Faneuil Hall Was Built with Slave Money

It’s a little known fact that Faneuil Hall, which has been dubbed the “Cradle of Liberty” since the American Revolution, was financed with money from Peter Faneuil’s slave trading business.

Peter Faneuil was a wealthy slave trader and Boston merchant who, in 1738, inherited a large fortune from his uncle Andrew Faneuil, also a local slave trader who owned a warehouse on Boston’s Merchant Row where he sold his slaves.

As slave traders, Peter and Andrew Faneuil were prominent in the Triangle Trade. This was a shipping route where merchants shipped fish and lumber from New England to Africa and then shipped slaves from Africa to the West Indies. After selling the slaves in the West Indies, the merchants would then purchase molasses, sugar cane and rum from the local sugar plantations to bring back to the American colonies.

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Engraving of Faneuil Hall, circa 1789

In July of 1740, Peter Faneuil offered to build a public marketplace for the city of Boston using his own money he and his family made off of this triangle trade. At the time, there was no marketplace for peddlers to sell their goods and they often clogged up the lanes and roads with their pushcarts.

After commissioning local artist John Symbert to draw up plans for the building, Faneuil then offered the proposed marketplace as a gift to the city of Boston. Over 700 Boston town meeting members debated whether to accept the gift before finally voting in favor it.

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Modern day Faneuil Hall and its weather vane

Construction on Faneuil hall began in 1740 and took nearly two years to complete. The plan for the building included an open ground floor for a meat and produce market and a large assembly room on the second floor. The steeple of the building was topped with a 38 pound gold-gilded grasshopper weather vane that was based on a similar grasshopper weather vane on top of the London Royal Exchange.

Peter Faneuil died of dropsy just six months after the building was completed in 1742 and the city decided to name the building “Faneuil Hall” in his honor.

In 1761, a fire gutted the interior of the building but it was quickly rebuilt. The building was enlarged in 1806 by Boston architect Charles Bullfinch, who doubled its width and added a third floor.

During the American Revolution, the large second-floor assembly room became a hotspot for patriotic speeches and meetings, leading patriot James Otis to dub it the “Cradle of Liberty.”

Sources:

“The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers”; Brion McClanahan, Brion T. McClanahan; 2009

“History of the Huguenot Emigration to America”, Volume 2; Charles Washington Baird; 1885

“Boston Miscellany: An Essential History of the Hub”; William P. Marchione; 2008