Boston – birthplace of the American Revolution and where it’s basically All Your Fault if you’re British. Or, technically I suppose, English. It’s generally our fault. The Scots and Welsh can usually be absolved from any disastrous ‘British’ decisions regarding foreign relations and nationhood.
Boston, you’ll recall, is the place where they unceremoniously dumped British-shipped tea in the harbour to protest against unfair taxation (rude – and, incidentally, not the proper way to make tea). Later, the local patriots ran the British out of town in 1776, and no one’s about to let you forget it.
“Morning folks, where are you guys from?” asks the driver as we board the city trolley tour. “England? Well, welcome to Boston. You can’t have it back you know, it’s ours now”. Although he did offer to swap any four of their politicians for one of ours – not a bad deal I suppose, though I can’t imagine you’d find even one you’d trust to look after your cat.
For a thin-skinned Brit, the entire tour of Boston is one long embarrassment.
Past the Old Granary Burying Ground – “where lie the victims of the Boston Massacre, cruelly shot down by British soldiers”; on to the USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, which fought the British in 1812 and never lost a battle; and past the clapboard house of Paul Revere, whose famously plucky ride through the night in April 1775, to warn of an attack, handed the Americans their first battle victory over the British.
It’s enough to have you staggering shamefacedly off the trolley at the end, blustering “It wasn’t me! I’ve been sat here all the time, I didn’t do anything”.
The trolley is fun but it only scratches the surface of a place crying out to be explored on foot. Boston is one of the few major American cities that combines a human scale with streets and alleys little changed since the 18th century. It is – and I say this with some trepidation obviously – just a little bit British in character.
Everything radiates out from the green swatch of Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, where you can pick up a map and guide to the city’s Freedom Trail – a 3-mile route, marked in revolutionary red on the sidewalks, which traipses around every important site where the British got their asses kicked.
It’s stirring stuff, provided you don’t mind being the bad guy at every cemetery, battle site and patriotic monument. And you do finish with a superb views over the city from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument across the river in Charlestown. This slender 220-foot-high obelisk commemorates the first major battle of the Revolution which, for a change, the British won (sorry about that) – although they lost so many soldiers that the Americans count it as a victory for them.
Across the Common is Quincy Market, where designer stores, gift shops and restaurants suck in hard Bostonian cash seven days a week until late. Even here history rears its head, particularly at the impressive, brick Faneuil Hall in front of the market, where 18th-century patriot leaders held rousing meetings.
Back then I’d have been given a good kicking up the Faneuil – and rightly so, I’m undeniably and insufferably English – so I’m happy to be able to get a decent ristretto and keep my head down.
A pro-Independence newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, was printed in a nearby building during the 1770s; fifty years later an enterprising entrepreneur added an oyster bar and the turned the building into a restaurant, the Union Oyster House, now deemed to be America’s oldest continuously operating restaurant.
JFK – a Boston man through and through – had his own personal wood-panelled booth here. And sitting in the comfortable gloom, over oysters on ice and a glass of Boston beer, you appreciate even more quite how excellent Boston is.
All right, I get it, we can’t have it back. Just asking for a friend. A Scottish friend. And if Brexit doesn’t work out (hah!), maybe we can all just move here?
Enjoyed reading this?
Then why not sign up for my (roughly monthly) newsletter, where I’ll bring you exclusive news about my travels, books and other projects.
Sign up right here!
Greater Boston by Massachusetts Office of Tourism, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Acorn Street by Guilherme Nicholas, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Old Granary Buring Ground by Shinya Suzuki, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Spring, Boston Common, via Vignesh Ananth, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Samuel Adams statue, Faneuil Hall, by Massachusetts Office of Tourism, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0