Boston is old. As a Minnesotan, I feel history as something that happened in the time of my great-grandparents, back a hundred and fifty years ago. In Boston, history goes back 400 years. Here is Christ Church, where George and Martha Washington worshiped, with a bullet hole from the Revolutionary War still preserved next to the door. In that same church, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached against the Vietnam War, eloquently connecting the issues of racism and poverty at home and imperialism and war abroad.
Here is the graveyard next to that church, where leaders of the Massachusetts colony in the 1600s are buried alongside Revolutionary War soldiers. Just a few blocks away is the monument marking the spot where General George Washington mustered troops on July 4, 1775 – and a monument honoring Prince Hall, a black Revolutionary War era leader who, along with others, petitioned the government of the new United States to end slavery.
Even on vacation, I cannot escape the news, which means thinking about continuing connections between racism and structures of government and power.
But this is a vacation, so we also went on the tourist trolley ride around Boston to see the historic sites and sights, with trolley drivers who managed to combine humor and history. They told us about Paul Revere’s ride, and how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about it almost a century after the fact. Paul Revere was one of three or four riders, and he didn’t even complete the ride. The person who actually reached the leaders and troops with the warning was Samuel Dawes. “But,” said the trolley driver, “Revere rhymes so much better! ‘Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Samuel Dawes’ just doesn’t sound half as good!”
Revere also would not have said “The British are coming! The British are coming!” because he and everybody else around were British subjects, too. More likely, he would have warned that “The regular army is coming!” or “The lobsterbacks are coming!” or even “The redcoats are coming!” Lobsterback was a pejorative term, the driver explained, because, “Back then, lobsters weren’t a delicacy – they were regarded as the cockroaches of the ocean.”
I highly recommend the trolley tour to anyone visiting Boston – lots of history and lots of great stories. The history goes right up to the present day, with more time for Mafioso Whitey Bulger than for Sam Adams. The drivers also described projects that filled in the oceanfront to extend the land area of the city, over the centuries.
The present-day waterfront is a glittering business and entertainment district, which we saw from the harbor cruise that also featured the U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides.” The ship is actually wooden, not iron, made of pine and oak.