Boston’s Old North Church, which is a key site for the liberation of the nation, is a place where slave traders and owners once worshipped. This is a great contradiction.
The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a $75,000 grant to the foundation that will preserve the church campus and visitor experience. It plans to revamp its educational programming in order to better integrate and reconcile those ties with slavery.
This grant is one out of approximately $28.4 millions in grants for approximately 240 projects across the country.
Nikki Stewart, executive Director of the Old North Foundation said, “We’ll have the ability to address what I call The Paradox of the Old North Church.” She is different from the active Episcopal congregation which still uses the site for religious service. “People view us as a symbol for liberty and independence. But the truth is that the church was enslaved by Africans.”
She said that the famous steeple was funded in part by logwood sales, whose harvesting was dependent on slave labor.
This church was built in 1723. It is where two lanterns at the steeple indicated that in 1775 the British were headed to Concord and Lexington “by water” and set Paul Revere off on the ride that ignited America’s Revolution.
Although slavery has been a part of our history, the foundation launched a program several years ago to show how strong these ties are.
It turned out that Newark Jackson was one of those chocolatiers. He was also a sea captain, smuggler, and slave smuggler.
Stewart stated, “That was really an insult to our entire organization.”
Further research revealed that Jackson was killed in a mutiny aboard an ship that was carrying 15 slaves at the time. 13 of these were children.
The pandemic caused severe damage to the Old North Foundation, as did many cultural organizations. In 2019, the church hosted approximately 150,000 people. Stewart estimates that the current visitor count is only half of what it was in 2019.
This grant will improve the educational experience in three different ways. Through the stories that staff tell visitors, through the updated exhibits and interpretive signage, and through new online programming for children.
Stewart stated, “It’s our hope that through the Old North Church, all Americans will have the opportunity to see their stories.”