PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
You get a different picture of history when you go to where it actually happened.
The American revolution may have been born in Philadelphia, but much of it's gestation was centered around Boston. Too long had the British citizens in the American colonies been left to fend for themselves. They had grown accustomed to managing their own affairs.
The riches of colonial lands were not without contest, however. The native inhabitants already occupied the land, and the French had a significant presence in the area. England was obliged to devote considerable resources to defend its claim to the area.
The profit in a captive market and the value of it's exports did much to defray the expense of defending the territory, but the mother country eventually decided that the burden of defending the colonists should be more directly shared. The manner in which this was imposed (taxes) had a direct impact on many people living in and around Boston.
One such person was a smuggler, the owner of a fleet of ships that sometimes operated as privateers (or less politely: pirates). He owned the largest wharf in the area, with offices that are still standing. As one would expect, he had no desire to buy tea from ships bearing taxes imposed by England when he could bring it in himself at a fraction of the cost.
This man fancied himself a gentleman. He was often seen dressed in the finest gold trimmed velvet, replete with powdered face and wig and beauty mark. He rode about on a white stallion that was continually groomed. No doubt this was to ensure that it befit his stature and high standards of appearance. He was happy to speak out for independence. He was also willing to finance those similarly inclined. He was also courageous enough to be the first of the delegates to sign his name to a Declaration of Independence in a large, bold fashion. He was, of course, John Hancock.
Another man of the day was Samuel Adams, a brilliant orator and lawyer. While he was never much of a businessman (he ruined six companies given to him by his father, including a beer brewery), he was the voice of morality and the intellect of the local revolutionaries, the Sons of Liberty.
Paul Revere, though venerated by Americans due to Longfellow's famous poem (written for his Aunt who was a relative of Revere's) for his efforts to warn the townsfolk of Concord and Lexington, never actually finished his mission. He was captured and revealed the entire nature of his mission and the names of the leaders of the cause to the British. Shocking though this first seems, Revere was so unimpressed with the British defense that he didn't think it mattered whether or not they knew the details. Also, there were two other riders that night who were not captured and completed their mission. While his famous ride may not have been noteworthy, his contributions to colonial life and the movement for independence within the Sons of Liberty were most notable. He was a successful metal smith, a dentist (he invented dental forensics identifying the dead patriots at Battle of Bunker Hill), a health commissioner (he mandated that graves be 6 feet deep vs the customary three inches), a courier and voice of reason for those seeking sovereign rights. His childhood home still stands and it is open to tour.
These just are a few of the real life people that defied the greatest empire of the day. We heard about numerous others such as James Otis who first spoke of tyranny in a British court, and Ebenezer Macintosh who led the Sons of Liberty in defiance of the Stamp Act. Each of them pursued this goal at the risk of their life. They were at once extraordinary and mundane.
Our first day in town started with a bus tour. While the historical landmarks provided a backdrop, the educational institutions surrounding Boston were a major feature. Cambridge, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are all nestled around the city. Each campus has a different feel. Cambridge was brick and iron. M.I.T. sported a somewhat more whimsical aura.
Much of the downtown core of the city is just starting to recover from the "Big Dig". The Big Dig is a project to move the freeways that pass through the heart of the city underground. It's been a massive project that's been under way for roughly 10 years! They estimate that they still have another 3 years to go before they are done. At least the worst of it is over.
The bus tour included a harbor tour. Once out on the water, it was easy to see why Boston was a popular seaport. Boston Harbor is quite large and well protected. In addition to the commercial traffic, we saw a large number of private boats on the water. We also saw the USS Constitution, better known as Ol' Ironsides. We've seen a number of tall ships, but even from a distance, she looks imposing.
The highlight of our stay near Boston was undoubtedly a walking tour. We were lucky enough to sign up for a tour that was hosted by a local history student. He was dressed in period costume, and portrayed the character of a Mr. Macintosh (a rabble-rousing leader of the Sons of Liberty). His chosen character suited is somewhat flamboyant style quite well; he did a wonderful job at enlivening the members of our tour.
Much of the background of some our founding fathers noted above was from the walking tour. It's just a taste of what we learned that afternoon. We finished the tour with much more than just a collection of trivia. We had a vivid mental image of what really happened in the days leading up to the revolution. A clear mental image of the day is the most important part of understanding history. Sadly, it's not a priority in the way that history is taught in school.
The Boston Massacre is a great example. Paul Revere created an etching that showed a long row of British soldiers opening fire upon innocent civilians just feet in front of them. The event enraged the colonists and was a major factor in emboldening them in the righteous cause of revolution. The "real" nitty gritty seems to have occurred a little differently. One young man who worked for a wig-maker decided to harass a British soldier who was standing guard outside the Old State House (of course it wasn't called "old" at the time). He declared that the soldier had not paid for the new wig he was wearing and started to build up some crowd interest. Apparently the soldier declared calmly and quietly that he had indeed paid for the wig and would the young man move on. The young man persisted, as he started feeling the sympathy of the small but accumulating crowd. The soldier's officer came forward to question his soldier about the incident. The soldier again declared that he had already paid for the wig and there was no cause for this harassment. The officer then asked the young man and the crowd to disperse. He did not. They did not. The row of soldiers were on alert because Boston had quite a reputation for rabble rousing and with the growing crowd matters might get out of hand. At that time it seems that things got a little out of control when the church steeples started to ring indicating that there was a fire somewhere. People, as was the habit of the day, started pouring into the streets to (1) empty their building in case it was on fire, and (2) to see which building was on fire. More people made for more interest on Act Three of the "wig" play. Crowd sympathy always leaned towards those demonstrating defiance towards the British. Again, the officer asked the crowd to disperse. Again they did not and they expressed their resentment over being asked to do so by becoming increasingly belligerent in their jeering. The guards became antsier. A town crier raced through the neighborhood yelling "Fire! Fire!". Some of the soldiers thought they had been ordered to fire and did so into the crowd. Five civilians fell down dead. So marks the beginning of the legend of the infamous Boston Massacre. Ironically, Samuel Adams successfully defended the British soldiers at an ensuing trial. The five colonists that were killed were interred at the same graveyard as Paul Revere, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. In fact, Samuel Adams paid for their interment and a small memorial for the five lies very near to Sam Adams' tombstone.
Our meanderings in Boston also led us to the Old North Church, where lanterns were used to warn if the Red Coats were headed for Lexington by boat across the river or if they were marching inland. The story of the display of the lanterns in the steeple is a fascinating one. The task fell to the sexton (who maintained the church). He had to sneak out of his house where British soldiers were being quartered and make his way to the church long after curfew. Guards noticed the lanterns almost immediately after he lit them. They were pounding on the doors by the time the sexton had descended the stairs. He eluded capture at the church by crawling out of a window, and managed to return to his home and return to his bed without rousing the troops in his house.
Having left Boston we stopped in Lexington, the site of the fist real shooting conflict between rebels and Red Coats. Roughly 70 Minute Men faced off with more than 700 British troops with the intent of merely displaying the serious intentions of the local population. No one is sure of who fired the first shot, but it triggered a call to arms for all of the local militia. The march on to Concord and back to Boston was a long and bloody trek for the Imperial troops. The seeds of doubt had been planted in the minds of the British commanders. Seeds of hope sprouted in the countryside.
Our last stop in the area was in Plymouth harbor, the classic Pilgrim entry point in America. It was quite quaint with a replica of the Mayflower in the harbor. The weather was beautiful but we weren't inclined to explore. Somehow the taste of history we had had brought to reality that in actuality the Pilgrims were an incredibly rigid, centrist group. They had no tolerance for anyone that did not fit into their creed. But we'll go more into this element in more detail in later journals. The exact spot of the landing, Plymouth Rock (now enshrined), was decreed by a local cleric more than a hundred and twenty one years after the fact. The rock itself is a boulder roughly 6 feet long on an otherwise generally sandy beach. The claim seems somewhat dubious in light of existing settlements to the north and to the south. In any event, a big rock would make a lousy place to land a wooden longboat.
Steeped in history and possessing a wonderful ambiance, Boston and the surrounding areas are a wonderful place to visit. One we will surly return to.