The East Coast of the United States is filled with history, particularly with respect to the American Revolution. Along the eastern seaboard from New England to the Deep South, one can find battlegrounds where colonists fought for independence against British “regulars.” In April I was able to visit two memorable sites: where the revolution began in Boston and its turning point at Saratoga battlefield in upstate New York.
One must-see for history lovers in Boston is the Freedom Trail. This two-and-a-half mile footpath, marked by a red (mostly brick) line on the sidewalk, takes visitors to sixteen official places from Boston Common to two eighteenth-century burial grounds past the Old South Meeting House and the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre. While we enjoyed much of the circuit, the highlight for us was the Old North Church. Also known as Christ Church, this present-day Episcopal parish is the oldest place of worship in the city, having first opened its doors in late 1723. Nearly all American schoolchildren remember memorizing Longfellow’s poem about the midnight ride “On the eighteenth of April in seventy-five.” It was on that date that the church sexton, Robert Newman, climbed up eight stories to alert Paul Revere and William Dawes, waiting on the other side of the Charles River in Charlestown. By briefly hanging two lanterns in the church steeple window, Newman silently told the patriots that the Red Coats were taking the water route to Lexington and Concord; there, they planned to seize rebel weapons and to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Revere and Dawes then rode their horses through Somerville, Medford, and Arlington warning townspeople and enlisting around forty other riders along the way. We learned that the men did not shout “The British are coming,” since they were all considered English citizens at the time, but probably something more like “The Regulars are coming!” As a result, the rebel militia was ready to fight and win the first battles of the American Revolution.
The Old North Church is notable for its beauty as well as its historical significance. Its classic white interior, with huge windows and beautiful brass chandeliers and sconces, is truly striking. The stable-like pews (called "box pubs"), which were purchased by wealthy parishioners in colonial times, served the purpose of keeping in the heat from foot warmers to ward off the cold New England winters. Poorer members of the congregation had to sit in the upstairs balcony. The clock hanging at the rear of the room, which dates from 1726, is the oldest working American-made clock in existence. The pipe organ, installed in 1759, was the first instrument of its type to be entirely created in the colony; only the case is original. Four lovely hand-carved wooden angels from Belgium stand around the organ.
Just a few weeks after our trip to Boston, I made my first excursion to the Saratoga battlefield, now a national park. In 1777 colonial forces—against all odds—defeated British troops and changed the tide of the American Revolution. British General John Burgogne led 10,000 troops south from Lake Champlain to the Hudson River; at the same time Colonel Barry St. Leger was to bring his soldiers east from Buffalo along the Mohawk to rendezvous with Burgogne and his men near Albany. Part three of the British plan was to have General William Howe and his soldiers drive north from New York City, but Howe decided to attack George Washington and his army in Philadelphia. Meanwhile in Saratoga, the number of patriots was doubling in size and, aided by wise fortifications and the fact that Burgogne’s men had been on half-rations for several weeks, they were able to surround the British and force their surrender on October 17th. The Saratoga National Historical Park stretches over miles of rolling hills and contains John Freeman’s farm, the Barber wheat field, and many other historically important sites of revolutionary battles. Various activities for adults and children take place throughout the year. It’s really worth a visit.