Boston's Freedom Trail, denoted by red bricks meandering along city sidewalks, tells the story of the American colonies' battle for independence from Great Britain. The revolution stirred in Boston and nearby towns with the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party and other flashpoints.
Visits to the Old North Church and Paul Revere's House gave a new understanding of the early days of the revolution. In previous years, we'd visited Lexington and Concord, where the revolution's first shots were fired in April 1775, and the Bunker Hill monument.
I'd forgotten that the revolution began more than a year before the Declaration of Independence. Nathaniel Philbrick's 2013 history, "Bunker Hill: A City. A Siege. A Revolution." tells the story of how the ragged New England militias foiled the British army and navy in a serious of encounters, including the fierce fighting at Charlestown's Bunker Hill in June 1775. The main fighting occurred on the adjacent Breed's Hill.
As Philbrick relates, the New England farmers and tradesmen maintained their loyalty to the British king after the fighting began. They thought of themselves as opposing policies of the king's ministers. It took months for them to turn against the king, and declare full independence.
Another gap in my knowledge was George Washington's taking charge of the nascent American Army in 1775, an important part of Philbrick's narrative. We visited the mansion in Cambridge where Washington established his headquarters from July 1775-April 1776. Washington left for New York after the British evacuated the Boston peninsula in March 1775, ending an American siege.
Now a national historic site that includes a beautiful garden, Washington's house is located on Cambridge's Brattle Street, known as Tory Row before the revolution. Built in 1759, the house was the home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the late 19th century. An excellent tour of the home emphasizes Longfellow and his family's memorabilia, along with anecdotes about Washington.
Southern boys like me learned about the Civil War with our breakfast Wheaties. The Revolutionary War was all but ignored, outside of Disney's "Johnny Tremain" and "The Swamp Fox," whose jaunty theme song, sung by star Leslie Nielsen, I still remember.
Philbrick's book, and Boston's preserving of its history, show how much of today's America was rooted in the revolution.