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.

Wounds [from battle] were first cleansed with lint, either dry or wet with oil, and bandaged lightly. Later they were to be washed with a digestive — a substance used to draw pus — and then covered with a bread-and-milk poultice, with oil for moisture. For the first twelve days, a cooling regiment of medicines and diet was recommended, on the theory that this lowered the danger of infection. The empiricists among the medical men of the time had noticed that a man ran a fever with an infection, and concluded, with somewhat superficial logic, that keeping him cool would lower the chances of the infection taking root.

Unfortunately, there was little or no interest in using clean bandages or instruments.

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