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Thanks For The Use Of The Halls(1)

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Okay, last time, I had us on the “T” (Boston’s version of the subway) and we were headed downtown. In particular, we were headed to Faneuil Hall. I’ll explain what that is in a moment.


We de-trained (is that a word?) at Government Center T-stop and from there walked across City Hall Plaza, which is sort of a large open space in front of the some of the city’s government buildings. We joined hordes of tourists like ourselves and made our way down to Congress Street. We waited at a light, and looked across the way to...the Hall.


It is a large brick building, handsome in its way, with white windows and a little tower on top. Out front of it is yet another bricked-in plaza. Here, there is a heroic statue of Samuel Adams, the Founding Father, Radical, Revolutionary, and deep embarrassment to All Right Thinking People Of His Time. And, let’s face it. If he were alive today, he’d probably p*ss ‘em off still.(2)


Anyway, getting back to the Hall. It was constructed in 1742 by Peter Faneuil, at the time the city’s wealthiest merchant.(3) Or, more precisely, Faneuil offered to pay for such a building as a public meeting place and “market house.” This was less surprising than you might think. In those days, we had a tradition of rich people ponying up the price of public improvements. It gave them status, or at least they thought so. It was a practice that dated back to the Greeks and Romans, and probably further. In fact, the word “liturgy” used to mean the practice of paying for public works via private means, and a “liturgist” was the person who opened his purse to make it possible. Only much later did the term take on a religious meaning.(4)




About The Photos: Two today. First, a photo which I’ve tried to make look like a painting. It is a street scene just as you cross the main road to get to the Hall.


Anyway, Faneuil put up the money, and, eventually (after some opposition, apparently. Not everybody wanted a new market in their backyard), the Hall was built. And, eventually, it would take on a political as well as commercial role. It was here, at Faneuil Hall, where many of the meetings leading up to the Revolution occurred (more about that later).


There is, however, one more kicker to this story. I said Faneuil was Boston’s richest merchant. He was, and that was how I originally learned to think of him. He was simply, “a merchant.”


Except, guess what he dealt in. You got it. Slaves.(5) He bought and sold many things, but among them were Africans kidnapped from their homes and sent here as part of the Triangular Trade--“we brung bibles and slaves,” to quote the song.


Perhaps he got his reward, though. He died young, at 43, in 1743. At least one of my sources says that the first public use of Faneuil Hall was the funeral of Faneuil himself. (6)


Still, he had his Hall, and thus his legacy. And it was where we were headed on that summer day, as we crossed Congress Street, and found ourselves at the feet of Sam Adams in bronze, as he gazed down on children and their adults from the world over...


Wishing them, I suspect, the liberty for which he fought for so long and with such vigor.


More to come.




Second, Martha looked bemused in the Faneuil Hall area.


And what do you know? For once all my illustrations actually reflect the story at hand. Will wonders never cease?




Footnotes:


1. The title is stolen from “For The Use Of The Hall,” a play written by Oliver Hailey and later directed for television by Lee Grant. It’s a wild and complicated comedy about a group of people who find themselves stranded in a Long Island house where they try to figure out which of them has most wasted their lives. Check it out at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0322308/



2. Sam Adams was a fascinating character. In some ways, he was a very twentieth century figure--i.e., a professional revolutionary, of the sort who’d be instantly recognized (if not liked) by Lenin and Trotsky. That is, creating a revolution was his job. It is what he did. He was not particularly successful at anything thing else, and his attempts to earn a living were kind of disastrous. It is no wonder, perhaps, that his reputation has risen and fallen and risen over the years. After 1776, he was a hero. In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, when America and Britain were having a bit of a love affair, American historians regarded him with some distaste. Then, when revolution became respectable again in this century, he was a hero once more.


I’m not sure how he is seen now, in the postmodern 21st century. I know that he is still regarded as an important figure. But, I fear, in some places, he may be seen as just another Dead White Guy...which would be sad, and untrue, and would say more about our increasingly anti-intellectual culture than it would about Mr. Adams.


3. See “The History of Faneuil Hall,” at the Hall website, here: https://faneuilhallmarketplace.com/the-history-of-faneuil-hall/





5. See Peter Faneuil’s wikipedia entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Faneuil



6. From page four of Always Something Doing: Boston's Infamous Scollay Square, by David Kruh, 1999, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Always_Something_Doing/6QmvMLWqSWQC?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PA4&printsec=frontcover




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~mjt



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Copyright©2023 Michael Jay Tucker


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