J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pillars of the Brattle Street Meeting

In September 1775, Timothy Newell had to deal with an order from the governor to let a Presbyterian minister take over the Brattle Street Meeting-House, where he was deacon. But that was nothing compared to the threat he dodged 237 years ago today.

From Newell’s journal:

Colonel [Samuel] Birch of the Lighthorse Dragoons went to view our Meetinghouse which was destined for a Riding School for the Dragoons. It was designed to clear the floor, to put two feet of tan covered with horse dung to make it elastic.—But when it was considered that the Pillars must be taken away, which would bring down the roof, they altered their mind,—so that the Pillars saved us.
(But the dragoons still needed a place in besieged Boston to practice their riding over the winter.)

At some point, the British military did seize the Brattle Street Meeting-House, and converted the 1772 building into a barracks for soldiers. Newell’s diary doesn’t mention that event, oddly enough, but other sources say that he arranged with congregant John Gore to protect as much of the furniture as they could. The men “encased” the pulpit and those valuable pillars, and removed the pews to Gore’s nearby paint warehouse. Perhaps Newell was too busy with that work to write it down.

John Gore was a militia captain and Overseer of the Poor who had been active in the Patriot movement in 1769-70, but in 1774 he chose to support the royal governors. He evacuated Boston with the British army in March 1776, leaving most of his family behind. Gore’s eldest surviving son, Samuel, helped deliver the pews back to the church on Brattle Street, and eventually became a deacon there. John Gore returned to Boston in the late 1780s, after the war.

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