Despite its popularity among residents and visitors, many do not realize the ties that Boston’s Faneuil Hall has with the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, the name itself is one that honors Peter Faneuil, who was a wealthy American colonial merchant and slave trader. While recent outcries to change the name of the attraction were shot down by Mayor Marty Walsh, some recently uncovered artifacts may lead the city to embrace Boston’s role in the slave trade rather than trying to brush it under the rug.
Several 17th– and 18th-century artifacts were recently uncovered during an archeological dig beneath Faneuil Hall. Among these is a 24-inch cone-shaped shard from a cream-colored sugar mold. While the piece may seem like nothing but a simple piece of broken pottery, the mold would have been packed by slaves with sugar gathered by slaves as an essential part of the transatlantic slave trade. More than 40 other pieces were also uncovered during the dig, prompting the Walsh administration to propose spending $315,000 to restore the artifacts in order to illuminate the city’s role in the slave trade.
One of the wealthiest Colonial ports in North America, Boston’s role in the slave trade is often downplayed. With the recent discovery of these artifacts, however, it looks as though the city is ready to shed more light on the role it played in this dark part of American history.
The Faneuil Hall Legacy
The Walsh administration has received pressure recently regarding the name of Faneuil Hall, whose namesake was a slave trader himself. In fact, it was the wealth that he acquired through the slave trade that allowed him to bequeath the hall to the city in 1740. The hall was opened in September 1742, just six months prior to his death in 1743.
Even when it was first given to the city, Faneuil Hall came with its controversies. Given to the city to serve as a large market building, the hall was controversial in hat some residents felt peddling in the streets was preferable to having a large centralized market. While the market brought conveniences such as home delivery, it also led to noisy push-carts and higher prices. As such, Faneuil’s offer was only approved by a vote of 367 to 360 at the Boston Town Meeting.
Construction of the building took two years to complete, with the structure named after Faneuil himself following his death. The building as it stands today is not the original, however, as that structure was gutted by a fire in March 1761. While the walls remained, the interior was completely destroyed.
While Faneuil Hall is perhaps blemished by being the namesake of a slave trader, the structure itself has a rich history of playing an important part in American freedom. For example, the town frequently met at the hall to protest British policy prior to the American Revolution. Similarly, the room above the market stalls became a civic center that hosted several prerevolutionary meetings. As such, it has become known as America’s “Cradle of Liberty”.