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A Brief History of Church Bells in the United States

The ringing bells atop the local church have been an integral part of American history.

Church bells have been used to gather townspeople for worship or government business, as well as for timekeeping to ring in the hour for work and play. Even today, church bells are used to mark special occasions in honor or celebration. As the sound of ringing church bells invoke nostalgia and comfort, their history in America is also worthy of attention.

The oldest church bells in the United States are found in the Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts. These eight bells were cast in Gloucester, England in 1744, brought to the colonies and hung in the church in 1745. Though they were intended to ring for the glory of the British Empire, the bells were also rung during Paul Revere’s midnight ride in 1775 to warn colonists of advancing British troops. (Interestingly, Paul Revere went on to start his own bell foundry in 1792 and cast over 400 bells before his death in 1818.) The Old North Church bells underwent restoration in 1894 and again in 1975. They are currently played and maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Guild of Bellringers.

Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania houses the second oldest church bells. These were also cast in England and brought to Pennsylvania in 1754 aboard the ship Myrtilla. Its captain, Richard Budden is interred in the church’s cemetery. When the bells were rung following a public reading of the Declaration of Independence in the fall of 1776, it was feared the bells would be removed by the British, as the church rector, Reverend Jacob Duche, was a loyalist to the Crown. The bells were removed in 1777 and returned after the British left Philadelphia in 1778.

The first bell to arrive in the St. Louis region is currently at the museum of the Old Cathedral in the downtown area. This bronze bell was cast in 1772 and also contains 200 pieces of silver. It was a gift from a local Spanish governor to the first church founded along the Mississippi River in our region.

If you are looking to make beautiful music with church bells, call McShane Bell Company, America’s historical church bell specialist since 1856. Our work can be heard around the U.S. and around the world. Our dedicated craftsmen honor the tradition of bronze church bell casting, ringing peals, chimes and carillons for the ages. Call today to start your new project!

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