The Old State House, Boston, Massachusetts


Thirty-three years after Captain John Smith sailed into Boston Harbor, the first Town House was built. This was in 1657. The second Town House, which was built on the same site, was erected in 1712. In 1748 the third Town House, later the Old State House, followed the structure of 1712, the outer walls of the old building being used in the new.

Since 1689; when Governor Andros’ tyranny was overthrown, the old building has been in the thick of historic events. How it figured in the Boston Massacre was shown by John Tudor in his diary. He wrote :

“March, 1770. On Monday evening the 5th current, a few Minutes after 9 o’clock a most. horrid murder was committed in King Street before the custom house Door by 8 or 9 Soldiers under the Command of Capt. Thos Preston of the Main Guard on the South side of the Town House. This unhappy affair began by Some Boys & young fellows throwing Snow Balls at the sentry placed at the Custom house Door. On which 8 or 9 Soldiers Came to his Assistance. Soon after a Number of people collected, when the Capt commanded the Soldiers to fire, which they did and 3 Men were Kil’d on the Spot & several Mortaly Wounded, one of which died next Morning. . Leut Governor Hutchinson, who was Commander in Chiefe, was sent for & Came to the Council Chamber, where some of the Magustrates attended. The Governor desired the Multitude about 10 O’Clock to sepperat & to go home peaceable & he would do all in his power that Justice should be done &c. The 29 Regiment being then under Arms on the south side of the Townhouse, but the people insisted that the Soldiers should be ordered to their Barracks first before they would sepperat. Which being done the people sepperated aboute 1 O’Clock.”

Next day the people met in Faneuil Hall, and demanded the immediate removal of the troops. The demand being refused, they met again at Faneuil Hall, but adjourned to Old South Church, since the larger hall was required to accommodate the aroused citizens.

A new committee, headed by Samuel Adams, sought Hutchinson in the Council Chamber of the Town House, and secured his permission to remove the troops with-out delay.

The next event of note in the history of the old building was the public reading there of the Declaration of Independence on July 18, 1776, in accordance with the message of John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, who asked that it be proclaimed ” in such a mode that the people may be impressed by it”

Abigail Adams told in a letter to her husband, John Adams, of the reading :

” I went with the multitude to King street to hear the Declaration Proclamation for Independence read and proclaimed… Great attention was given to every word… Thus ends royal Authority in the state.”

A British prisoner on parole, who was an invited guest at the reading of the Declaration, wrote a detailed narrative of the events of the day, in the Town Hall, in which he said :

” Exactly as the clock struck one, Colonel Crafts, who occupied the chair, rose and, silence being obtained, read aloud the declaration, which announced to the world that the tie of allegiance and protection, which had so long held Britain and her North American colonies together, was forever separated. This being finished, the gentlemen stood up, and each, repeating the words as they were spoken by an officer, swore to up-hold, at the sacrifice of life, the rights of his country. Meanwhile the town clerk read from the balcony the Declaration of Independence to the crowd; at the close of which, a Shout began in the hall, passed like an electric spark to the streets, which rang with loud huzzas, the slow and measured boom of Cannon, and the rattle of musketry.”

Thirteen years later, when Washington visited Boston, he passed through a triumphal arch to the State House. In his diary he told of what followed his entrance to the historic building :

“Three cheers was given by a vast concourse of people, Who, by this time, had assembled at the Arch—then followed an ode composed in honor of the President; and well sung by a band of select singers—After this three cheers—followed by the different Professions and Mechanics in the order they were drawn up, with their colors, through a lane of the people which had thronged about the arch under which they passed.”

” General Washington, the hero’s come, Each heart exulting hears the sound; See, thousands their deliverer throng, And shout his welcome all around. Now in full chorus bursts the song, And shout the deeds of Washington.”

The Old State House was near destruction in 1835, as a result of the uproar that followed the attempt of William Lloyd Garrison to make an abolition address in the hall next door to the office of the Liberator, whose editor he was. A furious crowd demanded his blood, and he was persuaded to retire. Later the doors of the Liberator office where he had taken refuge were broken down, and, after a chase, the hunted man was seized and dragged to the rear of the Old State House, then used as the City Hall and Post-office. The mayor rescued him from the mob, which was talking of hanging him, and carried him into the State House. The threats of the outwitted people became so loud that it ‘was feared the building would be destroyed and that Garrison would be killed. As soon as possible, therefore, he was spirited away to the Leverett Street jail.

For many years, until 1882, the Old State House was used for business purposes, after previous service as Town House, City Hall, Court House, and State House. It is now used as a historical museum by the Bostonian Society.

The historic halls within the building have the same walls and ceilings as when the old house was erected in 1748. For many years the exterior was covered with unsightly paint, but this has been scraped off, and the brick walls gleam red as in former days.