copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             

Click Here to return to
Rambles Around Boston
Content Page

Click here to go to 
previous chapter




     Although both buildings are eighteenth-century structures, we presented the Old South Meeting-house and King’s Chapel to our Englishman as monuments, respectively, of the Colony and of the Province. In this classification the Old South was assumed to stand for Puritan Boston, King’s Chapel for the Boston of the régime of the royal governors. Architecturally, also, they might be taken as representing the two epochs. The Old South preserves the matured type of the Puritan meeting-house; the Chapel is of the old Church of England pattern, introduced with the establishment of the Province. The meeting-house, dating from 1729, is the second South Church (the meeting-house of the Third Church of Boston), the first having been erected in 1670; the chapel, dating from 1749—1754, is the successor of that first King’s Chapel, erected in 1688, for the site of which Andros assigned a corner of the old First Burying-ground, when no Puritan landholder would agree to sell a lot for such a purpose.

     The Old South we were gratified to show off to our guest with the exterior fully restored to its original aspect, thus adding much to its picturesqueness as well as to its historical worth. Most satisfying was the restored Wren-like spire, which was quite likely modeled, though not directly copied, from the first one, of similar style, on Christ Church, erected some five years before, and which has been called more imposing than that. Indeed it has been pronounced by that master-critic, Richard Grant White, the finest of its kind, not only in this country but in the world unequaled in grace and lightness by any spire of Sir Christopher’s that he had seen. A peculiar interest attaches to it, as he says, because it is not an imitation of anything but is of home growth, the conception of a Yankee architect —the development of the steeple-belfry of the New England meeting-house.

     The historic structure permanently fixed, like the Old State House, and maintained solely as a memorial, is now, as we had remarked, counted one  of the valuable assets of the city by all classes of Bostonians. Yet its “saving”, after its abandonment for church uses, was a task more difficult of accomplishment than that of rescuing the Old State House from the destroyer, when it was no longer useful: for in this case the property had to be purchased outright by citizens for reservation, while in that, as we have seen, the city at first and finally the city in conjunction with the state assumed the financial burden. Though more arduous, however, it was as valiant a fight. And it was a more spectacular one, in that it was a woman’s fight. It was carried through by a committee of twenty-five Boston matrons and maids under the direction of a small staff of competent men of affairs, in the centennial year of 1876. The campaign was begun in earnest, after some preliminary skirmishing, when the building had been auctioned off as junk for thirteen hundred and fifty dollars and its demolition was imminent; and it ended in victory with the contribution of one Boston woman, much the largest single subscription, completing the purchase fund at a critical moment when the option was about to expire. Before the restoration of the exterior was undertaken, the interior was refashioned as far as possible to its appearance in the Revolutionary period, when it was the scene of those great, sometimes tumultuous, Town meetings, for the accommodation of which Faneuil Hall was too small, that “kindled the flame which fired the Revolution”; and that were of such fame in England as to inspire Burke, in imaging an unusual tumult in Parliament, to the declaration that it was “as hot as Faneuil Hall or the Old South Church in Boston.” Here we find a popular museum of Revolutionary, Provincial, and Colonial relics, old furniture, and portraits of Boston worthies. The auditorium is now used for the institution known as the “Old South Lectures to Young People” founded by Mrs. Mary Hemenway, the matron who subscribed the largest amount to the preservation fund.

     The Old South has further interest, Antiquary recalled, as marking the site of the last dwelling-place of Governor Winthrop. It stands on what was the “Governor’s Green”, the Winthrop lot, so picturesquely called, extending along the “High Waye” between “Spring-gate” (Spring Lane) and Milk Street, upon which was placed the governor’s second mansion-house, the house of choice memories from its association with Winthrop’s closing years — the last five or six of his eventful life. The meeting-house occupies the garden end of the Green, while the mansion-house stood toward the north end facing the garden. The mansion had been erected in 1643, when Winthrop had disposed of his first one, that on our State Street, which he had occupied through the first twelve years of his Boston life. Winthrop died, after a month’s slow illness developing from a hard Boston spring cold, on April 5 (March 26, 1648, 0. S.), 1649, in his sixty-third year and the Town’s nineteenth. As his peaceful end approached, “the whole church fasted as well as prayed for him.” The funeral solemnity was appointed for a week and a day from his death, in order to give Governor John, Jr., of Connecticut, time for the then long journey from Hartford to Boston. Some years after the governor’s death, the Green and the mansion came into the ownership of Parson John Norton of the First Church, one of the great ministers of his day, and of more liberal mind than some of his brethren; and upon his death the property passed to his widow.

     The Third Church organized in 1669 was formed by seceders from the First Church, who split with that church chiefly on the burning issue of the baptismal, or “Half-Way”, Covenant which they espoused, and Madam Norton, being one of the seceders, gave the garden plot in trust for the place of the new meeting-house. A few years later the remainder of the Green was conveyed to the new society; then the mansion-house became the parsonage and so remained for almost a century. The mansion survived as an honored landmark through to the Revolution, when the British soldiery pulled it down for use as firewood during the winter of the Siege, along with a row of butternuts that shaded the venerable rooftree, while this present meeting-house was being utilized for the exercise of the cavalry horses.

     The first meeting-house, the erection of 1670, has been described as a little house of cedar, though “spacious and fair” to Puritan eyes, with a steeple, and porches on the front and two sides. In this meeting-house, on a July Sunday afternoon of 1677, occurred in sermon time that startling visitation of a Quakeress — Margaret Brewster — arrayed in the Biblical “sackcloth and ashes”, her face blackened and her feet bare, — or as Sewall, the Boston Pepys, described: “covered with a Canvas Frock, having her hair dishevelled and Loose, and powdered with Ashes resembling a flaxen or white Periwigg, her face as black as Ink”, — led by two other Quakers and followed by two more. After delivering to the amazed congregation a solemn warning of the coming of the black pox upon the Town in punishment for its persecution of the sect, she slipped out as quietly as she had entered. No wonder the performance occasioned, as Sewall records, “a great and very amazing Uproar.” But the penalty was speedy, for the daring zealot was straight-way “whipt at the cart’s tail up and down the Town with thirty lashes.” This was the meeting-house, the orthodox doors of which Andros in 1686 commanded opened a part of each Sunday to the pioneer Episcopal church that Randolph had set up in the Town House. It was here that the burial service over Lady Andros, the governor’s American wife, who died less than three months after their coming to Boston, was given according to the Episcopal form, in the night time, when the sombre Puritan interior was weirdly illuminated with candles and flaming torches, and torch bearers lighted the procession, with the “hearse drawn by six horses”, to the tomb in the First Burying-ground. And this was the meeting-house in which on January 17 (sixth, 0. S.), 1706, Benjamin Franklin, born that same day, in a little house across the way on Milk Street (marked by the building Number 17) was baptized. This first South took on the name of Old South in 1717, not because of its age, but to distinguish it from the New South that year erected in Summer Street, where was Church Green. The first house was taken down to make way for this one, which occupies its exact site. The modern business block — the Old South Building — towering around the meeting-house marks the remainder of the Governor’s Green.

     Now we turned to neighboring landmarks. First we gave a passing glance to the little old building on the north corner of School Street nearly opposite the meeting-house. This is yet, it was remarked, a valued landmark, but a landmark gone to seed. It dates from 1712, and is supposed to have been the first of the brick houses erected in the rebuilding of a better Corn-hill (as this part of Washington Street, our guest was reminded, then was) after that “great fire” of 1711, which swept through this quarter and destroyed the First Church meeting-house and the Town House. It is interesting as a type of the building of that day, battered though it is by time and repeated makings-over for business. In its mature years it was long cherished as the “Old Corner Bookstore”, rich in memories of the golden age of Boston letters, but now, alas! sadly fallen to grosser trades. It marks, or nearly marks, the site of a house of larger historical import. This was the Hutchinson homestead, the dwelling of Mistress Ann Hutchinson, that superior Boston matron “of a ready wit and bold spirit,” about whom waged the fierce “Antinomian Controversy” of 1637-1638, forerunner of the warfare against the Anabaptists and the Quakers, which nearly split the Colony. The outcome was Mistress Ann’s conviction for “traducing the ministers and their ministry in the country” by advocating the doctrine of the “covenant of faith” as above that of the “covenant of works” which the ministers preached; her banishment together with high colonial leaders; and the disfranchisement or disarming of nearly a hundred more of her adherents or sympathizers. She was the first introducer of the woman question in America, with the institution of meetings of Boston women to discuss the Sunday sermons after the manner of the men members of the Boston church. These meetings were held in the parlor of her house, and at first weekly. Soon they came twice a week and were attended by nearly a hundred of the principal women, numbers coming from the neighboring towns. One of the circle was the sweet-natured Mary Dyar, who was of the Quakers executed in Boston twenty years later. The discussions under the earnest and remarkably able leadership of Mistress Ann became so frank and so critical that the orthodox party was scandalized. And when her doctrine of the justification of faith without works had grown in popularity, or when all of the Boston church except five members proved to be sympathizers with her, their consternation was great. The story of the tragic end of Mistress Hutchinson — killed with all her family except a daughter, in a general massacre of Dutch and English by the Indians in 1643, on Long Island, where she had finally established her home — is an often told tale.

     On the path back of the Governor’s Green, which became Pudding Lane, dwelt another colonial matron who also came under the ban, but for a far different cause than Mistress Hutchinson, and who suffered tragically. She was Mrs. Ann Hibbins, gentlewoman, sister of Governor Bellingham and wife of William Hibbins, a merchant, and an important man in early Town and Colony affairs, sometime member of the Court of Assistants, later the Colony’s agent to England. She was a widow when trouble came upon her. She had a clever but sharp tongue, and a high temper; and maybe she was a scold, for it is related that she was brought under church censure for quarreling with her neighbors. At length she was accused of being a “witch.” She was tried by a jury and condemned. The verdict, however, was set aside, and her case was taken to the General Court. Before that august body she defended herself ably. But the popular clamor was more than the court could withstand, and she was found guilty. John Endicott, then governor, pronounced the sentence of death upon her. So on a day in June, in the year 1656, this spirited woman, “only for having more wit than her neighbors”, as honest Parson Norton afterward said, was hanged on Boston Common, the second and last of the victims of the witchcraft delusion in Boston. We have the site of her home on Devonshire Street opposite the post-office, between Milk Street and Spring Lane.

     Again on Washington Street, the site of the first tavern, Cole’s “Ordinary”, as the earlier inns were called, was identified. The ordinary opened its inviting door nearly opposite the head of Water Street. For a decade or so, Cole’s was the only tavern in town; and its excellence was attested by young Lord Ley, the nineteen-year-old son of Marlborough, visiting Boston and his friend Harry Vane in the summer of 1637, when, declining Winthrop’s invitation to become the guest of the governor’s mansion, he declared that the tavern was “so well governed” that he could be as private there as elsewhere. Vane, during his brief reign as governor, utilized the inn for official entertainments. Some twenty years after the opening of Cole’s, Robert Turner’s “Blue Anchor”, more famous in the Town’s early history, put out its hospitable sign on the opposite side of the way, about where now we see the Globe newspaper office. A savory dish for which the Blue Anchor became renowned gave its first name of “Pudding” to the lane — Devonshire Street — upon which the tavern backed. During Landlord Turner’s day, the Blue Anchor came to be the favorite place of lodging and refreshment with out-of-town members of the General Court, country clergy when summoned into synod, and juries. At a later day, under Landlord Monck, its entertainment was commended by traveled visitors as something quite after the solid old London sort. Dunton, the gossiping London bookseller, here in 1685, found “no house in all the Town more noted, or where a man might meet with better accommodations”; while the landlord was “a brisk and jolly” fellow whose “conversation was coveted by all his guests”, animated as it was with a “certain vivacity and cheerfulness which cleared away all melancholy as the sun does clouds, so that it was almost impossible not to be merry in his company.” Verily a boniface of the good old London pattern, albeit a Puritan.

In the old "Bell-in-Hand" Tavern

     From Washington Street nearly opposite the Blue Anchor site, we plunged into the blind alley of Williams Court, one of the few surviving colonial passages, from a thoroughfare under an arched way through buildings making a short cut to a parallel street, and here came upon the remnant of a tavern set up a century after Landlord Monck’s day, in imitation of the English alehouse. This is the “Bell-in-Hand” of fragrant memory, dating back to 1795, and still sporting alluringly the original sign, a hand swinging a bell, though its career as an inn closed years ago, and it has been retained as what in England is classed as a pothouse solely by careful cultivation of the old London aspect. It was originally the establishment of one Wilson, who had long occupied the useful office of town crier, and who cleverly chose for his tavern sign the symbol of his calling.

     At King’s Chapel, particularly in the interior, our Englishman remarked a striking resemblance to old London churches. This was natural, for its architect frankly modeled it largely after the prevailing London type of his time. He was Peter Harrison, a London architect, who had come over with Smibert and others in Dean Berkeley’s train, and was established first with Berkeley at Newport, Rhode Island. He afterward designed the Redwood Library, erected in 1750, and other provincial buildings in Newport. His design for the Chapel included a spire above the tower, but this had to be cut out because of shortness of funds. The church was slowly built for the same reason. While the corner-stone was laid in August, 1749, as the legend above the portal states, the edifice was not completed and ready for regular services till August, 1754. It was built so as to enclose the old structure, and services were held in that one till the spring of 1753, when it had fallen so out of repair that it had to be abandoned. The parishioners accepted temporarily the hospitality of Trinity, the newest of the three Episcopal churches in the Town at that time.

     The old structure was the Chapel of 1688, we explained, but doubled in size by an enlargement made in 1710, and, as pictured in one of the earliest views of Boston, with a tower, added at that time, surmounted by a tall staff topped with a gilt crown, symbolizing the Chapel’s use as the official church, and above this staff a weather-cock. With the enlargement of 1710, the interior was also embellished. There was the grand governor’s pew raised on a dais above the others and approached by steps, hung with crimson curtains, and surmounted by the royal crown; while near by was another handsome pew reserved for the officers of the English army and navy. On the walls were displayed the escutcheons of the king and of the royal governor. The Chapel of 1688 was a plain house of wood, and its cost was met from subscriptions by Andros and other crown officers, and by Church of England folk throughout the Colony. With Andros’s overthrow in 1689, it was temporarily closed, while Radcliffe, the rector, and the leading parishioners were clapped into jail — the old prison on Prison Lane — and retained there for nine months, when they were sent to England by royal command. The stone for the present Chapel came from the granite fields of Quincy, then Braintree, and was taken from the surface, there then being no quarries. The pillared portico was not completed till after the Revolution, in 1789.

King's Chapel

     The last Loyalist service in the Chapel before the Evacuation was on the preceding Sunday. About a month later the Chapel was opened for a memorial service in honor of General Joseph Warren. Thereafter it remained closed for some two years. Then, by a curious fate, it was reopened for use by the Old South congregation while their meeting-house was undergoing repair of the injuries it had received during the Siege; and they occupied it for nearly five years. In 1782 the remnant of the Chapel’s parishioners resumed regular services with the Reverend James Freeman as rector; and in 1787, under Mr. Freeman, this first Episcopal church in Massachusetts became the first Unitarian church in America.

Click to continue to the next chapter