Boston Vortex and Freedom Trail

King’s Chapel faces a whirling vortex of wind in Boston’s downtown, at the corner of Tremont St and School St. {photo by Will Murray}

We found out there is a vortex in downtown Boston, right in front of King’s Chapel. It took us all day long to realize this phenomena was specific to the intersection of Tremont ST, Beacon ST, and School ST.

King’s Chapel was originally an Anglican church attended by Royalists (supporters of the British King), but not supported by the Puritan founders of the city of Boston. In fact, when the Royal Governor demanded that land be provided for construction of the church, the Puritans refused. So, he seized some land already used as a burying ground and had a church built. Before he got a chance to worship there, the Puritans found out that King James II had been deposed, so they captured the Governor and shipped him back to England.

The original wooden church of 1686 was replaced with the current church in 1754. Rhode Island architect Peter Harrison (called America’s first architect) built it. The stone chapel does not have a steeple because the Royalists ran out of money. (The Puritans chuckled with glee, and did not buy anything at the Steeple Bake Sale.) It became Unitarian in 1785 under the ministry of James Freeman, and with that the establishment of the Unitarian Christian faith in America.

This was the site of our meeting place for the Boston By Foot Road to Revolution tour we were about to take. The weather was sketchy, but with only one day in the city, we had no choice but to show up in our rain jackets, and wait for our guide under a bank’s entryway while watching other tourists begin their Freedom Trail tours. The wind was astonishing! It whipped through the streets between tall buildings, blowing hats off heads, hurtling discarded Starbucks cups airborne into bushes, stripping tender early season leaves off the trees. Rain flew sideways, making umbrellas useless, even if they hadn’t already been yanked inside out by gusts. I watched as the wind grabbed a woman’s plastic poncho and pulled it nearly off her body. With her arms through the holes, she maintained possession of the poncho, while it flapped madly in the wind and rain above her head, a wet angry flag. When we spotted our tourguide, Linzy, she was surpised to see we hadn’t canceled. The others had.

Bravely the four of us (Will, me, Linzy, and her friend) all determined to go through with it. Linzy walked with us for a 2-hour tour past the physical remains of key moments in the political history of what is today called the United States of America. It’s an awkward story for me because it includes the invasion of my indigenous ancestors, but for today I’ll just set that aside and talk about the white man’s version of the tale.

Linzy told us about King’s Chapel, one of the symbols of the newly settled country, and a place visited by men whose names, like George Washington, appear in our founding mythology. The bell that rings today is one that was repaired by Paul Revere in his own foundry. We moved along the street and only a block away, the wind died down and our umbrella could be used as designed.

Benjamin Franklin is the most famous student from the Boston Latin School.

We walked to the Boston Latin School, founded on April 23, 1635. It is the oldest public school in America, and when it opened, offered a free education to boys of the community, regardless of what resources the family had. A statue of Benjamin Franklin, once a student there, honors the site of the original school.

The Old State House in the center of Boston, and in the center of U.S. history.

My favourite Boston building is the Old State House, built in 1713. The first floor was a merchant exchange and the second floor held offices of government, including that of the Governor, appointed by the English King. Until 1775, the Governor addressed the people from a balcony overlooking King Street.

The Old State House is adorned with the lion and unicorn, royal symbols of the King.
One of the lovely Boston churches.
Eye-catching frame of the Custom House Tower.

The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston. The plaza in front of the lion and unicorn is the site of the Boston Massacre. In March 1770, some boys taunted the British sentry until the sentry hit back. This drew a crowd of laborers, sailors, and bystanders, some carrying clubs. Seven soldiers were sent to defend the sentry, and they surrounded the crowd. The mob became cacauphonous and in the melee, the sentry fired his gun. The soldiers thought an order had been given, so they fired into the crowd. Five people died as a result, and many call this the first bloodshed of the Revolution. (Though that’s in dispute, as our tour guide in Salem explained how technically the first blood was spilled in Salem.) Six years later, the Declaration of Independence was read in the very same spot.

A statue of Samuel Adams in front of Faneuil Hall, currently swathed in protective covering during rennovations. {photo by Will Murray}

Nearby is Faneuil Hall, famous today as an indoor market. Peter Faneuil was the wealthiest merchant in Boston, and had no family or heirs. He proposed in 1740 that Boston have a central marketplace, and he offered to fund the construction entirely. The vote passed and the marketplace was built. As an afterthought, he added a second floor for a meeting space. The meeting space was immediately valuable as a public hall for gatherings, meetings, and ceremonies. 277 years later, it is still used in this way: market on the first level, gathering space at the top.

In front of Faneuil Hall is a statue of founding father, Sam Adams. Adams was born in Boston, a relative of President John Adams, and very active in politics. His family owned a company that produced malt used for brewing beer, and today there is a popular beer named after him.

We walked through an older part of Boston, with cobbled streets too narrow to fit a modern car. It’s hard to believe there are still places like this in the U.S.

Looking toward the Union Oyster House, from Union Street. (The Holocaust Memorial is right behind us, but that’s history for another day.)
Linzy told us about the history of Boston.

From there we walked past a hundred authentic Italian restaurants, in Boston’s Old North End. Linzy remarked as multiple tourists passed us with boxes of pastries from Mike’s, that it is where all the tourists go for authentic Italian pastries. “The locals go to Bova,” she added. We made a mental note.

Paul Revere owned this house from 1770-1800. {photo by Will Murray}
A statue of Paul Revere, with the famous spire of the Old North Church in the background.

It turns out, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, and the famous ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ plan, did not go down exactly as legend has it. Longfellow did the guy a solid for some reason.

During the planning stages of the revolution, there was a secret provincial council meeting in the town of Concord, Massachusetts. A spy network was organized between Concord and Boston, so the council could hear any Boston news. One enthusiastic member of the spy group was Paul Revere. People in Boston found out that British Regulars were planning to go out to Concord and confiscate an arms cache, and then arrest the council members, so the spy network was engaged.

There were two main routes to Concord from Boston, one was longer but entirely a land route. The other was shorter but required crossing the mouth of the Charles River where it emptied into the Bay. The spy group knew the British were about to move, and split up. Revere had been the one who told the sexton in the church about the lantern plan, and he may actually have been the person who went over there and told him to put up the two lanterns to send a signal across the water. THEN, Revere snuck illegally across the river in the night (because times were so tense the British had initiated a curfew and no one was allowed on the water after dark) ahead of the British Regulars and that’s when the ride began. Revere and others saddled up and tore along the road in the night, alerting everyone along the way to Lexington. As people found out, they jumped on their own horses and joined the spy group, alerting the countryside. Revere was captured by British soldiers before he made it to Concord, but he did play a key role that night.

The Old North Church, famous for holding the lantern signals.

We ended our tour at Coppy’s Burying Ground. The cemetery is the final resting place of many Boston patriots, including Robert Newman, the sexton at the Old North Church who hung a lantern. There are also unmarked slave graves here. By this time the weather was lovely. We sat on a park bench in the sun, drying out and resting after being on our feet for hours. Remembering the tip from Linzy, we bought some pastries to go at Bova, then had drinks at the very old Bell In Hand Tavern, operating since 1795 (except during prohibition).

We then went back to where we had parked, to drop off and get stuff from the car. As we left the City Hall Plaza and entered the intersection in front of King’s Chapel, we were bombarded with wind! It was a ferocious wind that nearly knocked us over. All day I had been thinking that the morning’s vortex was a product of the stormy weather, but no, apparently it’s a micro weather force, created by the arrangement of tall buildings and streets.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. See that skinny house between brick buildings?
This home is apparently not small. It faces the brick wall, and here, we are looking at it sideways.
Bell In Hand Tavern. Lovely atmosphere, crazy expensive drinks.

We walked over to Boston Commons and ate our pastries beside the pond, then walked across the channel to the giant milk bottle. The 40-foot wooden Hood Milk Bottle has a tiny restaurant in the bottom of it, closed for the night. We walked back to the North End and chose an Italian restaurant and had a splendid dinner.

Lovely Boston views as we walked through the city. Hard to believe this weather is the same day as the weather we had in the morning.
Lights add sparkle to downtown gardens in the evening.
View of the Boston skyline across Fort Point Channel.

 

7 thoughts on “Boston Vortex and Freedom Trail

  1. You really are into history. I like how you describe the vortex. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read this. Some nice shots of Boston. I can see how you would view this history from a different slant.

    1. I drew you in with the vortex!! ha ha. Yes, I do love history. And day after day of so much early US History built upon itself made me even more excited about it, because I was putting pieces together.

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