The buildings and places that survive from our shared history are a small, curated collection of the breadth of the human experience on this land. Most of the places that we think of as “historic” represent the stories of prominent white men and their families, but Old North Illuminated is dedicated to changing that. Stewards of Old North Church and its affiliated properties have kept the story of Paul Revere and his famous ride in 1775 alive for generations. But recent historical research unearthed connections between Old North Church’s congregants and a network of enslavers and human traffickers. These disturbing revelations prompted Old North Illuminated to reassess its approach to historic interpretation and adopt a new vision and commitment to actively engaging with the site’s history of slavery.
With this new mission, Old North Illuminated produced Illuminating the Unseen, a public history video series that launched in August 2022. The series shines a light on the stories of some of the Black and Indigenous Bostonians who were affiliated with Old North Church and the North End neighborhood in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dr. Jaimie D. Crumley, an Assistant Professor in the Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies Divisions of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation at the University of Utah, joined the team for a one-year Research Fellowship. Dr. Crumley holds a PhD in Gender Studies from UCLA and Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees from Yale Divinity School. The series is written and presented by Dr. Crumley and carefully crafted to explore high-level ideas about history, race, and gender. Each episode references different primary source documents such as pew deeds, wills, letters, Books of Common Prayer, and newspaper articles with an eye toward the people who might be overlooked. With this series, we begin to learn more about the deep complexities of life for congregants and Bostonians in a critical point in America’s history.
“All historic places have many chapters to their stories, but most historic sites and museums focus on just one or two characters. Old North Illuminated is facing the challenging truths of their past and giving voice to the many stories that have gone untold for centuries,” says Alison Frazee, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “The work of Dr. Crumley and the team at Old North Illuminated is inspiring and should motivate all stewards of history to explore their own narratives in search of the stories that need to be told. Every Bostonian should be able to see their own story in the places that we choose to preserve.”
The videos are all available on YouTube:
Welcome to Illuminating the Unseen
Race and Evangelism in the Church of England
Indigenous Women at Old North During the British Colonial Period
Old North and Enslaved People During the British Colonial Period
The Social Construction of Race in Early Massachusetts History
Old North and Black Freedom
John Eliot and the Conversion of Native Peoples in Boston’s North End
Paul Revere’s Ride and the Mark of Urban Slavery
People of Color as Children and Elders in 18th and 19th Century Boston
Old North Illuminated