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Flashback: The Queen worships at the Boston church that signaled “The British are Coming”

In July 1976, Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip travelled to the United States to honour the United States Bicentennial – a series of celebrations in tribute to the creation of the United States.

As part of their trip, The Queen and Prince Philip visited Boston, Massachusetts. While in Boston, they attended a Sunday worship service at the Old North Church before being shown the nearby Paul Revere Statue and attending events at the Old State House.

For most Americans, the Old North Church has a significant historical meaning; for non-Americans, it may just look like, as part of the name states, an old, colonial looking place of worship.

The famed steeple where the two lanterns were placed. Photo: Brittani Barger

What is so important about the Old North Church, you might ask?

It goes back to the beginning of the Revolutionary War in April 1775. Legendary Paul Revere told three fellow Bostonians to hang either one lantern if the British were coming from land or two if they were by sea in the church’s steeple; this became known as the “One if by land, two if by sea” signal here in the States after Henry W. Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” included the statement in one of the stanzas.

The lanterns were hung to give the warning to the Charlestown patriots across the Charles River about the British Army’s movements. Paul Revere and William Dawes then travelled to Lexington to give them the same warning regarding the British troops, or as we (Americans) refer to British soldiers during this period: the Red Coats.

On the night of 18 April 1775, two lanterns were lit in the steeple of the North Church signalling that the Red Coats were travelling by boat. The next day, the British troops arrived in Lexington, Massachusetts, to find the colonists waiting and ready to fight. On that day, the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.

Rev. Robert W. Golledge led the service on 11 July when Her Majesty and His Royal Highness were in the congregation of the Old North Church. He also presented The Queen with a replica silver chalice that was originally made by Paul Revere.

Photo: Brittani Barger

To commemorate their visit and time worshipping in the historic church, a plaque was placed at the front of the church, just in front of the pew where they sat, that said, “Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh Worshipped Here 11 July 1976.”

During her visit, Her Majesty remarked, “At the Old North Church last year, your President lit a third lantern dedicated to America’s third century of freedom and to renewed faith in the American ideals. May its light never be dimmed.”

The statue of Paul Revere that Her Majesty viewed before departing on another engagement in Boston. Photo: Brittani Barger

Before leaving to participate in events at the Old State House, The Queen was also shown the massive statue of Paul Revere that is placed just behind the church in Boston’s North End. After her and Prince Philip’s event at the Old State House, she attended a lunch at City Hall and greeted the assembled crowds during a walkabout. Her Majesty and also reviewed the troops (dressed in Revolutionary War attire) before being given a private tour of the USS Constitution.

Her Majesty stated while at the Old State House, “We have enjoyed tremendously joining with the people of America and celebrations of the Bicentenary. We are deeply grateful for the kindness with which we have been welcomed everywhere, not least here in Boston.”

The irony was not lost on the American media of a British monarch visiting the city where the war for independence began to rid the colonies of the Crown (the despised King George III) and separate itself from the mighty British Empire. The New York Times headline from that day stated “Boston, Where It Began, Salutes the English Queen.”

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