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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

The dirty money that built Fanueil Hall

Photo: Annie Zhou
Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Boston is home to lauded sports teams, revered educational institutions, and arguably, even the American Revolution. The popular Boston tourist attraction Faneuil Hall is known as one of the first places where revolutionists protested the Stamp Act. However, most people don’t know that Faneuil Hall’s namesake, Peter Faneuil, paid for his eponymous Hall with money from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

Peter Faneuil, who was born in 1700 and died in 1742, rose in power and wealth during his time in Boston when he decided to trade within the Transatlantic Trade market, where he bought and sold sugar, molasses, and rum. All of these products were harvested off the coast of West Africa using slave labor and then purchased from plantation owners. It’s with this money that Faneuil built his hall—off the backs of the enslaved. 

A tourist city like Boston must openly present these facts, because being made aware of our history allows us to move forward and make better choices for the future: Acknowledgement is the first step.

The Transatlantic Slave trade is responsible for over 10 million Africans being shipped like cargo from their home countries to the Americas. Captives suffered life-threatening and inhumane conditions, as well as overwhelming grief during the journey. The effects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade continue to reverberate in the lives of Black Americans today. Faneuil had no problem profiting off of this, and there is also evidence of him engaging in the commerce of slavery. In 1742, after his death, a letter was discovered disclosing information regarding the purchase Fanueil made in 1738. 

“With the net proceeds of the same purchase for me, for the use of my house, as likely a strait negro lad as possibly you can, about the age from twelve to fifteen years,” said Faneuil  (Faneuil) 

Faneuil knowingly contributed to a system built on slavery and participated in the sale of enslaved people in order to build his fortune. He then used that money to donate the Faneuil Hall marketplace to the City of Boston, which he remains the namesake of.

Today Faneuil Hall is one of Boston’s most famous tourist spots. On just about any nice day, you can go and shop for a classic Boston hoodie or buy food from the many different restaurants there. It will be crowded, and it is found quite often that people will be performing. Amongst all the laughter and enjoyment, people forget or simply don’t acknowledge that the money that went into building the place they love so much came solely from the profit made off of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

Not only does this fact go unknown by so many people, but Boston seems intent on keeping it that way. Turning a place such as Faneuil Hall into a tourist attraction by adding a shopping mall right behind it without disclosing its true history shows their intention to deceive the public about what happened. They want people to leave with a shirt that says, “Wicked Awesome,” completely unaware that, that place was only there because of Peter Faneuil’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As for the small number of people who are aware of this dark history, they continue to protest for change.

In fact, over the past couple of years, multiple groups have protested that there should be a name change for Faneuil Hall. Clergy members of local churches have boycotted Faneuil Hall, and some even chained themselves to the doors last Oct. They continue to fight for the name change through petitions as well, receiving over 3,000 signatures in a petition this past May according to the Boston Globe.

In 2021, the MassINC polling group conducted a survey and found that 51% of people want to see Faneuil Hall renamed. 87% of people want to see more Black-owned businesses in Faneuil Hall, and 72% of people want to see a statue of Frederick Douglass put up. 

History is important, and it must be understood in order to hold those responsible for their pasts and to not make the same mistakes in the future. Making the public aware of places such as Faneuil Hall, and its origins, will make the general public of Boston appreciate how far we have come since those times—and more importantly, how much further we have to go. 

When people come to Boston they think of the Duck Boats, the Boston Common, and Quincy Market behind Faneuil Hall—not slavery. People should remember both; by remembering where we came from, we can honestly reflect on where we are as a society, and attempt to move forward together. 

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