“Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the North Church tower as a signal light…” The Old North Church might be best memorialized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Paul Revere’s Ride, but the house of worship had paid an integral role in Boston history for decades before it become a beacon of the American Revolution.
The Episcopal church sits in today’s Italian North End Neighborhood as one of the stops on Boston’s famed Freedom Trail. Built in 1723, itd design takes inspiration from the works of British architect Christopher Wren, who’d rebuilt dozens of buildings—including 52 churches—after the Great Fire of London. First known as Christ Church, the North Church may have simply continued to stand as a house of worship if it weren’t for the events of April 18, 1775. On that legendary evening, Sons of Liberty member Paul Revere asked his friends, Robert Newman, the sexton of the church, and vestryman Captain John Pulling Jr., to hang a signal for him in the belfry window for just 60 seconds: one lantern if the British army snuck through Boston by land, two if they came across the Charles River to Cambridge. Newman and Pulling’s task was a dangerous one as most of the church congregation remained loyal to the British king. The lanterns acted as warnings to other patriots in case Revere was prevented from leaving town. Revere was able to get to Charlestown, narrowly escaping an enemy warship in the harbor, and borrowed a horse to ride through nearby towns to warn others the Red Coats were coming to seize ammunitions hidden in Concord. Thanks to Revere’s actions and those of the church men and 30 other riders that night, the citizens of Lexington were armed and ready when 700 British troops arrived the next morning.
Visitors to the Old North Church today can hear the gentle tones of the church’s 8 historic bells—dating to 1745, and can also explore—with a guide—the crypt, resting place for more than a thousand colonial era Bostonians.
The Old North Church, which stands just around the corner from the house Revere lived in at the time of the ride, continues today as a religious establishment and reminder of the power of a group of like minded individuals to advocate for their beliefs.