Archival Guide Research and Excursions to The Freedom Trail and Salem
By: Ariadne Argyros
In my last blog post, I wrote about some of the online resources that I used to virtually tour some of the historical sites and monuments in the city of Boston. This week, I was able to actually go and do an in-person self-guided Freedom Trail tour! Just like I did with the Black Heritage Trail, I used the NPS Boston free app to navigate the trail and provide important background information on each site that I visited. I have briefly summarized some of these sites below!
Massachusetts State House
Immediately recognizable by its golden dome, the Massachusetts State House was constructed on land once owned by John Hancock, the first elected governor of the state. It is the state capitol and home to the State Senate, House of Representatives, and the Governor’s office. The dome was originally made of wood, but it constantly leaked, causing it to be covered with copper by Paul Revere’s Revere Copper Company in 1802. Fun fact: Revere was the first American to form copper into sheets and effectively sell it for profit. It was gilded in gold leaf in 1874 and again after World War II in 1997. It sits at the top of Beacon Hill and faces the Boston Common and the historic 54th Regiment Memorial.
The Park Street Church dates to 1804 with its cornerstone laid five years later in 1809. The structure stands at 217 feet, which in the early 18th century meant that it was the tallest building in the United States from about 1810 to 1828. It was the first landmark that travelers saw when approaching Boston during this time as well. The Freedom Trail website has posted a nice virtual tour of the steeple that showcases the wonderful views of downtown Boston.
First Public School
Boston Latin School, the country’s first public school (and my alma mater!), was founded on April 23rd, 1635 and the schoolhouse was constructed 10 years later. Although the original wooden building was torn down in 1745 in order to enlarge King’s Chapel, BLS is still operating today. The original site is marked by a mosaic and a nearby bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin, a former student (and dropout!) at the school.
Boston Massacre Site
Located under the Old State House balcony, this cobblestone circle marks the site of the Boston Massacre. On March 5th, 1770, a group of American colonists began to taunt British soldiers by throwing snowballs and rocks. It escalated into a street brawl and quickly spiraled into a chaotic and bloody slaughter. The British fired upon the crowd and killed 5 colonists including Crispus Attucks. Something that I found out was that John Adams, a then Boston lawyer and future American president, successfully defended these soldiers in court against murder charges.
The Old North Church was built in 1723 and is Boston’s oldest surviving church building. Its fame began on the night of April 18, 1775 when two lanterns were hung from the steeple as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were approaching Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River.
This monument commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill in which New England soldiers took on the British army for the first time in a prearranged battle on June 17, 1775. The cornerstone of the 221 ft granite obelisk was placed 50 years after the battle by the Marquis De Lafayette. Click here to take a virtual climb of the monument with one of the NPS Rangers to the viewing platform where you can see some really fantastic views of Boston!
Built in the North End and launched in 1797, the USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. The USS Constitution Museum has been conducting daily 10 am EST livestreams on Facebook of different sailors giving virtual tours of the ship. I recommend checking one of these tours out one morning if you can!
I also took a day trip to see the historic town of Salem. In addition to visiting the Witch House to see the home of Jonathan Corwin, the presiding judge over the Salem Witch trials of 1692, I also visited the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Old North Bridge, site of Colonel Leslie’s Retreat.
Established on March 17th, 1938, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site is the country’s first National Historic Site. It is located along the Salem waterfront and consists of 12 historic structures on its 9 acres of land. Unfortunately, much of the site was still closed and/or restricted due to the ongoing pandemic, but I was still able to learn a bit about its history and purpose. I found that this site focuses on the Triangle Trade during the colonial period and the actions of private individuals who were commissioned by government to engage in maritime warfare during the Revolutionary War. Basically, they were pirates with papers!
“Leslie’s Retreat” is the name given to the failed attempt by British troops to cross the bridge over Salem’s North River to seize a stockpile of local weaponry on February 26th, 1775, approximately two months before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. When General Gage heard reports that a cannon and ammunition was being secretly stored in modern-day Salem, he sent Colonel Alexander Leslie and 300 British soldiers from Boston to Marblehead by ship. In response, forewarned local citizens and militiamen took up arms and gathered at the North Bridge and raised the draw. The photos above show the modern-day North Bridge and what is left of the North River; obviously, neither do justice to the original landmarks. It has been long thought that if a compromise had not been reached by Colonel Pickering and Colon Mason of the local militia and Colonel Leslie on that day, this would have been the first battle of the Revolutionary War. The draw was lowered and the British troops marched on and headed back to Marblehead.
Boston National Historical Park Archival Repository Guide
Between my trips to visit sites with ties to the American Revolution, I have also been working on creating an archival guide to the Boston National Historical Park’s collections. For those of you who don’t know exactly what this means, I am essentially creating a guide that brings the BNHP’s collection materials together in one place for the convenience of museum staff and researchers. I will be working largely with finding aids, which are tools that help the user find information about a specific collection or series of archival materials. I have been doing a lot of research and exploring dozens of university libraries and archives, other national (historical) parks, state and federal archives, and historical societies to find examples from which to draw. Unfortunately for me, that has been a more difficult task than anticipated because more often than not, the aforementioned archives don’t have their own archival guides. On the plus side, though, it seems like I will have more creative license over the final product! So far, I have found Yosemite’s Guide to its National Park Archives (pictured above) to be very helpful; it is quite thorough, includes many photographs from its collections, and is pretty easy to follow. Stay tuned for more in the next blog post!