Faneuil Hall

The Cradle of Liberty

Currently, Faneuil Hall Market Place is a popular attraction in Boston, both for visiting tourists, as well as a place to grab a bite to eat in Boston’s busy Government Center and Financial District. In that regard, it is similar in some ways how things were in historic Boston.

Peter Faneuil championed and funded this building’s construction, out of a desire to create a central market for the city of Boston. He added to that design a large meeting hall on the second floor above the marketplace which came to hold an important place in local and national history in the decades leading up to the original 13 colonies revolting against the British government. Ironically, though this building is known as a center for liberty, abolition, and free political thought, it does have historic connections to the colonial slave trade. Peter Faneuil, as well as his uncle, Andrew, were involved in the transatlantic trade that included enslaved people from Africa as part of their commerce.  

Faneuil Hall, of the most iconic buildings in Boston, where the earliest calls for independence from Britain were sounded in the late 1700s, is named for a man who owned and traded black slaves. Now a move to rename the historic structure is gaining momentum. (Charles Krupa/AP, 2018)

It is here during the 1760s and 1770s the revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams and other members of the Sons of Liberty lead cries of protest—opposing the British monarch King George III’s imposition of taxes on the colonies. 

At one town meeting in 1772, Adams made a motion to create a Committee of Correspondence “to state the rights of the Colonists…and to communicate the same to the several towns and to the world.” The members of the town meeting approved the motion. While this committee was the first of its kind, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson worked to form a similar committee in Virginia. These committees coordinated the activities of patriot activists and played an essential role in the events leading up to the Revolutionary War.

The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest chartered military organization in the western hemisphere. New England Museum Association

Faneuil Hall was not just a government building, marketplace, and meeting hall. Since its construction, the third story housed equipment and gear for the Boston militias, organized groups of men that drilled in military techniques in the event of needing to defend the city. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company is the oldest of these militias, and they maintain an armory and museum on the top floor.

Can You Imagine?

Eligible voters of Boston fitting into one meeting hall? Today that would be impossible, but in the 18th century, the only eligible voters were property-owning men over the age of 21.

Since the Revolutionary War, the building has continued to be a site for vital political speeches, education, and commerce. From the Revolutionary War until the 1820s this building housed Boston’s city government. The site was enlarged in 1806, and during the 19th century, it hosted abolitionists like Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison, as well as other defenders of Freedom

In the 1820s, the Marketplace changed considerably. Boston’s population increased such that the members of the Town meeting voted to change the City’s government from one of direct voting to a system with a Mayor and Alderman Board and developed plans to build a new City Hall. A growing population meant a greater need for more markets. During this decade, the City also expanded the Faneuil Hall site to also include the still popular Quincy Market Building, as well as the North and South Market buildings. Though most city government offices relocated to the new City Hall, Boston continued to own and operate Faneuil Hall as an important market and public venue for speeches and political debate. Today visitors are still greeted with a wide variety of stores to shop and food establishments to dine in. Faneuil Hall is still owned by the City of Boston but is managed as a visitor’s center by the National Park Service.

Want to see some more about historic findings at Faneuil Hall?

Check out this article on some archaeological finds. Archaeology is the study of human culture through the physical objects and landscapes they leave behind them.

Faneuil Hall had three floors, what purposes did each floor serve?
Would you have been able to vote in the 1770s? How about members of your family? Why or why not?
Why is calling Faneuil Hall the Cradle of Liberty a bit ironic?
Have you been to Faneuil Hall or Quincy Marketplace? What are your memories there? Leave a comment and share your story!
How do you think they are similar to how they looked historically? What do you think has changed?
How do we engage our communities in important discussions today vs. the 18th century? How would you voice opposition or support for a law, tax, or government policy?