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King's Chapel and Burial Ground

King's Chapel and Burial Ground
King's Chapel and Burial Ground

© Dave Benson

Besides water for drinking and roads for moving around, all new cities need one thing as they grow—a place to inter their dead. Early 1600s Boston was no exception. King's Chapel Burying Ground, the city's first cemetery, was founded in 1630. Because of its city's role in the American Revolution, King's Chapel Burying Ground holds the remains of many important people, including John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts; William Dawes, who accompanied Paul Revere on his famous ride; William Emerson (father of Ralph Waldo); and Dr. Comfort Starr, founder of Harvard University.

The cemetery takes its name from King's Chapel, which was actually constructed after it. King James II wanted to ensure the presence of the Church of England in America; however, none of the Puritan colonists, who had left England specifically to get away from the strong arm of the Anglican Church were interested in selling their land to the King. Taking advantage of a 17th century real estate loophole, the crown finally seized a corner of the burying ground, which was considered "common land" and therefore had no owner to refuse the king's request.

King's Chapel Burial Ground

© Andrew Kuchling

By the 1740s, the population of Boston had changed significantly. British merchants, flocking to the New World for profit instead of religious freedom, helped the church's congregation quickly outgrow James II's modest wooden structure. The present-day stone church was built to accommodate this increased demand, and the wood from the dismantled original structure was later used to build another church in Nova Scotia.

The chapel is considered by some to be the best surviving example of Georgian architecture in North America, and its interior is both striking and elegant. Visitors wander among 18th century hand-carved wooden Corinthian columns painted with tromp l'oeil to look like stone and sit in box pews that were once decorated elaborately by the families who rented them year to year. Legend says that at one point prisoners who were to hang on Boston Common could say their last prayers in the thirteenth pew, or pew of the condemned, although unfortunately that pew's location has been lost. Another famous seat is the Governor's Pew, which hosted George Washington's derriere during an oratorio on October 27, 1789. History pervades other aspects of the building as well. The modern organ is decorated with elaborate carvings from a 1756 model, and the bell that rings at each service dates from 1772 and was recast by blacksmith Paul Revere after it cracked during church renovations.

Visitors can go on self-guided tours or opt to participate in special programs, such as "Puritans, Patriots, and Pirates!," that are offered during Boston's Harborfest. A recent addition to this roster includes the "Bones and bells" tour, which visits the crypt beneath the chapel. During the rest of the year, the chapel hosts services that make use of the chapel's unique blend of Anglican and Unitarian liturgy and concerts that take advantage of its exquisite acoustics.

Attraction Information

  • Hours:
  • Monday, Thursday, and Friday 10 am to 4pm in the Summer; Saturday 10am to 4pm for the rest of the year
  • Services are held Wednesdays at 12:15pm and Sundays at 11am
  • Weekly concerts take place Tuesday at 12:15pm and Sunday at 5pm
  • Admission:
  • Small groups' suggested admission is $3 per person.
  • Groups of 25 or more should donate $1 per person.
  • Location:
  • The Chapel and accompanying burying ground are a part of Boston's historic Freedom Trail route and are located on the corner of Tremont and School Streets, an easy walk from Old South Meeting House, Boston Athenaeum, and several other city landmarks.
  • Subway Stop:
  • The closest stop is Government Center (Green Line), but stops on all other lines are also within walking distance.
  • Contact:
  • Phone: 617-227-2155
  • Website:
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