Faneuil Hall History

etching of faneuil hall
Faneuil Hall in 1775. Charles Bryan, etching 1840. Boston Public Library.

Faneuil Hall: The Meeting Place of the Patriots

Faneuil Hall, dubbed the “Cradle of Liberty”, is located in the city of Boston. Faneuil Hall was a large market building that served as a meeting place for Patriots on the eve of the American Revolution. Meetings to discuss the Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, the “tea crisis,” and other grievances with Britain were all held at Faneuil Hall between 1764 and 1775. From the completion of construction in September 1742 on the waterfront at the head of the Old Town Dock, Faneuil Hall was a thriving business hub, marketplace, and meeting center prior to, during, and after the American Revolution. Faneuil Hall was home to merchants, fishermen, meat and produce sellers, and assorted peddlers of goods. The Patriots met in a one-hundred-foot long and forty-foot wide wood-floored room above a marketplace with stalls. The room was twenty-eight feet high. Faneuil Hall was the scene of the most stirring public meetings on the eve of the American Revolution with the great Patriot orators of the day sounding from its platform. It was at meetings held at Faneuil Hall in 1773 that the “tea crisis” was discussed by Patriots such as Samuel Adams and ultimately culminated in the December 16, 1773 Boston Tea Party.

Beginnings

The planning and construction of Faneuil Hall began in July 1740. Prior to this, the people of Boston had debated whether a centralized market was needed in the city. The citizenry of Boston had come to rely on home delivery, street peddlers and hawkers for the purchase of goods. In 1737, a market built by the city of Boston had been completely destroyed by an angry mob. It was at a town meeting where the decision to build Faneuil Hall was decided by a vote of only 367 to 360.

Faneuil Hall was the scene of the most stirring public meetings on the eve of the American Revolution with the great Patriot orators of the day sounding from its platform.

Faneuil Hall was designed by noted Scottish American portrait artist John Smybert. Prior to immigrating to the American colonies, Smybert worked as a painter of coach carriages, a copyist, and a portrait artist in Edinburgh, Scotland, London, England, and other European cities. In 1728, he immigrated to the American colonies and ultimately settled in Boston and lived at the corner of Brattle and Queen Streets. In Boston, Smybert gained a reputation as a respected portrait artist and painted portraits of Boston’s most prominent citizens. Smybert’s design of Faneuil Hall called for a two story building in the Georgian Style based on English country markets of the day with market stalls on the first floor and a assembly room on the second floor. The construction of Faneuil Hall was funded by its namesake, Peter Faneuil, as a gift to Boston. Peter Faneuil, who died of dropsy shortly after the completion of Faneuil Hall, was a wealthy Boston-based merchant, slave trader, and philanthropist. Faneuil was prominent and garnered wealth in the Triangle Trade; he shipped slaves from Africa to the West Indies and molasses and sugar from the West Indies to the Thirteen Colonies. From the American colonies, Faneuil shipped goods to markets in Europe and brought European merchandise to the West Indies and the Thirteen Colonies. He was engaged in the exporting of rum, fish, and produce and owned his own fleet of ships, hired captains and crews, and scheduled voyages. Faneuil was the quintessential 18th century merchant engaged in all aspects of the mercantilist system. The large Boston market building was not named Faneuil Hall until after the death of Peter Faneuil in March 1743.

Fanueil Hall Photo
Fanueil Hall in Boston. Photo taken in 1903. Library of Congress.

Faneuil’s contemporaries described him as a great philanthropist and public benefactor. His obituary described him as “a gentleman, possessed of a very ample fortune and a most generous spirit, noble benefaction to his town and constant employment of a great number of tradesmen, artificers, and laborers, to whom he was a liberal paymaster…, made his life a public blessing, and his death a general loss.” The man who gave Faneuil’s funeral eulogy, John Lovell, said Faneuil had “fed the hungry and he cloathed the naked, he comforted the fatherless, and the widows in their affliction.”

In March 1761, Faneuil Hall suffered a devastating fire. The walls remained, but the interior was rebuilt and expanded in 1762 true to Smybert’s original design. Faneuil Hall was rebuilt with funds raised in part by a state authorized lottery. The lottery tickets were signed by John Hancock. When reopened, Patriot James Otis delivered an address dedicating Faneuil Hall “in the cause of liberty”.

The “Cradle of Liberty”

On the eve of the American Revolution, between 1764 and 1775, Faneuil Hall’s assembly room above the marketplace became a civic center where many meetings were held to discuss and protest British policy and subsequent grievances. Patriots Samuel Adams, James Otis, Dr. Joseph Warren and other Sons of Liberty and Patriot orators gave speeches in protest against “taxation without representation” and other grievances at Faneuil Hall. As a result, Faneuil Hall was subsequently dubbed the “Cradle of Liberty”. At one time or another, all of the grievances the Patriots had with Britain were discussed within the confines of the small assembly room on the second floor of Faneuil Hall. Led by Samuel Adams, much of the Sons of Liberty’s resistance to British authority was planned and organized at Faneuil Hall.

Interior view
Interior view of Faneuil Hall. 1845 (approximate). Boston Public Library.

It was at Faneuil Hall in 1764 where American colonists first met to protest the Sugar Act, then again in 1765 with the passing of the Stamp Act, and in 1767 with the passing of the Townshend Acts. Samuel Adams wrote the following in response to the passing of the Stamp Act: “The freeholders & other inhabitants, being legally assembled in Faneuil Hall, to consider what steps are necessary for us to take at this alarming crisis, think it proper to communicate to you our united sentiments,” the townsmen are “particularly alarmed & astonished at the act, called the Stamp Act, by which a very grievous & we apprehend unconstitutional tax is to be laid upon the colony.” With the repealing of the Stamp Act, in April 1766 a town meeting was held at Faneuil Hall to vote on “the methods to exhibit their joy” of the Stamp Act’s repeal. At the meeting at Faneuil Hall it was unanimously decided “to prevent any bonfire from being made in any part of the town, also the throwing of any rockets, squibs, and other fireworks in any of the streets of said town, except the time that shall be appointed for general rejoicing.”

“The freeholders & other inhabitants, being legally assembled in Faneuil Hall, to consider what steps are necessary for us to take at this alarming crisis, think it proper to communicate to you our united sentiments,” the townsmen are “particularly alarmed & astonished at the act, called the Stamp Act, by which a very grievous & we apprehend unconstitutional tax is to be laid upon the colony.”
~ Samuel Adams
faneuil hall by archibald dick
Faneuil Hall, from the water. Dick, Archibald L., ca. 1805-ca. 1855 (engraver). Boston Public Library.

On the morning of March 6, 1770, Faneuil Hall was packed beyond occupancy with the angered citizenry of Boston. The night before soldiers of the Grenadier Company of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot had fired on the people of Boston – killing five civilian men. The incident has become known to history as the Boston Massacre. Witnesses to the Boston Massacre stood at the platform describing the events which transpired on the night of March 5, 1770, and Samuel Adams delivered an impassioned speech about the incident. At Faneuil Hall, Samuel Adams was appointed to lead a committee to urge Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts, in the removal of all British soldiers from Boston at once or the safety of the citizenry and soldiers would be compromised. John Adams wrote about the speech Samuel Adams gave at Faneuil Hall on March 6, “With a self-recollection, a self-possession, a self-command, a presence of mind that was admired by every man present, Samuel Adams arose with an air of dignity and majesty, of which he was sometimes capable, stretched forth his arm, tho’ even then quivering with palsy, and with an harmonious voice and decisive tone, said, ‘if the Lieut. Governor or Col. Dalrymple, or both together, have authority to remove one regiment, they have authority to remove two – and nothing short of the total evacuation of the town by all the regular troops, will satisfy the public mind or preserve the peace of the province.” In response, the soldiers garrisoned in Boston at the time – His Majesty’s 14th and 29th Regiments of Foot were ordered to Castle William, the fort which guarded the entrance to Boston Harbor. The brother-in-law to Hutchinson and Loyalist public official, Andrew Oliver, reported had the troops not been removed, “that they would probably be destroyed by the people – should it be called rebellion, should it incur the loss of our charter, or be the consequence what it would.”

On Monday, November 2, 1772, at a town meeting held at Faneuil Hall, by the urging of Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, James Otis, and other Patriot leaders, the Boston Committee of Correspondence was formed. The meeting held at Faneuil Hall garnered enough support to vote in a resolution to create the Boston Committee of Correspondence. The Boston Committee of Correspondence was the first standing Committee of Correspondence formed in the Thirteen Colonies.

On November 5, 1773, Guy Fawkes Day (celebrated as Pope’s Day in colonial Boston), Samuel Adams called a town meeting at Faneuil Hall in response to the “tea crisis” and declared anyone who aids or abets the “unloading receiving or vending the tea is an enemy to America!”

On November 5, 1773, Guy Fawkes Day (celebrated as Pope’s Day in colonial Boston), Samuel Adams called a town meeting at Faneuil Hall in response to the “tea crisis” and declared anyone who aids or abets the “unloading receiving or vending the tea is an enemy to America!” It was at this meeting Samuel Adams was appointed to handle the “tea crisis”. The first large-scale organized meeting to discuss the “tea crisis” occurred at Faneuil Hall on Monday, November 29, 1773 – the day after the Dartmouth arrived. The Dartmouth was the first of the Tea Party Ships to arrive at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. Prior to this, smaller scale meetings had been held at Faneuil Hall to discuss the “tea crisis”. By this time, Boston had become a hotbed of dissent and radicalism, and thousands gathered from Boston and surrounding towns to meet at Faneuil Hall. The meeting was organized by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty, both of which were under the leadership of Samuel Adams. On November 29 at Faneuil Hall, they resolved that “as the town of Boston, in a full legal meeting, has resolved to do the utmost in its power to prevent the landing of the tea.” The gathering attracted so many of the concerned citizenry that the meeting had to be quickly relocated to the Old South Meeting House because Faneuil Hall could not accommodate the masses of people. Old South Meeting House was the largest public building in Boston at the time and thus became a suitable alternative location to relocate the meeting. Samuel Adams, in a letter to a colleague, wrote about the numbers of people present at the meeting, “The people met in Faneuil Hall, without observing the rules prescribed by law for calling them together…they were soon obliged for the want of room to adjourn to the Old South Meeting House; where were assembled upon this important occasion 5000, some say 6000 men, consisting of the respectable inhabitants of this and the adjacent towns. The business of the meeting was conducted with decency, unanimity, and spirit.” The meeting first held at Faneuil Hall and relocated to the Old South Meeting House on November 29 was the first of a series of meetings which culminated in the December 16, 1773 Boston Tea Party.

Faneuil Hall 1853
Fourth of July festivities at Faneuil Hall, Boston, 1853. New York Public Library.

In August 1774, after the official publication of the act forbidding town meetings under the Intolerable Acts, Samuel Adams held a Boston town meeting at Faneuil Hall and sent the proclamation “Resist the Intolerable Acts!” to towns all across Massachusetts. Meetings held at Faneuil Hall were influential in protesting the Intolerable Acts. After the British occupied Boston and passed the Quartering Act under the Intolerable Acts in 1774, Faneuil Hall was used as a theater to entertain British officers. Faneuil Hall was also used to quarter British soldiers under the Quartering Act and had previously housed British soldiers prior to the Boston Massacre.

Following the first shots of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, on April 27, the military governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and commander-in-chief of all British forces in North America, General Thomas Gage, ordered all firearms owned by the Boston citizenry stored in Faneuil Hall. On April 27, “1778 fire arms, 634 pistols, 973 bayonets and 38 blunderbusses” were received, properly labeled with the names of the owners, and sorted for storage at Faneuil Hall. Gage promised the weapons would be returned to their owners “at a suitable time”. Gage feared an attack on Boston was imminent and feared the civilian populace would join in the resistance, confronting him with an inner and outer enemy.

During the American Revolution on July 4, 1777 – one year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence- George Washington toasted the new nation on its first birthday at Faneuil Hall.

Like the Patriots on the eve of the American Revolution, Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and others brought their struggles for freedom to Faneuil Hall.

After the American Revolution

In 1806, Faneuil Hall was significantly expanded and enlarged by the famed early American architect Charles Bulfinch. Bulfinch doubled the height and width of Faneuil Hall and added a third floor. In addition to other cosmetic modifications Bulfinch made to Faneuil Hall, the cupola was moved to the opposite end of the building, which modified John Smybert’s original design. Faneuil Hall was used for town meetings until 1822. During the 19th century Faneuil Hall was again a beacon of liberty – this time for the abolition of slavery and the rights of Black Americans. Massachusetts had effectively abolished slavery in the 1780’s, but abolitionists used Faneuil Hall as a forum to proclaim the evils of slavery in hopes of achieving the eradication of slavery on a national level. Faneuil Hall served as a podium for the abolitionist movement prior to and during the American Civil War. Like the Patriots on the eve of the American Revolution, Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and others brought their struggles for freedom to Faneuil Hall. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts’ headquarters (presently a museum) has been at Faneuil Hall since 1746 and is also the oldest chartered military organization in North America. Dwarfed by the 19th century built Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall stands proudly as a relic of the American Revolution and is a popular Boston attraction. Faneuil Hall features shops and restaurants in market stalls reminiscent of the 18th century and is a well-known stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail.