Boston’s Old North Church Will Integrate Its Slavery Ties Thanks to New Grant

Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Image: Barry Winker/ Getty Images

The historic religious institution is getting a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that will connect itself to the American Revolution.

Boston’s Old North Church is a site that has roots to the American Revolution and will now connect its history to the slave trade that was prominent in the area.

According to the Associated Press, Old North Church will use a $75,000 grant it received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to overhaul the church campus, the visitor experience, and its educational programming—in an attempt to reconcile and integrate its history to the slave trade.

The grant is one of $28.4 million in grants for about 240 projects across the U.S.

“We’ll be able to address what I call the paradox of the Old North Church,” Nikki Stewart, executive director of the Old North Foundation, said.

The site is still used for religious services.

“People see us as a symbol of liberty and independence, but the reality is that the church benefitted from the enslavement of Africans.”

The church, built in 1723, with its famous steeple, was dependent on slave labor. Known to generations of schoolchildren as the place where in 1775 two lanterns signaled that the British were heading to Concord and Lexington.

This was canonized by Paul Revere’s famous ride and chanting of “by sea” that ignited the American Revolution.

While the links to slavery have always been known, the grant will enable Old North Church to highlight how strong those ties were and point out some of the more difficult parts of history connected to the Colonial chocolate-making trade. As it goes in the Associated Press piece, Newark Jackson, a prominent chocolatier, was also a sea captain and smuggler who trafficked in slaves.

“That was really a punch in the gut to our whole organization,” Stewart said. Jackson was also killed during a mutiny aboard a ship in 1743 that at the time was transporting 15 slaves, 13 of whom were children.

The grant will help change the educational experience in three ways: through the narratives the staff tells to visitors; through updated exhibits and interpretive signage; and through new online and digital programming designed for children.

“It is our hope that through this plan that all Americans will be able to see their stories in the Old North Church,” Stewart said.

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