The Great American History Tour: Boston

by Derrick G. Jeter

Wednesday & Thursday, 25–26 June 2008


From James Otis in 1761 to Commodore Edward Preble and Captain William Bainbridge during the War of 1812—from the Common to the Constitution—Boston is rightly deemed the cradle of liberty. It was here, in the Old State House that Otis delivered his speech against British tyranny—fifteen years before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord—that won him the praise of giving “birth to the child Independence.” [1] It is here, at the Charlestown Navy Yard that the USS Constitution—“Old Ironsides”—continues to remind visitors of the cost of liberty. Built in 1797, she still sails today as a symbol of American freedom.


These were just a few of the people, events, and historic artifacts we saw while in Boston. We started at the beginning—Beacon Hill and Boston Common, where the beautiful gold-domed Capitol Building sits. Following the red bricks of the Freedom Trail, we made our way to the Granary cemetery where patriots such as James Otis, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, the victims of the “Boston Massacre,” and even Mother Goose, are buried.


Then, on we went to the Old South Meeting House, where patriots met just before the “Indians” stormed a British merchant vessel and invited a mob to a public tea party. The Old State House—decorated with an ornate gilded eagle and globe, a lion, and a unicorn—was next. Just in front of the Old State House, now commemorated with a simple brick star laid in a street median, five were killed on March 5, 1770—the infamous Boston Massacre. A bank sits on the corner where the British barracks once resided, and from whence the shots were fired.


Crossing over what was the “big dig”—now a pleasant mid-city park with water fountains—we entered the north end. We toured Paul Revere’s house—the oldest building in Boston—the Old North Church (“One if by land, two if by sea” fame), and Copp’s Hill cemetery where Cotton Mather, the famous Puritan preacher, is buried.


Wednesday night, we ate at the Union Oyster House, the oldest continuous restaurant in America. Senator Daniel Webster was a common patron, as well as John F. Kennedy. This is the place to come for lobster when in Boston.


Whew! The first day in Boston finally ended, we fell into bed. The next day, we drove to Quincy and toured the birthplaces of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. Two saltbox houses, on what used to be the Adams’s farm is currently a busy intersection. Peacefield, or the Old House, was the retirement home of John Adams. Filled with original pieces from the Adams family beginning with John and Abigail, the house is contains a trove of American history from the late 1780’s through the 1940’s. Just at the back of the house is a two-story stone library, housing almost 14,000 volumes. This is considered the first presidential library, and the only one containing the books of two presidents—John Adams and J. Q. Adams. This is my favorite part of visiting Quincy!


From Quincy, we drove to Charlestown and toured the USS Constitution and the kids climbed the 294-step Bunker Hill Monument. After a quick history lesson at Lexington Green and the Concord Bridge (the North Bridge)—“the shot heard around the world”—we drove to New York City.


[1] Quoted in Charles Bahne, The Complete Guide of Boston’s Freedom Trail (Cambridge, Mass.: Newtowne Publishing, 2005), 11.