Colonial New England
Early American, Colonial and Revolutionary New England
New England has a rich Colonial history beginning with the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth in 1620 and continuing through the events leading to the American Revolution. Four of six New England states were members of the original 13 Colonies; Maine was part of Massachusetts and Vermont became the 14th state following the formation of the United States. Boston, Lexington, Concord, and their neighbors were the birthplace of the American Revolution. Many of the places where Colonists and early heroes of the Revolutionary War lived, worked, and built the foundation of the new nation are preserved and open to visitors. Historic sites, from Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts to Ethan Allen's Homesite in Vermont, also describe daily life, economic activity, literary and cultural phenomenon that make the region such a rich panorama of America in its early years. These are the places you should plan to visit:
Boston / Cambridge region
Freedom Trail – Boston
The Freedom Trail is wonderful for people who love to walk through a handsome, dynamic city while visiting legendary historic sites, with plenty of leisure to browse. The Trail is a 2.5-mile walking trail through Boston that leads to 16 significant historic sites. Best in the warmer weather, the Trail is interesting for people of all ages, although strollers may be helpful for younger children. The Trail begins at the Boston Common – a large park that was once the grazing area for livestock -- and a red-brick path guides walkers the entire way. Sites on the Trail all played prominent roles in the events that shaped America. They include the State House, Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, Boston Latin School, Old Corner Book Store, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, The Old North Church, USS Constitution, and Bunker Hill Monument.
Faneuil Hall – Boston
Often referred to as "the cradle of Liberty," Faneuil Hall hosted America's first Town Meeting. This imposing structure is the place where the Sons of Liberty proclaimed their dissent against royal oppression. Faneuil Hall has served as an open forum meeting hall and marketplace for more than 250 years. Open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. with historical talks every 30 minutes. Immediately next door to Faneuil Hall is Quincy Market, an indoor-outdoor mall with dozens of wonderful eateries to grab a snack, a cool drink, or a full meal. The market also includes plenty of gift shops and a steady drumbeat of street music and street theater. It is lots of fun after hours of ponderous historical study.
USS Constitution and USS Constitution Museum – Charlestown
Even for people who have no special interest in naval history, the first view of the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard, is truly a thrill because of his antiquity, its grace, and its role in the fight for American independence. The USS Constitution Museum is only a few steps away from the ship. At the museum, interactive galleries take visitors on a 200-year voyage. Discover how Old Ironsides has remained undefeated since 1797; see how sailors climbed masts 200 feet in the air; learn how a wooden hull helped earn the nickname Old Ironsides. During the summer months USS Constitution makes several underway demonstrations in Boston Harbor. On those days she is open for limited tour hours. Check the ship's website for underway demonstration dates and times.
Museum of African American History -- Boston
The African Meeting House and Abiel Smith School on Beacon Hill, located in what once was the heart of Boston's African American community, remain a showcase of black community organization and enduring testimony to black craftsmanship. Once a church, a school, and a vital community meeting place, the African Meeting House is open to the public. The Abiel Smith School, the nation's first public school for African American children, currently houses a first-class exhibit space and the museum store. Hours of operation vary; it is best to call ahead before visiting.
Boston Suburbs region
Minute Man National Historical Park – Lexington, Concord, Lincoln
On April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began at Lexington and Concord with a clash of arms known as "the shot heard round the world." At Minute Man National Historical Park the opening battle of the American Revolution is brought to life as visitors explore the battlefields and witness the American revolutionary spirit through the writings of the Concord authors. The park is located 22 miles outside of Boston within the towns of Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord. A great time to plan a visit is Patriot's Day, in mid-April (April 21, 2008), a Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the opening battle of the Revolutionary War. The weekend is celebrated with parades, a historical reenactment at Lexington Green, commemorative events at North Bridge and along the Battle Road.
Concord Museum – Concord
Renowned as the site of the battle that began the American Revolution and as the home of the most original thinkers and writers of the American literary renaissance, the town of Concord has played a remarkable part in the history of New England and the nation. The Concord Museum is the one place where all of Concord' s past is brought to life through a historical collection including the famed Revere lantern, literary treasures such as Emerson's study and Thoreau' s desk, Concord-made clocks, silver and furniture -- all in self-touring galleries with hands-on family activities.
National Heritage Museum – Lexington
Because of its location in Lexington, the National Heritage Museum is able to tell the story of the American Revolution in the place where it all began. Paul Revere's midnight ride went right past the museum's doorstep. This mid-sized museum is open daily and admission is free. A new long-term exhibition, "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution," presents new perspectives on the part played by ordinary people in shaping historical events at Lexington's Battle Green on April 19, 1775. From May to October, a Liberty Ride bus originates at the museum and conducts an informative 90-minute tour of the Lexington-Concord area.
Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket region
Nantucket Whaling Museum – Nantucket
To see the inside workings of early whaling industry and the people who braved the seas to capture the precious whale oil, get to the Nantucket Whaling Museum on Broad Street. First sighted by Europeans in 1602, Nantucket became a part of the Bay Colony of Massachusetts in 1692. Inhabited at the time by people of the Wampanoag tribe, Nantucket developed into a community of farmers and herders. By the 1690s the Nantucketers had begun to organize whaling expeditions in small boats to pursue the right whales that passed close to shore on their annual migrations. Deep-sea whaling began around 1715, a few years after the first sperm whale had been taken by a sloop blown out to sea in a gale. Open seasonally.
North of Boston / Salem / Cape Ann region
Salem Witch Museum – Salem
The Salem witch hunts and witch trials of 1692 lasted less than a year, but the terrifying phenomenon of community-wide panic has a lasting hold on our imaginations. Accusations of witchcraft struck terror into the hearts of Salem townspeople in early 1692 and by summer hundreds of people had been accused and imprisoned. A court tried and executed about 20 people before the panic dissipated. At the Salem Witch Museum , in the heart of Salem, which has several other witch-related historic sites, visitors are given a dramatic history lesson using stage sets with life-size figures, lighting and a narration. On the lighter side, Salem is fun to visit in October, when dozens of light-hearted, Halloween-themed entertainments are offered for visitors of all ages (prepare to dress up!).
South of Boston / Plymouth region
Plimoth Plantation – Plymouth
Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum, describes and demonstrates the history of the native Wampanoag and Colonial English peoples of 17th-century Plymouth. Its four major exhibits are the Wampanoag home site, the 1627 English Village, and the Crafts Center, and the Mayflower II, a reproduction modeled after the original Mayflower (located at the Plymouth waterfront). The Wampanoag home site explores the story of one 17th-century Wampanoag man and Wampanoag culture and history. The 1627 English Village is a re-creation of the farming town built by English colonists. At the Crafts Center, skilled artisans reproduce many of the fascinating and functional objects being used in the 1627 English Village and onboard Mayflower II. Mayflower II has been carefully recreated to show what the original 17th-century vessel was like.
Mayflower Society Museum – Plymouth
http://www.themayflowersociety.com/museum.htm The headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendents is located in this 1754 home built by Edward Winslow, a Pilgrim descendant. The Mayflower Society Museum features furnishings spanning three centuries, a flying staircase and formal gardens. Open Memorial Day through October, but hours vary.
Alden Historic Site – Duxbury
John Alden and Priscilla Mullins Alden, travelers aboard the Mayflower, settled and raised their 10 children in the town of Duxbury. Their home still exists at the Alden Historic Site. John Alden and Priscilla Mullins were married in 1621 or 1622. John was a cooper and the youngest signer of the Mayflower Compact. Priscilla Mullins Alden is arguably the best known Pilgrim woman because of the poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish, written by their descendant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The memorable phrases, "Speak for yourself, John," and "If I am not worth the wooing, then surely I am not worth the winning," have placed the Aldens solidly into American lore.
Adams National Historical Park -- Quincy
Adams National Historical Park tells the story of four generations of the Adams family, from 1720 to 1927. The park has several sites: the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the second and sixth presidents of the United States; Peacefield, including the Old House, home to four generations of the Adams family; and the Stone Library, which contains more than 14,000 volumes.
Stonington Borough – Stonington
New England is not short of beautiful villages, but Stonington Borough, on a small peninsula in the Fisher's Island Sound, is special. A walk through its tight streets is a joy by itself. Colonial-era houses rich with fine architectural details and dripping with flowers from window boxes are packed cheek-to-cheek along Water and Main streets. The community was founded in 1649 and was a base for seal hunting, whaling and trading. It was the home to explorers Edmund Fanning, who sailed to the Orient and on around the world in 1797-1798, and Nathaniel Palmer, who discovered the peninsula of Antarctica in the winter of 1820-1821.
The Groton Battle Monument and Museum – Groton
This granite monument was dedicated in 1830 to the men who defended Fort Griswold in Groton. During the Revolutionary War, New London harbor on the Thames River was home port for many privately owned and armed boats that preyed upon British ships. East of the river, on Groton Heights, the completed Fort Griswold commanded the harbor and the surrounding countryside. In summer 1781, British generals decided to attack New London and destroy the "rebel pirate ships." In September, 800 British troops entered New London and burned down almost the entire town. The British later attacked and breached Fort Griswold, across the river from New London. Fort Griswold was the scene of military defense preparations in at least four other wars. The monument and museum are open to visitors daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Ancient Burial Ground -- New London
The Antientist Burial Ground – also known as the Ancient Burial Ground – in New London is one of the earliest graveyards in New England. Located between Hempstead and Huntington streets on a property overlooking the Thames River and Groton, it was used as a burial ground as early at 1652. Many of the early settlers are interred there as are some of the early black Colonists. In "The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them," author James Slater wrote, "of all Connecticut's burying grounds, this may contain the greatest variety of different carving schools. …" Each gravestone is a work of art, and experts can identify individual carvers.
Custom House Maritime Museum – New London
Built in 1833, the Custom House remains the oldest operating custom house in the nation. Robert Mills, America's first federal architect, who also executed the Washington Monument, the United States Treasury Building, and other significant government structures, designed the building. A classic Greek Revival granite building, the front doors are made from wood from the USS Constitution. In 1839, U.S. Customs played an important role in the early steps to freedom of Africans brought to New London with the slave ship Amistad. Open April through December, daily, 1-5 p.m. except Mondays; January through March, by appointment. Information: 860-447-2501.
Nathan Hale Homestead – Coventry
"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," declared Captain Nathan Hale moments before the British hanged him as a spy in 1776. Hale, a school teacher, was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Continental Army in 1775. A year later he volunteered to go behind British lines on Long Island to gather military intelligence needed by General George Washington. But the British captured Hale and executed him. He was 21. Hale was born and spent most of his life on this 400-acre farm, the Nathan Hale Homestead . Its furnishings include several Hale family possessions. Open seasonally. Information: 860-742-6917 or email@example.com.
Nathan Hale Schoolhouse – New London
Revolutionary war hero Nathan Hale taught in this former school house at 35 State Street from 1774 to 1775 before going to fight in the American Revolution. While spying on the British for General Washington, he was captured and executed. Information: 860-873-3399.
Lebanon Green – Lebanon
The historic green in the town of Lebanon is a pleasant walk, but its deep charm is in its close links with major moments in the American Revolution. A mile in length and still used for farming, the Lebanon Green, known as "the heartbeat of the Revolution," is flanked by several buildings connected with Connecticut's role in the Revolution. The Revolutionary War Office is located there, as is the home of William Williams, member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center – Mashantucket
The high-tech Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, the world's largest Native American museum, offers experiences for young and old, from life-size dioramas that transport visitors into the past to changing exhibits and live performances of contemporary arts. Four acres of permanent exhibits depict 18,000 years of Native and natural history, while two libraries offer materials on the histories and cultures of all Native peoples of the continent. Open year-round.
New Haven region
Yale University – New Haven
For the sake of architecture, history, of the love of academia, a walking tour of Yale University will inspire and enlighten. Visitors may take tours to learn about Yale's rich 300-year history and see the Gothic Sterling Memorial Library and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which is home to a preeminent collection of rarities, including a Gutenberg Bible. Self-guided tours also are offered.
Institute for American Indian Studies -- Washington
Education and preservation of the American Indian cultures is the mission of the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington. Visitors are treated to Native artifacts and art, an indoor longhouse, a simulated archaeological site, trails, a replica of a 17th-century Algonkian village, and a fine gift shop. The institute's primary exhibit, As We Tell Our Stories, is divided into seven sections about Native culture: land, exchange, clay, corn living spaces, deer, manitou, and ways of war.
The Museum of Newport History – Newport
Housed in the 1762 Brick Market, exhibits shown here at the Museum of Newport History bring to life aspects of Newport's history from the 1600s through the Gilded Age. Decorative arts, artifacts of everyday life, graphics, historic photographs, and audio-visual programs tell Newport's story. The museum contains paintings, Colonial silver, the printing press used by James Franklin, and much more. Hours are seasonal; call ahead.
Great Friends Meeting House – Newport
The Great Friends Meeting House, built in 1699, was where Quakers from throughout New England gathered to pray and discuss the issues of the day, including war, slavery, and women's rights. This is the oldest surviving house of worship in Newport. Quakers dominated the political, social, and economic life of the town into the 18th century, and their plain style of living was reflected in Newport's architecture, decorative arts and early landscape. For tour information visit www.newporthistorytours.org or call 401-846-0813.
Newport Colony House – Newport
The Newport Colony House , dating from 1739, was a government meeting place and the site of celebrations, the Stamp Act riot, reading of the Declaration of Independence, and more. Many important events associated with the shaping of the United States occurred at the Colony House. In 1761, the death of George II and the ascension of George III were announced from the balcony. In 1766, citizens of Newport celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act in the Colony House. On July 20, 1776, Major John Handy read the Declaration of Independence from the front steps. During the British occupation of Newport from 1776 to 1779, the Colony House was used as a barracks. For tour information visit www.newporthistorytours.org or call 401-846-0813.
Trinity Church – Newport
The beautiful and historic Trinity Church, located in Queen Anne Square, is the oldest Episcopal parish in Rhode Island. The building was completed in 1726, its design based on London churches design by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century. George Washington worshipped there, and the organ was tested by George Frederick Handel before being sent from England. The church contains Tiffany stained-glass windows and the only three-tiered, wine glass pulpit in America. The building was enlarged in 1764, but otherwise retains its original character with box pews. Call ahead for visiting hours at 401-846-0660.
Touro Synagogue – Newport
Touro Synagogue, founded in 1763 in Newport, is the first synagogue in America, with the second-oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. The Georgian-influenced building is situated on an angle within the property allowing worshippers standing in prayer before the Holy Ark to face east toward Jerusalem. The synagogue chamber contains 12 Ionic columns representing the tribes of ancient Israel and each made from a single tree. Five massive brass candelabra hang from the ceiling. Tours are offered; call ahead for information.
God's Little Acre – Newport
The African slave trade and Newport share common origins. Newport, one of the most prosperous of Colonial American ports, saw unprecedented growth throughout the 18th century from the export and trade of rum, spermaceti candles, and slaves. By the beginning of the American Revolution, Newport had a large Free African community. Today, Newport is home to a historically significant burial ground that the African American community commonly called God's Little Acre . This burial area on Farewell Street has some of the oldest markers of free Africans and slaves dating back to the late 1600s.
Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House – Newport
The oldest surviving house in Newport, the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House was built for Stephen Mumford in ca.1697. The house is the site of the Stamp Act Riot of 1765 and was home to Colonial governors, justices, and patriots. Property also contains a Colonial herb garden. Tours of the house include discussion of recent findings and discoveries, architecture, Colonial lifestyles, and family history. For tour information visit www.newporthistorytours.org or call 401-846-0813.
First Baptist Church in America – Providence
The First Baptist Church in America was founded in 1638 in Providence by Roger Williams and William Vincent Carpenter. Williams, an English clergyman, had established Rhode Island's first permanent settlement at Providence in 1636 in the company of a band of followers who had left Massachusetts Bay Colony to seek freedom of worship. The present church building, also called the Meeting House, was built in 1774-1775. The architecture is a blend of English Georgian and the traditional New England meetinghouse style. The Georgian aspects include the exterior portico and steeple, the Palladian window behind the pulpit, the fluted Tuscan columns, the groined arches in the balcony, and the split pediments over the doors. Guided or self-guided tours can be done year-round. Information: 401-454-3418.
Brown University – Providence
Scattered over many acres of property on College Hill, part of the East Side overlooking downtown Providence, Brown University is a pleasure to visit, if only to stroll the sidewalks and enjoy the beauty and elegance of the Colonial, Federalist, and Victorian-era buildings of the neighborhood. The epicenter of the university is College Green, but its buildings then spread out through a neighborhood of elegant mansions, as well as the restaurants and shops of Thayer Street. Brown was founded in 1764 as the College of Rhode Island. It moved in 1770 to its present location on College Hill. In 1804, in recognition of a gift from Nicholas Brown, the College of Rhode Island was renamed Brown University.
Benefit Street – Providence
Here is a walking tour that is beneficial to both the mind and the senses. A walk along Benefit Street, carved high into a ridge along Providence's East Side overlooking downtown, is a memorable stroll among immaculately preserved Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian-style houses. The Providence Preservation Society distributes maps with self-guided tours and the Rhode Island Historical Society conducts walks in the summer.
Strawbery Banke – Portsmouth
Visitors to Strawbery Banke experience and imagine how people lived and worked in this typical American neighborhood throughout four centuries of history, from the late l7th to the mid-20th century, through restored houses, featured exhibits, historic landscapes and gardens, and interpretive programs. In 1630, Englishmen sailing up the Piscataqua River were impressed by the thick growth of wild berries along the west bank. They chose this site for settlement and named it Strawbery Banke. They erected a large communal structure, called a Great House, to serve as a combination storehouse, trading post and living quarters. The site was destined to become an important colonial commercial center. Portsmouth became during the latter half of the 17th century an economically diverse trading town and the leading port north of Boston.
Portsmouth Historical Society – Portsmouth
The Portsmouth Historical Society interprets the history of Portsmouth through its diverse collections of furniture, paintings, ceramics, costumes, and maritime artifacts at the John Paul Jones House on Middle Street, which was built in 1758 for Gregory Purcell, a sea captain and merchant. (John Paul Jones, the celebrated naval hero of the American Revolution, spent time in Portsmouth in 1777 and 1781-82. He is believed to have rented a room in this house during 1777.) Portsmouth was well known as a center for the furniture trade in the 18th and 19th centuries and the society displays some exceptional examples of Portsmouth craftsmanship. The collection also includes portraits, glass ceramics, China trade wares, textiles, clothing, needlework and kitchenware.
Northern Vermont region
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum – Vergennes
The Champlain Valley's cultural history began nearly 11,300 years ago, when Paleoindian hunter-gatherers moved into the region. Native Americans have been living in the Champlain Valley continuously from that time to the present. Since its discovery by Europeans, the Champlain Valley has played an important role in North American history. The prominence of this area is due to the north-south corridor that Lake Champlain creates between the St. Lawrence Valley and the heart of the North American continent. The lake has served as a highway for of ideas, communication, commerce, and people. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum brings to life the stories of Lake Champlain and its people through nautical exploration, hands-on exhibits, and learning adventures. Visitors to the museum can view a large collection of original small watercraft, learn about wooden shipwrecks in North America, climb aboard the full-scale working Revolutionary War gunboat replica Philadelphia II and learn about the life of citizen soldiers in the Champlain Valley in 1776, and much more. Open mid-May to mid-October.
Ethan Allen Homestead – Burlington
Only a short drive from downtown Burlington, the Ethan Allen Homestead offers hands-on history, spectacular scenery, and riverside picnic areas and walks. The Homestead provides a genuine slice of 18th century life, and an intimate look at Vermont's most colorful - and controversial founder. Ethan Allen, who has become a folk hero in Vermont, was an unusually flamboyant backwoodsman-turned-statesman from Connecticut. He was one of the early inhabitants of Burlington, where he lived on his property in the Winooski River Intervale from 1787 until his death in 1789. He is best known for the capture of Fort Ticonderoga at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and his leadership of the Green Mountain Boys. The museum and house are open on a limited basis during the warm months, but the homestead and grounds are always open from sunrise to sunset.
Southern Vermont region
Bennington Battle Monument -- Bennington
Built in the late 1880s, this monument is a dedication to the famous Battle of Bennington that took place during the Revolutionary war in 1777. It was at this location the American Colonists maintained a store of weapons and food, which British General Burgoyne knew was critical to capture in order to restock his own troops. The monument is a 306-foot-tall stone obelisk. It is located north of VT Rte 9, about 4 miles east of the New York border. An elevator takes visitors to the observation floor for spectacular views of historic Bennington and three states. A diorama and several interpretive exhibits are on the ground floor. Statues of John Stark, Seth Warner and other notable monuments adorn the grounds. Tickets can be purchased for a small fee in the gift shop that specializes in historical items relating to the Battle of Bennington and Vermont. Open mid-April to October 31, daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
South Coast region
Museums of Old York – York
Museums of Old York are comprised of nine historic buildings, including a Colonial tavern, an old jail complete with dungeons and cells, a riverside estate filled with antiques, and a warehouse that once belonged to patriot John Hancock. Also on the site are a nature preserve, museum shop, contemporary art gallery, and restored gardens. Visitors to the museums of Old York experience more than 300 years of New England heritage and hear tales of sea captains and their families, jailers, prisoners and others. Also on display are beautiful decorative objects and antiques, including the Bulman Bedhangings, the only complete set of 18th-century American crewelwork bed curtains known to exist. Museum buildings include the John Hancock Warehouse (c. 1740); Jefferds' Tavern (1754); the Old Gaol (1719); the Old Schoolhouse (1745); the George Marshall Store (1869); and others.The Visitor Center is located in Jefferds' Tavern, Route 1A and Lindsay Road in York Village. Open June to Columbus Day, daily except Sundays.
Acadia / Bar Harbor / Down East region
Abbe Museum – Bar Harbor
The Abbe Museum opened in 1928 as a trailside museum at Sieur de Monts Spring. Its mission is to interpret the history and lives of the Wabanaki Indian tribe through exhibitions, events, archaeology field schools, and craft workshops. By the 1990s the Abbe's museum at Sieur de Monts Spring had become inadequate to house the growing collections, changing exhibitions, and research. In September, 2001, the museum moved in a new, larger space in downtown Bar Harbor. Among the permanent exhibitions is Wabanaki: People of the Dawn. The Bar Harbor location is open April through December and the trailside museum at Sieur de Monts Spring is open from mid-May to mid-October.
Augusta / Kennebec region
Old Fort Western -- Augusta
Old Fort Western is America's oldest surviving wooden fort - a reminder of the great contest between cultures that dominated New England life 250 years ago. The fort was built in 1754 by the Kennebec Proprietors, a Boston-based company seeking to settle the lands along the Kennebec River that had been granted to the Pilgrims more than a century earlier. The company and the Province of Massachusetts both were interested in expanding their influence in the area as part of an effort by Britain and her colonies to take final political control of North America. Fort Western served as a fortified storehouse in support of Fort Halifax, 17 miles north. Supplies were shipped via sloop and schooner from Boston four times a year, unloaded at Fort Western, taken to Fort Halifax.