This cache is part of the Historic Boston GeoTour, a series of twelve caches that will take you through the city’s 400 years of history. One of the twelve is a bonus cache which will require you to also complete the Freedom Trail Adventure Labs. Completing the GeoTour will earn you 57 smileys, a Historic Boston GeoTour geocoin, and a Historic Boston digital souvenir.
“…One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm….”
from "Paul Revere’s Ride"
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This accessible urban virtual brings you to the sidewalk outside the wrought iron fence enclosing Boston’s oldest surviving church structure and most visited historical site.* This is Old North Church! Important note: There is no cache container here and GZ is not on church property! Please see logging requirements below. Please note also: Although this location is wheelchair accessible, the streets and sidewalks can be bumpy!
The Real (and Extraordinary) History...
Old North Church is Boston’s oldest surviving church building and its most visited historical site.* Immortalized in the minds of many of us who first learned about it as school children through reading Longfellow’s poem, the church takes on new meaning and dimension for those who visit in person – that bonus of “being there.”
So, from GZ, you are invited to pause… and look up… and up… and up… and up… eight flights up to those arched windows, the multi-pane windows just below the triangular top of the steeple.** Now, imagine further the incredible true story (a story even more remarkable than Longfellow's stirring but altered account), a story of two men who, on the night of April 18, 1775, under the most dangerous of circumstances, took on an extraordinary and daring responsibility, sending a signal through those windows.
The mood, the plans, the players and the deeds....
There are different accounts of the details up to and including that night’s events but some facts seem certain: Tensions between the 4,500 British troops and the rebel colonists had been mounting for some time and were at an all-time high. There was a curfew imposed and all of Boston, including the area of the church, was being patrolled by British troops; anyone caught outside could be arrested and hung for treason. A British plan was in place to seize colonists’ stockpiled munitions across the river and west in Concord (or was the plan to capture rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington… or was it both?). As well, a countermove by the colonists was being mobilized (their having learned from their spies, the Sons of Liberty, of the British command’s plans to march on Concord and Lexington). And to best insure this countermove succeed (even if the originally planned messengers, Revere and the second most famous rider, William Dawes, were captured in Boston and unable to deliver their vital messages), a team of riders was in place across the river outside of Boston, ready to spread the message of the advancing British troops… once the route (either land or sea) was known.
But there were no cell phones or radios or other electronic devices to aid their mission. How could a signal be sent to riders across the Charles River in Charlestown? And how could that happen unseen?
Paul Revere’s duties were many that night (and before) and included playing a key roll in the signaling strategy. By the time he enlisted the help of his old friend and church elder, Capt. John Pulling, the signal code of shining one light (if the British were traveling to Lexington and Concord by the longer route, over land) or two lights (if the British were traveling more directly over water) already had been decided. However, exactly how this would be executed was yet to be determined. It appears that Revere, together with the help of his trusted friend, Pulling, hatched a plan that night.
Once devised, it seems it was Pulling who engaged young church caretaker, Robert Newman, the man with the keys. Together, these two (and perhaps a third, Thomas Bernard, to guard the door) would carry out the plan. Thus, friendship, ingenuity, reliability, agility and, no less, keys to the church were among the necessary ingredients in hand. But not only these….
As well-thought-out as that night’s plan was, it was nothing without the courage to execute it. And courage was around that night, in spades.
The night unfolds..., the die is cast....
After his work was done in Boston, Revere left the responsibility of carrying out the plan with his trusted friend, Pulling, Revere himself setting out to cross the Charles and begin what would become his famous “midnight ride.”*** In the meantime, and because the British plan (to travel by water) now was known, Pulling and Newman, defying the curfew (and risking execution for treason), stealthily evaded the British troops and quietly entered the church, with two lanterns. Whether one or both men would hoist those heavy lanterns up the eight flights (154 narrow creaky steps), in complete darkness, is not clear but what is clear is that, because of their deeds, in the steeple window that faced Charlestown and the waiting riders, the light of not some 18th century version of klieg lights, as legend would have us imagine, but two faint candles shown for less than a minute, through those windows and into the night. And the riders saw them.****
With the knowledge gained from these signaling lights, Revere's riders, soon to be joined by Revere himself, warned those who would rise to meet the unsuspecting British forces, first in Lexington the next morning and later in Concord. By then, the news had extended as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Connecticut and the response set in motion now would become the American Revolution.
While the historical subject matter here can be a controversial one, depending on one’s position and perspective: were the colonists patriots or traitors, heroes or instigators, the makers of a better life or the creators of a great mistake…, whatever one’s view may be, one fact remains: the underlying human story is a powerful one, a story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things under perilous conditions with highly improbable odds. It is a story of their being so potently moved that nothing could stop them. It is the story of the human spirit. And, for the purposes of this simple virtual, that human story is the crux of it, the palpable essence; that is the tale of Old North Church and perhaps its greatest legacy. The rest is history.
Hours and Advisories:
Remember, GZ is located outside church property. Therefore, GZ and access to logging requirements are available 24/7 and not dependent on church hours. However, it is recommended that you visit during daylight hours for greatest safety. As in all similar urban spaces, please remain aware of your surroundings.
Finally, although entering the church and its grounds is not part of this virtual cache, doing so is worth the extra time and pursuit! Those wishing to visit the interior and grounds of this historic site can do so at the following times:
January – February 10am – 4pm
March – May 9am – 5pm
June – October 9am – 6pm
November – December 9am – 5pm
Old North Church is a National Park Services site and an official stop on the Freedom Trail.
In order to log this cache, you must actually visit GZ AND complete the following logging requirements. Note: Please do not post answers in logs.
1. Post a photo of yourself or your GPS at GZ (standing on the sidewalk in front of Old North Church, not on church property, with the church in the background).
2. Send me (via email or Geocaching messenger) the answer to the following question: On what date did the City of Boston place the plaque to the left of the church’s front door?
Failing to meet logging requirements (1. and 2. above) will result in your log being deleted. So, please don't forget to do this within 24 hours of posting.
3. (Optional, but highly recommended, weather permitting ☺ ) Take a break, especially if you’re a tourist walking the Freedom Trail or otherwise trying to do everything. Find your way to the courtyard behind the church, with its fountain and Paul Revere's Mall (the park extension with Paul Revere’s statute; see Revere photo above, other courtyard photos below). If you follow the red brick Freedom Trail, starting at Boston Common, you will approach Old North Church from behind, i.e., you will walk through this area of Paul Revere Mall and Old North Church courtyard. It is far less crowded than in front of the church, there are places to sit and you can stop, sigh, pat yourself on the arm for making it this far and take a little time to read this virtual cache description. In fact, why not print the description before your visit and bring it with you? Remember reading off-screen? ☺ This is a wonderful place for that and the story (which may be different to what you think) is worth reading and imagining. So, here you make a bonus find, a great place to pull back, if only for a little while, from the rush and compression of daily life (even when on vacation or out geocaching!). I hope you'll go for it! "Be where your feet are” and enjoy your visit!
Notes and References:
** At 191 feet, it is the tallest steeple and, at the time, was the tallest building in Boston.
***William Dawes already had left for Lexington by the longer land route through Roxbury and Brookline, the Back Bay’s landfill not having been constructed yet. (Those interested in a history of the transformation of the Back Bay from tidal bay to landmass can reference my (GC3FJ64) ”Plums in the Pudding II: Back Bay" earthcache.)
****The British saw those lights too and Pulling and Newman had to beat a hasty retreat through a church window. Later, despite having made it back to his house and temporarily convincingly appearing to be sleeping in bed, Newman was arrested and jailed (being a man with the church’s keys certainly set him up for suspicion!). He later was released after reporting Pulling’s part in the caper. Pulling, however, had already escaped town and didn’t return. Meanwhile, Adams and Hancock, having been forewarned, departed Lexington ahead of the British arrival but the first shot, “the shot heard round the world,” was fired in Lexington that day. Revere and Dawes never made it to Concord to warn rebel colonists there but the man almost no one has ever heard of, Dr. Samuel Prescott, did. After the skirmish in Lexington, the larger battle ensued in a prepared, if outnumbered, Concord. See below references for more information on these and subsequent events.
Borneman, Walter R. American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Photos and Graphics:
Photos of Old North Church exterior by foragess
Photos of church interior and church graphic by Old North Church, photo editing by foragess
Congratulations to marcipanek on his "midnight ride" to Boston and on being FTF (first to meet logging requirements)!
Virtual Reward - 2017/2018
This Virtual Cache is part of a limited release of Virtuals created between August 24, 2017 and August 24, 2018. Only 4,000 cache owners were given the opportunity to hide a Virtual Cache. Learn more about Virtual Rewards on the Geocaching Blog.
The Historic Boston GeoTour