The Stranger’s Tomb

Of the 21 tombs that lie beneath the sanctuary at King’s Chapel, one stands out from the rest. The entrance to this tomb—unnumbered, holding no family name—sits at the base of the Bell Tower, a bricked-up portal through the heavy stone foundation.

The name borne by this burial space is “The Stranger’s Tomb,” and reflects what we know about those interred within: next to nothing. This tomb, closed in 1816, holds the remains of such individuals as died forgotten and unknown in the streets of Boston. As a result, we largely do not know the names of those within; their names are as lost to history as their stories. With one major exception: the Chevalier de Saint Sauveur, a French nobleman and naval lieutenant who arrived in Boston in 1778 with the first deployment of French forces in the American Revolutionary War.

Here to help though they were, the French ships docked in the North End experienced some of the same treatment Crown authorities had received prior to the evacuation of Boston in 1776. Whether the authorities were Loyalist or Patriot, the people of Boston continued to express their discontent by taking to the streets—sometimes violently.

So it was on the night of 8 September, 1778, when a violent group descended upon the fleet bakery. de Saint Sauveur, along with several of his fellow officers, resisted the attack—but in the tumult he was struck over the head with a chair leg, a mortal wound that he resisted for some eight anguished days.

This left the Americans with a couple of problems on their hands. First, one of their French allies lay dying, potentially at the hands of their own citizens. This did not look good. Second, the dying man was a Catholic, the practice of which was illegal in Boston at the time.

Still, when he finally did pass they had to have a service for him, and they did so—underground, in the crypt at the vacant King’s Chapel, hidden away to avoid inciting another riot in the city. After the service was concluded, his body was placed in the Stranger’s Tomb.

According to the Massachusetts Legislature, this was just temporary. As soon as the war was sorted out, the Chevalier would have a burial and a monument befitting his rank and status. The French were appeased; following repairs to their ships, they sailed from Boston and on to campaign.

Today, however, the Chevalier de Saint Sauveur remains in the Stranger’s Tomb at King’s Chapel; the tomb promised by the Legislature forgotten with the complexities of war. In 1916, researchers with the Bostonian Society determined that this man who had given his life for the American cause had never received the recognition that had been promised.