Exploring Boston’s Freedom Trail and searching for the grave of my 376 year-old great, great, great grandfather John Viall, Jr.

Seven weeks into our nine week “cross-Canada and back across the US trip”, we had the opportunity to spend two days in the historic Boston area, blessed by two resident cousins as tour guides on our first day.

First, a bit about my family. John Viall, Sr., came to the United States in 1637, settled in the Boston area and eventually retired to the Swansey, MA area. His son, John Viall, Jr., born in 1644, owned the Ships Tavern on the Boston seafront before his death in 1720. Our family members told us that his grave was in the Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, just a block from the Old North Church (the church where Paul Revere hung his lanterns, “one if by land, two if by sea”, to warn of the British approach).

The Old State House; the sidewalk medalion commemorates the site of the 1770 Boston massacre

So we drove to near the start of Boston’s well-delineated Freedom Trail, roughly 3 miles in length, linking noteworthy historic sites in the city, site of the birth of our nation.

Spouse Susan points out the brick in spouse Susan points out the brick inlay that denotes the Freedom Trail.

The trail has several visitor centers, and an in-laid brick pathway leads you to the varied historic destinations. We picked up a map and downloaded the free phone ap by the National Park Service and began our tour at the Old State House, adorned with statues of tribute to the King and the British Empire.

It was the center of political debate in the mid-18th century and the site of the Boston Massacre in front of the building in 1770, when British troops, panicked by protesters, fired upon and killed five colonists including Crispus Attucks. Future president and Boston lawyer John Adams would successfully defend the British troops against murder charges. It’s also the building from where the Declaration of Independence was read to Bostonians in 1776.

Statue of Sam Adams guards Faneuil hall.

We moved on to Faneuil Hall, built as a marketplace on the first floor (still functioning today) and a meeting hall on the second floor that, for well over 250 years, has been the place for colonists and citizens to discuss issues, protest the British government and make decisions garnering the building the moniker as “birthplace of our nation”.

Just steps away is the rambling Quincy Market, packed with shops and eateries doing a bustling business both days we visited. Also along the Freedom Trail, the venerable Union Oyster House, where we dined on oysters and seafood delicacies the first night, and Hanover Street, home to a bustling Little Italy section, where we had a score of Italian restaurants to choose from the second night.

Paul Revere’s house, circa 1680, was occupied by Revere when he made his famed ride into the Massachusetts’s countryside in April, 1775 to warn of the British troop’s approach. Revere risked his livelihood and his life for his part in establishing our country‚Äôs freedom from British tyranny.

For those with more energy, a mile further along the trail would deliver us to the old Charlestown Navy Yard, one of six original Navy facilities. It’s home to the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) and the USS Cassin Young, a World War II and Korean War destroyer, both open for tours.

Trekking further north you’ll reach the Bunker Hill Museum and Monument, commemorating the famous Revolutionary War battle. The Monument offers a fine view of Boston, for those with gusto to climb the 294 steps to the top (no elevator).

Old North Church, where Paul Revere had the lanterns posted to mark the British troops approach, is just a block from the Copp's Hill Burying Ground.

Along the way we visited the Old North Church and Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (one block northwest of the church), to find the grave of old relative John Viall, Jr. and patriots as Cotton Mather and Robert Newman, who hung the two lanterns in the Old North Church.

Captain Malcolm's grave, used by the British for target practice in 1775.

Among the graves of patriots is that of Captain Malcolm. His inscription reads “Here lies buried in a stone grave 10 feet deep Capt. Daniel Malcolm, who departed this life October 23, 1769 age 44 years. A true son of liberty, friend of the public, an enemy to oppression and one of the foremost in opposing the Revenue Acts on America”. A docent tells us he was buried so deep that the British would not dig up his body! A close examination shows “musket-ball pock marks”, evidence how British troops used his tombstone for target practice during the Revolutionary war when they once held Copp’s Hill.

John Viall, Jr.'s grave, with the author pointing out the 1720 burial date.

With help from the Copp’s Hill website, we found old John Viall, Jr.’s grave. Pretty daunting, in the space of a mile or so, to walk in the footsteps of John Adams, Sam Adams, Paul Revere and, yes, my old ancestor. Viall’s progeny would go on to fight in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

Had we had more time, a separate Freedom Trail of African-American history starts at the south end of the original Freedom Trail.

For more insight, Boston’s Freedom Trail, thefreedomtrail.org, and nps.gov/bost/.

To reach Tim Viall, tviall@msn.com; for more of his travel features, blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel. Happy travels in your world!

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