The Grasshopper Market

Circling the Square

Old Peter Faneuil, warming his toes on the hearth one evening in 1740, decided things in Boston had gone far enough. Not the British, you understand, or the weather, but the markets. Peter, a wealthy merchant, was tired of traipsing all over town doing the family shopping; he wanted a public exchange center, an open market where he could get in out of the rain and cross off his whole list, from snuff to hops, at one time.

So Peter Faneuil told the town of Boston he would build "a noble and complete structure or edifice to be improved for a market" at his own expense, and would the town accept it? With Faneuil putting up the cash, how could Boston refuse? It took two years to build the structure--which not only had market facilities, but a large meeting hall on the second floor--and when it was finished, the town voted "that in testimony of the town's gratitude to the said Peter Faneuil, Esq., . . . the hall over the market place be named Faneuil Hall . . ."

Fan'l Hall, as the good Yankees call it, burned in 1761. Peter Faneuil couldn't help rebuild it--he had been dead for 18 years--so the town raised money with a lottery. "Faneuil Hall Lottery Tickets" sold slowly, but eventually enough was raised to rebuild the market.

In 1775 Faneuil Hall was used by the British as a storehouse and theater. During one performance an official came out on the stage and announced that the "Yankees are attacking Bunker Hill." The audience thought it was part of the show and cheered lustily, but sobered considerably when they found it wasn't.

Today Faneuil Hall is still a market--on Saturday evenings Dock Square is a frenzy of buying and selling, pushcarts laden with produce, chatter in half a dozen tongues. And looking down from its perch high above the Tower squats the huge grasshopper weather-vane. Hammered from sheet copper in 1742 by Deacon Shem Drowne, this grasshopper has sat atop Faneuil Hall for 200 years. In the earthquake of 1775 it fell to the street and suffered a broken leg, but was run up again as fast as it could be repaired.


Samuel Cooper once said, "Any man who claims to be a Bostonian and can't tell what the Faneuil Hall weather-vane is, must be an impostor." Faneuil Hall later became known as "the grasshopper market," but no one was quite sure why Shem Drowne had chosen that particular design. The story goes, however, that one day in his youth Shem struck up a conversation with a boy who was chasing a grasshopper. The boy took him home for dinner, and later Shem was adopted by the boy's parents. Years later, remembering the grasshopper that had brought about his adoption, He immortalized that insect in the weather-vane which still crowns Faneuil Hall and Dock Square.