The slender white steeple of Old North Church is a cherished symbol of American freedom, the place where two signal lanterns dispatched Paul Revere on his famous 1775 ride to warn the colonists of approaching British troops.
But it’s also a symbol of something else — an American reckoning.
New research shows that Boston slave traders who attended Old North helped build that iconic steeple, and that those parishioners were deeply entwined in a slave-smuggling ring that shipped captive Africans from the British West Indies to notorious Dutch plantations in South America.
Startled by this discovery, the leadership at Old North plans to revamp the tours there, change interpretive signs, and ensure that the 150,000 yearly visitors to this Episcopal church have an opportunity to learn about these newly unearthed connections to Colonial slavery.
“We’re here to teach about freedom,” said the Rev. Stephen Ayres, the vicar at Old North. “It didn't happen only on one night when a couple of lanterns were hung in the steeple.”