Copyright (c) 1997 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 41 - Jul 13 to Jul 27, 1997 Oxford, MA to Panwal, ME 15,964 KM (25,748 MI) cumulative
How does one visit Boston for enough time to do it justice without breaking the bank? Adventure Cycling provides a route into the center of Boston, but once you get there where do you stay? The basic problem is any hotel type accomodation in Boston is ridiculously expensive. Even the basic Motel 6 is $56 per night plus tax for 2 people. Hostels are available, but we usually find they're only a good deal if you are single. For 2 you could just as well pay for a private room in a hotle and not have to deal with dorm style rooms, noise, and security problems. Finally, the closest campground is a good 25 miles away from the main center, there are no buses to get to a mass transit station from the campground, and the entire area is surrounded by suburban sprawl which is no fun to ride through if you don't know a good bicycle route. The best, cheapest answer seemed to be, much to our astonishment, rent a car in Worcester just west of Boston and use it for a week to stay in the cheap state parks and get around the city with ease. I always hate having to resort to the rent-a-car option. But we specifically came to Massachusets with the idea of seeing the history of the Boston area and this seemed to the the cheapest and best alternative.
Boston is a huge modern city on the eastern seaboard of Massachusetts. She's home to such distinguished names as Harvard, MIT, Radcliff, Cambridge, Fidelity Mutual Funds, and Click and Clack the Car Talk guys. Her skyline is filled with the jagged profiles of glass skyscrapers and steel girdered highway bridges. The wheels of modern life grind, sometimes at a traffic clogged standstill, endlessly onward. Yet tucked amid this tribute to modern day architecture are remenants of her 367 year old history, the Old North Church, Fanueil Hall, the old state building, Bunker hill, the U.S.S. Constitution "Old Ironsides". But, the history of Boston and the surrounding areas spans much more than the Revolutionary War years. Since the early 1600s right up to the present day this area has had significant impact on international trade, finance, industry, American art and literature, education, religion, and politics of the entire U.S. And a good way to get a brief introduction to these many different facets of eastern Massachusets history is through visits to National Historic Sites of which there are no less than 10 in the area ranging from Salem in the north, Concord to the west, and many in Boston proper.
To understand the significance of each of these sites a brief summary of history and some of its colorful and legendary people is needed. Of course, it all starts long before white man arrives with the indians living in the area. But, unfortunately little is mentioned of these early settlers in any of the park service sites. Perhaps someday that will be remedied. It is known that, as we've heard so many times before, the majority of the natives were killed soon after the European's arrival from the diseases they brought. Some 80% died. There were clashes with the white settlers as well. But, in the end the white man drove off the indians and took over the coastal areas for settlement.
Settlement began in dribs and drabs. Salem, taken from the word Shalom meaning peace with idea of having peace between the natives and settlers, was settled in 1626 and Boston 4 years later. These early settlers were primarily members of the puritan religion seeking refuge from the persecution of the Anglican church. Unlike the emigrants of the Mayflower who settled a bit further south, these folks arrived in many, many boats and had some fairly substantial financial backing Even some members of the high English court were sympathetic to their cause. They came, built rough houses, cleared lands, and started farms in preparation for the coming winters. Puritans believe in a very simple and very religious lifestyle. Separation of church and state was unthinkable as the church was the state. Everyone, whether you were a member of that church or not, paid taxes to the church and all laws were made by the church. They did not believe in showing off wealth of any kind. Now that's not to say they would be averse to making money. Au contraire. "Profit and risk" as one of our park guides was to explain, "was the name of the game". Unfortunately few, if any, of the earliest structures built by these emigrants exist today because, like any good upwardy mobile puritan of the time, they would rip down the old, cramped and dirty log cabin structure to make way for a much larger 4 room, 2 story colonial home with wooden floor and brick fireplace just as soon as they had the finances. Replicas can be found in the Plymouth and Salem pioneer villages neither of which we visited but I recall from visits years ago.
During the 1630s, when people were still working with unforgiving land and weather trying to make a go at farming, there was a temporary lull in the number of emigrants. This meant that manufactured goods arriving in the colonies were quite scarse and expensive. In particular iron goods such as pots, pans, fire backs, hinges, nails, farm tools were hard to come by. Consequently there developed an interest in starting a blast furnace right in New England. The essential resources were readily available, iron ore came from the swamp bogs, a flux called gabbro, lots of trees for making charcoal, water for powering bellows. Simultaneously in England iron furnaces they had set up in Ireland were destroyed by the Irish. They didn't like having their resourcs exploited solely for the benefit of those rotten English swine, keeping in mind that around this period Oliver Cromwell was raging through Ireland destroying everything in sight in the name of English rule.
In 1641 a colonist named John Winthrop, Jr. returned to England with a proposition to some wealthy investors, let's start an iron furnace in the new world. We've got both the resources and a willing population. We just need skilled and unskilled laborers. So they set up a group with the odd name of "Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New Engand". Winthrop returned to Mass. and built his furnacee in the town of Braintree, south of Boston. Over the years 1643 to 1644 progress was far too slow for the undertakers. So they canned Winthrop and hired Joseph Leader who decided to move the whole operation to the shores of the Saugus river. He thought there'd be more water power available. His furnace along with a forge to make wrought iron, a set of rollers to make "machine" bars and nail strips, and a blacksmith shop were built along the slopes of a curve in what was a flowing river but today is little more than a reed filled silty bog. In addition, employee housing, farms, and a store were built creating what is believed to be the new world's first company town. The problem of labor was solved simply enough. Cromwell was also running around Scotland putting down various rebellions. There were a whole bunch of Scotish POWs available. They were put on a boat and an indenture contract of 7 to 8 years labor for each was sold to the Undertakers. The Scotish POWs got along reasonably well with their Puritan neighbors as many stayed after their contract was up. But, there are judicial records of some getting in trouble for partying a bit too hardy.
One unusual item for this site was the activities of a man named Jenks. In England he was a sword maker. So he decided to use these skills to create various household goods, in particular sharp edged tools. He contracted with the furnace to use the water in their tail race to power several of his own water wheels, one for bellows for his fires, another for a wheel to sharpen his products, and possibly a third to power a grist mill. These in itsef are not of much interest. What is particularly interesting is he asked for and received exclusive rights to sell goods produced by his specific set of machinery. This is generally acknowledged to be the first U.S. patent for invented machinery. Reading the letter he received from the governor is seems that his patent claims would hardly hold up in court today. Essentially it just said he had monopoly on selling his particular goods and no one else could use his machinery without his approval. There were no drawings, no specifications as to just what his machinery was, and nothing about his product. So I could see an argument developing about just what his specific machinery is and does. It never came to court so the question was never raised.
Due to bad management, high production and labor costs, and perhaps a bit of unethical business activities, the furnace was forced to close only about 30 years after starting. The buildings fell into disrepair and disappeared into the bog. What you can see now is a 1930s recreation of the furnace, forge, roller, and blacksmith buildings and a nice museum. And everything works. There are pictures showing the furnace and forges filled with flames. Now you just get to see the water wheels turn, bellows blow and rollers roll. Originally these were part of a private concern. But, expenses to keep the site open were too high so they asked the National Park Service to take over. We thought it kinda odd since there is already Hopewell in Pennsylvania. But, it does cover a different period, Hopewell being about 100 years later, and has the forge as well. In our opinion, Saugus is the more interesting of the two things work, there's more in the museum, and it has the forge and roller buildings.
After only about 10 years the folks along the coast learned that farming there was nothing short of torture. If you've ever been to New England one of the things you'll notice are walls built of huge stone bolders crisscrossing the landscape through the underbrush. These rocks and boulders were scattered throughout the fields and had to be moved to clear the land for farming. We're talking about some major, backbreaking labor regardless of whether you owned a draft animal. Even after the field was cleared, winter's freezing and thawing would bring more boulders to the surface each year. Add to that an often long and violent winter season, much more so than Europe and the fact that many of these folks came from wealthy European stock who weren't exactly the farmer types you can see why they'd quickly tire of farming to look for an alternate source of wealth.
This new source came from the seas in the form of abundant fish, in particular cod. They built boats and started raking in cod harvests by the net full. Cod was so plentiful they had far in excess of their local requirements. Soon they learned to salt and dry it and they started shipping it to first to the other colonies and then beyond. They traded to the Caribean colonies for processed sugar cane in the form of molasses which they would return to New England to process into rum. The rum and other colonial goods would be shipped to Europe to trade for goods not available in the colonies. Before returning they'd take a trip down through Africa where they continued to trade their European and some colonial goods for human cargo, slaves, which would be delivered to the Caribean for more molasses, to make into rum. At each stop the captain of the ship would try to trade for cargo of higher and higher value often doubling, tripling, or quadrupling the value upon his return. There was risk, of course. A lot of risk. The commodity you traded for could lose its value on the market by the time you returned due to some unforeseen event or, worse yet, you could lose your ship in a storm or to pirates. But a lot of people made a lot of money. By 1643 the harbors of Salem and Boston were filled with boats partaking is this "triangle trade" route.
If you wanted to become rich and you lived on the New England coast you'd sign yourself up as a ship's cabin boy at around the age of 11, 12, or 13. You'd spend your first few years "learning the ropes" quite literally as this is where the saying comes from. If you were good at math, navigation, leadership, bargaining you could work yourself up in the ranks and eventually make captain at the ripe old age of about 24. In some companies each sailor got a small section of cargo space for their own trade goods which gave each person a vested interest in the success of the journey, sort of like profit sharing today. The higher your rank the more space you got. Thus once you made captain chances were you could afford your own boat. Once you had your own boat you were well on your way. Outfit it with goods and sailors for about $40K in Salem then work your way around the triangle to return with a cargo valued at $400K. Not bad. Now if you really wanted to get rich you'd build your own warf with associated warehouses and other buildings along its length. If you don't own your own warf you have to pay docakge and warfage (cargo storage and transport) to someone else. If you have your own warf you not only don't pay someone else, but you collect from others. You can also lease space to those sail makers, boat repairers, and other ship dependent craftsmen. You're rolling in money by this time. This was how men with names like Elias Hasket Derby(1739-99), William Gray(1750-1825), Simon Forrester(1748-1817), Peter Faneuil, and John Hancock became the U.S.'s first millionaires.
Buildings and structures attesting to the wealth of the Boston/Salem area still stand and are either in private, commercial, or government use today. Many are part of the National Historic Park system. In Salem, of the 80 or more warfs built, only 3 remain, one being the one built by Elias Derby. At the end of Derby warf is a large brick colonial style home with four big rooms on each floor, fireplace in each one. Being of Puritan origin the interior is not overly ornate, simple carved paneling painted dull green or white. But, when compared to the cramped conditions of the middle class home available for viewing just out back, this house is quite nice. Elias did start building a much larger home next door for his large, 7 kids, family, but they never moved in. They found a mansion in the country instead. As an indication of his wealth, he took this large, nearly finished mansion right on the water front and used it as a warehouse instead. Now that's money.
In Boston there are many mansions from the preRevolutionary war period lining the commons and several still standing public buildings that are quite extravagant. The old state house, originally the office building used by the kings representatives from England, is a grand brick building with lots of carved granite adornments, many, many windows on all sides each broken into 24 individual window panes, and two large gold foiled statues on top, the unicorn and lion symbols of England and Scotland. Faneuil hall, is another large building that was a gift from Peter Faneuil to Boston. A large, ornate brick building again with lots of windows, its intent was to provide an indoor market place for grocery items, meat, produce, and the like. Upstairs was an ornate meeting hall with fancy carved wood paneling. The current building is actually 3 times larger than the original having been expanded in 1805 by Charles Bullfinch to meet the needs of an expanding population. Eventually, when the city gave way to an elected form of government rather than rule by town meeting, a city hall was built and Faneuil hall no longer was the seat of government. Athough, important debates on any subject still take place. Anyone, absolutely anyone, can plop down a couple hundred bucks hall rental fee and can stand on the podium to discuss or debate absolutely anything. As our guide said, "much has been debated on this stage but nothing has been resolved." Interestingly the downstairs, along with the three beautiful Greek style carved granite buildings of the Quincy market out back, continued as a wholesale food distribution center until the 1960s. Our guide said he recalled the unique odor that used to pervade the area. In the 1970s Faneuil hall and the Quincy market underwent major rennovation and now houses shops and restaurants more palatable to the tourist.
"Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere."
Words from H. W. Longfellow that every American school child learns. Yet, as we discovered, Revere's role in the revolution was really just small potatoes. So let's review a bit of real history rather than the over embelished list of heroes' names and dates we are taught in High School. Money. The basic reason the colonies went to war against England was plain old money, "No taxization without representation" and all that. Just a mere 2 decades before the American Revolution England was at war with our then neighbors to the north, the French allied with the Indians. The French and Indian war, as it was to be known, was basically a border dispute over who would have the rights to lands in the north and west toward the Great Lakes. By the end of the war England was flat broke. They needed a quick infusion of cash. Since people in England were already overtaxed and the war was fought for "the good of the colonies" then the colonies should pay, at least that was the general sentiment at the high court.
Not so in the colonies. The English rulers screwed up in two ways. First, for years they'd pretty much let the colonies do as they please, govern themselves, build their businesses. Suddenly England wanted to meddle and the colonists were none too pleased. Second, by this time there were second, third, and even fourth generation Americans. People who had never set foot on England's turf. To them their loyalities tended to lie more with the lands of their birth, rather than that island an ocean and a lifetime away. To the rich, triangle trade barons, England's meddling simply meant loss of profits. When the tea tax was levied that infamous tea dumped into the water at the Boston tea party of Dec. 16, 1773 would actually have sold for less than the tea John Hancock was importing even after the tax. So Hancock was worried about losing sales which drew him to the independence ralley. Although the average Joe on the street probably just knew the rhetoric fed to them by the pro-independence groups, can't have those tyrannical Brits messing in our affairs.
I recall that my High School history lessons gave me the impression that the Revolutionary war just sort of accidentally happened. British levied a tea tax, colonists didn't like it and threw it overboard, Paul Revere went on his now legendary ride, farmers grabbed their guns, and it all began. In reality, the entire event was carefully orchestrated, in Boston at least, with inteligence and counterinteligence operations rivaling anything the CIA has to offer. Lots of money funneled from the triangle trade bosses, and propaganda, rhetoric, and mob manipulation all happened. Three of the more interesting conspirators in this drama were Samuel Adams, John Adams, and John Hancock. John Hancock had the money. He could buy the arms, pay spies, greese palms, whatever money could do to further his interests. He was powerful and had actually wanted to be the General of the Colonial armies despite having no military background. This was because he knew whoever lead the armies would probably wind up the "president" of the country after the war. He was extremely ambitious and in many ways we are probably quite fortunate a more humble George Washington was selected.
John Adams was a lawyer, son of a well respected church deacon and destined to be our second president. He gave legitimacy to the independence cause. He was the one selected to defend the British soldiers who shot and killed 5 men in the Boston massacre of March 5, 1770. Believe it or not he got all but the first two who fired shots acquited which was beneficial as it continued to fuel public sentiment against the British. The massacre victims became martyrs.
Now Sam is the most interesting of all three characters. He was a brewer, athough not of the Sam Adams beer you can buy today. He did not too well business wise and eventually went bankrupt. In fact, he didn't do too well family wise either. He was so caught up in politics he'd forget to go home to feed his kids. It'd be called child neglect today, but back then the kids were cared for by the neighbors. Old Sam was the PR man, the propogandist, the instigator of the bunch. The massacre was portrayed by the colonial press, using a printing plate made by Revere, to be the British soldiers rampantly shooting into a peacefull crowd of civilians. Not quite. The crowd was actually a bunch of street ruffians given some cash, from Hancock through Sam, to harass the soldiers guarding the state house. They didn't harass just once, they did it time and time again, whenever the independence gang wanted to liven things up a bit. Each time as the situation got "hot" Hancock would cool things down by spreading the word to "head for the commons" where he'd put out huge caldrons filled with rum. The mob's energy would be spent on the grass. But, not this one time. One British soldier slipped on the ice, he accidentlly hit his trigger, so they say, shooting one of the lads, and riot ensued leaving 5 of the mob dead. Now Sam didn't necessarily intend any of these boys getting themselves killed. Nevertheless, if the British were going to provide dead bodies, Sam would well take advantge. A massive funeral, at Hancock's expense of course, was held bringing out 1/3 of the town's 15,000 population. The other 2/3rds either supported the Brits or were just trying to stay out of trouble.
England continued trying, often forcefully, to extract money out of the colonies. There was the Stamp Act, Tea Tax, Intolerable Acts, and a whole host of tax collection acts. Each one hottly contested and debated at town meetings in Fanueil Hall. It culminated with that large, angry meeting on December 16, 1773 following which men, dressed as Indians, boarded 3 british ships anchored in the harbor and tossed their tea cargo overboard. Estimated value of the tea in today's dollars would be $2 million. Naturaly, folks back in England were not too happy. Troops were sent to Boston in May 1774 to occupy the city and Boston harbor was blockaded. Citizens of Boston fled, rebels for fear of being captured, average people to go where they could get food, and British sympathizers for fear of their lives. By the time war broke out Boston's population was down to 3,500 and its economy in ruins. People who stayed on included informants who were keeping an eye on the British to see what their next move would be. These included Paul Revere and William Dawes.
In addition to being good colonial patriots, Revere, Dawes, Dr. Prescott and about 30 other men were under contract to Hancock as part of his grand design to get the colonies to war. Their assignment, couriers. Up to this point all official mail was delivered, and invariably read, by his Majesty's army. Hancock and the other leaders of this rebellion could not afford to have their correspondence fall into the hands of the enemy. So this is where Revere and the others came into play. The couriers were usually from the class of tradesmen and crafstmen. Not wealthy, usually not formally educated, but certainly not one of the lower class street people. 1700s version of the middle class. Ths was their was of helping the cause and earning a bit of extra cash on the side. When given a message they'd go to the local livery stable, rent a horse as only the very rich owned horses in Boston, and off they went to predetermined locations. Some historians say they simply delivered the messages. Others say they interpreted them. Since the messengers were also in on the conspiracy, I'll bet they did both.
During the British occupation of Boston, Hancock and the Adamses had moved out to the Lexington/Concord area about 20 miles to the east. They were working with the colonists, using Hancock's money again, collecting and hiding arms and ammunition. Intelligence and counterintelligence were working on both sides of the fence. The British soon found out about the hidden arms and a small force under command of Lt. Col. Francis Smith was sent out to either confiscate or destroy what they could find. Smith prepared his troops to move out on April 18, 1775. They were being watched. Dawes and Revere had arranged for the saxton of the Old North Church to light lamps in the bell tower to indicate when and how the "Regulars" as the British soldiers were called, would depart. Boston, at this time, was just an island in the Charles river connected to the south shore by just a narrow spit of land. There were two quick routes for the soldiers to get to Lexington, cross the land bridge by foot and march around the south side of the river or cross the river by boat and come around from the north side. One light in the tower meant they'd go by the land bridge and two meant they'd cross the river.
There were perhaps 30 riders in all, according to Revere's memories, waiting to spread the news that the "Regulars were out". They wouldn't have used the name "British" as at this time everyone was British. It was a chain effect. Revere and Dawes got the first signal in Boston. Daws headed out over the land bridge notifying villages along the southern route and Revere paddled across the river to do the same to the north. They didn't gallop along, haphazardly yelling as they went. They stopped at those predetermined houses where men, ready to leave at a minute's notice were stationed. From each stop one person would start the organization of the colonial troops and another would take off as a messenger going to different locations along the route. Revere and Dawes both made it to Lexington where a Dr. Prescott, the next messenger in the chain, was notified. Dawes was turned back by British soldiers stationed on the road just west of Lexington. Revere was captured, taken to Boston, and released the next day. He never made it to Concord. Prescott, however, managed to jump a fence and got to Concord wher he was able to get the warning to Hancock. Revere's name has become so famous a symbol of the revolution mainly because Longfellow found the sound of his name so appealing. If Dawes had had a better name it would be his we'd remember now. The poet made the fame.
On the night of April 18 the colonists went off to muster the militias to gather along the road leading from Boston to Concord. In the meantime, the Regulars marched forth, crossing the river first, then on to Lexington. Next morning on the Lexington common militia captain John Parker had about 77 men lined up facing the British force of 700. Knowing the odds were too bad, he ordered his men to back off. Tension was thick in the air as both sides tried to avoid a skirmish. Suddenly a shot was fired. It may have been from either side, it may have been a hunter in the woods. To this day it is not known just who fired "the shot heard round the world". But this was the pop of the cork on a shooken bottle of champagne. Firing on both sides commenced leaving 8 Americans dead. The militia backed off, the British continued on to Concord.
At Concord the British started a house-to-house search looking for the arms and ammunition they'd been sent for. They piled up what litle of it they found into the center of town, along with wooden objects like spoons, bowls, etc, and set it all aflame. In the meantime, some soldiers were sent ahead, across the North Bridge where they left a few guards, on to a Major Buttrick's house. Militiamen were gathering in increasing numbers on the hills across from the bridge not completely decided on what to do. Upon seeing smoke from the fire in town one soldier yelled, "Are we going to let them burn the town down?" It was the impetus they needed. They pressed forward. The British shot warnings. The militia continued forward. The British fired into the group leaving 2 dead. The battle had started.
This was a running battle with the main British marching down the road, flankers running along the sides copying the guerrila warfare tactics of the militia, and the militia running through the woods taking positions of strength and advantage as they came up. Fresh militiamen were pourng in from surrounding towns to take positions along the road while the British had to run the gauntlet, exhausted after 2 days marching and hours of fighting. Finally, some luck came for the British as Lord Percy arrived in Lexington with 1,000 fresh soldiers to continue the running battle. They made it back to Bunker Hill and the safety of the UNS Somerset anchored in Boston harbor. The militiamen backed off, returning to their own towns and farms. In numbers, the dead, wounded, and missing were actually quite small when compared with what was to come. But this battle proved to both the colonists and the British that the colonies were ready and willing to fight for their rights. Back in Philidelphia where the Second Continental Congress was soon to meet the words that fighting had broken out in Lexington helped pave the way for general agreement witht The Declaration of Independence.
About 2 months to the day later another decisive battle was to take place around Boston, the misnamed battle of Bunker Hill. Following the running battle the militamen took up positions in the surrounding towns, blockading the British within Boston. In the meantime the British were calling for reinforcements. They decided to try for a breakout on June 17, 1775 by rowing across the river once again and then marching to the surrounding towns from the north. Militia men were once again called out, probably using a similar messenger method used by Revere and his gang before. Virtually overnight a Colonel William Prescott with aobut 1,200 marched to Breeds hill and set about building earthen defenses. These were farmers who were used to heavy earth moving. But it sure surprised the Briitsh what they accomplished in one nitht. It was supposed to be on Bunkers hill, but for some reason he bypassed Bunker and wound up on Breeds instead, a smaller hill closer to Charleston. Some say tactical advantage, I think he simply screwed up in the dark of the night.
The British attacked once, against the rectangular redoubt at the top of the hill. They were repeled. They attacked again, this time against the side wall and were repeled again. Finally they attacked on both the redoubt and the wall with added artillary support. The militiamen were tired, thirsty, and running out of ammunition. Also, they were not trained soldiers. When they ran out of ammo, they simply fled figuring they could do no more good. So the third and final attack succeeded. The British took control of Bunker hill. From this point on George Washington came north to take command of the militia and the war moved further south. But, Boston's role as the cradle of the revolution was set.
You can visit these places and with a bit of imagination picture what it must have been like during those early days of the revolution. The Minuteman National hisoric site covers some 10 miles of the road along that running battle field. The road, now widened, paved, and filled with traffic is very difficult to imagine as a small, dirt country road lined by those New England rock walls, fields, and an occasional farm house. But several of the old houses from that period still exist, including one, called the Wayside, in which Nathanial Hawthorn, Ms. Alcott author of Little Women, and Emerson lived in later years. You can tour it, for a small fee. In Lexington the common is now a small, grass covered triangular shaped town park with busy roads on all three sides. At the apex of the park stands that famous bronse statue of a minuteman, rifle at his side. A bit further down the road you can visit a park in which the original dirt road has been recreated along with the fourth version of the North Bridge. At the head of the bridge is another minuteman statue, rifle at the ready, plow by his side. Standing where the British soldiers would have stood I had to wonder if there were far fewer trees as I couldn't see the hill on the other side where, supposedly the British watch minute men assemble. But, these were farms and it was early spring before the trees had leaves.
In Boston you can walk the 3 mile long freedom trail, a path of red bricks or red paint on the sidewalk. Starting at the visitor center on the Boston common it passes such places as Faneuil hall, the Old North Church, the state buildings, Copps Hill burying ground wehre the massacre victims, Paul Revere, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence ard buried Hancock, Adams, and one other who I forget, and Paul Revere's house. The Bunker, or should I say Breeds, hill battle monument a 221 ft tall oblisque looking much like a squat, gray Washington monument is also on the tour. Dedicated in 1843 it is the oldest war memorial in the U.S.
Finally on the tour we come to the decommisioned Charlston Navy Shipyards. Now in the hands of the National Park Service and a few remaining Navy personnel it is home to several interesting American Naval vessels from several eras including the most famous U.S.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides". During the Revolutionary war the colonies did not have any navy to speak of. What happened is some of those triangle trade barons volunteered their vessels to intersept British supply ships enroute to the colonies. In return they got to keep the goods they found thus giving them the name "privateers". Ships from Salem, in particular Derby's ships, were quite active and successful. Following the war Washington saw the need for the US. to build their own ships. The Constitution was one. It gained it's nickname "Old Ironsides" because in 30 battles it never lost. There were rumors that cannon balls simply bounced off its sides. A beautiful ship that has sat in port for over 100 years. We happened to visit only a few days before it was to sail, sort of, once again. By "sail", we mean they would hoist all of 6 sails, not being able to afford any more, and sail in a straight line for one hour, long enough to get PR shots. I don't think the sailors, yes it is still a fully commissioned naval vessel, would be able to do mmuch more as when I asked how long it took to complete a typical tack thy had no idea what a tack was. So they hoisted the sails, went in a straight line, then took them down and all sorts of politions got lots of kudos for that act. But it sure is a beautiful boat.
South of Boston, in the town of Quincy, one can also visit the birth homes and later residence of the Adams family (I couldn't resist). It's the only place in the country where you can see the birth place of not just 1, but 2 presidents, the only father and son pair to hold that office, John Adams 2nd president and John Quincy Adams 6th. The houses were old 2 story colonial style, 4 rooms on each floor with central stair and fireplace, until John's father got the idea to add a "lean-to" on back. Back in those days property taxs were based on the number of rooms in a house, not size. Even closets counted, hence few if any closets in those days. However, a lean-to did not. Farmer's quickly caught onto that loop hole and that's why we now have so many of those "salt box" style houses with the unsymetrical roofs. The houses are no more than about 50 yards apart and we were told they are in their original positions. The farms were about 90 acres, each wedge shaped, yet the two houses were clustered into one corner. As our guide said at those times there was perhaps 350 people living in the entire area now making up the town of Quincy. Neighbors were scarce. If anything happened, you wanted to make sure they were close at hand. So the farm houses all tended to be clustered in one corner and large expanses of cultivated fields radiated out from the center.
John was the first born son of a church Deacon, the guy who collected the taxes. As first born he was expected to go to college to enter the priesthood. He wound up a lawyer and in politics instead. Quite a stray from his intended profession. He married a parson's daughter, Abigail, who had quite a forthright manner for a woman of that time. They promptly moved into the house next to his parent's farm and while John traveled around the state Abigail tended the farm and their many children. Following the war John was sent to Europe on various ambasador assignments by George Washington. Abigail and some of their children went with him. Upon their return they bought a another house, much larger than their old cottage but significantly smaller than the spacious accomodations they'd had in Europe. It was to this house that John Adams would retire after his presidency, losing to Thomas Jefferson, and later die. In a strange twist of fate both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's last words, "Is it the 4th?", Adams' "Jefferson survives". Four generations of Adamses lived in the old house, originally called "Peacefield" for it's quiet surroundings. The city grew up around it, the main coastal road and the railway passing virtually in front of the house became quite noisey. Finally in 1946 the Adams family gave outright the old house and the magnificant stone library in back housing John Quincy Adams' enormous collection of books to the Federal Government for future generations to enjoy.
Following the Revolution the triangle trade barons could no longer follow the same trade routes. England still laid claim to the West Indies, where the sugar cane was grown, and they were not too amenable to trading with those rebelious yankees. So a new round the world route developed. They'd load their boats full of junk in Salem or Boston, sail around South America trading their trinkets to the Indians along the west coast for pelts, head over to Russia and down through Asia trading for china, spices, silks, etc, and then back around. The entire trip taking about 3 years. In Salem trade lasted only until the early 1800s as by the time Nathanial Hawthorn did his duty at the Salem customs house the few ships docking only traded down the coast of the U.S. Newer ships with a larger displacement could not use the shallow waters of Salem. Most moved onto Boston or New York.
About this time the industrial revolution was starting up and a prime example of that heay factory era is found in Lowell. This is a former textile mill town. Here started a novel experiment in the production of goods. That was to do all processing tasks under one roof. Cotton, the main product at the start, was only picked and cleaned on the southern pantations. It was carded, wound, woven, and died in the mill factories at Lowell. At first only one factory was built. It employed farm girls from New England giving them housing, food, and a good steady income for a period of 3 years. Then they'd return home. But, profits were so good, more and more mills built upon the river banks. Competition grew tough, prices dropped, and labor suffered bad wages and work environment as a result. The farm girls were replaced by newly arrived immigrants looking for a job. In the south, the need to feed the mills horrendous appetite for cotton resulted in the huge slave worked plantationsh. There were the "lords of the lash" in the south and "lords of the loom" in the north. All this lead to the Civil War which ended the slavery in the south and the formation of labor organizations in the north.
The labor unions may have been needed in the start, but they pushed their luck a bit too much. Wages got higher and higher so around the 1920s the mills started moving south, closer to the source of cotton and where labor rates were cheaper. Even that wasn't enough. After a while the mills moved on to South America and Asia. The last mill closed in Lowell in the 1950s. Today all that remains are a lot of empty, brick factory buildings. But, Lowell is making a comeback by refurbishing the old factories and attracting new, nonpollutiong high tech industries.
The National Park System did grab part of the Lowell story which you can visit today. In one building you can get a close up look at the early water wheels used to drive the belts that ran the looms. You can have a close up look at one of the looms and follow through all the mechanisms figuring out how the shuttle is whapped across, how the thread are shifted. Fascinating. In another building there are over 80 still operating looms available for viewing. When we visited there was only one attendent looking after them, so only about 1/3 were operating. But, what a din those few made. Imagine a room filled with hundreds of these looms, all operating, all making this awful noise. Add to that four more floors where the cotton winding and carding machines all worked away fast and furious. Building after building along the river repeating the same scene. Lowell in its heyday must have been one noisy town.
So that brings us up to today. The triangle trade and world wide trade is gone, the textile industry packed up shop and left. What is sustaining Boston now. Finance. The first stock mutual fund, Fidelity, was created in Boston. So the big money still rolls into Boston at an amazing rate and I'm sure when the mutual fund craze wears out, Bostonians will come up with something new to replace it. After all they've got over 60 institutions of higher education in the area, surely these will produce the next great visionaries.
After a hectic week in Boston, getting a thorough dose of history, we returned the car to Worcester and got back on the bikes. As we rode toward the northeast, skirting around Boston, the terrain became flatter, the hills lower and more rounded, and the soil sandier. Finally, just before heading into Maine we hit the coast. There's something about riding along the ocean or in the mountains that we never, ever tire of. I guess it's because there's always something new around the next corner. Or perhaps it's the grand vistas. In any event, we relished riding along the blue ocean, passing rugged inlets and bays decorated with colorful fishing villages turned tourist towns now. Traffic is heavy along this stretch of the coast as it's still quite close to Boston and many, many Canadians from the Quebec province spend vacation here. But it still makes for an enjoyable, and fairly easy ride.
Appendix A - Route
Bach roads througn Northbridge, Upton, Westborough, Northborough, South Berlin, Bolton, Littleton, Ayer, Groton, Dunstable, Tynsborough
Hudson, West Windham, East Derry, Kingston, Exeter, Rye, Portsmouth
Kittery, York, York Harbor, York Beach, Ogunquit, Wells beach, Wells, Kennebunk, Lyman, Goodwin Mills, Hollis Ctr, Satndish, N. Windham, Gray, Pownal
Appendix B - Campsites and hotels
Wompatuk state park 3 nights ($), Harold Parker state park ($), Sutton Falls Campground near Oxford ($), Minuteman KOA at Ayer ($)
Hidden Valley RV and Golf Park in Derry ($)
Camp Easton in York Harbor ($), Riverside Campground in Wells 3 nights ($), Bradbury Mountain State Park ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.