Morning. April 18, 1775. The Proprietors of the Old North Church meet to discuss, once again, their ongoing dispute with the church’s Rector, the Rev. Mather Byles, Jr. A rumor has spread that Byles is negotiating with an Anglican congregation in Portsmouth, NH to become their Rector. After years of conflict over money and ideology, the Proprietors have had enough; they send a committee to Byles’s house to ask, once and for all, what his intentions are. Is he committed to serving the Old North or is he leaving for Portsmouth?
Mather Byles, Jr. is a husband, father, and newly converted Anglican minister. He replaces Old North’s beloved founding Rector, Dr. Timothy Cutler, who had died after 40 years of spiritual leadership. The congregation has high expectations for Byles—expectations he is unable to live up to. His father, also a minister, is a much beloved figure in Boston despite his staunch loyalty to the Crown. Rev. Byles, Sr. is known for his sense of humor and charm. Rev. Byles Jr., it seems, does not share his father’s friendly nature. Almost immediately, Byles and church leaders are arguing over his salary and later over his loyalism.
As a leader in the Anglican community, Byles speaks out against the “foolishness” of the Patriot cause. But many members of Old North’s congregation are employed in the maritime trades and, devastated by the closure of the port of Boston, have sided with the rebels. They are unhappy being reminded in Byles’s weekly sermons that the Old North is the King’s church and of their duty to the Crown. As tempers flare in the city, tension rises in the congregation.
With war looming, the offer to serve St. John’s in Portsmouth is very tempting to Byles. A prosperous seaport north of Boston, Portsmouth is still a welcoming place for Loyalists. And he would have the opportunity to negotiate a more agreeable salary to support his large family.
However, Byles has strong ties to Boston, his family tree extending all the way back to the founding of the city. It would be hard to leave. And members of his immediate family have fallen ill. On April 3rd, he buries his daughter Mary at the Old North and his wife is also very sick; a move might be too much for her. Could he bear to lose another loved one?