St. Paul’s Chapel

New York
NY

St. Paul’s in lower Manhattan

QUICK FACTS
  • St. Paul’s Chapel is part of the Parish of Trinity Church and is the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City.
  • During the Great New York Fire of 1776, it is saved by a bucket brigade that runs from the Hudson River up to the chapel’s roof.
  • Following his inauguration at Federal Hall (30-Apr-1789) President Washington attends Thanksgiving service, presided over by Bishop Provoost, at St. Paul’s. He would continue to attend services there until the second Trinity Church was finished in 1790.
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Completed in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel is the only surviving colonial-era church in Manhattan. The Georgian Classic-Revival structure was used then, and now, as a satellite chapel for the Parish of Trinity Church. The architect is unknown, but as was the practice at the time, the design was taken from architectural pattern-books and the result resembles St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

Following Continental Army battles with the British in Fall 1776, a fire swept through lower Manhattan in September destroying some 500 buildings — including Trinity Church. St. Paul’s was saved with a bucket brigade. Throughout the British occupation of New York and after, until 1790, St. Paul’s became the primary church for the parish.

British Generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis worshiped there. When he became president George Washington walked from Federal Hall, where he was inaugurated, to St. Paul’s to participate in a service with his wife Martha and both houses of Congress. Today, Washington’s pew is designated with the first U.S. Great Seal painted overhead.

In 1960, St. Paul’s was declared a National Historic Landmark for its architecture and its history.

The church and cemetery grounds are open to visitors daily; worship services are held every Sunday.

In 1775 the British government was not the limited monarchy we know today. The King was in charge of the executive branch of the government and his duties and powers corresponded, roughly, to those the President now handles in the United States. ... Political parties as we understand them today had yet to be born. England was split into four or five factions, some revolving around a noble Lord such as Marquis of Rockingham, some around a class (the country squires) and roughly on-third of Parliament around the King who, through his executive power, had innumerable jobs, from cabinet post to lucrative sinecures, to dispense among those who supported him.

Thomas Fleming
Now We Are Enemies: The Story of Bunker Hill (1960; reissued 2010)