Democracy and Tasty Treats at Faneuil Hall

By , in Sights To See.

Boston’s Faneuil Hall, which has been nicknamed “The Cradle of Liberty”, hosted
America’s first political town meeting. Since its construction by French Huguenot
merchant Peter Faneuil in 1742, the hall has served as a shelter for sheep, a lively
marketplace, and a center for free speech.

From the start, the hall’s activities have been divided by floor. The first floor briefly held
African sheep herded from New Hampshire; a sheep shortage soon brought that program
to a halt. Since 1748, the first floor has served as a public marketplace; Peter Faneuil
encouraged pushcart vendors to permanently set up shop. The second floor has long
featured the meeting hall, though it was briefly converted a theater during the British
occupation of 1774.
The first public meeting held at Faneuil was actually on the occasion of Peter Faneuil’s
death; his eulogy was read at the hall. Revolutionaries later used the site to protest King
George’s taxes and to pen the famous doctrine concerning “no taxation without
representation”. Following the Boston Massacre, the public filled the hall to capacity to
discuss the event. The patriot orator Samuel Adams gave an impassioned speech, and two
years later, he would there initiate the first Committee of Correspondence. That meeting
of colonial representatives is commonly considered the beginning of the American
Revolution. Today, a statue of Sam Adams stands outside the Hall.
As time went on, Faneuil Hall continued to be a popular political forum. Suffragist Lucy
Stone and abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison drew
crowds in the 1800s. In the past century, Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton have helped it
maintain the “Cradle of Liberty” nickname.
Architecturally, Faneuil Hall has undergone several expansions and restorations. First,
the entire building was razed in a 1761 fire. It was quickly rebuilt in time to hear early
revolutionaries’ speeches in 1762. Next, the building was significantly expanded in 1806.
America’s first native-born architect, Charles Bulfinch, doubled the hall’s height and
width. He added galleries around the second floor assembly room and added a third floor.
Twenty years later, additional construction expanded the Quincy Market. This meat and
produce market had been drawing more and more vendors and customers. By the mid-
1900s, however, the building had fallen into disrepair and was losing public interest.
Major restoration saved Faneuil Hall in the 1970s. This urban renewal was among the
first in American cities and inspired other projects nationwide.

One architectural element that has remained constant is a 38-pound gilded copper
grasshopper! It’s the centerpiece of the building’s weathervane. Peter Faneuil
commissioned an artist to create this grasshopper; he was inspired by one that sat atop the
Royal Exchange’s pinnacle in London. Thus, for colonial merchants the Faneuil Hall
weathervane was a symbol of Old World commerce. The grasshopper became so well-
known to northerners that when someone suspected a spy during the Revolution, they’d
ask, “What sits atop Faneuil Hall?” Those who didn’t know were deemed likely British
agents.

Today’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace refers to a group of four buildings: Faneuil Hall,
Quincy Market, North Market and South Market. The marketplace has pubs, restaurants,
and more than 125 vendors offering a wide variety of food and crafts. Each year more
than 15 million people visit the market. The popular landmark is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places and is now part of Boston National Historical Park.