Time Capsule Buried by Paul Revere and Sam Adams Discovered in Boston

Time Capsule Buried by Paul Revere and Sam Adams Discovered in Boston

Workers fixing a leak at the Massachusetts State House in Boston in December 2014 unearthed a time capsule placed in the building’s cornerstone more than two centuries ago. According to historical accounts, Samuel Adams (who by then had become governor of Massachusetts), Paul Revere and William Scollay placed the original contents of the time capsule in 1795, in a ceremony that started in downtown Boston and ended at the State House, then under construction.

Located atop Beacon Hill on land once owned by the state’s first elected governor, John Hancock, the State House was completed in 1798. The Federalist-style building, sometimes called the “New” State House,” replaced the Old State House on Court Street as the seat of the Massachusetts government. The latter building built in 1713, is the oldest surviving public building in Boston and now houses a historical museum.

In October 2014, the Old State House saw its own time capsule excitement, when officials opened a 113-year-old container that had been encased in the head of a golden lion statue on top of the building. Its contents, including sealed letters, photographs, and newspaper articles, were found to be in near-perfect condition.

The capsule placed by Revere and Adams in 1795 was first removed from the State House cornerstone in 1855, during emergency repairs to the building, and its contents were placed in a copper box, replacing the original cowhide container. It was then reburied and did not see the light of day again—until 2014.

When workers repairing a water leak at the State House spotted the time capsule, they called in the staff from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As reported in the Boston Globe, the excavation began when workers dislodged the cornerstone from the building and propped it up on wooden blocks so that one of the museum’s conservators, Pam Hatchfield, could slide underneath. Hatchfield painstakingly tapped away at the block, taking periodic breaks to warm up out of the wind and snow. As she worked, tiny coins fell out of the plaster encasing the time capsule. Public officials had tossed in the coins, which appeared to be silver, for good luck during the 1855 reburial ceremony.

The corroded copper alloy box that finally emerged from the plaster was a little smaller than a cigar box. State police transported the box to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it was X-rayed and carefully opened. The time capsule was found to contain silver and copper coins dating from 1652 to 1855, newspapers, a medal depicting George Washington, and a silver plaque believed to be engraved by Paul Revere.

The collection was placed on display at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts until June 2015. Then the 220-year-old time capsule was reburied—with modern currency added for future generations to rediscover.

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220-Year-Old Time Capsule Buried by Sam Adams & Paul Revere Opened

In 1795, then-Massachusetts Gov. Samuel Adams, famed patriot Paul Revere and Col. William Scollay buried a time capsule under the Massachusetts State House cornerstone in Boston, and now, after more than 200 years, its contents have been revealed.

On Jan. 6, officials from the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston carefully excavated and opened the capsule.

The time capsule holds silver and copper coins dating from 1652 to 1855 (the capsule was opened in the decades following its burial in 1795) and a silver plaque that experts believe Paul Revere himself engraved. The capsule also contained a copper medal depicting George Washington, several newspapers, an impression of the seal of the commonwealth and the title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records. [See photos of the time capsule and its contents]

The time capsule was last opened in 1855, when its contents were documented and cleaned, and additional items were reburied with it. The commonwealth has a set of historical records that mention the time capsule, but its existence wasn't confirmed until summer 2014, when an engineering firm stumbled upon the capsule during a construction project at the statehouse. Engineers discovered the capsule while using ground radar to survey the area.

In 1855, the capsule was mortared into the bottom of a granite cornerstone. In September 2014, museum workers and engineers began planning how to safely remove the artifacts.

On Dec. 11, a team of excavators, led by MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield, spent 7 hours chipping away at the cornerstone with chisels, hammers and specialized drills to carefully dig out the time capsule. But before the team could break through to the capsule, they discovered five 19th century silver coins that were ceremoniously set in plaster around the capsule when it was reburied. The excavators then reached the 10-lb. (4.5 kilograms) brass container and carefully removed it.

The capsule was taken to the MFA, where experts began the delicate task of opening it. An initial X-ray scan revealed the outlines of the plaque, several of the coins and several sheets of newspaper.

Conservators and engineers then removed excess plaster that was clinging to the brass case, and cleaned up the corrosion around the edges and the screws that had been keeping the capsule locked shut.

The time capsule's contents were revealed on Jan. 6 in a ceremonial opening that was attended by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin and MFA Director Malcolm Rogers. The capsule and its contents will be on display briefly at the MFA before being reburied at the Massachusetts State House.


Time Capsule Buried by Paul Revere, Sam Adams Discovered


According to historical accounts, Samuel Adams (who by then had become governor of Massachusetts), Paul Revere and William Scollay placed the original contents of the time capsule in 1795, in a ceremony that started in downtown Boston and ended at the State House, then under construction. Located atop Beacon Hill on land once owned by the state’s first elected governor, John Hancock, the State House was completed in 1798. The Federalist-style building, sometimes called the “New” State House,” replaced the Old State House on Court Street as the seat of the Massachusetts government. The latter building built in 1713, is the oldest surviving public building in Boston and now houses a historical museum.

This past October, the Old State House saw its own time capsule excitement, when officials opened a 113-year-old container that had been encased in the head of a golden lion statue on top of the building. Its contents, including sealed letters, photographs, and newspaper articles, were found to be in near-perfect condition. The capsule placed by Revere and Adams in 1795 was first removed from the State House cornerstone in 1855, during emergency repairs to the building, and its contents were placed in a copper box, replacing the original cowhide container. It was then reburied and did not see the light of day again—until yesterday.


What Was Found Inside the Oldest American Time Capsule

Back on July 4, 1795, none other than midnight-rider Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, who was then Massachusetts' governor, laid a time capsule in the Massachusetts State House in Boston. The event was a big to-do. Fifteen white horses (one for each state of the union) pulled the capsule to the ceremony, where a 15-gun salute accompanied its entombment within a cornerstone by Revere, Adams and fellow revolutionary William Scollay.*

In December 2014, the capsule was re-discovered by workers attempting to fix a water leak. Historians debated whether or not it should be removed, but the fact that water was seeping into that part of the building ultimately cinched it. To ensure preservation of its contents, it was decided that the time capsule would be opened.

There was an initial fear that the capsule’s contents hadn’t survived the centuries, particularly because the whole thing had been opened once before—in 1855, while repairs were done to the State House. At the time, 19th century “preservationists” had reportedly washed most of the capsule’s items in acid. However, they also enclosed all of the materials in a brass box—a more reliable vessel for the collection than the two heavy sheets of lead originally used. 

To the delight of historians, an x-ray performed last month suggested that the enclosed materials—thought to include paper and coins—were intact.

The 10-pound capsule was finally opened last night at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in front of a crowd of press and history enthusiasts, after Pam Hatchfield, the museum's Head of Objects Conservation, spent about five hours delicately loosening the screws that held down the lid. Inside, conservators found a well-preserved collection of Revolutionary-era artifacts, as well as some dating to the first opening in 1855.

*This sentence was updated for accuracy—it originally stated the horses pulled a brass box, but the brass box came later.

A curator handles a silver plaque taken from the time capsule. (Rick Friedman/rickfriedman.com/Corbis)

There were over a dozen coins, including a one-shilling piece from 1652, as well as a half-cent, a 3-cent, a dime, a “quar. dol” and a half-dollar coin. A Saturday morning paper and the Boston Traveler newspaper (priced at 2 cents) were discovered in readable condition.

Also within: The title page of the first volume of the Massachusetts Colony Records, a paper impression of the Seal of the Commonwealth, a medal depicting George Washington and a silver plaque commemorating the erection of the State House. Conservationists will be hard at work over the coming months working to preserve the materials and record their details.

It has been a pretty good year for American time capsules: In September, a 113 year-old capsule was discovered inside the head of a golden lion statue perched at the top of the Massachusetts State House. But not all that is buried is particularly old: in October, the 200th birthday of Perryopilis, Penn., was commemorated by opening a capsule originally sealed in 1976.

About Laura Clark

Laura Clark is a writer and editor based in Pittsburgh. She's a blogger with Smart News and a senior editor at Pitt magazine.


220-Year-Old Time Capsule Buried by Sam Adams &amp Paul Revere Opened

In 1795, then-Massachusetts Gov. Samuel Adams, famed patriot Paul Revere and Col. William Scollay buried a time capsule under the Massachusetts State House cornerstone in Boston, and now, after more than 200 years, its contents have been revealed.

On Jan. 6, officials from the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston carefully excavated and opened the capsule.

The time capsule holds silver and copper coins dating from 1652 to 1855 (the capsule was opened in the decades following its burial in 1795) and a silver plaque that experts believe Paul Revere himself engraved. The capsule also contained a copper medal depicting George Washington, several newspapers, an impression of the seal of the commonwealth and the title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records. [ See photos of the time capsule and its contents ]

The time capsule was last opened in 1855, when its contents were documented and cleaned, and additional items were reburied with it. The commonwealth has a set of historical records that mention the time capsule, but its existence wasn't confirmed until summer 2014, when an engineering firm stumbled upon the capsule during a construction project at the statehouse. Engineers discovered the capsule while using ground radar to survey the area.

In 1855, the capsule was mortared into the bottom of a granite cornerstone. In September 2014, museum workers and engineers began planning how to safely remove the artifacts.

On Dec. 11, a team of excavators, led by MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield, spent 7 hours chipping away at the cornerstone with chisels, hammers and specialized drills to carefully dig out the time capsule. But before the team could break through to the capsule, they discovered five 19th century silver coins that were ceremoniously set in plaster around the capsule when it was reburied. The excavators then reached the 10-lb. (4.5 kilograms) brass container and carefully removed it.

The capsule was taken to the MFA, where experts began the delicate task of opening it. An initial X-ray scan revealed the outlines of the plaque, several of the coins and several sheets of newspaper.

Conservators and engineers then removed excess plaster that was clinging to the brass case, and cleaned up the corrosion around the edges and the screws that had been keeping the capsule locked shut.

The time capsule's contents were revealed on Jan. 6 in a ceremonial opening that was attended by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin and MFA Director Malcolm Rogers. The capsule and its contents will be on display briefly at the MFA before being reburied at the Massachusetts State House.


Centuries-old time capsule from Sam Adams and Paul Revere unearthed in Boston

A 219-year-old time capsule, believed to be originally buried in 1795 by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, was unearthed Thursday in Boston.

The time capsule, believed to be the oldest unopened one in the U.S., was first discovered on Beacon Hill in 1855 during emergency repairs to the State House. It was immediately reburied by then-Governor Henry Garnder, where it did not see the light of day until December’s excavation by Museum of Fine Arts conservator Pam Hatchfield.

According to the the Boston Globe, the capsule, encased in granite, is believed to include silver and copper coins that date back to 1652 and 1855, newspapers, a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records and the seal of the Commonwealth.

The piece of American history was taken to the Museum of Fine Arts. There it will be X-rayed before its contents are revealed and made available to view to the public.

Left: A centuries-old time capsule was discovered in Boston on Thursday. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Time Capsule Buried by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere Discovered in Boston

An incredible piece of history was unearthed in Boston Thursday.

A paperback book-sized time capsule that officials said was buried by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere was discovered at the State House in Boston.

WHDH reported the capsule dates back to 1795. It contains newspapers, coins, and a silver plate.


Time Capsule Buried by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere Discovered in Boston

An incredible piece of history was unearthed in Boston Thursday.

A paperback book-sized time capsule that officials said was buried by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere was discovered at the State House in Boston.

WHDH reported the capsule dates back to 1795. It contains newspapers, coins, and a silver plate.


What makes a time capsule?

There&rsquos something innately sentimental about the human condition that drives us to preserve memories. A sense of existence that reminds our descendants, &ldquoyes, we were here, we lived too.&rdquo The earliest humans left their handprints on cave walls, our grandmothers created hope chests to pass down through generations, and today, some of us keep our past in a box under the bed or above the closet (is that just us?).

These things are time capsules, waiting for us when we are feeling nostalgic. The same emotions and logic apply to a time capsules. But, really, what makes a time capsule? According to his book, &ldquoTime Capsules: A Cultural History,&rdquo William E. Jarvis asserts that its a defined period of time. A time capsule must have an end date, a time to resurface.


Actually, That Boston Time Capsule Isn't Technically a Time Capsule

T he news that a copper box from the Revolutionary era had been unearthed in Boston drew excitement from history buffs eager to see what Paul Revere and Samuel Adams had chosen to preserve. Examination by x-ray suggested that it contains coins and documents from the 18th-century Massachusites, and its unveiling on Tuesday evening will provide a window into their world &mdash which is exactly the purpose of burying a time capsule.

However, though countless news outlets (TIME included) have heralded the discovery of the time capsule, the copper box that Revere and Adams buried in 1795 isn’t technically a time capsule.

As time-capsule expert William E. Jarvis explained in his 2002 book Time Capsules: A Cultural History, one of the defining characteristics of a time capsule is that it must have an end date. A box placed in a building foundation &mdash as the Boston box was in the cornerstone of the State House there &mdash without specific instructions as to when it should be opened is instead, Jarvis writes, a “foundation deposit.”

But why put a box in a cornerstone if the point isn’t that someone in the future will find it? (Unless it contains a singing frog, which is an entirely different situation.)

It turns out that repositories in foundations and cornerstones have an ancient history, which Jarvis traces back thousands of years, to ancient Mesopotamia. The origins of these rituals are presumed to be connected to the sanctification of the building in question then, as with some 13th-century European churches and cathedrals, holy objects might be placed in the foundation of a building that would be used for religious purposes.

“People have been putting things in the foundations of buildings for millennia,” says Knute Berger, another expert on the topic. (Berger and Jarvis are two of the founders of the International Time Capsule Society.) The reasons why, he says, are “spotty but interesting.” Some groups, he says, did intend to leave knowledge for the future &mdash for example, a fraternal order called the Rosicrucians believed their founder had done so with his tomb &mdash and some were making offerings, while others were merely doing the equivalent of signing a painting, as medieval workers did when they chiseled their initials into buildings.

Ceremonial cornerstones, often associated with rituals of Freemasonry, were common in early American history. In 1793, George Washington himself conducted just such a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol it remains unfound and its contents are a mystery. The cornerstone deposit in Boston was likewise laid as part of a grand Masonic ceremony, on July 4th, 1795 at the time, Paul Revere was Grand Master of the state’s Freemason fraternity. On the day in question, the participants started at the old State House and processed to the location where the new one would be. Fifteen white horses drew the stone to its new home &mdash one horse for each of the states in the union at the time, according to the current Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office &mdash and Revere then delivered a speech congratulating those gathered on having been part of the establishment of a country where liberty and laws would prevail. “May we my Brethren, so Square our Actions thro life as to shew to the World of Mankind, that we mean to live within the Compass of Good Citizens that we wish to Stand upon a Level with them that when we part we may be admitted into that Temple where Reigns Silence & peace,” he said.

Revere’s remarks don’t mention the contents of the cornerstone being unearthed in the future, or whether the contents would indicate anything about the world of 1795. And when the box was found in 1855, during State House repairs, and resealed with added contents, it still wasn’t technically a time capsule.

But if that’s not a time capsule, what is?

Jarvis’ book identifies the first-ever true time capsule as the Century Safe (pictured above) created for the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair and designed to be opened a century later, but the idea didn’t really take off until the 1930s or so. Perhaps interest in science around the turn of the 20th century sparked the birth of the fixed-end-date time capsule, guesses Berger: a true time capsule is like an experiment conducted with the scientific method, in that it has a set beginning and end.

The International Time Capsule Society is particularly concerned with the Crypt of Civilization, a time capsule conceived in 1936 and sealed in 1940, designed to be opened on May 28, 8113. It was meant to contain a complete record of civilization, including English lessons so that its eventual finders could read that record. The publicity surrounding the idea for the Crypt (which was first mentioned in an article by Thornwell Jacobs in Scientific American) also set off a fad, which prompted the Westinghouse Company’s decision to include a similar project in their exhibition for the 1938 World’s Fair. They called the project, meant to be opened 5,000 years later, a “time capsule” &mdash widely seen as the first usage of the term. As TIME wrote when that project was announced, it was going to be buried 50 ft. underground and contain missives to the future from luminaries of the present. “Anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror,” read Einstein’s.

When the capsule was buried in its steel-lined, concrete-stoppered tube in 1940, TIME reported that it contained much else as well:

Among the objects which went into it were a woman’s hat, razor, can opener, fountain pen, pencil, tobacco pouch with zipper, pipe, tobacco, cigarets, camera, eyeglasses, toothbrush cosmetics, textiles, metals and alloys, coal, building materials, synthetic plastics, seeds dictionaries, language texts, magazines (TIME among them), other written records on microfilm.

Still, whether or not the Boston box is a time capsule, we people of the present can learn from it. Though the capsule may include gold or silver, burying such treasure is more interesting than digging it up.

&ldquoThe ritual is almost more important that the substance,” says Berger. And when it comes to that, it doesn’t even really make a difference whether the Massachusetts State House cornerstone technically fits into Jarvis’ definition of a time capsule. &ldquoWhat matters is that you were there.&rdquo

Read TIME’s original story about the 1940 burial of the World’s Fair time capsule, here in the TIME Vault:5,000-Year Journey


Workers Just Unearthed A Centuries-Old Time Capsule Buried By Paul Revere

A chance discovery by a group of repairmen in Boston has led to the unearthing of a centuries-old time capsule, believed to have been buried there in the 1790s by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.

The antique time capsule, which had been placed in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House, was discovered this week when workers who had been repairing a water leak at the building stumbled upon it, CNN reports.

Museum of Fine Arts conservator Pamela Hatchfield was promptly called in for her expertise, and on Thursday, after about seven hours of painstaking, backbreaking work, she -- with the help of several workers -- successfully extricated the almost cigar box-sized container from its burial place.

"I feel happy and relieved and excited,” Hatchfield told the Associated Press after the time capsule’s successful removal, “and really interested to see what's in this box.”


Massachusetts officials work to remove the time capsule from the cornerstone on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.

The time capsule is believed to have first been buried at the State House in 1795 by revolutionary war hero Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, who was the governor of Massachusetts at the time. It’s thought to be one of the oldest time capsules in the United States.

According to the Boston Globe, the antique container was unearthed once before, in 1855, when emergency repairs to the foundation reportedly led to its temporary removal. However, it hasn’t seen the light of day since.


Hatchfield holds the the time capsule on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.

As for what treasures the capsule may contain, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin told CNN the box is known to house “a Paul Revere plate, papers, and coins from the 1600s," among other artifacts. The condition of the container's contents, however, remains unknown.

Galvin said that the capsule will be X-rayed and examined by experts, and its contents will likely be revealed to the public next week.

“Hopefully there will be no damage and we will be able to observe the artifacts that trace us back to the history not only just of this building, but of our Commonwealth and our country,” he told the Globe.


Watch the video: Time Capsule