Faneuil Hall is no doubt an iconic Boston landmark. Tourists frequently visit the area on their journey along the Freedom Trail, and after walking past brick after brick, cobblestone after cobblestone, people from around the world arrive at the site of a building named after a Bostonian merchant who traded and owned slaves.
Beneath Faneuil Hall, 17th and 18th century artifacts have been found that have roots to the slave trade. Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration proposed spending $315,000, from Boston’s community preservation fund, to restore, highlight and display these artifacts.
This preservation will help bring to light Boston’s early history that linked it to the slave trade. When Bostonians think of slavery, the first image that pops into their minds may be a southern plantation. But slaves were owned and traded in Boston.
The Triangle Trade brought great fortunes to people such as Boston merchant and slaveholder Peter Faneuil. The marketplace that is Faneuil Hall was originally built with money tied to slavery on the backs of Africans forced into labor.
Boston merchant ships traded rum and other goods to West Africa, then West Africans were sent to the Caribbean as slaves, and from the Caribbean, the ships transported sugar and molasses to Boston to be distilled into rum. On and on, a slavery-driven trading pattern continued.
Peter Faneuil was known for trading fish, tobacco, produce, rum and molasses, and like many of his fellow merchants, slaves. Faneuil enslaved five people himself, according to the appraisal of inventory of his estate after his death.
Yet Walsh refuses to change the name of Faneuil Hall. As the eighth most visited tourist site in the United States, according to a 2012 Travel and Leisure article, millions of tourists will view this historical site that is tainted by its name.
Preserving artifacts and preserving the name of the hall are different. Calling the building “Faneuil” is necessary for the preservation of history, but displaying the artifacts is required to recognize the role Boston played in the United States’ history of slavery.
Just as there are displays of artifacts, there should be a display for Peter Faneuil. His legacy as a successful merchant who helped fund infrastructure in Boston should be acknowledged alongside his legacy as a slaveholder and slave trader. We should never erase history, but we must also not ignore it. By keeping the name as Faneuil Hall, we would be doing the latter.
Yawkey Way, the iconic street near Fenway Park, was recently renamed to its original moniker: Jersey Street. Tom Yawkey, the previous namesake, was a former Red Sox owner, a philanthropist and a racist who presided over arguably the most segregated franchise in baseball. Tom Yawkey’s legacy certainly played a larger, more noticeable role in Red Sox history than Peter Faneuil’s legacy matters to Boston. If Yawkey’s name can be taken off a few signs, Faneuil’s certainly can, too.
Most Bostonians are likely unaware of the history behind Faneuil Hall. Most are unlikely to even know that the building is named after Peter Faneuil. So why not name the historical site after someone who deserves to be remembered by the tourists and Bostonians visiting the hall?
Bostonians may have an attachment to the name — they grew up with it and have always known this marketplace as Faneuil Hall. But this attachment only exists because Bostonians are used to the name, not because they love “Faneuil,” and certainly not because it is the most important place in Boston.
The Old North Church, the Paul Revere House and even the Prudential Center carry more significance and value to many. Faneuil Hall is not a Times Square, Hollywood Sign, Space Needle, Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.
When Mayor Walsh enters his office and looks out his windows, he has a perfect view of Faneuil Hall. Shouldn’t he look out at a building whose name represents the best of Boston?