Old South Meeting House
Where the Boston Tea Party Began
Built in 1729, the Old South Meeting House was one of the largest buildings in colonial Boston, making it an ideal location for some of the most important mass meetings prior to the American Revolution. In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre in 1770, Old South Meeting House was used as the site for a large meeting that successfully demanded the removal of British soldiers who had been occupying the town for 18 months. In 1773, Old South hosted a number of meetings about what to do with East India Company tea sitting in Boston Harbor waiting to be unloaded and taxed. On December 16, 1773, the final meeting at Old South Meeting House would serve as the start of the Boston Tea Party.
The Old South Meeting House has been an important place of public gathering, worship, and debate for nearly three centuries. Throughout its history, the Main Hall has echoed with the words of political organizers, ministers, and civic leaders. Today, the Old South Meeting House hosts thought-provoking exhibits, engaging public and educational programs, and an array of private events. Situated at the corner of Washington Street and Milk Street, the Old South Meeting House is a National Historic Landmark and a site within the Boston National Historical Park on the Freedom Trail. It is the oldest private preservation project in New England and the second oldest in the United States, sparking the “saving” of American history sites nationwide.
Historic Moments at the Old South Meeting House
A Puritan congregation builds its first wooden meeting house on the site of the current Old South Meeting House. It is known as the Third Church of Boston.
When overcrowding and deterioration become a problem, the wooden meeting house is replaced with the new, more spacious brick meeting house that still stands today.
The Old South Meeting House tower clock is created by Gawen Brown, the leading tall case clock maker in New England at the time. The clock is installed four years later in 1770. It is the nation’s oldest American-made tower clock still operating in its original location.
1768 - 1775
Old South Meeting House becomes an important gathering space for massive public protest meetings against British actions in colonial Boston.
June 14, 1768
A meeting takes place at Old South to protest the impressment, or forced military service, of New England sailors into the British Navy, and the seizure of John Hancock’s sloop “Liberty” for violation of customs law.
1772 - 1775
The annual Fifth of March Orations are delivered at the Old South Meeting House to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Speakers during this period include Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. Benjamin Church, and John Hancock.
December 16, 1773
Thousands gather at Old South Meeting House to debate the controversial tea tax. Toward the end of the debate, Samuel Adams gives a signal that starts the Boston Tea Party.
British soldiers occupying Boston gut the interior of the Old South Meeting House, using the space to practice horse riding. It takes nearly eight years for the congregation to raise funds and restore the interior.
Old South Meeting House is almost destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
After three years of litigation, Old South Meeting House is put on the auction block and sold for $1,350—the value of its building materials. The land is then put up for sale and the building is slated for demolition.
Old South Meeting House is saved by the Old South Association and opens to the public as a museum and meeting place. This is the first time that a public building in the United States is saved because of its association with a historic event, rather than a historic figure.
Mary Hemenway spearheads ambitious educational programming as part of Old South Association’s mission, including Children’s Hour activities and essay contests. Old South Lectures for Young People are established in the Summer of 1883 "as a means of promoting a more serious and intelligent attention to historical studies, especially studies in American history among the young people in Boston.”
Old South Meeting House launches a popular forum featuring diverse speakers and public discussions of contemporary issues, hosting increasingly controversial events. The Board of Managers are divided over how far free speech at Old South should go. Some favor meetings that are purely educational or charitable, while others believe that Old South’s revolutionary history mandate a strong free-speech, anti-censorship policy.
A major forum protesting the ban of Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude takes place at Old South Meeting House.
Old South Meeting House is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The bell of Old South Meeting House, which had been silent since the building’s previous bell was removed in the 1870s, returns. The 876-pound bronze replacement bell was forged in 1801 by Paul Revere & Sons Bell and Cannon Foundry in the North End and is one of only 46 surviving bells made during Paul Revere’s life.
Old South Association merges with the Bostonian Society to form Revolutionary Spaces.
Old South Meeting House will celebrate its 300th anniversary.