A fresh look at Boston through a tourist's eyes
(Page 2 of 2)
On the frozen pond where swam boats glide in summer, a mother introduces a snow-suited little one to the intricasies of skating. Soon the little one can let go the supporting hand and venture a little unsteadily on its own. You don't need to be a parent to find the scene delightful, but it helps. If you care to notice -- to pause, look, and listen -- life can be interesting wherever you are and particularly so in Boston.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Back when nature was left to shape the area, Boston was a pear-shaped penninsula connected to the mainland by only a narrow neck of land that during very high tides was underwater. The Indians called it Shawmut and it boasted some of the best spring water around. The surrounding waters of the bay were rich in cod and lobster, in all an ideal spot to settle. To this area came William Blackstone, a Church of England clergyman who, with no flock to minister to, settled in splendid isolation on the land in 1626. Four years later John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arrived with other colonists, many of whom hailed from Boston, England. Blackstone sold (some suggest he was coersed into doing so) his rights to all but six acres.
In those early days wagons moved wherever the topography was most suitable and the twisting trails they made became the narrow, winding cobblestoned streets of Colonial Boston. Boston soon assumed the same picturesque characteristics of many English towns. Today you can readily tell the original heart of Boston by the twisting, narrow streets. Newer Boston was laid out in more rectangular fashion. It is, then the twisting heart of the city with its boutiques, antique stores, book shops, and many intriguing restaurants that provides some of the most interesting city walks.
The Freedom Trail takes in this area where colonialists and early post-colonialists went about their daily affairs. You will want to take in all the stops. But two, in my experience, are paramount: the home of Paul Revere and the Tea Party ship.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made Revere internationally famous but the poem also narrowed public conception of the man to that of an adept horseman who carried some important news to the farmers and minutemen of the hinterland. The Boston silversmith was also an industrialist who, besides making Liberty Bowls, cast many a thundering cannon in his founderies and also some of the sweetest-sounding bells. It was his copper sheeting that clad the hull of the SS Constitution.
On his father's side he was of French Hugenot stock; on his mother's side he was descended from a long line of English sea captains and shipbuilders. To a cousin on the English Channel Island of Guernsey he wrote expressing his disenchantment with the British. "The barbarians of Europe," he called them.
Built in the Tudor style of medieval England, there is more to the Revere home than just its most famous occupant. The Reveres lived there for 30 years ( 1770 to 1880) but the house was built almost a hundred years earlier. Today it is the only Boston building that dates back to the city's founding century. As such it has tremendous architectural significance for the city.
Boston's most notorious protest was its famous tea party in which several thousand dollars worth of tea was thrown overboard. As a relatively recent arrival in the US, I had long regarded the tea party as a high-spirited event that was incidental to the revolution. In fact it precipitated it, as the visit to the Tea Party Museum and ship makes clear.
Apparently I was not alone in my misconceptions. According to the museum staff, thousands of visitors, American-born as well as those from overseas, do not fully appreciate the significance of the party which did more to unite the colonies against British rule than any other single event.
One other misconception is also cleared up by a visit to the museum. The patriots involved in the raid were hardy, vigorous men, but they did not lift the tea-filled chests above their heads and throw them 20 feet from the side of the ship as some paintings suggest. Each tea chest says an official, "weighed about 300 pounds!"