Beacon Street Diary

October 10, 2018

These two dramatic additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The collections relate to judicial cases which were played out within the ecclesiastical framework of the Colonial era, before the separation of Church and State. The first collection dates to 1728 and consists of a Medford minister's overview of a 1720 witchcraft case in Littleton, Mass. The second dates to 1811-1814 and contains two large volumes of correspondence related to the disciplinary case of a female parishioner at Boylston, Mass. and heated arguments over church jurisdiction.

 

Ebenezer Turell's account of a witchcraft case

Rev. Ebenezer Turell, minister of the First Parish in Medford, Massachusetts, offers his opinion regarding a 1720 witchcraft case at Littleton, Mass. in this somewhat polemical essay. The handwritten volume contains a summary of alleged paranormal events besetting a Littleton family, local opinions and reactions, and an advisory section in which Rev. Turell warns against deceitful children and encourages watchfulness and the application of corporal punishment by adults. He advises against the conflation of "tricks and legerdemain" with genuine Satanic covenants. Rev. Turell's essay was written more than three decades after the infamous miscarriage of justice at Salem, Mass. during the 1692 witchcraft hysteria, in which the testimony of children was instrumental in the indictment and execution of innocent townspeople.

Ward Cotton's correspondence

This collection contains correspondence dating from 1811-1814, relating to a dispute between Congregational churches in Boylston and Worcester, Mass. Parishioner Betsy Flagg was a vocal opponent of the ministry of Rev. Ward Cotton and was consequently suspended from services until she recanted. Instead, Flagg began attending the nearby Congregational church of Worcester, Mass. under the auspices of Rev. Samuel Austin. Her lack of an official dismissal from Boylston created a disagreement between Revs. Cotton and Austin, escalating into mutual accusations and calls for arbitration by an ecclesiastical council. Ultimately the case was decided in favor of Rev. Cotton and against Miss Flagg, whose acceptance by the Worcester parish was deemed an overreach of the church's authority.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

October 3, 2018

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This material relates to the Massachusetts parishes of West Stockbridge and Boylston (formerly part of Shrewsbury), and consists of church record books and associated materials. Both collections are primarily comprised of eighteenth-century records, which include admissions, member lists, baptisms, marriages, and funeral registers.

 

West Stockbridge, Mass. Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts was founded in 1789, along with the town itself. The meeting house was also used for civic purposes, and was shared with a local Baptist congregation until 1793. A Second Church was formed in 1833 to serve the area's growing population. The volumes include the First Church's record book, as well as an assortment of loose documents found inside the volume.

Boylston, Mass. First Church

The North Precinct or Parish of Shrewsbury, Mass., was established in 1742, with Rev. Ebenezer Morse ordained as its first pastor. This parish remained a part of Shrewsbury until 1786, when it was established as the town of Boylston and its church became the Congregational Church of Boylston. The church record book consists of handwritten entries of member admissions, baptisms and marriages. It was composed by Rev. Morse, who was ultimately dismissed in 1775 for his loyalist sympathies.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

October 1, 2018

With great sadness, the Congregational Library & Archives notes the passing of the Reverend Robert Wood who died on August 19. The CLA's friends and followers may already know Rev. Wood's name, as he donated his papers to us in 2004, and I've written about him a few times in the past. In June this year I was honored to have been able to visit him for at Havenwood-Heritage Heights, the United Church of Christ's retirement community in New Hampshire. While there I presented a brief lecture with a Q&A on his collection to the residents, visiting friends, and the UCC's New Hampshire Conference. The event served as an opportunity to ask Rev. Wood directly about his life and experiences.

For those new to his story, Rev. Robert Watson Wood was born May 21, 1923 and is known among the LGBTQ community for his steadfast dedication to civil rights. That journey started with his book, Christ and the Homosexual, published in 1960 under his own name as an ordained United Church of Christ minister. He was part of the first group to picket a federal building in 1965 and he argued in favor of same-sex marriage decades before Obergefell.

One of the biggest defining aspects of Wood's life was his relationship with his husband, Hugh "Buck" Coulter. The two met in New York City in 1962 and remained devoted to each other until Coulter's death in 1989. Coulter was a World War II veteran, a rodeo cowboy, and an abstract artist. Circumstances kept the two from ever sharing a house or being legally married. Despite that, they made the most of their time together. Wood's collection includes significant representation of Coulter's life: photographs, correspondence, and samples of his art, particularly.

Another major facet of Wood's life and identity was as a decorated combat World War II veteran. Wood knew he was gay when he was in high school. Before he could truly navigate the ramifications of coming out, the US joined the war. Wood was open about his anxiety over being discovered and punished. Nevertheless, he volunteered, fought for our country, and survived with a strong sense of duty that he directed towards LGBTQ civil rights. During this past June's presentation, someone asked why he risked his safety and well-being, coming out and fighting for equal rights. He answered that he did it because nobody else was. It's that sense of purpose, service, compassion, and bravery that I celebrate as I remember him. I'm proud to have known Robert Wood and even more proud to care for his personal papers. Moreover, I do not take his sacrifices and hard work for granted.

Rev. Wood's memorial will be at Havenwood on Wednesday, October 3, at 2 pm.

Those interested in learning more about Robert Wood and his life and work are welcome to visit the Congregational Library & Archives. His papers are open to the public and the CLA welcomes all visitors interested in research. My trip in June included adding new material for Rev. Wood's collection and I've spent a great deal of time reviewing what we already held and integrating the photos, letters, original diaries, and so much more for our patrons. That new material is not yet reflected in our current guide, but stay tuned.  

—Jessica

September 27, 2018

These two new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program are provided in partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Rev. Jonathan Parsons and Rev. William Rand were both Congregationalist ministers in Massachusetts, but the two men held very different opinions of the Great Awakening, the evangelical zeitgeist of the 1730s-40s which swept through much of Britain and America. The movement emphasized personal salvation and encouraged a degree of unity across different denominations. Ironically, it also created serious divisions within existing traditions, which began to fracture along the lines of converts and traditionalists.

Rev. Parsons was a convert to the movement and a personal friend of the famous evangelist George Whitfield, while Rev. Rand became a staunch opponent of the new theology. Despite their differences, the two ministers did have one notable circumstance in common; the views of both men were at odds with their congregations, who consequently swapped them out for more suitable candidates. Both Rev. Parsons and Rev. Rand were rehoused with congregations whose views more closely matched their own.

 

Jonathan Parsons's sermons

Rev. Jonathan Parsons (1705-1776) graduated from Yale in 1729, and was the minister at the First Church in Lyme, Connecticut from 1729/30 to 1745. He was heavily influenced by the Great Awakening, particularly by the evangelists Gilbert Tennent and George Whitefield, the latter of whom became his personal friend. Rev. Parsons was subsequently compelled by traditionalist parishioners to leave his parish in Lyme. George Whitefield personally recommended him to the new Presbyterian Church of Newburyport, Mass., and he took up ministry there from January 1745/6 until the end of his life. The collection consists of notes for sermons delivered by Rev. Parsons in his home parish of Newbury, as well as a published print copy of a sermon originally delivered at the funeral of George Whitefield, who died suddenly "of a fit of asthma" in Newburyport in 1770.

William Rand's sermons

Rev. William Rand (1699-1779) was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College in 1721. He was the minister at Sunderland, Mass. from 1722 until 1745, when he was dismissed due to his opposition to the Great Awakening. He subsequently replaced the Rev. Thaddeus McCarty as minister at Kingston, Mass. when the latter was dismissed for inviting the evangelist George Whitefield to preach there. Rev. Rand remained at Kingston from 1745 until his death in 1779. The volumes in this collection contain a large number of Rev. Rand's sermons preached after his move to Kingston. These were largely delivered in his home parish, but also in neighboring communities such as Plymouth and Duxbury.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

September 18, 2018

These latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. They include record books and associated material for three coastal churches founded in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: Sandwich First, the Congregational Church of Hull, and Newbury Third. The church records comprise registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, admissions and dismissions, meeting minutes, and tax lists. The Sandwich First collection includes town meeting minutes in addition to the ecclesiastical records.

 

Sandwich, Mass. First Church

Sandwich's First Church was founded in 1638 as part of the original Plymouth Colony. The collection consists of two record books, cumulatively spanning 1691-1853. The first contains admissions, baptisms, proceedings, deaths, and dismissals ranging from 1691-1818. The second contains meeting minutes for the first precinct in the town of Sandwich, as well as those for parish meetings from 1786-1853.

Hull, Mass. Congregational Church

The First Church in Hull (formerly Nantasket) was founded in 1644. The volume comprises handwritten transcriptions from the First Church's records dating from 1725-1767. These include listings of baptisms, marriages, and deaths. The records were copied in 1847 by Charles J. F. Binney from the records of Rev. Ezra Carpenter for 1725 to 1746, and the records of Rev. Samuel Veazie for 1753 to 1767. The earlier records for this church (1644-1725) were destroyed in a fire sometime before 1847.

Newbury, Mass. Third Church

The Third Church of Newbury, Mass. was founded in 1726, after the establishment of the First Church in 1635 and Second Church in 1695. The volumes were transcribed from various books and papers in 1737 by the church's first minister, Rev. John Lowell, and later continued by Edith R. Wills. The Third Church experienced a denominational split in 1746, when a number of parishioners left to form the Newbury Presbyterian Church. The Third Church became part of the parish of Newburyport in 1764.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

August 21, 2018

We are pleased to make four more collections of valuable church documents available as part of our New England's Hidden Histories program. These records from the northern and central parts of Massachusetts further enhance our holdings by shedding light on the complexities of these communities. Church and parish records are as much town records as they are records of the church community. Vital records and sermons offer clues into the daily lives of everyday people, and financial records provide insight into the economics of a time long past. These records also mark an important milestone in the NEHH program as they are the last manuscripts to be published as part of our three-year NEH grant. But don't worry. There are many more manuscripts to be published over the next three years thanks to other grants.

 

Marlborough, Mass. First Church

The town of Marlborough was incorporated in 1660. The First Parish Church was originally organized in 1666. The first meetinghouse stood on the old Common, but was burnt down by Native Americans in 1676. In 1833, 50 members of the First Parish withdrew in order to form the First Evangelical Congregational Society, though by 1836 the two churches reformed as the single Union Church in Marlborough. These extensive records include the earliest extant church records which include meeting minutes, vital records, membership lists, and pew records. The collection also includes sermons, financial records, records related to two early pastors, and the records of the First Evangelical Congregational Society.

West Brookfield, Mass. First Congregational Church

Though established during the 1660s, the earliest history of the First Congregational Church is Brookfield has been lost to fire. Our records begin with the construction of the third meetinghouse in 1755. West Brookfield split from Brookfield in 1848. The church and parish records include meeting minutes, records of petitions and their signers, committee reports, baptismal and marriage records, historical sketches, and copies of the church's covenant.

Merrimac, Mass. Pilgrim Congregational Church

The parish was first organized in 1725 and a year later the church itself was founded as the Second Church of Christ in Amesbury. The town of Merrimac separated from Amesbury in 1876, and in 1879 the church was renamed to the First Congregational Church, though it was popularly referred to as the Pilgrim Congregational Church. The collection includes meeting minutes and records of votes, financial records, membership lists, baptismal and marriage records, church communications, and the results of ecclesiastical councils. Rev. Paine Wingate, the first minister, is also heavily featured within the records, and the collection includes his final will and testament.

Wendell, Mass. Congregational Church

The Congregational Church of Wendell was formed in Wendell, Mass. in 1774. The first meetinghouse was built in 1783, and a second in 1846. Even though the church was relatively small throughout its history, the Congregational Church of Wendell contributed to domestic and foreign missions, including mission work in China. This collection includes meeting minutes, vital statistics, public confessions of guilt, church correspondence, and deacons' records. The collection also includes extensive financial records.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

July 13, 2018

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program are three collections of association records representing a diverse set of Massachusetts churches. These early records offer insight into the administration of geographically linked churches and the communities these conferences fostered. They afford a look into the installations and ordinations of ministers, and the controversies surrounding some of these appointments. The records also include ecclesiastical councils for disciplinary cases, highlighting how these early associations provided fellowship between individual churches and pastors. These collections represent some of the earliest direct foundations for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.

 

Berkshire Association of Congregational Ministers

The Berkshire Association was formed in 1763. Due to its significant size, the association separated into two distinct organizations in 1852 — the Berkshire North and Berkshire South Associations. Included within this collection are four volumes of association and ecclesiastical records which cover a broad range of topics including meeting minutes, voting records, committee reports, copies of founding documents, and council results. This collection also includes extensive records related to disciplinary cases and controversies within the conference.

Hampden Association of Congregational Ministers

The first mention of the Hampden Association — divided into East and West — is in the Massachusetts General Association meeting in 1814, though the association dates to a much earlier year. The bulk of this collection is association minutes and reports, which broadly contain meeting minutes and records of votes, ordination proceedings, the results of ecclesiastical councils, discussions of religious matters, and disciplinary cases. Also included in this collection are a volume of association records, which includes the association constitution, and correspondence related to religious and ministerial matters.

Marlborough Association of Congregational Ministers

The Marlborough Association was formed and first met in 1725 in the house of Rev. Robert Breck, the second minister of the Marlborough First Parish Church. The association dealt with "cases of conscience, questions of difficulty in church discipline, or matters of disagreement, between the parties in a church, or between pastor and people." Due to declining membership, the ministers decided to dissolve the association in 1814. This collection includes two volumes of records which contain meeting minutes and the results of votes, committee reports, membership lists, and copies of the association's founding documents.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

July 3, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Wednesday, July 4th in observance of Independence Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Thursday.

We hope you have a safe and happy celebration.

 


image of fireworks over the Charles River in Boston courtesy of Pablo Valerio via Wikimedia Commons

June 29, 2018

Today, the records of two historic churches join the New England's Hidden Histories program and continue to expand the program’s offerings of valuable church records from areas south of Boston. These records from Berkley Congregational Church and the First Congregational Church of Harwich offer illuminating insights into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century religious and political life within New England. The diverse types of materials covered by these two collections include sermons, vital records, pew deeds, disciplinary cases, and copies of the petition submitted to the Massachusetts General Court which led to the formation of the South Parish in Harwich.

 

Berkley, Mass. Congregational Church

The First Church of Christ in Berkley was gathered in 1737 in the newly incorporated town of Berkley, Massachusetts. In 1737, the town agreed to settle Samuel Tobey, a young graduate of Cambridge. After Rev. Tobey passed in 1781, Thomas Andros, a self-taught veteran of the American Revolutionary War, was settled in Berkley in 1788 following a seven year search. The records in this collection include manuscript sermons preached by both Rev. Tobey and Rev. Andros, two disciplinary cases related to members of the church, and the oldest record book of the church, all of it in Rev. Tobey’s hand, which includes both administrative and vital records.

 

Harwich, Mass. First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church of Harwich, Massachusetts, was founded in 1747 when the town of Harwich was split into the North and South Parishes. On April 8, 1747, the precinct voted to complete construction on a meeting house which was finally completed in 1748. In 1747, Edward Pell, a Harvard graduate and Boston native, preached to the South Parish, and soon after he accepted a call to become the first minister of the new church. Present within this collection are five volumes of extensive church records, including valuable financial records, pew deeds, vital records, members lists, meeting minutes, and treasurer reports. Also within the collection are church communications and records related to the formation of the South Parish in Harwich, including copies of the petition submitted to Massachusetts General Court.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

June 22, 2018

This newest batch of digitized material from our New England's Hidden Histories program is once again provided in partnership with the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. It primarily includes the sermons of four ministers from northeastern Massachusetts — Revs. Edward Barnard, Dudley Leavitt, Samuel Phillips, and John Richardson — spanning more than a century. These documents provide a look into the topics they found important and how they addressed them. Take a look and see what stands out to you.

 

Edward Barnard's sermons

Rev. Edward Barnard was a Harvard graduate like many of his ilk, and went on to become minister at the First Church in Haverhill, Mass. from 1743 until his death. This collection contains more than 200 of his sermons, covering much of his career from 1739-1774. The first three volumes are dated and contain the majority of the sermons, with a further six smaller volumes of undated material. Rev. Barnard recorded the locations and dates of preaching in the sermon headers — like many ministers of the time he recycled sermons through the years, performing some of his "greatest hits" at appropriate liturgical occasions. The earliest ones were delivered at various locales such as Bradford, Wilmington, Salisbury, and Andover, and later re-used in his home parish of Haverhill.

Dudley Leavitt's sermons

Rev. Dudley Leavitt, a Harvard graduate like most early New England ministers, was served at the Salem Tabernacle Church from 1745-1762. He succeeded the controversial Rev. Samuel Fisk, whose dispute in 1735 with the First Church in Salem had led to the Tabernacle Church's creation. This collection consists of two short volumes of Rev. Leavitt's sermons, preached from 1740-1751 in Salem. The second volume includes a foray into politics, with a 1746 sermon condemning the Jacobite Uprisings in Scotland.

Samuel Phillips's papers

This collection includes two sets of sermons by Rev. Samuel Phillips, minister of the Congregational Church of Rowley from 1651-1696. The first volume (1670-1695) contains three iterations of sermons preached on Exodus 20:12. The second volume (1690-1723) is more varied in content, and also includes a posthumous document detailing the Proceedings of a Council at Reading in 1723. Also included is the transfer of Boxford Second Church parishioner Elizabeth Holt by Rev. John Cushing in 1746.

John Richardson's sermon notes

Like many New England ministers of the day, Rev. John Richardson was a Harvard graduate, receiving his degree in 1666 and staying on as a tutor at the college. In 1675 he was ordained as minister of the First Church of Newbury, Mass., where he remained for twenty-one years. The digitized collection comprises detailed notes for some sermons preached towards the end of his life in 1692-1693.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

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