“For Use of the Gentlemen of the Bay”

When we go to a ball game in the 21st Century, most of us find ourselves in the bleachers stuck behind a big column. We always envy the people who get to sit in their company or “Corporate Boxes”. Sometimes these boxes are right behind first base and sometimes they are way up high from which there is a magnificent view of the entire ballpark. Either way, it always seems like the people who sit in them are super important because they usually have a fridge full of beer and an infinite reserve of cracker jacks.

The idea of a company box is not new and goes a lot further back than baseball. Before Bank of America and Absolut Vodka employees had their private boxes at Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium, the Gentlemen of the Bay of Honduras had their own company box inside the Old North Church.

The Bay of Honduras was a company that produced and shipped logwood from Central America, particularly from what is presently the country of Belize. They were all Englishmen who struck out to make something of themselves in this tumultuous and dangerous region of the New World. The Spanish of course were the first Europeans to discover Belize. Although their settlement there was limited, the coast of Central America was a busy place for passing Spanish merchant ships. These ships were the reason for an English presence in Belize because by 1640s, English privateers and pirates were constantly attacking Spanish trade in the region. Gold was not the only valuable material in Central America. The dye extracted from the logwood was extremely lucrative for dying fabrics used for clothing and many other things. It was not long before England decided to settle the region with indentured servants and land barons to have a constant flow of logwood to the mother country. Even some of the pirates were coerced by the English government to buy land and join in the legal but lucrative production of logwood.

Many of the merchants involved in the logwood trade spent a lot of time in Boston trying to find buyers for their product. While in the city, they needed a church to attend on Sunday. Representatives from their company approached the Old North vestry about having their own private pew in the church when they were in town. In return, they would donate a large quantity of logwood to the church. They themselves would sell this wood and the proceeds would go towards building a steeple. The church was enthusiastic about this deal and even provided the company with a ship to transport the wood. Although the arrangement met with a few hitches, by 1740 a beautiful steeple was built. 35 years later, Paul Revere would use this steeple to send a message to the countryside regarding the movement of British troops to Lexington and Concord.

The Bay Pew, as the Gentlemen’s pew came to be called, is arguably the best place to sit inside the church. It is located directly under the pulpit and is decorated with red fabric, cushions, and chairs. Such was the first corporate box in the Old North Church. The Gentlemen of the Bay donated a large sum of money for the benefit church and were lavished with a prime seat. This is an enduring concept that is still prevalent in our country and is unlikely to go away.

The Bay Pew. Photo Courtesy Old North Foundation
The Bay Pew. Photo Courtesy Old North Foundation