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Old North Church
The Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts, is a National Landmark and a building of very important American history. Officially named Christ Church, its address in Boston’s North End is 193 Salem Street. It was constructed in 1723 as a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Currently the oldest active church in the entire city, the building’s architecture was inspired by building designs from British architect Christopher Wren. Wren was the main individual responsible for the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire.
The church first gained important significance when Paul Revere set out to warn the Charleston Patriots that the British Army was fast approaching. As in the famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Longfellow, Revere had instructed three elders (also Boston Patriots) of the church to hang warning lanterns from the steeple. The Charleston Patriots, across the Charles River, could keep watch for the number of lanterns in the church steeple: one lantern meant that the British were coming by land, two meant they were coming by sea. The men who took this command from Paul Revere and hung the lantern were Captain John Pulling and church sexton Robert Newman, while the third man, Thomas Bernard, kept watch outside the church for British troops who might stop the sending of the signal. The meaning of one lantern, over land, would communicate to the Charleston Patriots that the troops would march over the Great Bridge. The meaning of two would denote that the British would arrive by boats taken across the Charles River.
After this command to the three men, Revere set out on his famous Midnight Ride for Charleston to warn them in person, but the steeple signal allowed them to receive word immediately and saved countless lives from the hands of the British Army. It is widely believed that the man that Charleston sent out to warn those in Lexington was captured by the British, since there is no record of his name in history books and because Lexington did not receive their warning in time. However, may towns in between Boston and Charleston were warned by Revere and his riding companion William Dawes. Other men
in each town further spread the news, mostly by beating drums, firing warning shots into the air with their guns, and ringing church bells. A common historical misconception is that Paul Revere never did yell, “The British Are Coming!,” as many stories say. The reason for this is that the new Americans still directly thought of themselves as British by birth, and American by country. Such a yell would have been an insult. This is much in the same way that present-day Americans may call themselves, “Californians” or “Texans” by origination, but still American by birth. The correct shout was, “The Regulars Are Coming!,” since people in the colonies were the rebels of their time.
The bell towers in the steeple were cast in 1744 in Gloucester, England. On the bells read the inscription, “We are the first ring of bells cast for the British Empire in North America, A.R., 1744.” The bells have been restored twice, and to this day they are still rung on a regular basis by the Guild of Bellringers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1804, the steeple that the lanterns were hung from was destroyed by a great storm (the bells survived), and then again by Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954 (the bells survived, yet again). The current steeple was rebuilt in the original style, and the same weather vane that topped it in Paul Revere’s day is still there, 175 feet above Boston.
The Old North Church has remained a site of historical significance, with little more happening. The next major event for the building occurred in 1975 when President Gerald Ford visited, and gave a speech, a portion of which read: “Let us pray here in the Old North Church tonight that those who follow 100 years or 200 years from now may look back at us and say: We were a society which combined reason with liberty and hope with freedom. May it be said above all: We kept the faith, freedom flourished, liberty lived. These are the abiding principles of our past and the greatest promise of our future.” Shortly thereafter, two descendants of church sexton Robert Newman, Robert Newman Ruggles and Robert Newman Sheet, ascended the steeple and hung two lanterns. President Ford lit a third, which still remains in a church window.
In the first public recognition by the British government of the events that happened there, Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1976, and positively affirmed President Ford’s comments a year earlier. She also blessed America and the ideals it stands for. Today, Christ Church in the City of Boston is open for daily tours, in addition to regular church services.
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