Beacon Street Diary

August 6, 2014

Still riding the excitement of last week's New York Times article, we are very pleased to announce the availability of two new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program. They total 708 pages, and are available now available in Series I of the NEHH section.

The first collection is from First Church in Dorchester (now part of Boston), Massachusetts. It is comprised of three record groupings: a volume of sermon notes; a "Sunday journal" listing the preachers' names, scripture passages referenced, administration of the sacrament, and baptisms; and a partial list of church members. First Church was re-founded, in part, by Richard Mather, grandfather of Cotton Mather. At a later date, Richard's great-grandson Samuel Mather was a guest preacher at the church, and his name appears in these records.

The second collection is from East Parish Church in Barnstable, Massachusetts. As we have come to expect, it is mostly made up of church meeting minutes followed by baptismal records and records of church membership. Of particular note, however, are the extensive meeting minutes dealing with church finances, particularly ministerial salary. While this may not seem noteworthy, the records contain extensive discussions on currency and inflation. Many currency systems are discussed, and occasionally the pastor's salary is listed in multiple payment methods.

We would like to gratefully acknowledge the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, Massachusetts for their collaboration with us on the East Parish collection. If you are interested in the larger collection these digitized records come from, you can access the collection's finding aid [PDF format] through the Sturgis Library's archives and research page.

As always, we'd be happy to answer any questions you have regarding the NEHH program or library holdings in general. Feel free to give us a call or send us an email. Happy researching!


July 31, 2014

Faithful followers of our blog, Facebook and/or Twitter may have noticed our excitement yesterday over being featured on the front page of the New York Times. Today we'd like to continue that excitement and tell you some more about the program highlighted in the article: New England's Hidden Histories.

At present we have 22 NEHH collections available for viewing online. Of these, 19 are church collections (found in Series I) and 3 are collections of personal papers (found in Series II). These 22 collections are comprised of over 15,000 pages of early Puritan, Congregational, and Christian documents.

But lest you think that these records can only tell you about each individual church's history, here is a list of the interesting things these materials contain:
  • First-person conversion narratives and relations of faith made by anyone wishing to join the church. These document many under-represented voices of the era, including women, children, "Negroes", and Native Americans.
  • Lists of deaths in the towns, sometimes including causes. These could prove to be great aids to folks interested in medical history.
  • Records of community discipline. In many cases it was left to the churches to police the actions of the town's citizens, providing an interesting look at colonial-era law and order. (Some of the stories get a bit scandalous.)
  • Records of weather events and the damage they inflicted.
  • Rosters of guest preachers, the subjects they spoke about, and the places where they traveled.
  • Matters of finance and real estate.
  • Words written phonetically before the standardization of spellings that could be of interest to linguists.
  • Accounts relating to public libraries and schools.
  • And so much more...

Curious? We encourage you to head over to the NEHH section and take a look for yourself. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact us. Happy browsing!

July 4, 2014

Did you know that the lyrics to America the Beautiful were originally published as a poem in The Congregationalist in celebration Independence Day in 1895?

It was written by Katharine Lee Bates, a native of Falmouth, Mass. and the daughter of Congregational pastor William Bates. She was inspired by the view from Pike's Peak during an excursion in 1893 while she was teaching English at Colorado College. Miss Bates revised the verses a few times over the next twenty years. Our skies were originally "halcyon" rather than "spacious", for example, and each verse ended with a different couplet.

original text of America The Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates
as it appeared in
The Congregationalist


Her lyrics were sung to several different tunes before settling with the one we know today. The now-familiar melody was composed by Samuel A. Ward in 1882, and first published with Bates's words in 1910.


photograph of Katharine Lee Bates courtesy of the Wellesley College Archives

July 3, 2014

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed on Friday, 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 Monday, July 7th.

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 27, 2014

Our executive director Peggy Bendroth, director of development Cary Hewitt, and digital archivist Sari Mauro are representing the Congregational Library and Archives at the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches this weekend. If you're in Omaha as well, please stop by our table in the expo to say hi and find out more about what we can do for you, even from afar.

Dr. Bendroth will be presenting this year's Congregational Lecture on Saturday afternoon. And if you want some help with your church records, Sari will be teaching a session of our popular Records Management workshop on Sunday afternoon. All three staff members look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

June 23, 2014

Have you wanted to share an article from our History Matters newsletter, but you've already deleted it from your inbox? Well, now you can. We've upgraded our Constant Contact account in order to create an archive of past issues that you can access from any computer or mobile device at any time.

Are you not subscribed to History Matters at all? Go take a look. If you like what you see, signing up is as simple as typing your email address. You'll receive one issue each month keeping you up-to-date with our latest programs and services, exciting additions to our collections, and stories exploring how Congregational history is relevant today.

June 16, 2014

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

The Portrait of Increase Mather

As concrete manifestations of Puritan culture, portraits express intangible ideas, shaping personal identities and reinforcing cultural hierarchies. Early American portraits reflect doctrinal changes paralleling the evolution of Puritan orthodoxy away from a strict Calvinist doctrine to a democratic theology in a time of changing religious and scientific ideas. More than any other, the portrait of Increase Mather demonstrates this connection.

Painted in England while he was crusading to reinstall the Massachusetts Charter, it is steeped in irony, rich in classical motifs, Scripture, and costume choices. Mather, whose likeness was reproduced more than any other image for his time, viewed the charter's revocation as a judgment from God on New England's failed mission. Johnson claims that his portrait demonstrates an eschatological urgency, which supports the religious leader's willingness to negotiate and his optimistic view of the Parousia. It reflects of the divisions in Puritan society regarding the revocation of the charter at the end of the seventeenth century as it yields information about the declension in Puritan orthodoxy, the Puritan contemplative life, and the transition to secular values.

Linda Johnson is an Independent Scholar who holds a Ph.D in American Studies from Michigan State University. Her dissertation Spiritual Autobiography in Puritan Portraiture encompassed the interdisciplinary fields of American Art, Religion, and Material Culture. She curated the upcoming exhibition Art and American Dance as well as co-curated the re-installation of the Colonial American Silver collection in the American galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Her recent article "The Divine Sarah" in the Stained Glass Quarterly explores the relationship between the visual arts and religious cultural history. Interested in New England Puritanism and how Puritan doctrine may take visual form in the arts, Dr. Johnson has written several essays on the renowned Puritan ministers Increase Mather and John Lowell.

She may be contacted at


Wednesday, June 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Please register through SurveyMonkey.


original portrait of "The Rev. Increase Mather" (1688) by Joan van der Spriet owned by the University of Virginia, photograph via Wikimedia Commons

June 5, 2014

I am very excited today to announce some changes that have happened to our New England's Hidden Histories (NEHH) program.

First, the addition of new material. On Wednesday we added two new collections and one part of a collection to the items accessible on our website. The Adonijah Bidwell sermon booklets contain sermon notes on sermons preached by Bidwell circa 1754-1781. The items in the Cotton Mather collection include his diary from the year 1716, Mather's "Directions for a SON going to the Colledge", and a list of marriages performed by Mather in the year 1717. Finally, we added a set of loose personal records to the Middleboro, MA. First Congregational Church collection. These loose records contain relations of faith; notices of admission, dismission, and membership transfer; and other documents pertaining to parishioner's membership. I invite you to explore these added items!

page from Cotton Mather's diary, 1716

Second, I would like to explain a change in how the collections in the NEHH program are organized. With the addition of the Bidwell and Mather collections to the program, it became clear that not every collection in the program could be described as a "church record". To more accurately describe the collections we have digitized, and to facilitate in finding those collections, we have created two separate series of collections for the NEHH program. Series I: Church Records will continue to house the collections NEHH has become known for — the (oftentimes large) sets of early Puritan, Congregational, or Christian church records. Series II: Personal Papers and Documents is where our collections of church-related personal papers and documents will live. At present, these collections include the Gideon Hawley missionary journals as well as the new Bidwell and Mather collections. We are very excited to grow this new series into a collection equally as wonderful as the set of collections in Series I so that, together, the items in these two series can more easily and more richly tell the story that is early Congregationalism in New England.



May 30, 2014

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, June 2nd for our board's annual meeting.

Staff will be in the office to answer questions by phone and email, and all of our online resources will still be available as usual.


May 23, 2014

The Congregational Library will be closed on Monday, May 26th in observance of Memorial 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.