What better way to ring in the New Year than with Revere bells – especially since Paul Revere was born on Jan. 1, 1735 (New Style).
A Revere bell in Bath, Maine, will ring in the New Year as it has since 2002. So will the Revere bell that was moved from a defunct church to the Old South Meeting House in Boston in 2012.
Revere was one of the few competent bell makers in the United States. He got into the business in 1792 when the bell at his church, the New Brick Church, cracked. Revere offered to recast it, though he knew nothing about molding and casting bells.
The first of the Revere bells, a 912 pounder, was not terribly successful. The Rev. William Bentley wrote “the sound is not clear and prolonged, from the lips to the crown shrill.”
But Revere and his sons Paul, Jr., and Joseph Warren went ahead, casting 398 bells between 1792 and 1828, first at their North End foundry and after 1804 in Canton, Mass. The bells often bore the inscription “THE LIVING TO THE CHURCH I CALL AND TO THE GRAVE I SUMMON ALL.”
For the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, Evelyn Stickney and her husband Edward tried to track down every known Revere bell. They compiled a list of 134 bells, including 84 taken directly from the Revere and Sons stock books. Most of the bells are in New England, though there are Revere bells in Alabama, Georgia and Washington, D.C. The only Revere bell outside of the United States is in Singapore.
The Stickneys described the importance of bells in early New England: “The gabriel bell woke the people of the parish,” they wrote. “[T]he sermon bell announced it was time for the church services; the pardon bell rang before and after the sermon during prayers for the pardoning of sins; the pudding bell, which undoubtedly was the most popular, told the cook to prepare dinner while the church-goers headed for home; the passing bell tolled three times at a man’s death with a ring for each year of his age.”
St. Patrick Catholic Church
St. Patrick Catholic Church in Newcastle, Maine, is the oldest Catholic church in continuous use in New England and the only one to own a Revere bell. It was founded by Irish immigrants and a French priest.
James Kavanaugh and Mattew Cottrill came to Boston from Ireland in 1781. They were building a church in Boston when Father Francis Matignon arrived from France, sent by the Pope. Kavanaugh and Cottrill were each married to their wives by Father Matignon in the early 1790s. The wives then moved with their husbands to Newcastle, a thriving shipbuilding area.
In 1798, an assistant to Father Matignon said the first Catholic Mass in Newcastle, probably at Cottrill’s home. In 1808, St. Patrick Church was built at a cost of $3,000, with Cottrill and Kavanaugh each contributing $1,000. In 1818, Cottrill donated the Paul Revere bell to the church. It was one of the last Revere bells cast by Paul Sr., who died May 10, 1818. The original cost was $350, with another $165 to ship. It hung from a wood structure outside the church until a brick bell tower was added in 1866.
First Unitarian Church
Providence started out as a Baptist community, and the first Congregational church wasn’t formed until 1721.
The Congregationalists built their first house of worship in 1723, which stood on the site of the current Providence County Courthouse. A larger church was built on the corner of Benefit and Benevolent streets, but it burned down in 1814. A new building was designed for the same spot by local architect John Holden Greene and finished in 1816. It was inspired by the New South Church in Boston, designed by Charles Bulfinch.
The bell, at 2,488 lbs., is the largest cast by the Revere foundry. Though the church was founded as a Congregationalist church, it became Unitarian in the beginning of the 19th century.
King’s Chapel also claims to have the largest of the Revere bells, the last one he cast and the sweetest. (You can listen to it here.) But according to the Stickneys’ list, it is 2,437 lbs. – 51 lbs. lighter than the bell in Providence.
Royal Governor Sir Edmund Andros founded the King’s Chapel congregation in 1686, the first Anglican church in New England. The first church was a wooden structure at the corner of Tremont and School streets, where its successor stands today. It was built in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground because no resident of Boston would sell land for a church that wasn’t Congregationalist. John Winthrop and John Cotton are buried there; so is William Dawes, who rode with Revere on that famous midnight ride.
The current stone building was started in 1749 and built around the old wooden one. When it was finished, the old church was taken out through the windows, then sent to Nova Scotia. There the wood was used to build St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg.
The King’s Chapel bell was cast in England and hung in 1772. It cracked in 1814 and was recast by Paul Revere. King’s Chapel has since become a Unitarian church.
Hampstead Community Center
Hampstead, N.H., has one of the oldest surviving meetinghouses in New England. It is now a community center.
The interior has been modernized and a floor was added where the balcony used to be. The exterior is original, however.
The meetinghouse was built in 1745, though the interior wasn’t finished for another 47 years. The Revere bell, cast by Paul Revere, Jr., is in the belfry.
Five Revere Bells
Woodstock, Vt. has five Revere bells, the only community to be so fortunate. In 1818 three men traveled from Woodstock to Boston and bought a Revere bell for the First Congregational Church. It cost $319.95, at 45¢ a pound. It cracked in 1974, and is now displayed at the church.
Still ringing in Woodstock are Revere bells from the Masonic Temple, Saint James Episcopal Church and the North Universalist Chapel. The fifth is displayed on the putting green in front of the Woodstock Inn.
The Phantom UUSB Revere Bell
The Unitarian Universalist Society in Brooklyn, Conn., has one of the few pre-Revolutionary church buildings in Connecticut. Built in 1771, it has since been restored.
The UUSB are the direct successors of the first Unitarian congregation in Connecticut. Its first minister, the Rev. Samuel May, was a peace activist, education reformer, temperance crusader, supporter of women’s rights and a supporter of Prudence Crandall.
Back around 1935, a Works Progress Administration survey reported the UUSB church had a Revere bell. The New England Historical Society, not seeing it on the Stickney list, consulted Dennis Landis, UUSB president and historian. He could not confirm the story.
“I had a chance to view the bell closely about 2001 and saw a different bellfounder’s name and the date 1828,” he wrote. “It remains an open question who made the original bell, which was repaired several times and recast. I don’t think there was any indication of the bellmaker in the church records, only that someone was empowered to acquire one. It would be reasonable for a Revere bell to have been secured, but we just can’t prove it.”
Photos: First Unitarian church of Brooklyn, Conn., by Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States – Brooklyn, ConnecticutUploaded by Magicpiano, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29832055; Hampstead Meetinghouse By Nlynch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21779605; Revere bell in Pawtucket Congregational Church in Lowell, By Emw – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21009269; First Unitarian Church in Providence, By Kenneth C. Zirkel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32710198
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Paul Revere Co bell is still used by the First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, MA. Purchased in 1809, cracked in 1815 & recast. This bell is also on the list.
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Here is a link to a paper written by an Architectural student at BU:
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