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Old North Church

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Title: Old North Church  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: North End, Boston, Copp's Hill, Cotton Mather, Boston, Paul Revere's Ride
Collection: 1723 Establishments in the Thirteen Colonies, 18Th-Century Episcopal Churches, 18Th-Century Establishments in Massachusetts, Boston National Historical Park, Churches in Boston, Massachusetts, Episcopal Churches in Massachusetts, Landmarks in Boston, Massachusetts, Libraries in British North America, National Historic Landmarks in Massachusetts, National Register of Historic Places in Boston, Massachusetts, North End, Boston, Properties of Religious Function on the National Register of Historic Places in Massachusetts, Religious Buildings Completed in 1723
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Old North Church

Interior of the Old North Church

Old North Church (officially, Christ Church in the City of Boston), at 193 Salem Street, in the North End of Boston, is the location from which the famous "One if by land, and two if by sea" signal is said to have been sent. This phrase is related to Paul Revere's midnight ride, of April 18, 1775, which preceded the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution.

The church is a mission of the Marquis de Lafayette reportedly remarked was the best likeness of him he had ever seen.


The Old North Church was built in 1723, and was inspired by the works of Christopher Wren, the British architect who was responsible for rebuilding London after the Great Fire. Timothy Cutler was the founding rector after serving as third rector of Yale College from 1719 to 1722.

In April 1775, Paul Revere told three Boston patriots to hang two lanterns in the steeple. These men were the church sexton Robert Newman and Captain John Pulling—the two of whom historian David Hackett Fischer suggests each carried one lantern up to the steeple—as well as Thomas Bernard, who stood watch for British troops outside the church. The lanterns were displayed to send a warning to Charlestown patriots across the Charles River about the movements of the British Army. Revere and William Dawes would later deliver the same message to Lexington themselves, but this lantern method was a fast way to inform the back-up riders in Charlestown about the movements of the British; these back-up riders planned to deliver the warning message to Lexington and Concord in case Revere and Dawes were arrested on the way.

The lanterns were hung for just under a minute to avoid catching the eyes of the British troops occupying Boston, but this was long enough for the message to be received in Charlestown. The militia waiting across the river had been told to look for the signal lanterns, and were prepared to act as soon as they saw them.

The meaning of two lanterns has been memorized by countless American schoolchildren. "One if by land, and two if by sea" is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere's Ride". One lantern was to notify Charlestown that the British Army would march over Boston Neck and the Great Bridge, and two were to notify them that the troops were taking boats across the Charles River to land near Phips farm. After receiving the signal, the Charlestown Patriots sent out a rider to Lexington, but this rider did not reach his destination and his identity has disappeared from history. He was the one who might have been captured by a British patrol.

But the warning was delivered miles away to dozens of towns, first by Revere and Dawes on horses, and then by other men on horses and men who rang church bells and town bells, beat drums, and shot off warning guns. (The current status of the lanterns is not entirely clear; one is said to be in the hands of a private collector, another broken during a tour, and yet another is on display at the Concord Museum.)

U.S. bicentennial celebration

This statue of Paul Revere outside the Old North Church commemorates his memorable ride.

President Gerald Ford visited Old North Church on April 18, 1975. In his nationally televised speech, the President said, in part:

Let us pray here in the Old North Church tonight that those who follow 100 years or 200 years from now may look back at us and say: We were a society which combined reason with liberty and hope with freedom. May it be said above all: We kept the faith, freedom flourished, liberty lived. These are the abiding principles of our past and the greatest promise of our future.

Following President Ford's remarks, two lanterns were lit by Robert Newman Ruggles and Robert Newman Sheet, descendants of Robert Newman, who, as sexton of the Old North Church in 1775, lit the two lanterns which signaled the movement of British troops. The President then lit a third lantern, which hangs in a window of the church today.

On July 11, 1976, Queen Elizabeth II visited Boston as part of celebrations honoring the United States Bicentennial, and made reference to the aforementioned celebration events in April 1975 that followed President Ford's speech. She said: "At the Old North Church last year, your President lit a third lantern dedicated to America's third century of freedom and to renewed faith in the American ideals. May its light never be dimmed."

The Queen and Prince Philip attended a Sunday morning service at the Old North Church, sitting in a pew at the right front. The Rev. Robert W. Golledge led the service and later presented the Queen with a replica of a silver chalice made by Paul Revere. The Queen was shown the iconic statue of Paul Revere by Cyrus E. Dallin near the church before departing in a motorcade to attend a function at the Old State House.

The bells

Steeple of the Old North Church

Eight change ringing bells at Old North Church were cast in Gloucester, England in 1744 and hung in 1745. One bell has the inscription: "We are the first ring of bells cast for the British Empire in North America, A.R. 1744." The bells were restored in 1894 and in 1975. They are maintained and rung regularly by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Guild of Bellringers.

Steeple damage

Sketch of the Old North Church c. 1882, showing the 1807 steeple that was destroyed in 1954.

The original steeple of the Old North Church was destroyed by the Storm of October 1804. A replacement steeple, designed by Charles Bulfinch, was toppled by Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954. The current steeple uses design elements from the original and the Bulfinch version. The church is now 175 feet (53 m) tall.[1] At its tip is the original weathervane.

The other "Old North"

Before the construction of the "Old North Church" (Christ Church, Boston), there was another church in Boston called the "Old North" (Meetinghouse). This Congregationalist meetinghouse was founded in North Square, across the street from what is now called "Paul Revere's house". This church was once pastored by Cotton Mather, the minister now known largely for his involvement in the Salem witch trials.


In 2009, an archeologist began examining the estimated 1,100 bodies buried in 37 tombs in the basement.[2] The crypt was in use between 1732 and 1853, and each tomb is sealed with a wooden or slate door, with many doors covered over by plaster as ordered by the city of Boston in the 1850s.

Founding Rector Timothy Cutler and his wife were buried under the altar together. Other notable figures buried under the church include British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill and was entombed along with many other soldiers killed in this battle. So is Captain Samuel Nicholson of the USS Constitution. A behind the scenes tour run by the church takes tourists down into the crypt, as well as up to the steeple.


Old North Church is today one of four church sites among the 16 stops on the Freedom Trail.

See also


  1. ^

Further reading

  • Asa Eaton. Historical account of Christ church, Boston: A discourse in said church, on Sunday, December 28, 1823. Boston: Printed by J.W. Ingraham, 1824. Google books
  • Henry Burroughs. A historical account of Christ Church, Boston: an address, delivered on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the church, December 29, 1873. Boston: A. Williams & Co., 1874. Google books
  • Christ Church, Salem Street, Boston, 1723. Boston: 1912. Google books
  • Percival Merritt. The parochial library of the eighteenth century in Christ Church, Boston. Boston: Merrymount Press, 1917

External links

  • Old North Church
  • Mayo family history
  • Boston National Historical Park Official Website
  • Listing and photographs at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  • Old North Church (Christ Church) at Find a Grave
  • C-SPAN American History TV Tour of Old North Church - Part 1
  • C-SPAN American History TV Tour of Old North Church - Part 2
Preceded by
Old State House, Boston
Tallest Building in Boston
53 m
Succeeded by
Park Street Church
Preceded by
Paul Revere House
Locations along Boston's Freedom Trail
Old North Church
Succeeded by
Copp's Hill
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