Continuing an 18th century walk in the South End

Today we'll be concluding the walk down Washington Street that we began in the last post


We have just reached the edge of Marlbrough Street and now the street veers to the left, becoming Newbury Street (the Back Bay’s current boutique boulevard of the same name is unrelated). Here at the corner of Essex Street stands the majestic Liberty Tree. The space beneath the boughs of this ancient elm is called “Liberty Hall” by locals; it is a gathering place of the popular voice in Boston politics. The Loyal Nine, the earliest incarnation of the Sons of Liberty, organized many of these protests from a small counting room in Chase and Speakman’s distillery “near the Liberty Tree.” Several other shops advertised their proximity to it as well: a pair of Scottish glovers, a wine cellar promising “Old Sterling Madeira… and other wines all in their original purity,” and the White Horse Tavern (where Perez Morton grew up).

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Continuing past the Liberty Tree on what is now Orange Street, you might become aware that the land is now narrowing toward the isthmus called Boston Neck. The land here is even more scarcely populated and the shoreline is dotted with far fewer wharves. Before long the cross streets disappear. The narrow row-houses of Boston give way to free-standing structures, between which you can glimpse the nearby shoreline. Without warning, the crowded bustle of Boston has given way to what looks like a small country town.

You might have noticed a standing stone here, beside one of the taverns for out-of-towners, which said, “From here to the Townhouse, 1 mile.” This indicated the distance, specifically to the northwest corner of the Old State House, which was reckoned as point zero for the mile markers along the colonial roads all the way to New York City and beyond. Many of these markers still stand today, unnoticed in the midst of modern residential neighborhoods.

And then you come upon the town wall. Boston is a well-fortified town because of this narrow neck. All it took was a small wall at the narrowest point to make the town virtually unassailable. Outside this gate, just outside the perimeter of the town, the old wooden gallows stand. The hanging of criminals outside the town signifies communal rejection and served as a warning to anyone entering the town. I should also note that convicts were hung by the neck at Boston Neck, which is probably an intentional bit of gallows humor.

That brings us to the end of our tour. If there are any other Boston neighborhoods you’d like to visit in the 18th century, please let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager