Three Historic Churches Of Boston


The First Church of Boston would have been large enough for all its members for many years longer than they worshipped together, if they had been of one mind politically. But the differences that separated people in England in the troublous days of Charles I were repeated in Boston. For this reason some of the members of the First Church thought they would be better off by themselves, and in 1650 they organized the Second Church. Later the church became known as North Church, by reason of its location. As it grew older the name Old North was applied to it.

From its organization Old North became known as the church of spirited reformers, a real school for patriots. Increase Mather, one of its early pastors, was responsible for developing and directing the peculiar genius of its organization. At the time of the Revolution the British officers spoke of the church as ” a nest of traitors.”

Many mass meetings to protest against the acts of Great Britain were held in this church. The corporation used it for a time as a fire house and a public arsenal, and when signals were given by the direction of Paul Revere on the night of his famous ride the lanterns were hung in the steeple of Old North.

The original building of 1652 was burned in 1673. The second building was also burned, but by the British, who tore-it down and used it for firewood during the cold winter of the occupation of the city.

After the destruction of the building the members of New Brick Church, an offshoot of Old North, invited the congregation to worship with them. The invitation was accepted, and soon the congregations came together, under the name Old North. The building occupied ever since by the reunited congregation was erected in 1723. Ralph Waldo Emerson served as pastor and conducted services in this structure.

In 1669 there were many earnest people who felt that the teachings of the older church were not liberal enough for them, and they decided to have a church after their own heart. They felt that all who had been baptized might be citizens of the town; they were unwilling to be associated longer with those who insisted, as the General Synod of Massachusetts recommended, that all citizens must be church members, as formerly. So permission to organize was asked of the other churches. On their refusal appeal was taken to the Governor. The next appeal, to the selectmen of Boston, was successful.

The new church, which was called the South Meeting House, was built on the site of Governor Winthrop’s house. In 1717 the people began to call the church ” The Old South,” to distinguish it from another church which was still further south.

In 1685 Governor Andros insisted that the Old South building should be used for the Church of England service, as well as for the services of the owners of the building. For two years Churchmen and Congregationalists occupied it harmoniously at different hours on Sunday.

On a Fast Day in 1696 Judge Sewall stood up before the congregation while they heard him read his prayer for the forgiveness of God and his fellow-citizens for any possible guilt he had incurred in the witchcraft trials.

Ten years later, on the day he was born, January 17, 1706, Benjamin Franklin was baptized in the church, though not in the present building.

The building made famous by the series of town meetings before and during the Revolution was erected in 1730. When Faneuil Hall was too small to hold the crowds that clamored for entrance, Old South was pressed into use. On June 14, 1768, at one of these meetings, a petition was sent to the Governor asking that the British frigate be removed from the harbor. John Hancock was chairman of this committee. The Boston Tea Party followed a mass meeting held here.

Burgoyne’s cavalry used Old South Church as a riding school. Pigs were kept in one of the pews, while many of the furnishings were burned.

Since March, 1776, when the church was repaired, it has been little changed. Services were discontinued in 1872. After the great fire the building was used-as a post-office.

Five years later there was talk of destroying the historic structure that the valuable lot might be used for business purposes, but the efforts of patriotic women were successful in preserving the relic. Since that time it has been kept open as a museum.

While Old North and Old South were organizations expressing the will of the people, the third of the famous churches of Boston was the _expression of the will of King James II of England. During more than sixty years of the city’s history there had been no congregation of the Church of England; members of that body were required to attend service in the existing parishes. A minister and a commission sent from England to arrange for the new church were received with scant courtesy by the churches when request was made that opportunity be given to hold Church of England services in the building of one of them.

Not satisfied with the offer of a room in the Town House, Governor Andros demanded that Old South make arrangements to accommodate the new body. On the refusal of the trustees to do as the Governor wished, the sexton of the church was one day ordered to ring the bell and open the doors for the Governor and his staff, and those who might wish to attend with them. Then the trustees submitted to the inevitable.

This was in 1687. The first chapel was built for the new congregation in 1689, on land appropriated for the purpose, since no one would convey a site willingly. This building was enlarged in 1710. The present striking structure dates from 1749-53. Peter Faneuil was treasurer of the committee that raised the necessary funds. The expense was but £2,500, though granite from the new- Quincy quarry was used. The colonnade surrounding the tower was not built until 1790.

King’s Chapel, as the new church building came to be called, was known as the abode of loyalists, just as Old North and Old South were famous as the haunts of patriotic worshippers. The presence on the walls of the insignia of royalty and varied heraldic devices seriously disturbed the minds of those who felt that a house of worship should have no such furnishings.

During the Revolution the building was respected by the British as well as by the citizens of the town. When the war was over, the congregation of Old South was invited to use the chapel because their own church needed extensive repairs in consequence of the use the British had made of it.

Since 1787 King’s Chapel has been a Unitarian church. The change was made under the leadership of Rev. James Freeman.