The thousands of tourists who visit Boston’s Old North Church probably won’t see much of Chelsea Millsap on their trip, even though she may just have the most important job at the historic site.
Millsap, 32, who can trace her ancestry to the Pilgrims, is the first woman named sexton in the church’s nearly 300-year history. It’s a job that involves caring for and maintaining the parish buildings and equipment, including an 18th-century clock, the 75-piece chandeliers and the crypt where more than 1,100 people have been laid to rest.
One of her first tasks will be managing a major renovation and restoration of the crypt.
The church, still home to an active Episcopal congregation, is famous as the place where in 1775, two lanterns in the steeple signaled that British soldiers were heading to Concord and Lexington, sending Paul Revere on the ride that sparked the American Revolution. The event was immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1860 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
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One of the people who hung the lanterns was Robert Newman, the sexton at that time.
“What an incredible opportunity to be able to sit in the very same pew as Robert Newman and in a world that is so divided to work in a place that welcomes all people from Bostonians to world dignitaries, like the Queen,” Millsap, a Detroit native and former firefighter with experience in fire prevention, security technology and project management, said in a statement.
“I could have been the one to hang the lanterns 247 years ago. It is such an honor to show women that they too can hold these sorts of jobs.”
One of Millsap’s jobs is to climb the steeple stairs to light the lanterns during commemorations of the event.
Millsap is a descendant of teenage Mayflower passenger Mary Chilton, who is buried at nearby King’s Chapel in Boston.
“The sexton is an incredibly important role at Old North, serving both the church and historic site and connecting a nearly 300-year lineage of caretakers,” Nikki Stewart, executive director of the Old North Foundation said. “Chelsea’s passion for public history and historic preservation will ensure that Old North Church carries on for generations to come.”