One of Chelsea Millsap’s favorite artifacts at the Old North Church in the North End is a clock in the sanctuary. When the church is empty and everything is quiet, she can listen closely and think of all the people who, throughout the centuries, heard the same tick-tick-ticks.

“[Revolutionary War officer Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de] Lafayette heard that when he was standing in the church,” she said. “All of the slaves that attended the congregation, they heard it and they were up right next to it. It's just such a special sound that people experienced over the last 300 years. And so all of that is history. It's really neat.”

Millsap, too, is standing in the sanctuary as a history-maker. She is the first woman to serve as sexton at the Old North Church, Boston’s oldest continuously-operating church. It’s the site where Paul Revere was given his signal to begin his midnight ride, during a time when only white, land-owning men were allowed to participate in all areas of civic life.

“Being here feels like time travel,” she said. “It's just so interesting to feel like we're time traveling, but to be able to do it from a woman's perspective, is just so awesome. It just feels unreal.”

The church is preparing for some major work to restore its centuries-old crypts to make them more accessible.

"Being here feels like time travel."
-Old North Church Sexton Chelsea Millsap

“The amount of lives that have passed through these doors and what it's meant to different people, because a lot of buildings from that era do not exist anymore,” she said.

Millsap is charged with fixing broken things with immense care, overseeing all of the grounds, and keeping up the crypt. About 1,100 people are buried there in 37 tombs, all constructed between 1732 and 1860, before the city had to comply with a city ordinance prohibiting indoor burials.

Millsap, a former firefighter who grew up in Detroit, took over the job in May. Among the interred Millsap is now charged with caring for: The first commander of the USS Constitution, Captain Samuel Nicholson; and Major John Pitcairn, a British Major who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Despite some late-night shifts, she said, she has not run into any spirits.

A gray stone inscribed with the words "No. 14, Stranger's Tomb, 1813."
A stranger's tomb at the Old North Church crypt, dated 1813.
Jeremy Siegel GBH News

“I like learning about ghosts and stuff too, I think that it would be cool if ghosts were real. I've never seen one before,” she said.

She recently found herself in the crypt at midnight, working on lighting repair in the wee hours when the church was empty.

“I looked at the clock and I'm like, Oh, it's midnight. I'm in the crypt. Do I feel scared? No. Why don't I feel scared?” she said. “I don't know if it's because I'm the cryptkeeper now, but I don't know. It's kind of a peaceful place. You walk in there and it sort of feels like there's a peace about it down there.”

She not only keeps the crypt, but is tasked with taking care of the historic site, cleaning the pews, lighting the lanterns and ringing the bells.

“It's still baffles me,” she said. “I've been here for over a month now, and it gives me goosebumps every day. It's so cool. It hasn't really sunk in yet, I don't think, because every day it does feel remarkable to be able to be a part of this team, and a part of the history of such a special place.”

Millsap’s new job is less than a mile away from the grave of her ancestor, Mary Chilton, who at 12 years old was the first female off of the Mayflower to land at Plymouth Rock. She is buried at King’s Chapel on Tremont Street.

“Living in Boston has always been a dream of mine growing up, because my family would visit Boston all the time,” she said. “Any time that we were learning a specific thing in history, my family would come out. If we were learning about the Salem Witch Trials, we would go to Salem. If we were learning about Plymouth Rock, we would go out there. Learning history was just a real experience for me growing up and so wanting to move to Boston was just very natural, I think. But at the same time, making it happen and living on this property in one of the oldest houses and in Boston, it's unreal. It's so great. I would be very surprised to know that this is how my life ended up.”

A woman in a chambray shirt looks out a window.
Chelsea Millsap gazes out of a window in her office. She is the first woman to serve as sexton for the Old North Church in its 300-year history.
Jeremy Siegel GBH News

Old North has a fascinating celebrated history in Boston. It also has a difficult history with ties to slavery. Prominent members of the church enslaved people and were involved in human trafficking. There were enslaved people who attended the congregation. It's a history that the church is now reexamining and reworking into its historical programing, an effort that Millsap said she's glad to be a part of.

“For me personally, I think it's very, very important to remember as many people's stories as you can gather,” Millsap said. “It seems very important and honorable that Old North is going back and digging through that side of the history, and making sure that those stories are told from a truthful perspective. ... We want to be as inclusive to everybody as possible. And so making this a full experience for everyone, I think that's what's most important at the end of the day.”