My Personal, One-Day, Whirlwind History Tour of Boston

Updated on June 15, 2018
A View of the Old North Church
A View of the Old North Church

Boston in One day? Is It Possible?

Boston, a city of tremendous historic significance and modern delights, was on my calendar of coming events. Even though I was actually planning a vacation to one of my favorite American cities—Ogunquit, Maine—in tow with me would be my good friend, Scott Douglas, an ardent lover of all things historical. Since Scott had never set foot in Boston, I knew that I wanted to include a one-day side trip to this city that was so integral to the founding of the country I call home. But with so much to see and experience, how was I going to do justice to this great city? It is simply impossible to see all of Boston in one day. So, what do you do? Here is the great adventure that I managed to accomplish...and, yes, all in one day.

My Boston Plans

I planned on arriving in the city on a Sunday morning. This is a good day to see Boston, because, once you check some of the tourist sites and their hours of operations, you will find that some sites are not open on Mondays, some are even closed on Tuesdays, as well. The sites that I was interested in, essentially the earliest history of Boston, would all be around the Boston Inner Harbor area, particularly the area around the shores of the Charles River. After all, when the early colonists settled here, they wanted to be on the water’s edge for commerce and travel, as well as for fishing. Thus, the earliest settlements were always right near the shores, and they gradually grew outward and more inland from there. But, with so much history, what to see meant making a list of the items that most intrigued Scott and me. What made the list? At the top of the list was the famous ship, the USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides,” as it is commonly called. Bunker Hill Monument would be on the list, as equally would be the home of Paul Revere. I also wanted to see if I could find some of the tombstones of the pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower. For all of this, two things would be needed: good walking shoes and a very handy map titled “Boston Freedom Trail” which is supplied for free by the National Park Service at the Bunker Hill Monument. That map shows the area and has a red line drawn from Bunker Hill all the way down to the Boston Common, and as one soon sees, the sites on that line include Paul Revere’s house along with the Old North Church, the King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, and many others. There is actually a third thing needed: a constant check on your watch to make sure that you don’t dawdle too long at one of the sites and miss out on all the others that you wanted to include. Linger and lose, that is my motto. Time yourself, and with some sites, ask yourself if you really need to spend time with a tour group to get all of the details, because they are going to ask a million questions and turn minutes into hours. Scott and I were intrepid adventurers who knew enough history between us, that we could stay away from the tours.

Getting to Charlestown

We had spent the night in Hartford, Connecticut, so, after breakfast, we headed on to Boston. Once in the city of Boston, I used one of the saved Google maps on my phone to show me where to drive. All seemed well, as it took us further toward the Charles River. Then came the tunnel near the Logan Airport, a long drive underneath the river, and I must have lost the signal just long enough to miss something, because the next thing I knew, we were exiting the tunnel on the other side of the river, and I was seeing signs for Revere Beach. That set off alarm bells, because that meant that we were now leaving the city. Okay, that was no good. We were just getting started, not finishing up. I took the next exit so that I could get off the highway and onto some side road that might provide a place to stop and look at the map on the phone and see where we went wrong. I decided to plug in the coordinates for Paul Revere’s house, figuring that, if we could just find that, all the rest of the sites would be in walking distance. Pressing go, off we went...back through that same darn tunnel!

Who Says Getting There Is Half the Fun?

Once we got to the other side of the river and exited the tunnel, it showed us that we had to go back across the river...again! No way! I was furious. What was wrong with these doggone maps?! Can’t be. We just came from there. Now, I was a little steamed. “Okay,” I said to Scott, “We are not going back and forth across that stupid river. Something is wrong with this map. We’re going to pull over up here somewhere where I can get out of this traffic and get our bearings before we go another mile.” I saw a left turn ahead just before the bridge that would have taken us back across the Charles River (I know, native Bostonians are laughing already), and made a left turn onto a small street. As I did so, there up on a hill just a few blocks away, we saw the Bunker Hill monument. “Hey!” I shouted with excited relief, “Look! There’s the Bunker Hill monument. Let’s just park somewhere near here and find our way from that.”

Parking, Otherwise Known as "The Adventure Begins"

Now, where to park? That was the question, as I envisioned no parking available anywhere. Suddenly, right in front of us, there was a sign for parking. Our traveling angels were looking out for us. I immediately turned down the side street to the parking facility, and there was a gate for the entrance to whatever parking they had. There was a sign that said that there was no parking on the right, for some snobby reason about a boating event, so we turned left and wandered aimlessly wondering where the parking attendants were to guide us. No one, not even a sign telling us where this “parking” began and ended. It was confusing, because there were obvious corporate headquarters down there, and I wanted to pay for parking with a ticket, not get a ticket for parking. We drove in one big circle, and saw nothing helpful, and we were almost back to the gate entrance when we saw someone walking in our direction. I figured that he must be someone who knew the parking situation here, a native, who better to ask? He looked puzzled that we would ask him where we were to park, because it turned out that he was not from Massachusetts, but he pointed to a spot back where we had just been and said that that is where he had been parking all week, and nobody had bothered him. Good enough for us. We’d been in this car long enough. Time to get out and stretch our legs, go in search of those treasured sites. Finding an inconspicuous spot facing the harbor, we pulled up to the parking bunker and got out. And that is when the fit of laughter hit us both, because there...right in front of us...only yards away...big as a barn...was...Old Ironsides!

The USS Constitution, Known as Old Ironsides
The USS Constitution, Known as Old Ironsides

First Item on the List: Old Ironsides

Like two hound dogs that had been noses to the ground looking for the skunk until they bumped into it, we had been so intent on looking for parking signs that we did not even see the tall masts of that great ship until we got out and turned around to determine where we were. Laughing like two kids, we walked up to the fence and peered at the majestic outline of this fine historical ship. As a photographer, I thought about the not so perfect lighting, since the sky was overcast somewhat, but I just had to take photos. It had been decades since I last saw Old Ironsides, 1959 to be exact. It was like a long-lost, childhood friend who had moved back into the neighborhood. Immediately, I started taking photos. This beautiful ship looks good in any lighting situation.

A Plaque Shows Where the British Landed
A Plaque Shows Where the British Landed

A Rare Moment, A Rare Plaque

Having taken enough photos to get started, now it was time to find a way over to the ship and go onboard. After all, while the ship was right in front of us, there was water between us and the ship. The obvious way to it was to simply walk along the dock in a sort of horseshoe arrangement, but the first leg of the dock came to a link fence that offered no way around it. So, we headed away from the ship and up a sidewalk to find the street that led down to Old Ironsides. Coming to Constitution Road, we made a right and doubled back toward the ship. Up ahead, we could see the entrance to the area where the ship would be docked, as well as the visitor center. History is everywhere in this section of Boston, and just as we were about to turn the corner of the building, there on my right, I saw a bronze plaque attached to the wall of the building. It bore these words: “The Battle of Bunker Hill, 17 June 1775, This tablet marks the point where the British reinforcements landed.” Amazing! I had to stand there and just ponder the value of this notation. On June 17, 1775, not far from where I was now standing, early colonists were taking positions and readying themselves for an imminent attack by the British. They had been watching the bay nervously, knowing that they would be outnumbered. They had seen the ships sail up to the landing point, watched as the British soldiers disembarked, and right where they first set foot to attack our forefathers...was right where I was now standing. I could not just walk by. Looking first at the ground, then toward the bay, then, quite naturally, I looked toward the Bunker Hill Monument and tried to imagine that day. These two points were not far apart. Guns and cannons in those days did not shoot as far as weapons of today, but for all of these people back then, it would still be a day of death and destruction. I paused to think about all of them...all of them. The moment was brief, but spiritually deep. I moved on down the cobblestones toward the ship that had helped settle the score years later.

Captain Isaac Hull
Captain Isaac Hull

Some History of Old Ironsides

Turning past the plaque and to the right, I walked a few yards, and there in front of me was the USS Constitution, otherwise fondly known as “Old Ironsides,” in all of its glory. The beginning of this beautiful frigate goes back to March 27, 1794, when the Naval Armament Act authorized the building of six frigates. Construction of Old Ironsides began at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, and nearly three years later, on October 21, 1797, it was launched. On July 22, 1798, it set sail for the Carribean, and was used until 1801 in the Quasi War with France. There were periods when Old Ironsides sat in dock, either being mothballed, or being repaired and readied for another run. However, this frigate is probably most noted for the victories it achieved against the formidable British ships during the War of 1812. The British were a bit arrogant, sure of themselves and their supposed naval superiority, especially when it came to these colonist upstarts. So it was that, when the first naval encounter of the War of 1812 took place, it was between the USS Constitution, which was commanded at the time by Captain Isaac Hull, and the British frigate, HMS Guerriere, commanded by Captain James Richard Dacres. The date was August 19, 1812. The battle that ensued was over in about an hour. At the beginning of it, one British shell hit the side of the Constitution and bounced off, and according to legend, the sailors onboard the Constitution cried out, “Hurrah, her sides are made of iron,” which gave the frigate the nickname still used to this day. The Constitution outgunned the Guerriere, and with superior cannons and great use of them, shot away the mizzen mast on the Guerriere and laid waste to the sails. When it appeared that the Guerriere was defeated, Lieutenant Read of the Constitution, boarded the Guerriere’s deck and asked Captain Dacres if they had “struck their flag,” navy jargon for surrendered. Captain Dacres surveyed the dismal condition of what remained of his ship and replied, “Well, I don’t know; our mizzen mast is gone, our main mast is gone, and, upon the whole, you may say we have struck our flag.” Captain Hull had wanted to tow the Guerriere back to Boston as a trophy, but the next morning, surveying the extensive damage, he realized that the ship was beyond salvaging. He ordered all of the survivors from the Guerriere to be taken aboard the Constitution. He then ordered it fired upon until the magazine blew, sinking the Guerriere. On August 3oth, Captain Hull and the Constitution sailed into Boston harbor to much celebration. This had given the Americans their first good news of the war.

Oil Painting of the USS Constitution Fighting the HMS Guerriere
Oil Painting of the USS Constitution Fighting the HMS Guerriere

Old Ironsides Becomes a Feared Ship

Tuesday, December 29, 1812, just off the coast of Brazil, the Constitution’s new captain, William Bainbridge, engaged the HMS Java, another British frigate. The opening lines of the report dated December 31, 1812, and sent back to England to the Secretary of the Admiralty, John W. Croker, by Lieutenant Henry D. Chads, says it all: “It is with deep regret that I write you for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that His Majesty's Ship Java is no more, after sustaining an action on the 29th Inst for several hours with the American Frigate Constitution which resulted in the Capture and ultimate destruction of His Majestys Ship. Captain Lambert being dangerously wounded in the height of the Action, the melancholy task of writing the detail devolves on me.” After this, the British Royal Navy changed its tactics and would no longer allow any of their frigates to engage the Constitution alone. Only ships of the line, or squadrons, would thereafter be permitted to do so.

"We shall have nothing to fear from any single deck Ship". Letter from Captain Isaac Hull to Paul Hamilton July 2, 1812 re status of USS Constitution and crew. NARA Washington D.C., RG45, CL, 1812 Volume 2, No.85.
"We shall have nothing to fear from any single deck Ship". Letter from Captain Isaac Hull to Paul Hamilton July 2, 1812 re status of USS Constitution and crew. NARA Washington D.C., RG45, CL, 1812 Volume 2, No.85.

Old Ironsides Was Almost Destroyed

Old Ironsides would go on to rack up more victories when it defeated two British man of wars, the HMS Cyane and the HMS Levant, on February 20, 1815. Although the Senate had ratified the peace treaty between England and America three days earlier, the news did not reach the Constitution until April 28th. This frigate served as a squadron flagship for many years to come, even sailed completely around the world from May 1844 to September 1846. It is hard to believe that anyone would ever have thought this historical frigate unworthy of preserving, but in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, reasoning that so much of the ship had been repaired and replaced since it was first built, said, “If, for purely sentimental reasons, it be thought that this supposed veteran…is entitled to a warrior’s death, she might be used as a target for…the ships in our North Atlantic fleet and be sunk by their fire…” (Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1906: Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 18-19). Fortunately, President Roosevelt, himself an avid historian and passionate navalist, moved Bonaparte out of his position as Secretary of the Navy and made him Attorney General. Monies were allocated to help restore the Constitution, and the restoration began in 1906. Thank you President Roosevelt!

A Closer Look at Old Ironsides
A Closer Look at Old Ironsides

Metal Detectors, Something New for Me

One thing had changed since I was a kid and had boarded this vessel - security. Having to go through a metal detector and having my belongings sent through a scanner like at the airport quickly reminded me that we were no longer in colonial Boston. God, how times have changed! Fortunately, it was just Scott and me, and we were through this temporary inconvenience in less than a minute...and we didn’t have to take our shoes off.

One of the Anchors
One of the Anchors

Getting Aboard

There was a small museum and gift shop once inside the visitor center, and the items were worth taking a look at. I gained some more insight as to the history of the restoration project that saved this grand vessel from oblivion. The effort is all there in black and white photos to show all of the extensive effort. But, pressed for time, we limited ourselves to speed reading, and once we had seen enough of this part, we headed out the door and into the yard where the ship is docked. I took several more photos of the ship from this side of the water, then headed up the gangplank to board, all of it seeming like I had never really been there before, such distance were the memories. It was a lot like seeing it for the first time, and this time, I wanted to really soak in the history that was beneath my feet.

Upper Deck of Old Ironsides
Upper Deck of Old Ironsides

Above Deck

We took in the entire upper deck, fore and aft, looking at all of the silent cannons, sentinels that still manned their posts, looking out to sea as if in dutiful anticipation. Above us, the majestic masts stood ready to hoist sail, crowned by the challenging crow’s nest, and I stood momentarily gazing upward imagining what it must have been like to stand in that high place and scan the sea’s horizon for enemy ships. It was a perfect day to be here, because there were no heavy crowds, no long lines. Perhaps this was due to it being Sunday, or because the skies were slightly overcast. Maybe it was because Memorial Day was still a few weeks away, and the beginning of tourist season had yet to officially kick in, but whatever the reason, I was not complaining. It was like having the ship all to myself.

Below Deck

Once we had surveyed the upper deck of this 203-foot long frigate, it was time to head down below. If memory served me right, the ceiling would be very low. I remembered correctly...I had to duck the whole time I was down there. One would think that this low ceiling was because people were much shorter back then, much shorter. However, according to the best experts, the average height of Americans back then was five-feet, eight inches, so some historian will have to enlighten me as to why the low ceilings. Below deck, there were the ubiquitous cannons. Launched on October 21, 1797, this three-masted frigate was noted for its speed and maneuverability, able to run circles around the larger and slower British warships, and Old Ironsides had cannons coming out of virtually every deck and every angle. There was a display showing some projectiles that educated me to the fact that cannon balls were not the only things coming out of those cannons.

Canon Projectiles
Canon Projectiles

Captain's and Officers' Quarters

No ship would be complete without the captain’s quarters. The only room on the ship with adequate space to spread one’s legs, the captain’s quarters also allowed for meeting space for the captain and his officers. Immediately outside the captain’s quarters was the dining area for the officers. There was a certain Spartan elegance to the dining area, and I admired the Windsor chairs around those tables. I couldn’t help but imagine how any antique collector would have valued these gems of Early Americana.

Here is a glimpse of the interior of the Captain's quarters.
Here is a glimpse of the interior of the Captain's quarters.
Officers' Quarters
Officers' Quarters

"The Head"

An interesting item I learned while on board was one of the perks of being an officer. As there were no bathrooms, once an officer had relieved himself, the refuse was carried out and dumped overboard by some unlucky sailor. However, for the lowly sailors who needed to go, there was “the head,” a row of holes in a plank at the front of the ship where their refuse went straight into the sea. Rather than explain how it was used, I found an amusing drawing that sort of explains the complete lack of privacy for those sailors when using the head.

An Illustration Depicting "The Head"
An Illustration Depicting "The Head"

A Flag From the USS Constitution

After exploring one more deck lower, we went back topside, and there it was that I discovered that one could purchase an American flag, have it hoisted to fly on the USS Constitution, and once it had fluttered atop this magnificent frigate, have it brought down, folded properly by a sailor onboard, and given to you with an accompanying certificate of authenticity. For an additional fee, one could even get a heavy and ornate commemorative coin to complete the set. I have always wanted a flag to fly on special holidays, and so, I thought, what better flag than this one? I purchased the set, and a handsome, young sailor, GMSN Brett Langdon, ran the flag up for me. I walked a few feet away so that I could take in the sight of my new flag flying on the historical frigate, took a bunch of photos to make sure at least one of them turned out right, then walked back to Brett and gave him the signal to go ahead and lower it. He had me hold one end of the flag tightly so that he could give it the proper thirteen folds before putting it into the package and handing it to me along with my certificate. My special flag, I will cherish it for many years to come. Of note, in case you are considering purchasing one—they don’t take credit cards. Carry some extra cash with you when you board.

GMSN Brett Langdon Prepares to Raise My Flag
GMSN Brett Langdon Prepares to Raise My Flag
Proof My Flag Flew on the USS Constitution. That is my flag flying up there.
Proof My Flag Flew on the USS Constitution. That is my flag flying up there.

New England's Unique Architecture

Scott and I spent the most time of any of the sites we had selected right there with Old Ironsides, but it was soon time to get going. A few admiring glimpses back at the ship, some final photos, and off we headed for Bunker Hill. We could see where the monument was located, but with no map as yet, we had to guess which street was going to get us there. This wasn’t hard to do, even if we walked a block or two out of the direct path, because I knew the general direction and that it was at the top of the hill. So, just walk uphill. With occasional glimpses of the monument, a map for this leg of the journey wasn’t really necessary. Along the way, I admired the many vestiges of Europe in the design of the buildings and streets here. There is something difficult for me about trying to adequately describe the uniqueness of New England architecture, but it is found nowhere else. The colors are indigenous to here and here alone. I saw one house that epitomized it perfectly for me and took a photo to include for my readers. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let the photo speak for itself.

Uniquely Boston Architecture and Colors
Uniquely Boston Architecture and Colors

Bunker Hill

In just a few minutes, there before us, crowning the top of the hill, stood the tall, white obelisk. We were just below the summit of the Bunker Hill monument. Knowing the history of this plot of land, one has to stand for a moment and realize that one is standing in the same area where thousands of soldiers, both British and American, fought to the death in a bloody and vicious battle that marked one of the main focal points at the beginning of this country’s march into full independence. On April 19, 1775, skirmishes with the British had erupted at Lexington and Concord. The British fought their way back to their camps in Boston, and the hornets nest erupted with the local colonist militias massing to defend their neighbors. By the end of the day, thousands of colonist militiamen were surrounding British-occupied Boston, which, in those days, was more like an island and vital to British control of the area, as well as giving them access to the sea. Alarm spread, and 20,000 men marched from neighboring states to join the siege. By June, the British commanding officer, General Thomas Gage, was planning to get out of Boston, break the siege and punish the colonists. He planned to take the literal high ground by seizing Bunker Hill, 110 feet high, a move that would give his British forces the commanding prominence they needed. On June 12th, General Gage had publicized an offer that any colonist who laid down his arms and returned to peaceful living would be pardoned. However, his plans to take Bunker Hill were leaked, and the colonists, knowing the military value of this high hill, sent reinforcements to fortify and hold Bunker Hill.

Bunker Hill Monument
Bunker Hill Monument

Breed's Hill

What happened next is a subject of much discussion by historians who wonder why, but on June 16th, General William Prescott and 1,500 men were sent to fortify Bunker Hill and ended up, instead, fortifying Breed’s Hill, 75 feet high and just beyond Bunker Hill. While more colonists arrived and took up positions at Bunker Hill, few of them wanted to go to the forward position of Breed’s Hill, which is where the actual battle took place.

June 17, 1775, the Revolution Begins

At around 1:00 p.m., on June 17, 1775, the British landed. The beginning of American independence was forever cast in forward motion with this decisive battle. Organized and formally trained British soldiers were facing backwoods citizens with no formal military training, yet, when it was all over, and even though the Americans were routed and had to retreat, of the more than 2,400 British soldiers who fought that day, nearly half died because of the strategy used by the colonists who shot the British officers who were leading the charges, thus destroying command, and their use of waiting until the British were within 50 yards before firing accurate volleys. I strongly advise reading about this battle before visiting Bunker Hill so that one can get a greater appreciation for what they are experiencing when standing here.

The Monument Is Dedicated

One of the Park Service rangers was pleasantly willing to give us a brief history lesson once we were inside the visitor center at the monument. He took us over to a wall map showing the layout of the land back in the era of the famous battle. I was eager to hear his version of the mix-up of Breed’s Hill versus Bunker Hill. He knew his history, and he set the record straight for anyone listening. The monument that was dedicated here in 1823, with the Marquis de Lafayette laying the cornerstone, finished in 1842, and dedicated on June 17, 1843, actually does not mark the place where the bloody battle was fought. That honor lies at Breed’s Hill. There is much to think about and ponder here in the city of Early American history.

Map of Boston Provided by the National Park Service
Map of Boston Provided by the National Park Service

The Map

It was time for Scott and I to move on to our next destination. Take a cab, or walk? According to the map that we had acquired at the visitor center at the Bunker Hill monument, the walk to Paul Revere’s house was about an hour. Following the red line on the map that showed a path that included Paul Revere’s house and other sites, such as the Old North Church, we headed out on foot. A cab would take us swiftly there, but what would we miss? Walking, we decided, would be the best decision.

A Small Section of Copp's Hill Burying Ground
A Small Section of Copp's Hill Burying Ground

Copp's Hill Burying Ground

Crossing the Charles River by way of the pedestrian walkway that is on the Charlestown Bridge, we came to the mouth of North Washington Street and turned left, then right onto Hull Street to head up to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. This historic, three-acre burial ground, established in 1660, is within eyesight of Old North Church, less than a block away. Copp’s Hill is where the builder of the USS Constitution, Edmund Hartt, is buried. The Reverend Increase Mather and his son, Cotton Mather, of the Salem witch trial fame, are also buried here. Researching the history of this city, one finds that the very first lighthouse in America was built here in the Boston harbor, and it was called the Light House upon Great Brewster (Beacon Island). Selected to serve as keeper of the lighthouse in 1716 was a man named George Worthylake. On November 3, 1718, while on their way back from church services, George Worthylake, his wife, Anne, daughter Ruth, servant George Cutler, slave Shadwell, and a friend by the name of John Edge, all drowned in the cold Atlantic waters. Twelve-year-old Benjamin Franklin wrote a ballad titled “The Light House Tragedy,” and eagerly sold copies in the streets of Boston, much to his father’s chagrin, who told his son to find something better to do. Franklin persevered, however, and the handbills became very popular causing the citizenry to memorialize the event. The Worthylakes are buried here beneath a three-stone headpiece.

The Lighthouse Upon Great Brewster
The Lighthouse Upon Great Brewster

The Tomb of Captain Daniel Malcolm

During the battle of Bunker Hill, the British used Copp’s Hill as a point from which to fire their cannons. While there, some of them fired their rifles at the tombstone of Daniel Malcom, undoubtedly because of the last lines of what is engraved thereon.

Here lies buried in a

Stone Grave 10 feet deep

Cap DANIEL MALCOLM Merch

who departed this Life

october 23d 1769

Aged 44 Years

a true son of Liberty

a Friend to the publick

an Enemy to oppression

and one of the foremost

in opposing the Revenue Acts

on America.

The bullet marks are still there. By the way, in case you are wondering, Captain Malcom, considered a goods smuggler by the British, and leader of the patriots who opposed the seizure of John Hancock’s merchant sloop, Liberty, by the British frigate, Romney, requested that his body be buried ten feet below ground to make it difficult for the British to get to his body.

The Bullet-Marked Tombstone of Captain Daniel Malcolm
The Bullet-Marked Tombstone of Captain Daniel Malcolm

The Old North Church

The Copp’s Hill Burying Ground held a special fascination for me. Here before me was a field of ancestors, a hallowed tranquility from which so many family trees were watered. I paused often to just stare and think of all the lives, all the fascinating and tumultuous history emanating, and all the silence that stilled their voices from telling me so much more. I could go from tombstone to tombstone and ask, study and listen, but these ancient people would speak no more. Only what is recorded about them in books and letters survives beyond this graveyard. Time did not permit me to linger, much as I would have loved to do so. There was still so much to cover in this race through my own private Brigadoon. One last glance around, and I headed down the stairs that led to Hull Street. Turning left, there before me, less than a few hundred yards away at the intersection of Hull and Salem Streets, loomed the Old North Church in all of its colonial, New England charm. Built in 1723, this is the oldest standing church in Boston. I looked up at the belfry to imagine what it must have been like that night on April 18, 1775, when two lanterns changed the course of history.

Old North Church from Copp's Hill
Old North Church from Copp's Hill

Paul Revere and the Two Lanterns

At the time, Paul Revere worked as an express rider, someone who carried important messages over long distances, and his route went as far south as Philadelphia. On this particular evening, he had been summoned by Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston and dispatched to Lexington to alert the Sons of Liberty that the British were about to march into the area with orders to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The British also were intent on capturing the ammunition stores that the locals held there. Paul Revere was not sure that he would make it safely out of the town, due to the British army, so he instructed the church sexton, Robert Newman, and vestryman, Captain John Pulling, Jr., to hang two lanterns in the tower of the church as a secret signal that the British planned to invade by way of the Charles River and from there march on to Cambridge, instead of coming by way of Boston Neck, a land route. If anybody knew this old bell tower, Paul Revere certainly did. He had been a bell ringer there at the age of fifteen.

Inside the Old North Church
Inside the Old North Church

Loyalists and Patriots

It is worth noting that most churches at this time were “Tory,” or Loyalist, but the Old North Church was actually split between the majority, who were Loyalists, and a growing number of Revolutionaries. The British king had given this church a bible and much silver that was used in the worship services, and many of the church members held positions in the royal government. Still, it had become so divided that, on that same day of April 18, 1775, the church’s minister, Reverend Mather Byles, Jr., a Loyalist, resigned. Newman and Pulling did as instructed. Climbing quickly up to the bell tower, then setting the two lanterns, they quickly fled by climbing out of a church window. Captain Pulling, fearful of being caught, fled Boston completely. However, Newman lived with his mother, and wouldn’t you know it, she had British soldiers as boarders. Even though Newman cautiously crept back in through his bedroom window, he was arrested and questioned the next day. However, he was eventually released.

Drama and History in This Church

I was compelled to walk inside this inspiring historic church, to look at the layout and envision how church services were much different from today. For example, today, one attends a church service and expects to simply find an open seat and sit down, but in this church and era, the pews were owned. And what history walked these aisles! There’s pew #29, owned by Captain William Maxwell, who donated two ornate brass chandeliers that still hang in the center aisle and were first lit on Christmas Day, 1724. There’s pew #54, owned by Joseph Warren Revere, son of Paul Revere. Odd to think about how Joseph’s two sons, Edward Hutchinson Revere and Paul Joseph Revere would perish in the Civil War. Edward died in 1862 from being wounded at the Battle of Antietam, and Paul died in 1863 from wounds he received in the Battle of Gettysburg. Paul Revere’s son, Joseph Warren, outlived his sons, dying on October 12, 1868, in Canton, Massachusetts, at the age of 91. I stare at his pew and think about the lineage of men fighting for liberty.

Paul Revere's Ride

Furtively, Revere made it to the waterfront at Boston’s North End and was rowed by two friends secretly past a British warship. Landing on the Charlestown banks, he informed Colonel Conant about the impending invasion. It was around eleven o’clock at night when, borrowing a horse from a Charlestown merchant named John Larkin, Revere set off on the famous ride. He had been warned about British officers in the area, and true to the information he had been given, Revere was almost captured. For this reason, he changed his planned route and rode through Medford where he informed the local captain of the militia, Isaac Hill, that the British were coming. Arriving in Lexington sometime after midnight, he approached the house where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying. The sergeant who was guarding the house told Revere to be quiet, to which Revere replied, “Noise! You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” His loud commotion got the attention of John Hancock, who was not asleep, and Hancock ordered that he be allowed to enter. Shortly after, William Dawes also arrived to deliver the same message. After having eaten and refreshed themselves, Revere and Dawes set out for Concord. Along the way, Dr. Samuel Prescott caught up with them and joined them for the endeavor, but they were shortly thereafter captured by the British. While Dr. Prescott and Dawes were able to escape, Revere was held, questioned and later released. However, his horse was confiscated and he was forced to walk back to Lexington. April 18, 1775, two lanterns signaling a call for liberty for all beamed boldly from that tower...and here in May of 2018, 243 years later, I could still see that light.

Another View of the Interior of the Church
Another View of the Interior of the Church
Buried Beneath the Church. The Memorial Plaque for Commodore Samuel Nicholson.
Buried Beneath the Church. The Memorial Plaque for Commodore Samuel Nicholson.

Major John Pitcairn

There are pews #50 and #78, owned by Robert Newman, the sexton who carried a lantern up those belfry steps and lit up the world in 1775. Then there are pews #4 and #25, owned by Captain Daniel Malcolm, whose resting place on Copp’s Hill is intentionally ten feet deep. It was in Captain Daniel Malcolm’s pew #25 that President Teddy Roosevelt sat on December 29, 1912, for the commemoration service of the major restoration that year. And there is pew #11, owned by Captain Sam Nicholson, the first captain of the USS Constitution. Where is he buried? Surprisingly, a plaque that states that Captain Nicholson is buried beneath the aisle points to the fact that there are 37 tombs, constructed between 1732 and 1860, beneath this church, tombs that contain over 1,100 bodies! Not only is Captain Nicholson buried there, but we also find the tomb of Major John Pitcairn, a Scottish officer stationed with the British in Boston. Quoting directly from his tombstone, the words tell his story: “Major John Pitcairn, fatally wounded while rallying the Royal Marines at the Battle of Bunker Hill, carried from the field to the boats on the back of his son, who kissed him and returned to duty. Died June 17, 1775, and his body interred beneath this church.” Many others who died that day are also buried in these crypts.

Onward to Paul Revere's House

What history! What a parade of fascinating lives! All in one church, one building, and I would loved to have just sat in one of those pews alone with my imagination and unlimited time. Oh the interaction of so many history changing lives that came here to find solace, what a pageantry of theater would have played out in my mind while pensively meditating in one of those pews. But, this would not be the day for that luxury, for there was still more on my agenda, and I reluctantly forced myself to cut things short and leave this hauntingly reverent place behind. I was now off to find the home of Paul Revere.

Paul Revere's House
Paul Revere's House

At Paul Revere's House

According to the map, we were only a few blocks away, but the narrow streets there can be a bit confusing, so, once I found Hanover Street, I did what most men seem averse to doing, I asked directions from the locals. And even though the map was very helpful in getting us this far, it was a bit vague as to the name of the actual street whereupon Paul Revere’s house was to be found. So, with locals pointing the direction, and trusting them when they said it was right behind some buildings across the street, it was only a matter of minutes before I saw what I remembered from my childhood. That house is unmistakable, seemingly setting the rules for how New England homes are to look. Built in 1680, by a wealthy merchant, Paul Revere was himself wealthy enough in 1770, due to his silversmith business, that he was able to purchase the house at the age of 35. Five years later, on that night of the famous ride, Paul would race back to this very house to change clothes before heading across the Charles River.

Traffic blocking the view of Paul Revere's house.
Traffic blocking the view of Paul Revere's house.

A Note to the City: Traffic Blocks the View

If I could make one suggestion to the city of Boston, it would be to prohibit parking in front of this historic site. For those like myself who would like to photograph this place from various angles, there is no way to photograph the front of the house, because it is wall-to-wall vehicles. In fact, while I stood there pondering a useful photo, I watched as a huge pickup truck tried to wedge itself in the tiny space that presented itself between two tightly parked cars. The driver of that truck succeeded with much effort in getting his truck in there, and that monstrosity finished off the already somewhat obstructed view, thus ruling out any photos of the famous house from the front. I was also disappointed that no photos were allowed inside the house. I don’t care what their excuse, I find it totally unacceptable.

The Florentine Cafe
The Florentine Cafe

The Florentine Cafe

Leaving Paul Revere’s house, we decided that we should at least try to find somewhere to eat, then while eating, we would decide how much more we could take in before heading on to the evening’s destination, Ogunquit, Maine. This area is loaded with every variety of restaurant possible, and, after looking at some of the posted menus, we thought, since it was still early, that it would be great to eat at the restaurant we had seen a few streets back, the Florentine Café at 333 Hanover Street. Beautiful hanging baskets of bright-colored flowers adorned the open sides of the restaurant, and I could imagine just sitting there enjoying some great meal while watching Boston walk by. I felt like I was back in Paris. Sadly, we were to be disappointed when the hostess informed us that seating did not begin until 6 p.m. It was now only 5.

The Dolce Vita Ristorante. Owner Franco Graceffa is seen here talking with my friend, Scott Douglas.
The Dolce Vita Ristorante. Owner Franco Graceffa is seen here talking with my friend, Scott Douglas.

Dolce Vita Ristorante to the Rescue

So, down the street we trod, looking for something that looked as equally inviting. I still wanted to try to take in some of the Granary Burying Ground where so many notables of Colonial history are buried. It looked like a very long, time-consuming, walk, and to make the best of things, I thought about hailing a taxi as we walked the sidewalk in that direction. Suddenly, up ahead, I saw another restaurant that was open to the air, flower boxes saying it was Spring and time to open windows. It looked inviting, so I stopped in front of the posted menu outside the front door to peruse the selections. Unexpectedly, my reverie was interrupted by a jovial Italian who announced loudly and cheerfully, “Come on in. It’s all good!” I looked over to see who was speaking, and it was, I later found, the owner of the restaurant, Franco Graceffa. Amiably, but with obvious intention that we were not going elsewhere, he shepherded us into the door of Dolce Vita Ristorante and, with flair befitting a scene from “The Godfather,” showed us to a table right where I wanted to sit...facing the street in the open air. Ah, what a multi-faceted pleasure it was to sit there. The view, the expectation of great dining, the ambiance, and the time to just sit and rest. We had been at this odyssey for hours, so this was more than just a respite. I wanted great food to go with this moment, and I was not disappointed.

Owner of Dolce Vita Ristorante poses cheerfully with my friend, Scott Douglas.
Owner of Dolce Vita Ristorante poses cheerfully with my friend, Scott Douglas.

Absolutely Impeccable Service!

Franco Graceffa was born in the Sicilian town of Aragona. Being the youngest of three, he spent much of his younger years helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen preparing family meals. They were obviously great cooks. Around 1974, he decided to visit his sister, Enza, who had emigrated to America and lived in Waltham, Massachusetts. Franco fell in love with America and soon moved here. In 1988, he and his wife, Caroline, opened their own restaurant, currently located at 221 Hanover Street, calling it Dolce Vita, “the Sweet Life.” Franco believed that a restaurant should be about good living, good eating and a good life. Lots of celebrities have eaten here and praised the food. I can see why. The servers knew their jobs exceptionally well, and I felt as if I were eating at a fine restaurant in Rome. If five stars is the highest grade, then I give Dolce Vita five stars! I ordered “Shrimps & Scallops Amalfi,” which was a dish of shrimps and scallops sautéed in spinach and mushrooms with a light touch of garlic olive oil. Service was impeccable, timing of each item perfect, never intrusive, and I savored more than food while sitting there watching the activities on the street. This is how dining is supposed to be, an experience for all of the senses.

Franco came over to check on us, and I asked his permission to get a few photographs for my article. He jovially agreed, and I stepped quickly outside to get a few photos before resuming my coveted seat by the window. I ended with a desert that was so delicious, I will let the photograph speak for it.

Dessert at Dolce Vita Ristorante. Indescribably good!
Dessert at Dolce Vita Ristorante. Indescribably good!

Heading out After Dinner

Scott and I both could have just stayed in Dole Vita Ristorante all night and continued exploring the menu and enjoying the warm and charming ambiance of this fine restaurant, but it was back to the schedule as soon as I had paid the bill. I promised Franco that I would send him a link to this article when it was completed, and off we strode down Hanover Street.

An Historic Cemetery

I found a cab, and decided it was time to maximize the little time we had left before night fell. I had allocated a certain number of hours to get from Boston to our hotel in Ogunquit, so watching the clock was still paramount. If all went well, we could squeeze in one last site, the Granary Burying Ground. I will let the photos tell the story here, because any history buff is going to recognize the names of the people, a veritable “Who’s Who,” of colonists who came to their final resting place within these intriguing grounds.

The Granary Burying Ground. Straight ahead is the white obelisk beneath which are buried Benjamin Franklin's parents.
The Granary Burying Ground. Straight ahead is the white obelisk beneath which are buried Benjamin Franklin's parents.

Benjamin Franklin's Parents Are Here

When I first enter the burying ground, in the distance ahead of me stands a memorial to the parents of Benjamin Franklin who are buried beneath it. The words carved on it are worth pondering, as they not only point to some of the beliefs of Benjamin Franklin, but they also point to his humility.

JOSIAH FRANKLIN,
And
ABIAH, his Wife,
Lie here interred.

They lived lovingly together in Wedlock
Fifty-five Years;

And without an Estate or any gainful
Employment,

By constant Labour, and honest Industry,
(With GOD’s Blessing)
Maintained a large Family
Comfortably,

And brought up thirteen Children and
Seven Grand-children
Reputably.

From this Instance, Reader,
Be encouraged to Diligence in thy Calling,
And distrust not Providence.

He was a pious and a prudent Man,
She a discreet and virtuous Woman.

Their youngest Son,
In filial Regard to their Memory,
Places this Stone.

J. F. born 1655, died 1744.

A. F. born 1667, died 1752.

Marker for the Victims of the Boston Massacre
Marker for the Victims of the Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre

There is a tombstone here marking where the five patriots are buried after they were shot and killed by the British at the infamous Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. British soldiers were stationed in Boston, and they were becoming increasingly unpopular, to put it mildly. Unreasonable taxation and prohibitive duties on goods, plus a complete interference by the British to keep the colonists from actually succeeding at trade, brought this city to a fever pitch. A mob of Bostonians confronted one of the British sentinels, and Captain Thomas Preston called in additional soldiers. The British fired on the unarmed civilians. Three of the citizens died immediately, and two more died of their wounds later. These five men, Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr, were buried here under one marker. This event so aroused the colonists, that it forced the Royal Governor to remove his occupying army from Boston and encamp them on a nearby island. The spark was lit that eventually led to full rebellion through out the colonies, and the revolution was on.

John Hancock's Tombstone
John Hancock's Tombstone

John Hancock and Samuel Adams

Two prominent smugglers made their fortunes bringing illegal tea, among other items, into Boston, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, and these patriots are also buried here.

The Tombstone of Samuel Adams
The Tombstone of Samuel Adams

Paul Revere Is Buried Here

I was equally surprised to find that Paul Revere was buried here. The distance from his house on 19 North Square to this burial plot is such a short physical distance for someone who traveled so far and moved so much of our history.

Paul Revere's Tombstone
Paul Revere's Tombstone

The Boston Tea Party

I was hoping to find a tombstone of someone who had come over on the Mayflower, a photograph of which was high on my list, and while there may be someone buried here who was on that ship, I did not have sufficient time to see if one existed. However, one marker caught my attention. According to one local source, most of the participants in the famous Boston Tea Party never confessed to their activities, but someone buried beneath this marker did. I brushed away the dirt that had collected from recent rains, and found these words:

Samuel A. Shed

&

William Goddard

Tomb 1822

Josiah Shed

Born June 17, 1732

Died October 18, 1812

Revolutionary Patriot

Member Boston Tea Party

A Member of the Boston Tea Party Lies Here
A Member of the Boston Tea Party Lies Here

A Mayflower Pilgrim

The sun was soon to set, and I would reluctantly leave behind this bustling city filled with so much colonial history. Although I would not find my much-prized tombstone of one of the travelers of the famous Mayflower while here in the Granary Burying Ground, two days later, while visiting Salem, I did manage to fulfill that wish. I came upon the tombstone of Captain Richard More. The epitaph reads:

Here

Lieth Buried

Ye Body Of Cap

Richard More

Aged 84 Years

Died 1692

Mayflower

Pilgrim

He is buried between his first wife who died March 18, 1676, at the age of 60, no name on the stone, and his second wife, Jane, who died October 8, 1686, at the age of 55. Coming to America was not by choice for Richard More. In 1616, Samuel More, Richard’s father, accused young Richard's mother, Katherine, of adultery. Subsequently, he had their four children removed from her. Cruelty must have run in his veins, because he eventually had them shipped to the colonies where they would be indentured servants. The four children, Elinor, aged 8, Jasper, aged 7, Richard, aged 6 and Mary, aged 4, were sadly shipped off aboard the Mayflower in September of 1620. While the original destination was Virginia, as fate would have it, winter weather drove them off-course, and they eventually landed at Plymouth. That winter was so harsh, and the settlers so unprepared, that nearly half of them perished. Young Elinor, was indentured to Edward Winslow, but she, too, did not survive that first winter, succumbing on November 1620. In December, Jasper, who was indentured to John Carver, died, as well. Soon after this, little four-year-old Mary, indentured to William Brewster, died. Of the four young More children, only Richard, also indentured to William Brewster, survived. By the summer of 1627, Richard More’s indentured status was fulfilled, and he was a free man. He went on to become a highly respected sea captain and merchant. Here, his body finally lies at rest, the suffering is over.

The Tombstone of Captain Richard More
The Tombstone of Captain Richard More

Thankful for History

During Colonial times, the average for marriages was twelve years due to high mortality rates. Nearly half of all children lost at least one parent before they turned twenty-one. These were tumultuous times in Early America, they were trying times, they were dramatic times, and standing before this tombstone of Captain Richard More and his family, I was made so much more aware of their sacrifices. My one-day sojourn through their history had shown me journeys made by others who were much more determined than I shall ever be. They followed their dreams, they fought against great odds, struggled for a greater future filled with freedoms their ancestors could not have dreamed possible, and, because of them, we are here.

There is no way to properly take leave of these people. Even walking silently away seems irreverent, disrespectful to some degree. I was in awe then, and I am in awe still. I thanked them reverently and silently...and left to find my own destiny.

Questions & Answers

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      • Hanavee profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Gray 

        4 months ago from Pennsylvania

        Damian,

        Thanks for reading and commenting. I always enjoy your being on here. Boston and the surrounding area is so full of history, going there adds a new dimension of awareness to a person's life on how we all got here as a country. Fascinating place.

        Brian

      • profile image

        dfedorko@bellsouth.net 

        4 months ago

        Brian -

        Very interesting and you take the best pictures. Reminds me of the Honor Flight tour I took this past May. Left Brunswick, GA at 0500hrs, took the tour in DC and returned home. Talk about a full day but what you accomplished was awesome.

        Damian

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