Date of Award

Fall 2003

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eliga H Gould


Built in the early 1740s as a combination marketplace and town hall, Boston's Faneuil Hall became famous for its role in the American Revolution, earning it the affectionate nickname "The Cradle of Liberty." This dissertation examines the building as an expression of Boston's evolving political culture and community identity in the eighteenth century. At the time of Faneuil Hall's construction, the seaport was struggling to reconcile its proud Puritan heritage with the demands of an imperial existence as part of the British Empire, a process that provoked controversy. Among the most explosive issues was that of a fixed and regulated marketplace, an innovation which advocates insisted would relieve Boston's economic distress and restore virtue to the community. But critics charged that it ran contrary both to the customs of their ancestors and the interests of ordinary inhabitants. After the dispute resulted in rioting, the cosmopolitan merchant Peter Faneuil proposed a conciliatory, yet still controversial, plan for a building that offered progress while yielding to tradition.

Named in honor of its donor, Faneuil Hall helped negotiate relations both among locals and between Boston and the larger British Empire after its completion in 1742. The provincial elite attended various public entertainments in the main hall that conveyed their status within the community, and the elegant brick building became an integral part of civil society as the home of the local town meeting and a venue for state celebrations. When the Revolutionary crisis began in the mid-1760s, Faneuil Hall meetings served as a means for the community to assert a loyal opposition and engage in civil disobedience that counteracted the radicalism of street protests.

The character of Faneuil Hall assemblies changed as the imperial crisis deepened, however, blurring the lines between civil and radical resistance to the point where critics considered these meetings the source of sedition in Boston. Royal retribution for the Tea Party in 1773 transformed Boston into a martyr for the sacred cause of liberty and made Faneuil Hall the altar for its sacrifice, after which the building became part of a new national mythology that betrayed its Bostonian origins.