King's Chapel was organized as an Anglican congregation at a meeting in Boston's Town House, the city hall of the day, on June 15, 1686. Its first house of worship was a small wooden meeting house at the corner of Tremont and School Streets, where the church stands today, that was dedicated on June 30, 1689.
The congregation grew and its building was in a bad state of repair as the middle of the 18th century approached. After difficult negotiations with Boston officials, the congregation acquired more land on the east side of its lot. Peter Harrison of Newport designed the new, larger building and construction began in 1749. The stone building, made of Quincy granite, was opened in 1754. A bell that was forged in England was hung in 1772. It cracked in 1814 and was recast by Paul Revere and rehung in 1816. Revere is quoted as saying it was "the sweetest bell I ever made." It still rings every Sunday morning to summon parishioners to service.
King's Chapel closed in 1776 for a few short months following the exile of Royalists in March, but reopened following the loss of its minister (the Rev. Henry Caner) for the funeral of Patriot General Joseph Warren, killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. During the Revolution, members of Old South Meeting House, a Congregational parish, and a few King's Chapel members continued to worship there. During the Revolution it was known for a time as "the Stone Chapel."
There was no minister until James Freeman, born in Charlestown and a Harvard graduate, was hired as lay reader in 1782 and became minister in 1783. He introduced Unitarian ideas in his preaching and revised the Anglican Book of Common Prayer along Unitarian principles. The changes in the liturgy were accepted by the congregation in June, 1785. Although Freeman still considered the church to be Episcopalian, Bishop Seabury in Connecticut, who represented the Anglican church, refused to ordain him. On November 18, 1787, Freeman was ordained by the Senior Warden of King's Chapel, in the name of the congregation, in words still used in ordinations at King's Chapel today: "to be the Rector, Minister, Priest, Pastor, Public Teacher, and Teaching Elder."
King's Chapel continues to follow a form of the Anglican liturgy, using the 9th edition of the Book of Common Prayer According to the Use in King's Chapel, published in 1986. This Book of Common Prayer is descended from an Anglican Book of Common Prayer edited by James Freeman for use at King's Chapel. Our current edition continues to espouse Unitarian theology and supports non-creedal worship.
King's Chapel is an independent congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. The members of the Society of King's Chapel use a congregational system of governance with elected officers (Senior and Junior Wardens, a Treasurer, and an Assistant Treasurer) and a Vestry of 12 members, four of whom are elected each year for three-year terms.
King's Chapel and the adjacent burying ground (owned by the City of Boston) are the fifth stop on Boston's Freedom Trail walking tour. Morning prayer, with a sermon, is held at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays and a service of midday prayer is held on Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m. throughout the year. Everyone is welcome.
The Society's Parish House, containing a chapel, offices, and meeting rooms, and the minister's residence are in two townhouses at 63 and 64 Beacon Street.