This is the second-oldest church building in Boston, and were it not for Longfellow's celebration of the Old North in "Paul Revere's Ride," it might well be the most famous. Some of the fiercest of the town meetings that led to the Revolution were held here, culminating in the gathering of December 16, 1773, which was called by Samuel Adams to confront the crisis of three ships, laden with dutiable tea, anchored at Griffin's Wharf. The activists wanted the tea returned to England, but the governor would not permit it—and the rest is history. To cries of "Boston Harbor a teapot tonight!" and John Hancock's "Let every man do what is right in his own eyes," the protesters poured out of the Old South, headed to the wharf with their waiting comrades, and dumped 18,000 pounds' worth of tea into the water.
One of the earliest members of the congregation was an African slave named Phillis Wheatley, who had been educated by her owners. In 1773 a book of her poems was printed (by a London
publisher), making her the first published African American poet. She later traveled to London, where she was received as a celebrity, but was again overtaken by poverty and died in obscurity at age 31.
The church suffered no small amount of indignity in the Revolution: its pews were ripped out by occupying British troops, and the interior was used for riding exercises by General John Burgoyne's light dragoons. A century later it escaped destruction in the Great Fire of 1872, only to be threatened with demolition by developers. Interestingly, it was the first successful preservation effort in New England. The building opened as an independent, nonprofit museum in 1877 and contains the last remaining example of a two-tiered gallery in a New England meetinghouse. The pulpit is a combination of two pulpits that were both original to the meetinghouse during points in the Victorian era. The white barrel portion of the pulpit dates from 1858 and the mahogany wine glass portion in the front dates from 1808.
The Voices of Protest exhibit celebrates Old South as a forum for free speech from Revolutionary days to the present.