King's Chapel

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King's Chapel
Boston - King's Chapel (48718908106).jpg
LocationTremont and School Streets, Boston, MA
Coordinates42°21′28.81″N 71°3′35.98″W / 42.3580028°N 71.0599944°W / 42.3580028; -71.0599944Coordinates: 42°21′28.81″N 71°3′35.98″W / 42.3580028°N 71.0599944°W / 42.3580028; -71.0599944
ArchitectPeter Harrison
Architectural styleGeorgian
NRHP reference No.74002045[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPMay 2, 1974
Designated NHLOctober 9, 1960

King's Chapel is an American independent Christian unitarian congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association that is "unitarian Christian in theology, Anglican in worship, and congregational in governance."[2] It is housed in what was for a time after the Revolution called the "Stone Chapel", an 18th-century structure at the corner of Tremont Street and School Street in Boston, Massachusetts. The chapel building, completed in 1754, is one of the finest designs of the noted colonial architect Peter Harrison, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 for its architectural significance.

Despite its name, the adjacent King's Chapel Burying Ground is not affiliated with the chapel or any other church; it pre-dates the present church by over a century.


The King's Chapel congregation was founded by Royal Governor Sir Edmund Andros in 1686 as the first Anglican Church in colonial New England during the reign of King James II. The original King's Chapel was a wooden church built in 1688 at the corner of Tremont and School Streets, where the church stands today. It was situated on the public burying ground, now King's Chapel Burying Ground, because no resident would sell land for a church that was not Congregationalist (at the time, the Congregational church was the official religion of Massachusetts).

1688 King's Chapel building (demolished)

In 1749, construction began on the current stone structure, which was designed by Peter Harrison and completed in 1754. The stone church was built around the wooden church. When the stone church was complete, the wooden church was disassembled and removed through the windows of the new church. The wood was then shipped to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where it was used to construct St. John's Anglican Church. That church was destroyed by fire on Halloween night, 2001. It has since been rebuilt. Originally, there were plans to add a steeple, although funding shortfalls prevented this from happening.[3]

Original King's Chapel after reconstruction as the St. John's Anglican Church in Nova Scotia (1754)

During the American Revolution, the chapel sat vacant and was referred to as the "Stone Chapel". The Loyalist families left for Nova Scotia and England, and those who remained reopened the church in 1782. It became Unitarian under the ministry of James Freeman, who revised the 1662 English edition of the Book of Common Prayer along Unitarian lines in 1785. Although Freeman still considered King's Chapel to be Episcopalian, the Episcopal Church's first bishop Samuel Seabury refused to ordain him. The church still follows its own Anglican-style hybrid liturgy.[4] It is a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Tremont Street, c. 1843, with view of King's Chapel. Painting by Philip Harry (courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Inside, the church is characterized by wooden columns with Corinthian capitals that were hand-carved by William Burbeck and his apprentices in 1758. Seating is accommodated by box pews, most of which were originally owned by the member families who paid pew rent and decorated the pews to their personal tastes. The coveted Pew No. 30 is the Governor's Pew (reserved for Jonathan Belcher, the Royal Governor) was, on October 27, 1789, occupied by George Washington. Belcher's son, Jonathan Jr., was wed in the chapel in 1756. The current uniform appearance of the pews dates from the 1920s.

Music has long been an important part of King's Chapel, which acquired its first organ in 1713, bequeathed to the congregation by Puritan minister Thomas Brattle. The present organ, the sixth installed in King's Chapel, was built by C.B. Fisk in 1964. It is decorated with miters and carvings from the Bridge organ of 1756, and it is slightly below average in size compared with most mid-1900s European chapel organs.[5] For forty-two years,[6] the eminent American composer Daniel Pinkham was the organist and music director at King's Chapel. He was succeeded by Heinrich Christensen.

King's Chapel, interior; 1898. Boston Pictorial Archive.
King's Chapel, interior; 1898. Boston Pictorial Archive.

The King's Chapel bell, cast in England, was hung in 1772. In 1814 it cracked, was recast by Paul Revere and Sons, and was rehung. It is the largest bell cast by the Revere foundry, and the last one cast during Paul Revere's lifetime. It has been rung at services ever since.

Within King's Chapel is a monument to Samuel Vassall, brother of the colonist William Vassall, a patentee of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and an early deputy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Samuel Vassall of London was also named a member of the Company in its 1629 Royal Charter but never sailed for New England, instead remaining in London to tend to business affairs; his brother William frequently clashed with John Winthrop, and eventually removed himself to Scituate, Massachusetts.[7] The monument to Vassall, London merchant, mentions his resistance to King Charles's taxes imposed on Tonnage and Poundage, especially as Parliament had refused the King's request for a lifetime extension. Vassall subsequently represented the City of London as a Member of Parliament (1640–1641), which restored some of Vassall's estate. Later Vassalls in Massachusetts, including William Vassall for whom Vassalboro, Maine was named, were Loyalists and fled to England during the American Revolutionary War.[8]


  • Robert Ratcliff, rector 1686–1689[9]
  • Samuel Myles, rector 1689–1728 (d. 1728)
  • Roger Price, rector 1729–1746
  • Henry Caner, rector 1747–1776
  • James Freeman, rector 1787–1836 (d.1836)
  • King's Chapel at Tremont Street and School Street, Boston, Mass., June 1920. Leon Abdalian Collection.
    King's Chapel at Tremont Street and School Street, Boston, Mass., June 1920. Leon Abdalian Collection.
    Samuel Cary, minister 1809–1815 (d.1815)
  • F.W.P. Greenwood, minister 1824–1843 (d. 1843)
  • Ephraim Peabody, minister 1845–1856 (d. 1856)
  • no regular minister 1856–1861
  • Henry Wilder Foote, minister 1861–1889 (d. 1889)
  • no regular minister 1889–1895
  • Howard Nicholson Brown, minister 1895–1921
  • Harold Edwin Balme Speight, minister 1921–1927
  • John Carroll Perkins, minister in charge 1927–1931, minister 1931–1933 (guardian of Emily Hale)
  • Palfrey Perkins, minister 1933–1953
  • Joseph Barth, minister 1953–1965 (d. 1988)
  • no regular minister 1965–1967
  • Carl R. Scovel, senior minister 1967–1999
  • Charles C. Forman, affiliate minister 1980–1998 (d. 1998)
  • Matthew M. McNaught, interim minister 1999–2001
  • Earl K. Holt, minister 2001–2009[10]
  • Dianne E. Arakawa, interim minister 2009–2013[11]
  • Joy Fallon, minister 2013–present

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ King's Chapel website
  3. ^ "King's Chapel". Freedom Trail Foundation. 2013. Archived from the original on 25 March 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  4. ^ Wohlers, Charles. "Book of Common Prayer for King's Chapel, Boston". Society of Archbishop Justus. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  5. ^ Cohen, Paul M. Survey of Smaller mid-1900s European Chapel Pipe Organs: And The Small-Footed People who Play Them. 2nd edition. London: Palgrave, 1998.
  6. ^ "Bio at". Archived from the original on 2017-04-25. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
  7. ^ Apparently even Scituate wasn't far enough away from Winthrop and the Massachusetts authorities to suit Vassall, who departed Scituate after a decade for Barbados, where he died.[1]
  8. ^ Annals of King's Chapel from the Puritan Age of New England to the Present Day, Vol. I, Henry Wilder Foote, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1900
  9. ^ Foote. Annals of King's Chapel, vol. 2. Boston: Little, Brown, 1896; p. 602.
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2010-06-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2010-06-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

External links[edit]

Preceded by Locations along Boston's Freedom Trail
King's Chapel
Succeeded by