Old North Church gets first woman Sexton — a Mayflower pilgrim descendent

The Detroit native is a former firefighter.

Boston's Old North Church has a new Sexton. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

For the first time in Old North Church’s 300-year history, a woman will hold the position of Sexton. The new church caretaker is proud of breaking barriers for women, and has deep ties to Boston and the city’s history.

Chelsea Millsap, 32, is a Detroit native who will be tasked with managing and maintaining the church itself, as well as the parish buildings.


This includes tasks such as cleaning the pews, ensuring proper care of the historic objects in the church, maintaining the church’s crypt, ringing the church bell on special occasions, and lighting the lanterns in honor of Paul Revere’s ride each year.


“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,” Old North Foundation Executive Director Nikki Stewart said in a news release.

According to the news release, Millsap brings with her a decade of experience in fire prevention, security technology, and project management. She was formerly the only female firefighter in her fire department outside of Detroit.

Though Millsap has spent her life so far in Michigan, some of her family’s roots are here in Boston. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution Paul Revere Chapter, her ancestor, Mary Chilton, was the first female to leave the Mayflower at only 12 years of age, and is buried at King’s Chapel, the release said.

“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,” Millsap said in the news release. “…It is such an honor to show women that they too can hold these sorts of jobs.”

Millsap is beginning her tenure by managing the renovation and restoration of the crypt underneath the church, a project which is set to be completed by the Halloween season, the release said. The project will include repointing and replacing historic bricks, lowering the floor for accessibility, and replacing tomb doors.


According to the release, Old North Church’s crypt holds 37 tombs, and is the final resting place for approximately 1,100 people. When constructed in 1723, the church didn’t have space for a graveyard, so nine years after Old North Church opened, a single tomb was excavated under the sanctuary. Additional tombs were added over time.

Burials in the crypt took place between 1732 and 1860 when the church began complying with a city ordinance that banned indoor burials, the release said.

Notable people interred in the crypt include the Rev. Timothy Cutler, Old North’s first and longest-serving minister; Captain Samuel Nicholson, the first commander of the USS Constitution; and Major John Pitcairn, a British Major who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The restoration of the crypt is being completed in honor of the church’s 300th birthday in 2023 and the 250th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride in 2025, the release said.

“Chelsea’s passion for public history and historic preservation will ensure that Old North Church carries on for generations to come,” Stewart said in the release.


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