Paul Revere Heritage Project


Old North Church - One if by Land, and Two if by Sea

The Old North church is located just steps away from the statue of Paul Revere. Its historic image is inseparable from the Midnight Ride of 1775 and the famous "One if by land, and two if by sea" signal that symbolically signaled the beginning of the American Revolution.

When preparing for his mission few days before the actual ride occurred P.R. asked Robert Newman the sexton of the Old North Church to signal with lanterns about the expected movement of the British regulars towards Concord. The backup signal was intended for the group of patriots across the river in Charlestown in case if the messenger himself were not able to reach Charlestown from where he planned to ride to Concord.

After members of the Sons of Liberty learned about the British troops marching to Lexington and Concord, P.R. set off on his ride and the sexton Robert Newman carried out his plan to signal with two lanterns about redcoats crossing Charles River by boat. Around 10 PM he and another man, captain John Pulling carried lanterns up to the steeple while the third man Thomas Bernard remained outside to watch for British troops.

At that time the Old North was the tallest building standing in Boston and Newman and Pulling believed to have climbed 154 steps that lead to the foot of the steeple. They then climbed the ladder to the topmost window of the steeple facing north to Charlestown and held lanterns out of the window for just few minutes. When they were coming down, British troops were already at the door of the church, but the patriots managed to escape through a window to the right of the alter. This window is currently marked by a replica of the lantern hanging about it.

There are many interesting details uncovered by the historians about the events which took place at the Old North Church. For example the fact that explains how P.R. knew that the lantern sign would be visible from Charlestown where other patriots were expected to notice it. In his youth, young Paul belong to a bell-ringer’s guild and together with other young men made money by ringing the church’s bells each week. He first noticed the view from the steeple while ringing the bell there.

Another fascinating fact is that the old North Church was Anglican, which was the official religion of the British Crown. P.R. himself like many other colonists was a Congregationalist, a religion that originates in Puritanism. As a result he was never a member of the Old North Church. Even more interesting is the fact that many members of the British establishment were the parishioners of the church, including general Gage, the Commander of British forces in North America who ordered the move to Lexington and Concord.