Beacon Street Diary

February 29, 2016

Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for this week's free lunchtime lecture.

The Social Gospel is often associated with well-known reforming ministers such as Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch. But in this talk, based on his newly-published book, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity, Dr. Heath W. Carter will argue that it was, in fact, working people who keyed the rise of social Christianity in industrializing cities such as Chicago. Throughout the Gilded Age, trade unionists, socialists, and anarchists alike advanced theological critiques of laissez faire capitalism and protested 'scab ministers' who cozied up to the business elite. Their criticisms compounded church leaders’ anxieties about losing the poor, such that by the turn-of-the-century many leading Christians were arguing that the only way to salvage hopes of a Christian America was for the churches to soften their position on "the labor question". As denomination after denomination did just that, it became apparent that the Social Gospel was, indeed, ascendant – from below.

Heath W. Carter is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University, where he teaches a variety of courses on the modern United States. He is the author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (Oxford, 2015), and the co-editor of three other volumes: The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class, which is forthcoming w/ University of Illinois Press in March 2016; Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism, which will be published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 2016; and A Documentary History of Religion in America, concise ed., which will also be published by Eerdmans in 2016.

Carter is currently the University Research Professor at Valparaiso University, an appointment that comes with a research leave to begin his next book project, a new history of the Social Gospel in American Life.


Wednesday, March 2nd
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

February 18, 2016

Member profile: Carolyn Sundquist

It has been cold and snowy here in Boston and across much of the United States, but at least one of our members has relished the wintry weather. When we caught up with Carolyn Sundquist, she was headed out for her Monday morning ice skating session in Duluth, Minnesota. She was happy to have the chance to talk about her interest in the Congregational Library & Archives, and the many reasons why she values her membership.

One reason dovetails with her deep involvement in architectural preservation. Carolyn lives in a home built in 1911 and occupied by her family since 1921. Her success at preserving her own home, and later public buildings, evolved into a passion for historic preservation public policy and advocacy. "Architectural preservation is history in 3-D," says Carolyn.

As Carolyn points out, the Congregational Library & Archives is an historic building in an historic district within the historic city where Congregationalism took root. The library building on Beacon Street is as much a part of history as the records within it.

Carolyn's preservation interests also touch on church buildings across the country, which were extremely important to the development of individual communities across the country. The buildings provided a physical place for people to gather and plan the life of the community. "Congregational history goes hand in hand with the preservation of the Library and church buildings," says Carolyn.

The Congregational Library & Archives is also a repository of more traditional 2-D history. Some of that history involves Carolyn's family, which has been Congregationalist for (at least!) five generations. Carolyn's parents and grandparents were instrumental in the beginning of the NACCC, and she grew up attending Pilgrim Fellowship meetings at the annual NACCC meetings. Carolyn has taken her active involvement in her own Duluth Congregational Church to a national level. Over the last twenty years, she has been part of the Congregational Church Development Committee and for the past twelve, she has served on the board of the Congregational Foundation. She steps down as its president later this year.

Carolyn understands why history matters. "When you understand the development of the past, you can understand the actions of the present and formulate policies for the future."

Members guarantee the future for the Congregational Library & Archives, its historic building, and the history it contains. Members will keep it open for many cold winters to come. Please join Carolyn.


February 16, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives is perhaps best known for its stories of white Puritans. But our collection also holds many more diverse voices from across history.

On the third floor of the stacks, there is a box filled with pamphlets and small books from the early nineteenth century. The thin, yellowing volumes contain the first-person narratives of former slaves. The narratives offer portraits of individual men: the violence, heartbreak, and suffering their narrators faced as slaves punctuated with the overwhelming joy of freedom, and fascinating reflections on the United States.

The earliest narrative, first published in 1798, told the story of Venture Smith, who was about nine years old when he arrived in Narragansett, Rhode Island. He remembers violence in his native Guinea that led to his being captured, and he remembers the slave ship crossing the Atlantic.

Religion makes an appearance in several stories as an instrument of oppression. James Mars remembers one master who was a pastor in Connecticut, who taught his congregation that slavery was right and sanctioned by God. Mars was agonizingly aware of the irreconcilability of pro-slavery opinions and Christianity, but his master was hardly alone in his beliefs. The narrative of Henry Watson recalls the twisted gospel preached to slaves, which emphasized quietly bearing suffering for the reward of Heaven. There were many such pastors: back in the library shelves, near the box of slave narratives, we have a collection of pamphlets and sermons advocating for slavery.

The narratives contain plenty of secular hypocrisy as well. For example, Mars' enslaved father fought for freedom in the American Revolution, but remained in captivity after his service. The land of the free, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, was not a welcoming place for escaped slaves. Several stories deal with the decision to leave the United States.

After Henry Watson escaped from captivity Virginia and made his way to Boston, he met William Lloyd Garrison, who advised him to leave the country. It was in Britain that Watson finally felt free. "Wherever I went [in England,] I was treated like a man. They looked not at the color of my skin, but judged me from my internal qualifications."

Josiah Henson's narrative tells about how he decided to make his way to Canada.

"I determined to make my escape to Canada, about which I had heard something as beyond the limits of the United States; for, notwithstanding there were free states in the union, I felt that I should be safer under an entirely foreign jurisdiction."

After traveling on foot from Kentucky to the lakeside town of Sandusky, Ohio, Henson travels by boat to Ontario. He remembers the presence of "Kentucky spies" who watched all the boats sailing across Lake Erie, looking for escapees. To Henson, arrival in Canada feels nothing short of miraculous.

"When I got on the Canada side, on the morning of the 28th of October, 1830, my first impulse was to throw myself on the ground, and giving way to riotous exultation of my feelings, to execute sundry antics which excited the astonishment of those who were looking on. A gentleman of the neighborhood, Colonel Warren, who happened to be present, thought I was in a fit, and as he inquired what was the matter with the poor fellow, I jumped up and told him I was free. "O," said he, with a hearty laugh, "is that it? I never knew freedom make a man roll in the sand before." It is not much to be wondered at, that my certainty of being free was not quite a sober one at the first moment; and I hugged and kissed my wife and children all round, with a vivacity which made them laugh as well as myself."

The narratives' descriptions of freedom are all just as touching, and their reflections on life are powerful. After saving up money from side jobs and off-season labor for other farmers, Venture Smith earned enough to buy freedom for himself and his family, and settled on Long Island. Looking back on his difficult life, he says,

"Amidst all my grief and pains, I have many consolations. Meg, the wife of my youth, whom I married for love and bought with my own money, is alive. My freedom is a privilege which nothing else can equal."

The narratives continue to be interesting after the men become free, because they are detailed stories of the lives of free black people in the early 19th century. Smith went into the shipping trade after he was freed, and found moderate success. Once, one of Smith's white associates cheated him, and Smith wanted to sue. He remembers that no lawyer would take the case, because they believed that the white man was in the right simply because of his whiteness.

James Mars stayed in the same Connecticut town where he had been enslaved, and became part of the community. Mars joined the same church as his former master's family and they had some social relationship. The family suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune, and Mars was the only person at his former master's bedside when he died. Mars found consolation for his suffering in his good health and good social standing in his community.

Henson stayed in Canada, and watched as the number of black people in southern Ontario increased to what he estimated to be around 20,000. In Canada, Henson met Hiram Wilson, a Congregational minister from Massachusetts, and the two started a vocational school for the newly-arrived Canadians, which opened in 1842.

These powerful stories of individuals are not often heard, and as part of our collection serve to make people of the past more human. Just as the relations of faith illuminate early New England, the slave narratives in our collection bring nuanced individual perspectives to ugliest chapter of American history.

February 15, 2016

There's still plenty of time to register for this month's free lunchtime lecture. Don't miss out.

Since the first settlers arrived in New England in the 17th century, there has been movement and migration — first within New England, then to New York, the mid-west, and beyond. Understanding these migrations provides important context and a framework for anyone researching early New England and pioneer ancestors. This illustrated lecture will explain these population shifts, reasons for resettlement, and demographics, plus suggest a number of useful reference works.

Chris Child has worked for various departments at the New England Historic Genealogical Society since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His areas of expertise include: Southern New England, especially Connecticut; New York; ancestry of notable figures, especially presidents; genetics and genealogy; African-American and Native-American genealogy, 19th and 20th Century research, westward migrations out of New England, and applying to hereditary societies. Chris has lectured on these topics and edits the genetics and genealogy column for American Ancestors.


Thursday, February 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


excerpt from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" (1861) by Emanuel Leuteze, located in the US Capitol building, via Wikimedia Commons

February 12, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, February 15th in observance of Presidents' Day.

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


official presidential portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull (ca. 1793) courtesy of The White House Historical Association, via Wikimedia Commons

February 11, 2016

The Superbowl was a luxury for Patriots fans this year, at least for some of us. Yes, we lost to Denver and didn't get to play in Santa Clara — but there's something warm and enjoyable about watching a game just for fun, knowing that in the end you'll be pretty much the same emotionally as you were at the beginning. Call me shallow, but I have more than a little scarring, courtesy of the New York Giants and I admit, even Peyton Manning.

Sports radio makes it even more fun. It's basically gossip for men, of course, mostly snark and hearsay about what someone said to somebody else, and can you believe the nerve of those people? It's also generally immature and often sexist and dumb, and sometimes I just have to turn it off and walk away. But over the years I have been a loyal listener. Maybe it's because sports fans are some of the few people out there who appreciate history.

Compare sports radio with other stations, the kind you hear at the gym or shopping malls. Their definition of "oldies" is just puzzling — it seems to be pretty much everything before last month, a mishmash of the rock music I heard in high school in the 1970s up to last week.

At thirteen, my treasured possession was a small plastic transistor radio strapped into in a white fake leather case. That radio, I dearly hoped, was the first step in a wonderful journey. I was on my way to being cool.

Of course, you had to know what station to listen to. In my town it was WBBF, the local top-40 station, "better by far." And you had to keep up with the play list. It changed all the time, force-feeding us the latest new hits (did anybody really like Bobby Goldsboro?) and tracking their progress up or down the popularity chart. You also had to have a favorite song, one you waited for hours through hours of commercials and DJ blather. But that song would only be around a week or two; after a while it kind of disappeared. And so to stay cool you picked another one. And on it went, year after year. The songs ticked off weeks and months and years. "Hey Jude" was sophomore art class (the teacher was extremely cool and let us play the radio) and "Fire and Rain" the background track to moody months of senioritis.

Now oldies can be anything, including some of the dumbest songs I thought I'd never hear again, forgettable 60s schlock with pseudo-hippy outrage and Jesus freak pieties. There is no concept of time in adult contemporary radio any more.

Not so my friends on the sports station. That's where you go to get the long perspective, the endlessly dissected back story behind every "storied rivalry" or devastating loss. I hate the Yankees because of Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson, all that swagger and spit still fresh after three decades or more. I am a Red Sox fan, but I will always love the Orioles because Eddie Murphy and Ken Singleton and Gary Roenike got me through graduate school. "We Are Family" by Sly and the Family Stone still makes me sad because it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' dopey theme song, the year they beat the Orioles in the World Series.

There are still places in our world today where the past matters, I guess, but you have to look for them. It's worth it though. When you do, you'll find people who really care about something, who have — let's say it — a passion. Maybe that's why some sports still matters so much, even after all the drugs and bad behavior and obscene amounts of money. (Underinflated footballs don't count.) Peyton Manning isn't just another quarterback, any more than Aaron Boone is just another baseball player. As every sports radio diva knows, the past is never really past. It's always alive and ready to bite. It brings pain and sorrow, but also real emotion, genuine feelings. Without history, the container of all those hopes, dreams, and fears, sports and life itself wouldn't matter half as much — and it wouldn't be half as fun.



photograph of vintage transistor radio found via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of user Joe Haupt

February 8, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives is closing at 2:00 pm on Monday, February 8th due to inclement weather so that our staff can get home safely.

All of our online resources will remain available as usual. If you have a question for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you when we return to the office tomorrow.

February 5, 2016

Every community group goes through occasional growing pains, and churches are no exception. In "Disorganized Religion", Peggy Bendroth's recent guest post on the UNC Press blog, she explores the ongoing trend away from bloated bureaucracies in American Protestant churches.

Nobody really likes organized religion. It all seems to have so little to do with actual faith — the endless acronyms of denominational programs and taglines, mind-bogglingly complex institutional reorganizations, and the blind impersonality of national synods and assemblies and conferences. It's the cold wet blanket, the flat gray oatmeal that most people imagine when they say they are "spiritual but not religious."

Organized religion just seems so unnecessary. Though American religiosity looks as varied and intense as ever, study after study has shown it drifting loose from the institutional structures that have defined the last two centuries of belief and practice.

Keep reading >>

If you'd like to learn more about the evolution of American Congregationalism from Dr. Bendroth herself, condiser attending our upcoming History Matters event on March 23rd.

January 29, 2016

Our executive director and resident historian Peggy Bendroth has a new book, and the Washington Book Review has said some very nice things about it:

The Last Puritans is a much needed scholarly book on the history of Congregationalists. It gives deep insight into the role that Congregationalism and other Christian denominations played in making America what it is today. It is meticulously researched and well written. Everybody interested in American history and religions will find this book to be of immense value.

If you'd like to learn more on the topic and discuss it with Dr. Bendroth herself, you can attend our upcoming History Matters event on March 23rd.

January 25, 2016

It's been a while since we've promoted our page of resources for church libraries. We have gathered a list of websites, books, and articles to help with everything from getting started to ensuring your collection can be passed down through the generations.

One of the tools we've recommended in recent years is a free online cataloging system called LibraryThing, and now it's even better. The makers of LibraryThing have just launched an extension called TinyCat that turns your basic list of books into a real library catalog. It can help make your catalog records more robust, makes searching easier, is mobile-ready, and even has a circulation system to keep track of when your books are checked out and when they're due.

If you're already using LibraryThing for your church library (or any very small library), TinyCat could make it even better. If you're not using it yet, this might just be the time to start.