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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Friday, November 13, 2015

“Glass Branches” for the Old North

This week Bryan McQuarrie of the Boston Globe reported on the return of an eighteenth-century chandelier to the Old North Church in Boston’s North End.

The five-armed glass chandelier first came to the church as half of a matched pair. According to Hannah Mather Crocker’s Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, written in the 1820s:
The chandeliers were given by Capt Gruchy. They were taken near the close of the Spanish War. They were made for one of their cathedrals, but were way laid by a privateer belonging to him and thus brought to Boston to be hung up in the North Church since remembrance.
In Rambles in Old Boston, New England (1887), the Rev. Edward G. Porter quoted this item from the Christ Church (North Church) records:
June 16, 1746. Whereas Messrs. Mr. Robert Jenkins, Capt. Grushia, Mr. Hugh McDaniel, Mr. Jno. Gould, Mr. Jno. Baker, oners of the Priveter Queen of Hungary, hath made a present to Christ Church in Boston of 4 cherubims and 2 glass branches taken by ye said Vessell, Voted, That the branches be hung in ye body of the church and ye cherubims placed on ye top of the Organ.
Thomas James Gruchy was a privateer captain during King George’s War, now known as the War of the Austrian Succession or more fondly as the War of Jenkins’s Ear. He commanded the Queen of Hungary, sharing ownership with those other men.

Gruchy reportedly captured a French ship on its way to Québec. Its cargo included those two chandeliers (the “glass branches”) and four carved wooden angels. Gruchy apparently led the choice to donate those to Christ Church, where he was a junior warden.

By 1830, that North Church—soon to be the “Old North”—had refurbished its interior. The carved wooden angels were moved to a new spot, but the chandeliers were put outside in the courtyard. A former church official was founding an Episcopal mission in the western Massachusetts town of Otis, and he took one chandelier out for its new building. The other disappeared.

That church in Otis is now defunct, the building up for sale. Episcopal officials packed up some of its furnishings, including the chandelier, and sent them back east. The National Park Service is now analyzing the pulpit and prayer desk for clues to their age, and Old North is looking for a place to hang its new, old glass chandelier.

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