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Cradle of Liberty

Jane has her hands full with On Point this week, so David will be hosting the show on Friday. What to do for Independence Day? Well, Boeri is planning one of his grand opuses. He thinks all the recent hubbub over “hack holidays” like Evacuation Day has missed the point; commemorating our history is what matters, not whether the RMV stays open when we do so.

It’s amazing how many moments that were integral to the formation and development of the whole country happened in our little city. This week, David is stepping off–WAY off–the Freedom Trail to find the true story of liberty’s birth and rearing in Boston. It’s a story that’s as much about absurd utopian fantasies and the origins of Black Power as it is about mis-named battles waged by old, white generals.

If you have your own favorite Boston historical site or story that you think may be in danger of omission, leave us a comment below.

If you’re new to Boston or slept through social studies, this show is going to be a great primer. Listen from your lawn chair with a lemonade in one hand and a sparkler in the other. (Hopefully, you won’t need a third hand for an umbrella.)

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  • Cynic

    I don’t think it’s necessary to belittle courageous fights and those who risked life and limb for liberty, to point out that our city’s past is rich and diverse in ways not often acknowledged. Instead of debunking and promising to unveil the “true” story, why not frame this in terms of enlarging the narrative and making it more inclusive?

    With that in mind, I’ll offer you three sites that serve to enlarge and complicate our traditions, without disparaging our forebears.

    1) Fort Point, Boston: One of our newest historic districts is also among our oldest. You could stop ten random people on the corner, and the odds are not one would be able to tell you how Fort Point got its name. But in colonial times, the promontory was the home to the city’s principal fortification, a four-bastion redoubt housing a garrison of fourteen British regulars. If you want to trace the birth of liberty in Boston, you’ll have to go back to the 18th of April – in 1689. That (somewhat less) famous time and year was when the denizens of the Bay Colony staged their first revolt against capricious authority, removing the Royal Governor, Edmond Andros, from power. The revolt began in the morning, and by afternoon, the alarum had run through the countryside. Militia poured into Boston, from Concord to Dedham, and from Medford to Lynn. They surrounded the fort, where Andros had taken refuge, and demanded his surrender. Andros ordered his troops to open fire; they refused. He was taken into custody, escorted from the Fort down into the town, and confined to the home of a wealthy merchant, as befitting a man of his rank and station. But more and more militiamen flooded in from the countryside, and they disapproved of this genteel arrangement. Democracy has a way of reinforcing itself; having taken up arms and risked their lives, the militia was disinclined to defer to established authority, or to countenance such an arrangement. Andros was removed from the townhouse, and roughly escorted back up the hill to the Fort, surrounded by a jeering mob. That was the day that the aristocracy died in Boston. And, when it came time to hold new elections, the old strictures tightly limiting participation were largely discarded – all the free, white males in the colony were able to vote, just as they had all shouldered their firearms when the call had come. So go to the site of the old Fort – now International Place – and think about what it must have meant to grab a musket and stare loaded cannons down the barrel.

    2) Grave of Prince Hall, Copp’s Hill: The Revolutionary War was indeed a struggle for liberty, and the ideals then exalted would come to serve as the measure of a nation in the centuries that followed. But as several recent books have reminded us, there were nuances to that struggle. Prince Hall was a leading member of Boston’s black community. He is best-remembered for having been initiated into freemasonry by an officer of a British regiment, and for the large and thriving group that still bears his name today. He may well have fought in the war (there’s suggestive evidence that he bore arms in that “mis-named battle,” so even if you wish to characterize Major-General (Des.) Joseph Warren, then 34, as an ‘old, white general,’ it’s worth remembering that not all of his troops were the same). But the battles for which Prince Hall might best be remember were for abolition, civil rights, and above all, education. He hosted one of the first schools for black pupils in his home, and was a tireless advocate of enhancing educational opportunity and achievement – causes as resonant today as they were then.

    3) Statue of Horace Mann, State House Grounds: It’s just a statue. But to Horace Mann, above all others, we owe the legacy of common schools. Today, we take it as our birthright as Americans that all our children are entitled to an education, funded and provided by the state. Yet before Horace Mann, that was not so. As founding chair of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, he established the common schools movement, formalizing and extending the practice of publicly-funded education already widespread in the Commonwealth. From Massachusetts, the idea rippled outward, taking hold. If there is no more essential foundation for democracy than an educated citizenry, and no more direct route to equality of outcome than equality of opportunity, then Horace Mann is worth remembering alongside those other old, white men.

  • JTL

    Boston is known as a literary city, and The Boston Athenaeum is the best kept literary secret in town. It’s one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries in the United States, with a formidable collection of art and books. But not many people know what goes on behind its red doors. Though it’s a membership library, the first floor and galleries (and clean bathrooms!) are open to the public during open hours.

  • Mike C

    Battle of Menotomy (Arlington, MA) was the site of much bloodshed along the battle road in April of 1775.

    Jason Russell House in particular was a site of a significant skirmish. More than one-half of that fateful day’s casualties were suffered in the short distance from Foot of the Rocks (at the intersection of Lowell Street and Massachusetts Avenue) to Spy Pond.

    There are several stories of men and woman of all ages coming out from their local homes and harassing the retreating Red Coats. Of course the climatic encounters at Lexington and Concord are often the focus of the events of those days but the fight as the British tried to return to Boston is often overlooked.

    For more details I suggest: http://www.menotomy.org/ and “Then & Now: Arlington” by Richard A. Duffy

  • Adam Ragusea, Associate Producer

    Hey Cynic…You present a well-reasoned argument followed by thoughtful and thorough suggestions. That’s what I get for being glib while trying to write punchy copy. :-)

    We’ll try to be more tactful on Friday. Thanks again.

  • http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net Brian

    One unknown “site” I found is actually on the Freedom Trail. Inside the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, there is a cannon hanging on the wall. There was no sign or plaque, but the back end was blown out, as if the cannon misfired, so that combined with its location obviously held a story.

    After seeing this cannon and not learning anything about it at the Bunker Hill Visitor Center, I happened to be in the Visitor Center near the Old North Bridge in Concord, where I heard a guide telling a story about a cannon on display there.

    He said the cannon in Concord was one of the four cannons stolen by the colonists from the British on Boston Common, and smuggled to Concord. The loss of these four cannons is what finally caused the British to march to Concord to capture the weapons stockpiled there, and that march is what started the revolution.

    The colonists were able to move and save the cannons, and use them throughout the war against the British. One ended up back in Concord. Two were lost, but the fourth, the guide said, is now hanging in the top of the Bunker Hill monument.

    It was fired from up there during Fourth of July celebrations, until one year it was overloaded, or just old and weakened, and exploded out the side causing the rupture.

    I thought this was a fascinating story for such a significant piece of American history. While I’m glad that cannon is preserved and on display, I am amazed I had to accidentally overhear this story in Concord and no mention of it is made in the Bunker Hill monument where the cannon is located.

  • Elizabeth Johnson TSang

    The revolutionary history of Central Massachusetts, particularly Worcester, is largely forgotten, although it played an important part in the Revolutionary War. I don’t know much about it myself. Here is a quick sketch from Wikipedia:

    As political tensions rose in the months before the Revolution, Worcester served as a center of revolutionary activity. Because it was an important munitions depot, Worcester was targeted for attack by Loyalist general Thomas Gage. However, officers sent secretly to inspect the munitions depot were discovered by Patriot Timothy Bigelow. General Gage then decided to move on to the second munitions depot in Lexington. In 1775, determining that Boston was too dangerous, Isaiah Thomas moved his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, to Worcester. The Massachusetts Spy was one of the few papers published continuously during the Revolution. On July 14, 1776, Isaiah Thomas, intercepting the packet from Philadelphia to Boston, performed the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence ever in front of Worcester City Hall. In 1812, Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society, a research library holding nearly two thirds of the items known to have been printed in America from 1639 through 1820. The Society’s holdings from 1821 to 1876 compare favorably with those of the Library of Congress and other major research libraries.

  • http://ScienceFriday Sara Hale

    You asked us to take a survey, helping you to know who listens. I would like to help you but where is the survey?

  • http://web.mit.edu/invent Joshua

    I’d like to take the conversation in a slightly different direction…I wasn’t able to pursue this tact as much as I would have liked during my call-in.

    While celebrating historical political events recognizes our timeless, patriotic principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, events of — for lack of a better term — innovation and economic import may be just as worthy to note. In keeping with the efficiency and outcomes that these events produced and our current needs, moreover, I would propose that reflection/awareness around these events is of greater value ultimately than a day-off from work.

    Consider all of the technologies invented and research conducted in the Commonwealth that have had a profound effect around the globe…isn’t honoring these more forward-looking? Isn’t recognizing these more likely to bring about a sense of pride and can-do attitude?

    Recently a group of innovation evangelists christened June as “New England Innovation Month”, http://www.neinnovation.com/. No bank holidays, no bbqs, just a simple way to raise awareness of the amazing network of people, organizations, and events dedicated to innovation in the region. We Bay Staters should be proud of what’s been accomplished and then get back to work on the next big (tangible) thing.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Boeri misses the point. Let us stipulate that important historical events occurred. The question is why should one county–the one most connected county–get the day off when no one else does? That’s what makes it a hack holiday. Eighty percent of the people who get the day off owe their jobs to those who vote on whether to keep it a holiday. IT’S A SCAM!

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