind. That is how we have come to inhabit the coldest regions, mountainous ranges, thick forests, not to mention the vast majority on the plains of the continents. Our pre-history mentality remains with us. Trying to protect what is limited resources and ‘good’ territory back in those days continue to linger in our psyche…

    • You are right, Suan. There are two sides to the coin: wanting to have what is best for us and our families, and then wanting to protect what we have gained… which often translates into denying others of similar opportunities. As our world becomes more and more crowded, our options for resolving the differences becomes more difficult, but not impossible. This world has plenty for everyone if we can figure out how to handle our resources better, and if we can reduce some of the huge inequalities. –Curt

  2. Love the T-shirts and they’re probably needed more now than ever in recent history! Great post about Boston and makes me want to revisit – I was there many years ago and absolutely fell in love with the city but realise I missed so much of its history – thanks for sharing and letting me catch up!

    • Peggy and I just had to buy the T-shirts, Annika! 🙂
      And thanks. Now I want to go back to Boston and explore more. We didn’t even have time to hit Harvard or Bunker Hill. As for catch-up. It seems to be the name of the game. At least it sure is for me. –Curt

      • I visited Havard and felt I’d landed in a movie set – loved it though and there was a newsagents in the square with papers from around the globe! Also I went to the one and only baseball game I’ve seen live watching the Red Sox – an amazing experience…downside was two hours getting out of the carpark!

      • Harvard is a goal. 🙂 I can imagine that watching the Red Sox game was a kick. As for taking two hours to get out of a parking lot. Ouch. I think I’d use the mass transit. –Curt

  3. My grandfather came from St. Kitts to NY and became a citizen, but he did it all the legal way – through Ellis Island. The doctor who delivered my son was from Cuba – he also did it legally and did not approve of the Mariana Air Lift. I think you’re getting my drift. Most of us are from immigrant stock, but NOW we are Americans. We should act as such.

    • Mine slipped in under the “No Rules” clause, G. On both sides of the family. 🙂 Had the Native Americans been more aware of the possible consequences, they would have been smart to build a wall to keep us out!
      Many of the problems we face in terms of immigration are ones we brought on ourselves: the law of unintended consequences. Our actions in the Middle East, right or wrong, were a factor in creating the refugee crisis. American business people needing employees to fill jobs was the major reason for the influx of Mexican citizens seeking jobs. (No one has suggested arresting the business people. Nor should they. But it would probably be the most effective measure in curbing the influx of illegal immigrants.) Certainly we could exist without the inexpensive labor, but we would all be paying more to live. I am something of a pragmatist. What is the best possible solution to the problem? How can we create a win/win for the parties involved?
      I believe that Democracy is messy and contentious. I think that we as citizens have an obligation to speak out and be part of the process, to fight for what we believe in and recognize that compromise is part of the process. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. But we keep fighting, we keep contributing, we keep trying to make our world a better place to live in. That’s what being an American means to me.
      Thanks as always for your comments, G. They are much appreciated. –Curt

      • I completely agree with what you’re saying, especially about the Native Americans should have kept us out, but that is a moot point at the moment, but maybe one we should learn from. You are quite well-spoken and wish I could express myself so eloquently. I simply wanted all sides represented.

  4. Great post. I’ve never been to Boston and would love to visit sometime. Chipotle at the publishing house of HBS? Hmmm. Part of me thinks this is tragic and part of me just thinks it is what it is and that’s ok too. Love the shirts!

    • Interesting on Chipotle, Sylvia. What I read was the place was about to be torn down in the 60s (when lots of historic sites were being torn down for parking lots, highways and fast food joints) and a private group got together to save the building. The way they have maintained it since has been by renting out space. So…
      Glad you like the shirts! 🙂 –Curt

  5. A few years ago while doing college visits, two of my kids and I walked the Freedom Trail and many other parts of Boston. I have a fondness for the Revolutionary War time period as well, and these eastern cities like Boston and Baltimore, among others, still have that small, old, red-brick look that sparks the imagination.

    • “that small, old, red-brick look…” Right beside the skyscrapers, Lex. I was amused, and pleased to find the old historical buildings snuggled in among the towering giants. I am reading a nonfiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick now titled “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution.” It is fun to read about each of the historical sites that Peggy and I visited. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it given your interest in Revolutionary War history. –Curt

  6. Great post Curt. My forbears on my mother’s side, like yours arrived here in 1630 from England. They remained in New England until the early part of 1900. My grandmother when a senior in high school, won a trip to Boston to deliver a speech about freedom from England. I love the Revolutionary War history and this blog refreshed my memory.

    • More on Monday, Kayti! Maybe our families were on the same ship. 🙂 My families on both sides tended to be wanderers, at least in my direct line. No surprise there, I guess. Whenever I do genealogical research in a new town, the first thing I look for is the town’s pioneers. (grin) –Curt

  7. Excellent post. Keep on repeated those wise and generous things your forebears said. I am chilled by the idea of your education system starting to cream off the wealthy into private schools, it is disastrous for the whole population. We have this system here in the UK. The wealthy have a privileged and exclusive (and emotionally deprived boarding-school) education. They take a high proportion of the top jobs and political places and have very little idea of how the majority live. Many secretly believe that poverty is entirely the fault of the poor.

    • I think you have hit the proverbial nail on the head, Hilary. We have already seen signs of charter schools insisting on leaving “problem” kids in public schools while trying to skim off the cream. To the degree this is supported, it creates a downward spiral for public schools, a no win situation. It is also dangerously anti-democratic, as you noted. The primary reason our public schools don’t succeed as well as they should (and most do a good job with dedicated people) is because the public has refused to invest the necessary amount of resources to make them work. This doesn’t mean that some change is called for. –Curt

  8. your post gave me chills. we seem destined to relive our history. I hope to visit Boston soon as our oldest son might be moving there when he graduates from ASU. I hope to travel by train and spend time seeing parts of the US I’ve never travelled. I hope there is a t-shirt left when I get there!

    • I suspect the T-shirts will be restocked, Trish— many times. I doubt that the next four years will be anything but scary, although I hope things go better than I imagine they will. So much of what truly makes this nation “Great” may be lost. –Curt

  9. Terrific post. I visited Boston many many years ago and loved it. Your photos highlight the beautiful architecture there. Not being American born, nor having been taught American history growing up in South Africa, it was an insight into U.S. History for me.

    I shudder at the thought of the inauguration and of the incoming president. Dark and scary times ahead…

    Peta

    • We really enjoyed Boston, Petra. For one it it is a great walking city. And almost every corner had some reminder of the nation’s history. The city would serve as an excellent introduction to America’s history.
      There is still much to learn from the people who were behind the revolution and would lead America for the next two generations. I doubt Trump has much grounding in American history, but I don’t know that for sure. –Curt

  10. Love the detailed photos you chose for this post. I’ve been to Boston several times, but missed many of the things you chose to photograph — gatling gun, Chipotle, etc. Thanks for letting me see Boston through your eyes. I’m always game for revisiting that city — history and current stuff rolled into one!

    • Peggy and I really fell for Boston, Rusha. It was our first trip there. Next time I am hoping we can stay longer. And there will be a next time.
      I think half the fun of blogging is being able to see the world through other people’s eyes. I am constantly learning new things. Thanks! –Curt

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