Old North Church – Boston, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

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Old North Church

The site of Paul Revere's historic two lantern warning. 


The Old North Church is a national historic landmark. Constructed in 1723, it is the oldest standing church building in Boston. Officially known as Christ Church in the City of Boston, it’s an active Episcopal Church.

High-Walled Box Pews were privately sold and ornately decorated by their wealthy owners from 1723 until 1912. 

On April 18th, 1775, the city of Boston was under the military occupation of over 4,500 British troops under the direction of General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colonists were unhappy with General Gage because he had recently sent troops into the Massachusetts countryside to search for, and capture, arms and ammunitions stockpiled by colonists One particularly large stockpile was hidden 20 miles away in Concord. Gage decided to send 700 troops out to capture it.

The city of Boston was only about 780 acres at the time so word traveled fast, and soon enough the Son’s of Liberty caught on and took action. They identified their two fastest riders, William Dawes and Paul Revere, and ordered them to get to Lexington by separate routes to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams.

Since the city was under siege and colonists were under a strict curfew of 10:00 pm, a backup plan was devised just in case neither of the two men were able to sneak out. Revere enlisted the help of over 30 additional trusted patriots and asked them to wait across the Charles River in Charlestown to watch the steeple of The Old North Church every night. They did this until they saw signal lanterns shining from it, the number of which indicated which route the British would take.

One signal lantern meant that the British were leaving by land, two meant they’d take a water route, leaving their base in the Boston Common. Revere arranged for his contacts at the Old North Church to send the signal lanterns out to the men across the river. When the men received the signals, they immediately took off for Lexington and Concord in separate directions alerting friends and family along the way.

By the time the British troops arrived in Lexington and Concord, the message had spread far and wide. The colonists were armed and ready to ambush them igniting the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The Battles of Lexington and Concord, and thus the American Revolutionary War. 

Know Before You Go

A self-guided tour of the church is $5, with Old North’s knowledgeable educators on hand to answer questions. Children five and under are free. Free tickets are available to EBT cardholders. 

Visitors to Old North can walk through box pews, admire the 17th-century angels flanking the church’s 1759 organ, and see a bust of George Washington that the Marquis de Lafayette praised for its accuracy. Guests can also take a guided tour of the church’s crypt, where over 1,100 bodies are interred, for an additional $5. For more information, visit www.oldnorth.com


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