Old North Church, a beacon of freedom, grapples with its own ties to slavery

Nearly a decade ago, Boston’s Old North Church opened a Colonial-themed chocolate shop named for Captain Newark Jackson, a prominent early member of the historic church and a pillar of Boston’s lucrative chocolate trade with the British in the 1700s.

For years, Colonial re-enactors in traditional costumes at Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop would grind cacao by hand and tell tourists stories of the chocolate trade.

What those re-enactors never said was that the chocolate trade was built on the backs of enslaved adults and children. Now, as the historic church uncovers and reckons with its past, it's not hiding those grim details. And it's welcoming students to study and reflect on the paradox of a landmark church dedicated to freedom whose members prospered from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In 2018, historian and author Jared Ross Hardesty's team of researchers discovered Jackson bought slaves in Barbados and traded them to plantation owners in Suriname for cacao beans to bring home, which he documented in the book "Mutiny on the Rising Sun."

“Essentially we found an entire smuggling ring,” Hardesty said. “And a central part of the way this entire smuggling operation worked was around the exchange of human beings.”