Speaker Series Archives
Each year, Old North Church & Historic Site presents a series of talks that bring experts and audiences together to explore topics from archeology to food justice, from the history of the North End to the story of the Longfellows. What’s the common thread? We challenge ourselves to consider the ways, small and large, that people impact their communities. In other words, what does active citizenship look like? We hope you enjoy these recorded events and invite you to check out our events page to see what is coming up next!
Psalters and Singers: Early Sacred Music at Old North Church
May 10, 2023
When Old North Church opened its doors in 1723, it fanned the flames of a growing religious controversy over sacred singing. While Old North was Boston’s second Anglican Church, Massachusetts was dominated by Congregationalists who had strict rules about what type of music was appropriate for worship.
Old North’s massive new presence in Boston’s North End delivered a powerful ritual challenge to the city’s Congregationalists, none more important than the innovative psalm texts and tunes that its congregation sang at Sunday services. This talk from Dr. Stephen A. Marini of Wellesley College explores these little-known sacred song practices and their contexts from the earliest decades of Old North’s history.
Remembering Black and Indigenous Peoples in New England’s Religious History
March 23, 2023
Much ink has been spilled writing about Southern New England’s cultures, religions, and history. However, those writings have largely excluded Black and Indigenous New Englanders. Historians and literary theorists who study Black and Indigenous New Englanders have argued that our studies of eighteenth-century New England must include the stories of Black (people of African descent) and Indigenous (New England Indian) peoples. The research findings are decisive. Black and Native peoples in eighteenth-century New England had rich cultures that contributed as much to New England history as the English groups that settled in the region. Some of these Black and Indigenous peoples participated in the rituals of the Old North Church.
On March 23, we hosted a panel discussion on Zoom with historians Dr. Richard Boles, author of Dividing the Faith, and Dr. Margaret Newell, author of From Dependency to Independence and Brethren by Nature. Through their research and writing, Boles and Newell have offered new insights about religion, slavery, colonialism, and freedom in eighteenth-century New England. The panel’s moderator was Dr. Jaimie Crumley, the Research Fellow at Old North Illuminated.
Black Spaces in White Worlds: Prince Hall Freemasonry, Emancipation and the Contingencies of Empire
February 22, 2023
As Americans weathered the turbulent days of the Revolutionary War and early republic, African Americans carved out their own religious and political spaces in the new nation. In this talk, Dr. Chernoh Sesay of DePaul University explored how enslaved and marginalized people of African descent fashioned community in unexpected places and played pivotal roles in historic change. Special attention was given to Black religious and political spaces in Boston, including the emergence of Prince Hall Freemasonry, a branch of Freemasonry for African Americans founded by the Beacon Hill abolitionist Prince Hall.
Drawing on archival material from Boston’s churches and recent scholarship, Dr. Sesay explored the themes of gender, ritual kinship, abolition, and emancipation in Black religious spaces. This talk also considered how the circumstances and contradictions of the American Revolutionary era were shaped by the religious and political experiences of African Americans.
Bathsheba Spooner: Revolutionary Crime & Punishment
January 25, 2023
In the midst of the American Revolution, a sensational “true crime” story shocked the people of Worcester, MA. Bathsheba Ruggles Spooner, the daughter of prominent Loyalist Timothy Ruggles, was convicted of conspiring with American and British soldiers to murder her husband. For this crime, she was hanged before a crowd of 5,000 spectators — despite being 5 months pregnant.
Why did the state exact such a brutal punishment on Bathsheba Spooner? Was it her family’s Loyalist leanings? Was it that she defied gender norms? Was it a reaction to the chaos of the war? Andrew Noone, the author of Bathsheba Spooner: A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy, unpacked the volatile mix of cultural, economic, and political forces that led to Spooner’s disturbing demise.
This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag, Plymouth Colony & The Troubled History of Thanksgiving
November 17, 2022
In the familiar American account of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth were pious English refugees fleeing the tyranny of the Old World. They encountered “friendly Indians,” led by Chief Massasoit, who took pity on the bedraggled strangers, taught them how to plant corn and where to fish, and thereby helped them survive their first harsh winters in America. According to this telling of the story, Massassoit’s people helped the colonizers, joined them for a celebratory meal, and then moved offstage.
In this talk, Dr. David J. Silverman revealed the distortions of the Thanksgiving Myth and dived into the often overlooked history of the Wampanoag people. Dr. Silverman explored how the traditional Thanksgiving Myth has promoted the idea that Native people willingly ceded their country to the English to give rise to a white, Christian, democratic nation. The talk traced how the Wampanoags have lived—and told—a different history over the past four centuries.
A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the Failure of Leadership
October 26, 2022
The 1692 Salem trials are infamous for being the greatest witch hunt in American history. What led to these disastrous events? As Dr. Tad Baker explained, it took a perfect storm of factors, including religious discord, political factionalism, the worst weather of the century, and an abject failure of leadership.
In this talk, Dr. Baker unpacked the decisions made by Massachusetts leaders, including Salem’s local ministers, the panel of nine judges who heard the trial, and the governor who appointed them. As a professor of history at Salem State University and an expert on the trials, Dr. Baker untangled the tragic tale of Salem’s witchcraft hysteria.
Black Women and Children in the Archival Records of the Old North Church, 1723 – 1800
September 21, 2022
As Dr. Jaimie Crumley, the Old North Foundation’s new Research Fellow, explained, there were two versions of the research question for this talk. The polite version was, “How and where are Black women’s and children’s stories found in the historical records of the Old North Church from 1723-1800?” The more honest version was, “What do you do when you go to the archives earnestly desiring to find stories of Black women and children in the Old North Church’s history and instead you find piles of pew deeds, hastily scribbled notes between friends about whether a piece of gray silk might make a pretty gown, and baptism records that frequently fail to account for baptized ‘negros’ by any name other than that of their enslavers?”
The second version of this research question responds to the historical record’s failure to account for Black women’s and children’s lives. This talk considered the silences about Black women and children in the Old North Church’s archival records and shared some of the Black feminist archival reading methods that allow us to expand the legibility of archival documents. This talk was part one of Dr. Crumley’s two-part series about research methods that allow us to discover Black women’s and children’s stories in the Old North Church’s archives.
Old North and the Sea
July 28, 2022
With Boston’s identity as a port city, the Old North Church was shaped in many ways by the congregation’s relationship with the Atlantic world and maritime industry. Researcher T.J. Todd dived into the stories of two of Old North’s most famous seafaring congregants: Captain Samuel Nicholson, the first commander of the USS Constitution, and Captain Thomas Gruchy, the privateer who captured and donated the beautiful carved angels in the church’s gallery. T.J. explored how the reputations and fortunes of these two captains were made, and lost, via the Atlantic.
In addition to the exploits of these notable sea captains, the talk delved into the everyday lives of Boston’s sailors, which included Old North’s free and indentured Black congregants. T.J. went beyond the walls of the church for a portrait of the excitement and struggles of a life at sea in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Howe Dynasty: Britain’s ‘First Family’ of the American Revolution
June 7, 2022
Julie Flavell’s new book, The Howe Dynasty, provides a ground-breaking reinterpretation of one of 18th century Britain’s most famous military families that forces us to imagine the Revolutionary War in ways that would have been previously inconceivable.
Delving into previously neglected letters of the sister of General William Howe and Admiral Richard Lord Howe, The Howe Dynasty explores the American War of Independence through the eyes of the Howe women. A riveting narrative, as well as a long-overdue reassessment of the entire Howe family, Flavell’s book is the first biography of a British ‘First Family’, whose members had as much at stake as the Washingtons and Adamses in the conflict that created the United States. Meet the men and women of the aristocratic Howe dynasty and hear their stories in a talk by the author that includes rare portraits.
Born in the U.S., Julie Flavell grew up in Massachusetts. Her lifelong interest in Anglo-American relations is reflected in her first book, When London Was Capital of America. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Flavell lives in Britain and has lectured at Dundee and Edinburgh Universities. Her latest book, The Howe Dynasty, was selected as a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice in August 2021 and is one of five Finalists for the 2022 George Washington Book Prize.
This event was hosted in partnership between:
National Parks of Boston
The Old North Foundation
British Consulate-General in Boston
Spies, Soldiers, Couriers, and Saboteurs: Women of the American Revolution
March 16, 2022
During the American Revolution, women were thrust into the difficulties and dangers of the war. With many men joining the militia, women found themselves in charge of family businesses and farms. This required them to learn new skills or take a more active role than they had previously. Some women became camp followers and performed duties such as mending and washing clothes, nursing sick or wounded soldiers, and preparing meals. They followed the men onto the battlefields and performed duties as needed, often risking their lives.
In this talk, Kathleen (K.M.) Waldvogel discussed her research for her middle-grade book, Spies, Soldiers, Couriers, & Saboteurs: Women of the American Revolution. During her work, she discovered fascinating stories of ordinary women who felt compelled to stand up for what they believed, including sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington who rode approximately 40 miles to warn the countryside of the British marching to Danbury, Connecticut.
Waldvogel focused on researching the stories of little-known women who felt the need to take an active role to help the Patriots defeat the British. As the title of her book suggests, many of these women contributed in unconventional ways.
Yours and Mine: Belonging in the American Experience
January 26, 2022
In his 1829 Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, the influential Black abolitionist David Walker wrote, “America is as much our country, as it is yours.” Yet, the conflict between belonging and excluding threads through our nation’s history from its beginning.
For the final digital speaker event that touches on David Walker’s life and legacy, Old North Foundation Executive Director Nikki Stewart moderated a panel discussion with some of Boston’s leading historians that explored questions such as:
• What does it mean to be a citizen?
• How has dominant culture limited perceptions of what it means to be “American”?
• How can communities assert belonging when their past has been erased?
• Can we collectively reclaim and restore those stories and experiences in a shared “American” history?
The Old North Foundation is committed to telling stories of active citizenship and courageous, compassionate leadership throughout history, and we are proud to have hosted this series of events on David Walker and his Appeal.
Reading David Walker’s Appeal: The Pen as the Sword
December 15, 2021
Artist, educator, and activist L’Merchie Frazier and playwright Peter Snoad discussed David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. This talk was the second in a three-part series dedicated to Walker, his work, and his legacy.
David Walker, a 19th-century Black abolitionist, was a fiery and unforgiving voice in the fight for freedom and an inspirational and influential leader of the abolitionist movement. In his 1829 Appeal, Walker called on enslaved people to revolt against their enslavers and compelled white Americans to recognize the moral depravity of slavery. Copies of this revolutionary pamphlet were sewn into the lining of sailors’ clothing in Boston and then smuggled into the South for distribution. The Appeal made a tremendous impact; giving hope to the enslaved and terrifying slaveholders.
In this talk, L’Merchie Frazier and Peter Snoad, both experts on Walker, analyzed his seminal text and considered how the Appeal’s charges of greed, hypocrisy, and indifference remain relevant today.
David Walker and the Notion of Citizenship:
The Story of a 19th Century Black Abolitionist
November 17, 2021
Dr. Salim Washington discussed the life of David Walker, the 19th-century Black abolitionist and author of the history-changing pamphlet Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. This talk was the first of a three-part series dedicated to Walker, his work, and his legacy.
Living as a free Black man in Boston, David Walker published his 1829 Appeal and sent shockwaves across the nation. This revolutionary pamphlet called on enslaved people to revolt against their enslavers and compelled white Americans to recognize the moral depravity of slavery.
While the pamphlet instilled a sense of pride and hope in its Black readers, terrified slaveholders banned its distribution and put a $3,000 bounty on Walker’s head, while offering $10,000 to anyone who could bring him to the South alive. Although friends urged him to flee to Canada, Walker refused, saying, “I may be doomed to the stake and the fire, or to the scaffold tree, but it is not in me to falter if I can promote the work of emancipation.”
The Old North Church is committed to telling stories of active citizenship and courageous, compassionate leadership throughout history, and we were proud to host this event examining David Walker’s remarkable life.
Mutiny on the Rising Sun:
A Story of Slavery, Smuggling & Chocolate at Old North
November 3, 2021
On the night of June 1, 1743, terror struck the schooner Rising Sun. After completing a routine smuggling voyage where the crew sold enslaved Africans in exchange for chocolate, sugar, and coffee in the Dutch colony of Suriname, the ship traveled eastward along the South American coast. Believing there was an opportunity to steal the lucrative cargo and make a new life for themselves, three sailors snuck below deck, murdered four people, and seized control of the vessel.
In this talk, historian Jared Ross Hardesty recounts the origins, events, and eventual fate of the Rising Sun’s final smuggling voyage in vivid detail. That story, as told in his new book, Mutiny on the Rising Sun: A Tragic Tale of Slavery, Smuggling, and Chocolate, was part of a multi-year, international research project that revealed the mutiny’s connection to the Old North Church. More significantly, the project uncovered an unknown part of Old North’s history: a connection to slavery and the slave trade.
Opening with what years of research uncovered about Old North, Hardesty narrates a deeply human history of smuggling, providing an incredible story of those caught in the webs spun by illicit commerce. The case generated a rich documentary record that illuminates an international chocolate smuggling ring, the lives of the crew and mutineers, and the harrowing experience of the enslaved people trafficked by the Rising Sun. Smuggling stood at the center of the lives of everyone involved with the business of the schooner. At once startling and captivating, the case of the Rising Sun shows how illegal trade created demand for exotic products like chocolate, and how slavery and smuggling are integral parts of Old North’s history.
How Fears of “Passing” Changed the 1930 U.S. Census
March 31, 2021
Completing the United States Census is a core element of active citizenship. Census numbers impact community funding, representation in congress, and so much more. And yet, the history of the Census includes barriers to full participation. Although the United States Census is meant to be an unbiased and apolitical part of American democracy, it has been altered by popular opinion and fear numerous times in the past. Race is one such category that has changed consistently since the creation of the census. Gabby Womack examines how mixed-race Americans were erased from the census in 1930 and how it was connected to racial “passing”.
This presentation dives into the stories of “passers,” creation of race science, passing in pop culture, and the U.S. government’s attempt to stop this practice and erase the nuanced identities of mixed race people.
Henry and Fanny Longfellow: An American Love Story of Uncommon Consequence
February 24, 2021
Author Nicholas A. Basbanes discusses the remarkable relationship of the celebrated 19th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife, Frances Appleton Longfellow, the focus of his recent biography of the couple, Cross of Snow, which is set largely in Boston and Cambridge during the tumultuous years leading up to the Civil War. The couple’s marriage in 1843 represented a melding of two highly gifted and principled people whose shared values and deeply held convictions found expression and purpose in manifold ways, not least of which was the influence Fanny brought to bear on Henry’s creative process, serving, in her words, as “a pretty active spur upon his Pegasus.” Revered in his time as a “poet of the people,” Longfellow’s works were translated into more than 30 languages, memorized by millions of people, with lines that resonate to this day.
Community Servings & the Path to Food Justice
November 11, 2020
The story of Community Servings over the past 30 years is one of innovation, food justice and community building. Focused on providing scratch-made, medically tailored meals to critically and chronically ill neighbors across Massachusetts, the agency leverages thousands of volunteers to make 800,000 meals each year to serve individuals and families who are hungry, sick and isolated.
Through cutting edge research and advocacy, Community Servings is now partnering with 12 Massachusetts healthcare organizations to feed patients through their health insurance. Join us to learn more about the program and its unique, uplifting role in our community.
The Lost Tunnels of the North End
October 7, 2020
If you’ve ever taken a walking tour of Boston’s North End, or if you’ve talked to the old timers in the neighborhood, you’ve probably heard stories about the network of so-called secret pirate tunnels or smugglers’ tunnels that connects the wharves to the basements of houses, Old North Church, and even crypts in Copp’s Hill burying ground. Sometimes the tunnels are attributed to a Captain Gruchy, who’s often called a pirate or a smuggler, and who is portrayed as a shadowy figure. The legends of pirate tunnels in the North End were inspired by a few subterranean discoveries in the late 1800s, but the fantastic details in stories told by tour guides and popular authors are just that: fantasy. However, there is truth underlying the legends, and there are tunnels underlying the streets of the North End.
Kelly Kryc: The North Atlantic Right Whale
July 21, 2020
Nearly 40 years ago, Aquarium scientists discovered a pod of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine—a species that, until then, was thought to have been hunted to extinction. Despite the end of whaling, the threats to the North Atlantic right whale have only been increasing, and the species now balances on the precipice of extinction. In this lecture, New England Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Policy and Leadership, Dr. Kelly Kryc discusses the plight of the North Atlantic right whale and how you can help them survive.
Joseph Bagley: Hiding in Plain Sight
June 23, 2020
Join Boston’s City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley, in a discussion of his quest to find and document the 50 oldest buildings in Boston. Seen through the lens of several buildings in his newest book, Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where to Find Them (Brandeis University Press, April 2021), this “how-to” lecture will show you the techniques for using free online deed, probate, map, and other digital resources to uncover the history of old places from your home computer.
10 on 10: Women in the Workforce
March 23, 2020
This interactive webinar-style program heard ten powerhouse women working in Boston today offer a 5-minute spotlight presentation on a visionary woman from Massachusetts history. Presentations explored the evolution of women’s professional identities and the ways in which each of these women have paved the way for equal rights. Afterward, the audience engaged in a community chat about intersectional feminism, pay equity, and what we can each do today to advocate for equal rights for all in the workplace.
Speakers: Casey Baines, Scarlett V. Hoey, Chloe Lin, Marie Palladino, Maddy Rodriguez, Jodie Smith, Jen Steele, Dina Vargo, Dr. Lisa Wong, and Rebecca Sivitz
How We Live: Community Through Housing
August 21, 2019
In partnership with Historic Boston Inc., this panel discussion took a deeper dive into the impact housing has on our communities and vice versa, and explored creative housing approaches that help in fostering connection and vibrancy between city cohabitants.
Panelists: Christine Clements, Angie Liou, Raber Umphenour
Moderated by Donna Brown