Beacon Street Diary

November 23, 2015

The other history newsletters can take care of the Pilgrims, turkey, and pumpkin pie. We'll bring the cranberries.

Last month, our New England's Hidden Histories program digitized a three-page document from the Second Church in Wrentham, Massachusetts. While one of our interns from Simmons, Marya Shotkoski, was processing the document, she saw something curious: the church's pastor was dismissed because of something having to do with cranberries. Marya and our digital archivist Sari Mauro dug in to figure out what happened.

The story is more serious than the headline. An eighteenth century dispute over cranberries turned out to be a prime example of the Congregationalists' commitment to just and thoughtful governance. The Wrentham document had just a few short lines, but it tells an interesting story.

Two congregants of the Second Church of Wrentham got into a disagreement over a cranberry crop. The two couldn't agree on the price of the cranberries and argued over whether one owed money to the other.

Wrentham's young pastor, Rev. Caleb W. Barnum, learned of the dispute and thought he should step in. Barnum offered to pay the difference in the price of cranberries. He probably thought that if everyone was satisfied with the amount of money they had, the dispute would be settled, and there would be tranquility in Wrentham.

How wrong he was! The congregation disagreed with this solution. They worried that the pastor was taking sides in the dispute, implicitly saying that one price was right and one price was wrong, even if he was the one who made up the difference. If the pastor was taking sides in the community, he was no longer fit to serve as the pastor.

The congregation sought guidance in an ecclesiastical council made up the Reverends Bucknam, Payson, Frost, and Hall from the southeastern Massachusetts area, and delegates from their churches. After reviewing the case in late October of 1767, the council recommended that unless Barnum felt called to stay, he should resign from the Second Church of Wrentham.

Barnum was only trying to help, but the congregation bristled at this show of partisanship. They wanted their pastor to be a more neutral arbiter of disputes. Barnum left Wrentham after the judgement and went on to serve at the First Parish in Taunton. We do not know if he intervened in any more disputes before his death in 1776.

History matters, even in the produce section. Consider this when you buy cranberries next week.


photograph of cranberries courtesy of user Cjboffoli via Wikimedia Commons

November 20, 2015

Peggy Bendroth's new book The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past is not a story about Thanksgiving. But the declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, one of Abraham Lincoln's last acts as president, came at a striking moment for Congregationalists. Like the rest of the country they were struggling with some big existential questions as the Civil War wound to its conclusion. In their case the problem was history, and whether their storied New England past would be a help or a hindrance as they contemplated their future.

Congregationalists met in Boston in 1865, the first truly national gathering since the Cambridge Synod of 1648, determined to refit the old Congregational Way for new times and new challenges. Did being a Congregationalist mean believing a certain set of doctrines — maybe even Calvinism — or was the bottom line the independence of local churches? Which would best honor the Puritans?

The historical context of the Civil War and the Thanksgiving holiday made these question all the more urgent for those considering the Puritan legacy at the national council in 1865. Bendroth writes,

"The delegates did not just invoke the Pilgrims, they identified with them, having just 'emerged from the stormy deeps of a civil war' to find themselves 'standing on the verge of a vast and mysterious continent of the future.' We do to this day, they said, 'lift the psalm of thanksgiving where our fathers lifted it, mingling, as did theirs with the oar of the Atlantic surge to Him that sitteth King and Lord for evermore.'"

Without a doubt that Pilgrim and Puritan legacy brought Congregationalists into the center of the national mainstream. Suddenly, everyone gave thanks with a feast, and the image of a buckle-hatted pilgrim could be found hawking bread and gelatin. Puritans were everywhere. Thanksgiving made all Americans feel connected to the Puritans, and in a way, the story of Thanksgiving was elevated beyond any single denomination. Would Congregationalists keep their own story alive in the midst of all that celebration? Did the holiday have special meaning for them? And how would they honor the past while keeping their eyes on the future? Pick up Peggy's book to read the whole story.

November 18, 2015

As we approach the end of the year, we reflect on our blessings with our families and prepare for the upcoming holidays. Here at the Congregational Library & Archives, we hope that you will keep us in your thoughts, as well.

What is #GivingTuesday?

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It's a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

We encourage you to take the opportunity of Giving Tuesday to allocate your charitable giving, and we hope that you will make us a part of that. Our memberships are as little as $25 for students, and every donation is appreciated, no matter how small.

Your support allows us to provide services to researchers of all backgrounds, care for rare and unique historical materials, and increase public access to information that might otherwise be hidden from the world. Help us tell the stories of early New England and its people. Help us preserve our past for future generations. Be a part of our ongoing mission to ensure that history matters.

Whether you become a member or simply make a donation, we will put every contribution to good use. Mark your calendars and get ready to spread a little joy.

November 10, 2015

Don't forget to reserve your seat for this month's free lunchtime lecture with eminent historian Francis J. Bremer.

The historian James F. Cooper examined in great detail the exercise of power by the member of puritan congregations in his study entitled Tenacious of their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts. Drawing on his recently published book — Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism — Dr. Bremer will discuss the importance of the laity in the actual development of puritan Congregational belief and practice. Using previously neglected sources he will examine how belief in the ability of ordinary Christians to read and understand the scripture led to a variety of practices such as lay conferencing, prophesying, and even preaching that were key components of early puritanism.

Frank BremerFrancis J. Bremer is Professor Emeritus of History at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA from Fordham College and his MA and PhD from Columbia University, while also studying at Union Theological Seminary. He has been a visiting scholar at New York University, Oxford University, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin. Dr. Bremer is one of the acknowledged experts on puritanism in the Atlantic world and has published numerous articles and seventeen books on the subject. His study of John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father (2003) was submitted for consideration for the Pulitzer Prize and won the John C. Pollock Award for Christian Biography. His recent works include Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction (2009); First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in the Atlantic World (2012) – a selection of the History Book Club; Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds (2012) – shortlisted for the New England Society in the City of New York Award for Non Fiction 2013 and the 2013 Award in Nonfiction of the Mountain & Plains Independent Booksellers Association; and Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism (2015).

If you'd like a preview of Prof. Bremer, check out our video interview with him from a few years ago.


Thursday, November 12th
12:00 - 1:30 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


Portrait of an Old Woman Reading (ca. 1630-1635) by Gerrit Dou courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam via Wikimedia Commons

November 9, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Wednesday, November 11th in observance of Veterans' Day.

All of our online resources will be available as always. If you have an inquiry that requires help from the staff, please send us an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you on Thursday.


November 6, 2015

Last month, the New York Public Library announced that they had made the papers of Major Joseph Hawley available online.

Hawley was a lawyer, legislator, and militia officer from Northampton, Massachusetts. He also became one of the leaders of the American revolutionary movement in western Massachusetts. The collection contains documents related to his private life, religion in eighteenth-century America, and public affairs in Northampton and Massachusetts during the revolutionary era.

This caught my eye, because one of the earliest collections the Congregational Library & Archives published as part of our New England's Hidden Histories program was the journals of itinerant missionary Gideon Hawley.

Joseph (1723-1788) and Gideon (1727-1807) were both from southwestern New England, they were about the same age, and they shared a surname. Additionally, both had personal ties to Jonathan Edwards — Joseph was a contentious congregant in Edwards's church at Northampton; Gideon served under Edwards's supervision, first as a student in Stockbridge, and later as a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. Surely, there had to be a family connection. After a fair bit of digging on various genealogical websites, I finally nailed it down. Major Joseph Hawley and Rev. Gideon Hawley were third cousins, the great-grandsons of brothers Thomas Hawley (1609-1676) and Joseph Hawley (ca.1603-1690) respectively, who emigrated from Derbyshire, England around 1635.

Finding these kinds of connections with other libraries is not only fun and interesting, it also allows us to better help our researchers. If you learn about other collections related to ours, please let us know. You never know how useful that information might be to someone else.


October 26, 2015

Outwardly, the Congregational Library & Archives looks much as it did fifteen years ago — with the card catalog lining the front hall, the reading room preserved, the portraits of the ministers looking down sternly. Archivist Jessica Steytler knows better. The Congregational Library & Archives has changed dramatically since Jessica arrived in 2000. "Technology has really been booming. We have these tools that didn't exist twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. In some ways, my job has morphed quite a bit," she says. "But I still answer reference questions, I still process collections. Those are the pillars of my job."

Archiving was a natural fit for Jessica. "I got into the archive field because I wanted to use my history degree, and I didn't want to teach. I liked libraries, and it was always very clear I had an organizational mind. I was the one to sort out the colored pencils, or I was the one to clean up the junk drawer, or shelve all of my father's CDs."

When Jessica finished her MS in Library Science at Simmons, it was hard for archivists to find work in Boston. "It was a tight job market in Boston. I had multiple part-time jobs out of school, and I had very little experience." Dr. Harold "Hal" Worthley, the Librarian from 1977 to 2004, gave Jessica her first full-time job as an archivist. "Hal was known to give new archivists a shot." Jessica jumped right in, processing collections, staffing the reference desk, and even working on the old website. "Hal retired after I had been here for four years, so I thought I should stick around for continuity's sake. And things just kept getting interesting."

Since Peggy Bendroth became the executive director, and more archivists joined the staff, Jessica has felt a great sense of forward momentum in the institution. She's especially grateful that the CLA embraces technology. "We've really always had a lot of support. There's not resistance towards trying something just because it's new." The next new tool? A web-based information management system called ArchivesSpace, funded by a grant from the H.W. Wilson Foundation. "I'm excited to use ArchivesSpace," Jessica says. "It's a powerful tool, and it's really important to our industry. And it's very new. We are on the cutting edge. We're right there."

The new database will bring the Congregational Library & Archives up to the industry standard, and make the archivists more efficient. It will also help CLA patrons get exactly the information they need. Different people want to know different things about our collection, says Jessica. "ArchivesSpace will help us serve everyone better."

But technology has not eliminated the need for traditional ways of helping researchers and historians. "I still like talking to people," says Jessica. She greets visitors from the reference desk, and assists visiting researchers. She works with other visitors to the CLA. "I really enjoyed talking to Eva Grizzard from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who came here for a preservation assessment a few weeks ago." The preservation assessment was funded by a federal grant the library received this year.

Jessica also brings her deep preservation and organizational knowledge to the wider Congregational community. "I talk to churches a lot. I help them understand how to take care of their archives." Jessica gives churches the skills they need to preserve their records, and shows them how to organize their materials. "That educational facet of my work is always very fulfilling."

October 23, 2015

The movement of people from one place to another always strains societies. Today's debate about who to let in and who to keep out of Europe and the United States echoes similar conflagrations from the past. The Congregational Library & Archives has sermons and pamphlets from the mid-19th century discussing arriving waves of immigrants in the United States.

The Irish, fleeing poverty and increasingly reactionary government in their home country, arrived en masse to the United States in the 1840s. Documents in the CLA's collection illuminate striking similarities between this migration and the arrivals in Europe today.

The business of moving people across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe has taken off since 2011. As Europe's borders become more tightly controlled, more migrants need help crossing. Migrant smugglers provide these services — everything from forging immigration papers to providing the low-cost transport methods that have caused so many deaths. The process was not much easier in the 1800s.

In 1851 and 1852, Edward E. Hale wrote a series of letters to the editor published in the Boston Advertiser. He explains the difficulty of negotiating border crossings:

"Emigrants do not themselves usually make their bargains with the masters or owners of ships, —but are brought together and put on board by some 'passenger broker' with whom they have contracted, and who furnishes their stores. Instances of fraud and cruelty on the part of these men sometimes take place, but, on the whole, they are not so many as in so immense a business, as one might have feared."

Emigrating by sea has changed little since the 1840s. It seems there is always another story of people dying as they seek refuge in Europe. Hale wrote of similarly dangerous journey from Ireland to North America, what he called the "terrors of the summer passage of 1847." Writing in December of 1851, he said:

"The experience of the awful suffering of emigrants in 1847, when, of 90,000 who embarked for Canada on British vessels, 15,000 died on the way, or after arrival, called the attention of the English government to the necessity of a more stringent law for passenger vessels."

Hale went on to describe the regulation that the British and American governments placed on passenger ships: 14 square feet of space per passenger, and a set ration of food and water for the length of the crossing to New York. Unfortunately, there are no such regulations in place to protect migrants today.

Congregational missionaries on Ellis Island greeted new arrivals in the 1800s, and helped the often-bewildered newcomers. The Congregational Home Missionary Society published a pamphlet about the experience, called "Daily Tasks on Ellis Island".

"The missionary must often take the place of a lawyer and make an appeal for an excluded immigrant who has a right to one but is helpless to obtain it himself. … The missionary must be a friend to win the confidence of the bewildered immigrant, who has gone through a great deal of previous examination. This takes some time, but success comes with perseverance. The immigrant has no one in whom to confide the story of his or her heart. The mind must be unburdened, and here the missionary acts as comforter and adviser."

Missionaries helped immigrants arrange travel to other cities join friends and relatives, visited them in hospitals, and helped them avoid scams. The work was difficult, but rewarding.

"The work at Ellis Island is full of care, and often brings pathetic experiences which make a large draft on one's sympathy. But there are so many hopeful things about, so many opportunities to bring happiness and cheer into the lives of strangers, that after all there is a glow of joy and satisfaction even in the most trying and discouraging days."

Today, we hear uplifting stories about Europeans bringing migrants food and water, or helping them call loved ones they left behind.

But not everyone is so welcoming. Anti-immigrant demonstrations have become commonplace in Germany, and human rights groups are reporting a spike in hate crimes in Europe. Some are concerned about the cultural impact of a large group of Muslims on majority-Christian countries. Others worry about the potential economic burden of impoverished migrants and refugees.

In his time, Hale was concerned about the impact the millions of newcomers had on the East Coast. While the "cream of the emigrants" moved on to the West, "The 'lame, blind deaf, idiotic, and lunatic,' as our statutes describe them, are strained off by the Eastern States, and remain to fill up our alms-houses and hospitals." He continued, "The public charge of Massachusetts for such persons is larger I think, than of any other State in the Union, New York not excepted." Hale was compassionate, and saw justice in the government caring for the newcomers. He wrote, "It is for the government of the nation to take a trifle from him in his prosperity with which to support hospitals for his sickness."

For all his sympathy, Hale considered even the "cream" of the Irish to be "inefficient as compared with the Saxon and other Germanic races which receive them." However, he welcomed the idea of 'inferior' people as much-needed labor. "Their inferiority as a race compels them to go to the bottom; and the consequence is that we are, all of us, the higher lifted because they are here. … No one can fail to observe… that to the ready transfer of emigrant population to the west, the government owes all the worth of its Western lands."

The United States needed the emigrants in the 1850s as much as they needed the United States. Hale wrote, "…by every laboring man who arrives, the danger of starvation becomes less and less."

Today, many economists say immigrants will help keep social security afloat for Europe's aging population. Germany in particular needs immigration to increase its workforce, and so is preparing to welcome 800,000 newcomers this year. Like the United States in the 1850s, Europe needs immigrants.

The documents in the Congregational Library & Archives hold a mirror to our contemporary dilemmas, and bring us powerful voices from the past. History matters at the Congregational Library & Archives. No matter what the dilemma, our librarians and archivists can help navigate the past to understand the present.



images of "State Emigrant Landing Depot, Castle Garden, NY" by Roylance-Purcell engravers, and "Verplanck State Emigrant Hospital, Ward's Island, NY" by J. Shearman from Immigration and the Commissioners of Emigration of the state of New York by Friedrich Kapp (1870)

October 21, 2015

The Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ was established by a group of activists in 1972 to advocate for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the United Church of Christ. The UCC adopted the Open and Affirming Resolution in 1985, and every year since, more UCC churches have joined the movement to become 'Inclusive Churches'. In the forty years since its inception, the Open and Affirming Coalition has expanded its mandate of inclusion from gender and sexual orientation to race, age, and mental health.

The Coalition's success in bringing inclusivity to the UCC happened because of decades of advocacy, activism, and hard work. Now, the Congregational Library & Archives is assembling a collection of records that tells this story.

The Coalition's archival records have trickled into the Congregational Library & Archives. Documents have come from the Coalition's central offices in Cleveland, OH, and from individual Coalition activists turning over their own documents.

Since the Coalition lacked a central office or dedicated staff for its first thirty years, these segments of their story stayed with the people who created them. Each fragment of the story was hidden in somebody's attic or closet — sheaves of correspondence nestled in folders and boxes, resources for activists and churches, and newspaper clippings documenting bitter losses and setbacks, slowly giving way to the movement's victories of the last decade.

Now we have started to piece together that story by consolidating the records here in Boston.

Marnie Warner, one of the co-authors of the original Open and Affirming Resolution, joined the Congregational Library & Archives to assist us with the collection. Since she was directly involved, she can provide context and understanding to a complicated project. Each addition fills holes in the Coalition's story, and brings more nuance to the movement. With Marnie's help, we have aggregated and documented the disparate records, and transformed it into a unified collection. It is fully available for researchers here at the Congregational Library & Archives.

The UCC slogan "God is still speaking" ends with a comma to signify that a conversation continues. The LGBT rights movement, the Coalition's work, and its collection here is an ongoing conversation. Take a look at the collection and see what we are talking about.

October 13, 2015

Seats are filling up fast, so don't forget to reserve yours for this month's free lunchtime lecture.

Food and Spirituality in Early Boston

The physical hardships of creating the Massachusetts Bay Colony were extreme, especially for unprepared English colonists, most of whom were from urban areas. Hunger and even starvation was a constant part of their lives, and in this crucible of suffering the colony was transformed. Unlike other English settlements, Massachusetts became a place where people deliberately sought transformation and redemption by a powerful combination of physical suffering and pure religion. As conditions improved, the Puritans of the colony found new ways to recreate the intensity of those early years; one was requiring prospective a church member to relate a convincing story of soul-searching, trial, error, and woe in conversion narratives before being allowed to partake in the most important meal of all, the Lord's Supper.

The New England's Hidden Histories program at the Congregational Library & Archives holds one of the extensive collections of conversion narratives (relations) in the world. Take a look at the Middleboro and Haverhill First Church collections in particular to learn more.

Lori StokesLori Stokes received her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University. She studies the founding decades of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, focusing on the 1630s and '40s when the forms of church and state were put in place that would shape Massachusetts and American history for centuries to come. Dr. Stokes is a volunteer for the NEHH program's Church Records Transcription Project, a digital history project of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston led by Puritan scholar Dr. James F. Cooper, a director of NEHH.


Thursday, October 15th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


woodcut of "wicked Ranters" from the book Hell Broke Loose: or, the Notorious Design of the Wicked Ranters... (1651)