Old North Church – Boston, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

Old North Church

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


The Old North Church is a national historic landmark. Built 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 (Anglicans were sent to Boston by King George to control the colonies) from 1723 until 1912 when the congregation opened up membership to the public. 

On April 18th, 1775, the city of Boston was under military occupation of over 4500 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 been sending troops out into the Massachusetts countryside to search for, and capture arms and ammunitions because stockpile by the colonists. One particularly large stockpile was being 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 hired their two fastest riders, William Dawes and Paul Revere and ordered them to get to Lexington (Next to Concord)by separate routes to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams about General Gage’s plans. Since the city was under siege and colonists were under a strict curfew of 10pm, a backup plan was to be devised just incase neither of the two men were able to sneak out. Paul Revere enlisted the help of over 30 additional trusted patriots and asked them to wait across the Charles River in Charlestown and watch the steeple of The Old North Church every night until they saw signal lanterns shining from it, the number of which indicating which route the British would take. One signal lantern meant that the British were leaving by land, and two meant they’d take a *water route, leaving their base in the Boston Common, rowing their boats across the Charles River into Cambridge and from there marching out to Lexington and Concord. Paul Revere arranged to meet a friend* at The Old North Church to send the signal lanterns out to the men across the river. When the men received the signals, they immediate 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 arms 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.  

*Massachusetts Bay, was a Puritan colony, and although also members of the Church of England, they saw things much differently and wished (unlike Anglicans) to purge the church of any and all catholic associations (which they still kept from the church’s split with the Roman Catholic church in 1570)

 *Primary Sources strongly suggest that the friend Paul Revere met was the 23 year old church sexton, Robert Newman. Paul Revere got over to Charlestown 

*According to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem which immortalizes this night in the minds of American’s, it is “Two if by sea” however, the British had no reason to cross the sea as they were already occupying the city of Boston - “Sea” is an easier word to rhyme with and Longfellow chose to manipulate the historical events in favor of a better sounding poem. The British actually crossed the Charles River into Cambridge and from there marched to concord) 

Update: Starting May 1, 2018, Old North Church & Historic Site will be implementing an admission fee and will no longer be donation-based. Further information is available here.

Know Before You Go

It is still an active church so please be respectful. Educators are staffed and are amazing. They will tell you anything and everything you want to know. Ask them lots of questions! There is a behind-the-scenes tour that visits the ancient crypt beneath the church as well as the bell-ringing chamber in the tower. No steeple access as it is a safety hazard. Public Restrooms.

The new fee will be: Adults $8, Students/Seniors/Military $6, and Children 6-18 $4. Boston residents, EBT cardholders, children under 5 years old, the Old North Church congregation, and Historic Site members are free.

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