By Bernard Trubowitz
It isn’t often that we can know exactly what someone was thinking on a specific date back in 1775, but today is one of those rare days. It was exactly 241 years ago today that former Old North Reverend Dr. Mather Byles put quill to paper and noted his frustration with the church’s parishioners.
Six months after being fired by the congregation on April 18th (the same day two lanterns, lit in the steeple, would earn the church’s place in history) over both salary and political conflicts, Byles was still in Boston, unable to leave during the British occupation. Cleary irked by the continued hostility towards his Tory leanings, he wrote that “I still offered to officiate to them so long as I continued in Boston, but they treated my kind proposal with neglect. They chose rather to shut up the church, nor has it since been opened for a single Sunday. Indeed it is now scarce worth while to attempt it –most of them having left town- not more than six or seven families remaining.”
The sting of rejection is apparent in his words. But Byles’ words also paint a picture of the congregation during the siege of Boston. The dwindling population was hardly enough to maintain an active congregation, and the few remaining parishioners had abandoned their Loyalist leanings with the Coercive Act’s closure of the port they relied upon, and were steadfastly Patriots. They would rather see their church shuttered than rely upon their Loyalist former minister, and the church remained closed until the siege was lifted in 1778.
Dr. Byles kept busy despite this “snub”; his letter explained that “Though shut out from my own church, I frequently assist at other churches of the town, and there are several large hospitals of the sick and wounded, which I visit every week.” Between visiting British field hospitals and other congregations, Byles managed to keep busy, but in rebellion-torn Boston, he certainly didn’t have an easy or enjoyable time of it.
Read more on Byles and his departure from Old North Church in another article.