Located at the intersection of Salem and Hull Stin in Boston, Massachusetts, is a special icon of American history built in 1723. Old North Church (a/k/a - Christ Church in the City of Boston) played an important role on the night of April 18, 1775. It was here Robert Newman, the church sexton, climbed into the steeple and held up two lanterns. The appearance of the two lanterns was very brief, but long enough to get across an important message.
Prior to that fateful night, the church’s congregation had shown loyalty to the British king, with one of the parishioners being the Royal Governor of Massachusetts and another British General Thomas Gage. The King had also gifted Old North Church with the silver it used during the services, in addition to a Bible.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, General Gage and a parishioner of the church made the decision to seize weapons belonging to the colonists in Concord and Lexington. In an effort to be successful with this task, General Gage devised a plan. He ordered his troops, under cover of darkness, to cross the Charles River and then march 15 miles to Lexington. The plan was for the British troops to arrive at sunrise, collect the town’s weapons, and quickly return to Boston before the townsfolk could mount a resistance.
Well, as has been said before - ‘the best laid plans of mice and men.’ In this case, a church mouse got the better of the man. General Gage’s housemaid learned of his plan and passed the information on to the Sons of Liberty. She told them the troops were on the move and would use the shorter route across the waters of the inner harbor.
Having already been semi-prepared for the troop movement, the Sons of Liberty began to alert their fellow countrymen of the approaching events. Though Paul Revere was not a member of Old North Church, at the age of 15 he had been a bell-ringer for the church, so he was well-acquainted with the design of the steeple, which was at that time the tallest structure in Boston. He requested three Boston patriots – Robert John Newman, Captain John Pulling and Thomas Bernard - to place two lanterns in the steeple. Newman and Pulling carried the lanterns into the steeple while Bernard stood watch for British troops outside the church. The steeple’s height would elevate the lanterns enough for the back-up riders in Charlestown to see the signal while William Dawes and Revere delivered the message to the people of Lexington.
Newman agreed to be the one to handle the lanterns on the appointed evening. The plan was, if the British were approaching on land, one lantern would be lit; if by water, two lanterns would be used. Somewhere around 10:00 p.m., he entered the church through the front door, climbed the stairs to the balcony and slipped through a doorway leading to the steeple’s 14-story flight of stairs, which he climbed in complete darkness. When he reached the top landing, he lit both lanterns and held them up for a brief timeframe. It is thought the lanterns shown for less than a minute; however, that was long enough.
The burning lanters were seen by both patriots and Redcoats. By the time Newman was back down the stairs and entering the church’s sanctuary, British troops were aggressively attempting to break through the door in an effort to investigate the reason for the lanterns. Newman barely avoided arrest by escaping through the window located to the right of the altar. In his memory, it has been named ‘Newman’s Window.’ Above the window hangs a replica of the lantern Newman lit that night. On April 18, 1975, President Gerald Ford lit this lantern to begin the celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial.
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