Boston’s famed Freedom Trail is a red-bricked path through and around downtown Boston and over the bridge to Charlestown, a self-guided historical walking tour that takes you to sixteen stops dating back to the beginnings of the United States-and even earlier to the Colonial era, before there was a United States. There you’ll see the oldest area churches and schools, memorials to battles on land and sea, and the sites of the protests and plots that culminated in the Revolutionary War. You’ll reacquaint yourself with the figures from history books-Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and many more.
Among the fascinating sites on the Trail are the three oldest cemeteries in the Boston area-the 4th, 5th, and 14th stops. These are the Granary Burying Ground, the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, and the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.
Established in 1660, making it the third oldest of Boston’s cemeteries, the Granary was initially called the South Burying Ground, and then renamed for the grain storage building next door. It was originally part of Boston Common, when the Common was a grazing area for the local farmers’ cattle. The cattle’s grazing kept the grass under control in the cemetery.
The fine Egyptian revival gate and fence were not a part of the original Burying Ground. They were designed by Boston architect Isaiah Rogers and added in 1840.
There are 2,345 grave markers in the Granary, many elaborately decorated with the Grim Reaper, Father Time, a skull with wings flying to Heaven, or other such images. (The Puritans of early New England did not believe in religious imagery in church, so one of the few acceptable places to express oneself artistically on themes about religion or the afterlife was on tombstones.) It is not known how many total people are buried in the Granary; estimates run as high as 8,000.
Among those who are known to have been buried there are Benjamin Franklin’s parents; signers of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine; Paul Revere; Peter Faneuil, the benefactor of Faneuil Hall which is also on the Freedom Trail; John Endicott, the first Governor of Massachusetts; John Phillips, the first Mayor of Boston; and the victims of the Boston Massacre of 1770. As many as 500 children were buried over the years in the “Infant’s Tomb.”
The King’s Chapel Burying Ground is just a block away from the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. Established in 1630, it is the oldest of Boston’s cemeteries.
One of the most striking of the tombstones is that of Joseph Tapping’s, which depicts a skeleton and Father Time fighting.
According to custom, the first person ever buried at the King’s Chapel Burying Ground was Isaac Johnson, the original owner of the land. Other notables buried here include William Emerson, the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson; John Winthrop, the first Puritan Governor of Massachusetts; Dr. Comfort Starr, who founded Harvard College in 1636; Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower onto the New World; Elizabeth Pain, whose tombstone claims she was the inspiration for the character Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; and William Dawes, who participated in the 1775 warning ride of Paul Revere, though his remains may have later been removed and reinterred elsewhere.
Closer to the end of the Freedom Trail is the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground on Hull Street, originally called the North Burying Ground, but later renamed for local shoemaker William Copp. Established on a hill that the British later used as a vantage point during the Battle of Bunker Hill, it is the second oldest of Boston’s cemeteries, dating from 1659.
Copp’s Hill is the burial site of many of Boston’s North End merchants and artisans of long ago. Also interred there are Puritan ministers Increase and Cotton Mather of Salem witch trials fame; Robert Newman, the sexton of the Old North Church who gave the “One if by land; two if by sea” lantern signal the night of Paul Revere’s ride in 1775; and Edmund Hartt, the builder of the USS Constitution, which is also on the Freedom Trail.
Prince Hall, a free Black man who became a leading abolitionist and founded the nation’s first Black Freemason’s lodge, is buried at Copp’s Hill, as are as many as 1,000 Black people who lived in Boston’s “New Guinea” community at the foot of the hill.
Solemn but intriguing, the old cemeteries of the Freedom Trail are among its most popular attractions.
Eric Wilbur, “The Freedom Trail Walking Tour.” About.com.
“Freedom Trail.” CityofBoston.gov.
“Welcome to the Freedom Trail.” TheFreedomTrail.org.