Welcome to the Teach History blog — a rich resource for social studies and history teachers written by author Ben Edwards. Here you’ll find interesting articles and valuable information about American history that you can share with your students in the classroom.
In downtown Boston, at the corner of School and Tremont streets, stands a historic treasure called King’s Chapel. Founded in 1686, it was the first Anglican Church in New England and in 1785 it became the first Unitarian Church in America. Today the church has a Unitarian theology and an Anglican form of liturgy. It was originally housed in a wooden building dedicated on June 30, 1689. A growing congregation found this building in disrepair by the mid 18th century, so they acquired additional land, and hired architect Peter Harrison of Newport, Rhode Island to design a new and larger structure. The first block of Quincy granite for the new church was laid in 1749 and the building opened in 1754. A bell cast in England was hung in the church tower in 1772 and lasted for 42 years until it cracked in 1814 while being rung for evening services. It was melted down, re-cast and re-hung by Paul Revere & Son on February 23, 1816. The Revere bell at 2,437 pounds is the largest ever cast at the Revere foundry and Paul Revere himself called it “the sweetest bell we ever made.” The bell, nearly 200 years old, is still rung today by hand for all church services. King’s Chapel was a Loyalist or Tory church at the time of the American Revolution. It closed for a few months in 1776 after the British soldiers and Bostonians loyal to the king evacuated the town but did reopen that year for the funeral of patriot leader General Joseph Warren who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The interior of King’s Chapel is elegant and it is certainly one of the most beautiful churches in New England. The double Corinthian columns are made of wood and elements of them were hand-carved by Boston craftsmen in the 1750s. The wineglass pulpit was built in 1717 and used in the earlier wooden church. It is the oldest pulpit in the United States in continuous use on the same site. The box pews are original — families would pay a yearly rental fee for them and could decorate the pews to their liking. Their high walls kept out the drafts and helped retain the heat from the small foot-stoves that families would bring to church with them. Although the fabric in today’s pews has been replaced over the years, the cushions you can sit on when you visit may still contain some of the original horsehair stuffing! The most famous pew in the church is the Governor’s Pew — once reserved for the Royal Governor and his family. President George Washington sat here on October 27, 1789 while attending an oratorio — a musical composition with orchestra, choir, and soloists. At the time, King’s Chapel was generally called the “Stone Chapel.” President Washington’s visit to Boston lasted from October 24-29. Money raised from the oratorio (which was likely performed multiple times) was used to fund the addition of a colonnade or portico to the Chapel. This was added in 1790. A steeple was also in the architect’s original plans for the church but it was never built due to lack of funds.
Visitors to King’s Chapel today can follow in the footsteps of President Washington by attending one of the many concerts and recitals held throughout the year. The King’s Chapel musical tradition dates back to 1713 when the church became the first in New England to acquire an organ! The current organ built in 1964 is the sixth in the church’s long history. The carved panels, ornamentation over the pipes, and the gold crown and miters on the present organ once decorated an earlier organ built in London for King’s Chapel in 1756. Beneath the organ, on the first floor near the doorway, is a memorial to members of the church who lost their lives in the Civil War. The list includes two of Paul Revere’s grandsons: First Lieutenant and Assistant Surgeon Edward H. R. Revere (killed at Antietam) and Colonel Paul Joseph Revere (killed at Gettysburg). Besides George Washington, attendees at King’s Chapel have included other famous names like Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Louisa May Alcott.
Visitors can elect to go on a self-guided tour or participate in one of the special tours that are available. These include the popular Bells and Bones Tour where knowledgeable guides take you to visit the crypt beneath the church and climb with you into the church tower where you have the very rare opportunity to view and photograph the largest bell ever made by Paul Revere! The cost for this tour is $10 per person (or $7 per person for the crypt or bell tower only). The Bells and Bones Tour is offered by request, every hour on the hour, with the last tour given an hour before closing (3 pm). Advance reservations are not required. Tickets can be purchased in the vestibule of the Chapel. King’s Chapel also offers a number of group tours that you can book in advance. For more information about King’s Chapel visit http://www.kings-chapel.org
If you’re a teacher planning to visit Boston to learn more about Colonial American History and the Revolution, I highly recommend adding the Adams National Historical Park to your trip’s itinerary. The Adams NHP is located 10 miles south of Boston and can be reached by the MBTA “T” Subway System — take the Red Line Braintree train to the Quincy Center stop. The ride normally takes me just under 25 minutes. When you exit the subway, the National Park Service Visitor Center is located a short distance away in the Galleria at President’s Place at 1250 Hancock Street. Guided tours leave from the Visitor Center on a regular basis and participants are taken by trolley to the presidential birthplace homes of John Adams and John Quincy Adams as well as Peace field — the home and farm purchased by John and Abigail Adams in 1788. The park is open for tours from April 19 to November 10.
The presidential birthplace homes stand in their original locations on Franklin Street, once part of the Old Coast Road (the main route from Boston to Plymouth) in what was then called Braintree. The John Adams Birthplace was built in 1681. John’s father, Deacon John Adams, purchased the saltbox style home with six surrounding acres in 1720 and here the future second president was born on October 30, 1735. In 1744 Deacon John Adams purchased a second saltbox style home, built in 1663, located next door along with a substantial amount of land. On about 188 acres of property, Deacon Adams worked as a farmer in the summer and cordwainer in the winter. His oldest son John and younger boys Peter and Elihu helped their father around the farm, where the main crop was corn. Deacon Adams wanted John to focus on his education instead of farming and John went on to attend Harvard and become a lawyer. When Deacon Adams died in 1761, the home that John was born in was given to his brother Peter and John received the home and land his father had purchased in 1744.
After John Adams married Abigail Smith on October 25, 1764, they moved into the home John had inherited from his father. In this home, John and Abigail Adams raised four children including the future 6th president John Quincy Adams. Today this building is referred to as the John Quincy Adams Birthplace. John Adams ran his law practice here and during the tour of this historic home you will see the room he worked in. In that room he wrote the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this home, Abigail educated the children, ran the family farm, and did her best to make ends meet while John was away for long periods of time working for the government both in Philadelphia and in Europe. Throughout this time, Abigail wrote letters to John updating him on the latest news from the home front. From this home, on Saturday June 17, 1775, Abigail and the children could hear the guns of Bunker Hill as the battle raged miles away. Abigail took her seven-year-old son John Quincy to the top of nearby Penn’s Hill where they witnessed the bombardment and saw the smoke as the British burned Charlestown. Today the Abigail Adams cairn marks the spot where they stood. The cairn was constructed in 1896; rebuilt from the original stones in 2008; and rededicated on July 11, 2009. It is located at the corner of Franklin Street and Viden Road.
After touring the birthplace homes with a National Park Service ranger, visitors are taken by trolley to Peace field — the home and farm purchased by John and Abigail Adams in 1788. It was here that John Adams learned he had been elected the first Vice President of the United States. Peace field was the home of four generations of the Adams family and during that time it grew from a small home to one with twenty-one rooms. It contains more than 78,000 artifacts, including furniture that belonged to John and Abigail, paintings, china, and John Adams’ personal copy of the Declaration of Independence. After touring the home, you’ll visit the nearby Stone Library built in 1870 — the Presidential Library of John Quincy Adams. Visitors strolling the property can admire a tree planted by John Quincy Adams and marvel at a rose bush planted by his mother Abigail Adams in 1788. She brought the York rose back from England and remarkably it still blooms today.
David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning book John Adams published in 2001 and the HBO miniseries John Adams that aired in 2008 elevated interest in the second president and dramatically increased attendance at the Adams NHP.
To learn more about the Adams National Historical Park, view the NPS Adams website. The video below features stunning photos of The Old House at Peace field and the surrounding property.