Beacon Street Diary

April 23, 2015

We have some new additions to our circulating collection. They are available for borrowing by our members.

A City That Hath Foundations : Congregationalism in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1635-2014 by Eric Wilbra Bascom

Initially, Springfield was not "city set on a hill", but sat cheek-by-jowl beside "the Grayte River in the West," more a village laid out in a swamp. William Pynchon bought it fair and square from the local Nipmucs -- and did much to ease their distresses. Its meetinghouse stored corn and was both church and town hall, but it rang with the convictions that would give all America its work ethic and moral backbone.

Locally written histories talk a lot about buildings; this is a book about ideas. When these people went to church, what did they hear? What were their hopes; what woke them in the night; what did they pray for? What can our cities do to build, and build again, upon secure foundations?

Eric Bascom writes, preaches, teaches, and tells stories, and lives in Springfield. The author of Up Where the House Burned Down and A Funny Thing Happened o the Way to the Pulpit has drawn on his fifty years ministry in this Pioneer Valley town to look at the roots of a major phenomenon.


Women, Dissent and Anti-slavery in Britain and America, 1790-1865 by Elizabeth J. Clapp and Julie Roy Jeffrey

As historians have gradually come to recognize, the involvement of women was central to the anti-slavery cause in both Britain and the United States. Like their male counterparts, women abolitionists did not all speak with one voice. Among the major differences between women were their religious affiliations, an aspect of their commitment that has not been studied in detail. Yet it is clear that the desire to live out and practice their religious beliefs inspired many of the women who participated in anti-slavery activities in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

This book examines the part that the traditions, practices, and beliefs of English Protestant dissent and the American Puritan and evangelical traditions played in women's anti-slavery activism. Focusing particularly on Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian and Unitarian women, the essays in this volume move from accounts of individual women's participation in the movement as printers and writers, to assessments of the negotiations and the occasional conflicts between different denominational groups and their anti-slavery impulses. Together the essays in this volume explore how the tradition of English Protestant Dissent shaped the American abolitionist movement, and the various ways in which women belonging to the different denominations on both sides of the Atlantic drew on their religious beliefs to influence the direction of their anti-slavery movements. The collection provides a nuanced understanding of why these women felt compelled to fight for the end of slavery in their respective countries.


Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism : College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America by J. Brent Morris

By exploring the role of Oberlin — the college and the community — in fighting against slavery and for social equality, J. Brent Morris establishes this "hotbed of abolitionism" as the core of the antislavery movement in the West and as one of the most influential reform groups in antebellum America. As the first college to admit men and women of all races, and with a faculty and community comprised of outspoken abolitionists, Oberlin supported a cadre of activist missionaries devoted to emancipation, even if that was through unconventional methods or via an abandonment of strict ideological consistency. Their philosophy was a color-blind composite of various schools of antislavery thought aimed at supporting the best hope of success. Though historians have embraced Oberlin as a potent symbol of egalitarianism, radicalism, and religious zeal, Morris is the first to portray the complete history behind this iconic antislavery symbol.

In this book, Morris shifts the focus of generations of antislavery scholarship from the East and demonstrates that the West's influence was largely responsible for a continuous infusion of radicalism that helped the movement stay true to its most progressive principles.


Damnable Heresy : William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned (and Burned) in Boston by David Powers

Misunderstandings between races, hostilities between cultures. Anxiety from living in a time of war in one's own land. Being accused of profiteering when food was scarce. Unruly residents in a remote frontier community. Charged with speaking the unspeakable and publishing the unprintable. All of this can be found in the life of one man — William Pynchon, the Puritan entrepreneur and founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1636.

Two things in particular stand out in Pynchon's pioneering life: he enjoyed extraordinary and uniquely positive relationships with Native peoples, and he wrote the first book banned — and burned — in Boston.

Now for the first time, this book provides a comprehensive account of Pynchon's story, beginning in England, through his New England adventures, to his return home. Discover the fabric of his times and the roles Pynchon played in the Puritan venture in Old England and New England.

April 20, 2015

Longtime friend of the library Rick Taylor sent us a wonderful story in response to the latest issue of our Bulletin, which focused on poetry.

When I was a youngster growing up in an old city church in Paterson, NJ, I couldn't help but notice the 320-foot-high stained glass windows of Jesus in the building. Jesus and the children, Jesus knocking at the door, Jesus, the good shepherd. Beautiful, colorful. The first two were given by families. But the good shepherd window was in memory of a former pastor. He was also the only former pastor whose picture hung in the Church. What was so special about him? As I contemplated becoming a pastor, I wondered what would cause a congregation to honor a pastor with a good shepherd window? What was there about him?

His name was Charles Loveland Merriam (Congregational Yearbook, 1914). What I found out then was not much. In Paterson in the 1880s and 1890s, he helped get the local YMCA started. Then he went to another urban church in the Merrimack Valley, then Derry, New Hampshire, then Newton. In 1913 the Paterson church recalled him as pastor. But that pastorate was short. He died in an auto accident the next year. Auto accidents were probably so rare then, that is was quite a shock. I attributed the memorial to the shock of the sudden death, and left it at that.

Years later I ran into some information about his time in Derry. While there (1903-1910), Merriam, like many other Congregational ministers, was chair of the school board. He also ran into a young couple on a farm in town. They had several children, and the husband, a college drop out was – to say the least – totally unprepared to be a farmer. Merriam, as a good pastor should be was concerned about the children and family and getting them some money for food and necessities. He found that the husband wrote a few poems, so he invited him to speak at the church women's group and men's group, and paid him a bit to read some poems. Finally he got the young man a part time job as an English teacher in the local schools. In thanks the young man wrote a poem of thanks, "The Tuft of Flowers", that was so good he was able to get it published in 1906. Merriam left town in 1910, and was dead by 1914. Between Newton and Paterson, I wonder if he forgot about the young man. The same year that Merriam died, the poet took a trip to Britain, and then came back as the war broken, and got a book published. Merriam never would have known much of what happened next.

Have you guessed it? The young man was Robert Frost. I ran into this when reading a biography of Frost years ago. I hope I remember the details correctly. I've used Merriam's life to illustrate the text "Cast your bread upon the waters…" Read "The Tuft of Flowers", and you will find what it means for a lonely hard working farm hand to discover that someone else recognizes beauty.

So maybe this is another of our Congregational poet stories.

-Rick Taylor


Red chrysanthemums drawn by William Clarke for the Transactions of the Horticultural Society, London courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

April 17, 2015

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed on Monday, April 20th in observance of Patriots' 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 Tuesday.

We wish the best of luck to everyone participating in the 119th Boston Marathon.


photo of the Lexington Minute Men relief (1948) by Bashka Paeff courtesy of user Daderot via Wikimedia Commons, released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

April 16, 2015

The panel discussion Peggy Bendroth participated in at the Mary Baker Eddy Library late last month is now available for streaming.

click to watch "Spiritual Intersections in Boston History" on Vimeo

"Spiritual Instersections in Boston History" was held at The Mary Baker Eddy Library on March 31st. The participants discussed how religion, culture, and politics shaped Boston in the late 19th century, where new movements crisscrossed with old. It features Dr. James O'Toole, Clough Millenium Professor of History, Boston College; Dr. Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director, Congregational Library and Archives; Dr. Christopher Evans, Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies, Boston University School of Theology; and Judy Huenneke, Senior Research Archivist, The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

The video runs just over an hour, and is packed with entertaining anecdotes and fascinating perspectives on the diverse history of our city through the centuries. It is well worth watching.

April 14, 2015

Our reading room will be closed to the public tomorrow, April 15, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm for a meeting of our Advisory Circle friends group.

Staff will be on hand to answer questions by phone and email during that time, and all of our online resources will be available as usual.

April 10, 2015

There is still plenty of time to register for this month's free lunchtime lecture. Let us know if you're coming so we can save you a seat.

An Eighteenth-Century Intellectual, Universalist, and Champion of Women's Rights

Judith Sargent Murray was an essayist, poet, and playwright. She was among America's earliest champions of female equality, education, economic independence, and political engagement. Join us and scholar Bonnie Hurd Smith for a discussion of Murray's fascinating life and works.

Nationally recognized authority on Judith Sargent Murray, Bonnie Hurd Smith is a passionate student of women's history. In addition to writing six books about the 18th-century essayist and women’s rights advocate, she has created women's history walking tours in Boston and Salem. She served as Executive Director the Boston Women's Heritage Trail and board president of the Sargent House Museum. Bonnie is president of History Smiths working with individuals and organizations to incorporate history into their marketing and outreach to benefit themselves and their communities. Bonnie holds two degrees from Simmons College, Boston.

Tuesday, April 14th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

portrait of Judith Sargent Murray courtesy of the Judith Sargent Murray Society website

April 9, 2015

April 15th Americans take a collective sigh and pay their fair share. But it wasn't always so.

"No taxation without representation" is one of the sentiments that ignited the American Revolution. So where did it come from? While the scholarship here proves to be a little shaky, many have credited Reverend Jonathan Mayhew. Known as a liberal theologian, the Martha's Vineyard native railed against tyranny from the pulpit and in print. And it was his A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers sermon in 1750 that is credited (some say by John Adams) with hatching the famous call against taxing citizens who have no legislative recourse.

Part politician, part pastor, Mayhew was asked by his congregation in 1766 to deliver his final sermon, The Snare Broken, after the repeal of the Stamp Act. Whatever the provenance of the taxation reference, one Mayhewism that historian Ola Elizabeth Winslow attested to in our Bulletin (Fall 1974) is "Kings are made by men, not God."

You can give your regards to Reverend Mayhew when you next visit the Congregational Library & Archives where his portrait hangs in our Reading Room. The likeness was painted by John Greenwood, one of the first American born portrait painters whose subjects included prominent merchants and clergy in mid-18th century Boston.

April 7, 2015

The New England Regional Fellowship Consortium announced its 2015-2016 fellows and the Congregational Library & Archives will host four enthusiastic scholars this spring and summer. Their topics range widely and our unique collections will help them develop new scholarship and deliver more information from our collections to an ever-widening readership. As research becomes more nuanced, unique collections like ours become more valuable. We welcome these four young scholars and look forward to assisting them in their pursuits.
  • PhD candidate David Thomas is investigating the 1772 tragedy of a 52-year-old immigrant, William Beadle, who murdered his wife and four children then took his own life. The incident spawned sermons, pamphlets, and newspaper articles up and down the East Coast. How, in a land that offered so many opportunities for improvement and new wealth, did so many find hopelessness and estrangement? Part of the answer may lie in words of ordinary people found in our New England Hidden Histories collections. Using their voices Thomas plans to create a micro-history that explores anxiety, alienation and anonymity in Britain's Atlantic Empire. He joins us from Temple University in Philadelphia.
  • Hailing from the University of Texas, Bradley Dixon proposes to explore indigenous subjects and citizens in early America through the actions of an American Indian noblewoman from the Eastern Niantic and Narragansett Indians who petitioned Charles II for relief from depredations she had suffered from Indians who had rebelled against the crown while her own family remained loyal. Dixon's dissertation compares the legal and political relations between Native peoples living with British colonial boundaries and those in Spanish America. Our rare books related to Indian missions and church records from New England Hidden Histories program attracted him to the Library & Archives.
  • Professor Mehmet Dogan will travel from Istanbul Technical University to delve into our extensive collections from American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, headquartered here at 14 Beacon Street. He wants to offer a new perspective on the journeys undertaken by missionaries from New England to the Middle East so we can better understand the position of religious circles in the region and its relation to growth of the ABCFM. Professor Dogan's own voyage started at the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul and will take him to Consortium partners the Houghton Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as the Congregational Library & Archives.
  • Associate Professor of History at Illinois College, Jenny Barker-Devine is currently working on a book project, American Athena: Constructing Victorian Womanhood on the Midwestern Frontier. The book examines women's social networks and public discourse in her own town of Jacksonville, IL during the 19th century. Attracting a diverse population from New England, Jacksonville was dubbed the "Athens of the West" due to its rich educational and cultural resources. Barker-Devine's aim is not to write a local history, but rather to "challenge existing narratives in American women's history and the history of feminism." Executive Director Peggy Bendroth assures me that Dr. Barker-Devine will keep our archivists busy with her requests.
April 2, 2015

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed this Friday, April 3rd, in observance of Good Friday.

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 will get back to you when we return to the office next week.

We hope you have a lovely Easter weekend.


image of Springtime (ca. 1860) by Charles Jacque, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

April 1, 2015

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.