Beacon Street Diary blog

New NEHH collection available - Sturbridge Separatist Church

The latest addition to our New England's Hidden Histories program is a group of unusual relations from Sturbridge, Mass.

We've talked about relations on this blog before, most notably in "Puritan relations: possibly not what you think". Relations are first person narratives of religious conviction and conversion often made when petitioning to join a church, and by now we quite a large collection of them available to you here on our website.

Today we're adding a handful more, this time from Sturbridge, Massachusetts. These relations, however, are not what we normally think of when we think of relations. They're still first person narratives detailing religious conviction and conversation -- but these were made not as part of a petition to join the local church. These relations were made (possibly at the behest of First Church in Sturbridge) by existing members who had left or were leaving the church.

The town of Sturbridge was settled in 1729 upon the Massachusetts General Court's approval of the petition. The Proprietors of what would be First Church started meeting almost immediately, but a pastor wasn't settled and a covenant wasn't signed until 1736. Under Sturbridge's first pastor, Rev. Caleb Rice, church membership grew to 114. In the late 1740s, however, fifteen of those members chose to leave First Church. These fifteen separating members are referred to as both "New Lights" and "Separates" or "Separatists". Stirred by the First Great Awakening to a new religious zeal, these fifteen congregants separated from First Church and would later go on to form the Baptist Church of Sturbridge. The relations in this collection detail the firsthand accounts of conversion from a few of these fifteen Separates that lead to their split from First Church.

You can learn more about these relations on the Sturbridge Separatist Church collection page.