Old South Meeting House — Where the Boston Tea Party Started

This illustration depicts the steeple of the Old South Meeting House circa 1900. Image Source: Library of Congress.

2023 marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, one of the most important events that took place during the American Revolution. Old South Meeting House in Boston, Massachusetts is famous for being the location where the Boston Tea Party started on December 16, 1773.

Old South Meeting House was also an important location during the American Revolution and was used by leaders of the Patriot Cause to hold large meetings, including the annual Boston Massacre Memorial.

10 Things to Know About the Old South Meeting House

This video from Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum discusses the Old South Meeting House, its history, and its connections to the Boston Tea Party.

  1. Completed in 1729, the Old South Meeting House is a national historic landmark in Boston associated with the American Revolution.
  2. It is located at the Corner of Washington Street and Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
  3. This historic building blends traditional New England meeting house architecture with Anglican influences. 
  4. The exterior design is influenced by Sir Christopher Wren, known for his church designs in London. Key features of Wren’s architectural style, such as a standing tower, arched windows, and Flemish bond brickwork, are evident.
  5. Inside, the pulpit is a prominent architectural feature, with a short aisle leading up to it.
  6. The interior replicates the colonial era with recreated box pews that filled both the floor and lower gallery.
  7. The original congregation consisted of descendants of Massachusetts Bay Colony founders and notable families of the era.
  8. Old South Meeting House gained a reputation as the largest dissenting meeting house in town, notably for its role in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.
  9. Samuel Adams used the meeting house as a signal point for the Sons of Liberty to take action during the tea protest.
  10. Today, the Old South Meeting House serves as a museum and is a popular national historic landmark preserving the heritage of the American Revolution.

Facts About the Old South Meeting House

History of the Church

  • The congregation started in 1669 when a group broke away from the First Church of Boston, which had been established by John Winthrop.
  • The first pastor was Reverend Thomas Thacher. He was also a doctor and is believed to have written the first work on the subject of medicine that was published in Massachusetts.
  • The structure was completed in 1729 when the steeple was erected.

Notable Historical Figures Associated with Old South Meeting House

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Old South Meeting House’s Role in Revolutionary Debates

The Old South Meeting House was used for important meetings when larger crowds gathered to debate important issues, including:

The church was also used for the annual commemoration of the Boston Massacre, which was held from 1770 to 1774. At these events, notable Patriot leaders, including John Hancock and Joseph Warren, gave speeches in memory of the incident and its victims.

The Boston Tea Party at Old South Meeting House

  • It is believed there were at least four meetings at Old South to discuss Boston’s response to the tea ships.
  • On December 16, 1773, it is estimated that 5,000 people were gathered at Old South.
  • According to legend, Samuel Adams said, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!” At that moment, the members of the Sons of Liberty who were in attendance left the meeting and marched to Griffin’s Wharf.
  • The Boston Tea Party led to the destruction of more than $1.5 million worth of tea.
Old South Meeting House, Interior, Illustration, NYPL
This illustration depicts the interior of the Old South Meeting House. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Occupied During the American Revolutionary War

  • The 17th Dragoons, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Birch, occupied Old South from October 1775 until they evacuated Boston in March 1776.
  • Birch and his men used the building to practice riding their horses.
  • They removed most of the seating and interior structures.
  • Birch’s men likely took the original copy of William Bradford’s journal, which included Of Plymouth Plantation, his important history of the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony.

Old South After the War

  • William Dawes was responsible for developing the plans to restore the interior of the building.
  • It was saved during the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
  • The congregation eventually built a new church.
  • In 1877, Mary Hemenway led a group of 20 women who raised money and helped pass legislation to preserve Old South and it has been a museum since then.
  • The museum is managed by Revolutionary Spaces, which also manages the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre.

Old South Meeting House Location

Written by Randal Rust