The Old North Church
WELCOME to The Old North Church
Old North Church (officially Christ Church), at 193 Salem Street, in
the North End of Boston, Massachusetts, 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 Episcopal Diocese
of Massachusetts. The Old North Church is the oldest active church
building in Boston and is a National Historic Landmark. Inside the
church is a bust of George Washington, which 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, a British architect who was
responsible for rebuilding London after the Great Fire.
On April 18, 1775, probably a little after 10
P.M., the 191 ft steeple of the Church served a military purpose.
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 David Hackett Fischer
suggests each carried one lantern up to the steeple, and 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
faster, and it was a good back-up plan for communication in case they
The signal only lasted for a few brief moments
to avoid catching the eyes of the British troops occupying Boston, but
this was long enough for the message to be received in Charlestown.
They had kept someone looking at the steeple all night.
The meaning of two lanterns has been memorized
by countless American schoolchildren for generations.
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 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.
Revere didn't really say "The British are
coming!" because most of the people in Massachusetts still
thought of themselves as British. But he did say "The Regulars
are coming out!" (or something similar) to almost every house
along the way to Lexington after he felt safe from that British
(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
Eight change ringing bells at Old North Church
were cast in Gloucester 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.
The original steeple of the Old North Church was
destroyed by the Storm of October 1804. A replacement steeple,
designed by the architect of Faneuil Hall, Charles Bulfinch, was
toppled by Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954. The current steeple
that was rebuilt after Hurricane Carol uses design elements from the
original and the Bulfinch version. The church is now 175 feet tall. 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.
John Mayo was installed as the first minister in
1655 and continued until 1673, when, because of old age, he was
replaced by Increase Mather, his close associate. This church was
dismantled and burned for firewood by British soldiers during the
occupation of 1775.
The fact that there have been two churches in
Boston called Old North leads to considerable confusion about
which physical church location is mentioned in historical and modern
documents. There are two key differences:
- The Old North Meetinghouse's religious
affiliation, Congregationalism, derived from Puritanism, was the
dominant religion of the American Colonists in Boston at the time
of the Revolution. Most of the early Patriots who rebelled against
the Crown were likely to be Congregationalists. This affiliation,
as well as the wooden construction of the meeting house, made it
possible for British Soldiers to dismantle it for firewood.
- The Old North Church (Christ Church, Boston),
of Paul Revere fame, on Salem Street, has always been a part of
the Anglican or Episcopal Church since its establishment in 1723.
Because the Anglican Church was the official church of the British
Crown and the Old North is made of brick, British soldiers
would not have been likely or able to burn down the church for
The two Old North have always been separate
entities with different religious affiliations, locations, and
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