Natick, Mass. First Congregational Church

Church History

The First Congregational Church of Natick was established by a group of English settlers and missionaries led by Rev. John Eliot in 1651, in what is now old South Natick. The settlers cultivated strong relationships with local Indigenous peoples, mainly comprising members of the Massachusett tribe, while attempting to convert them to Christianity. To this end, Rev. Eliot studied the Algonquin language with the help of the Montaukett interpreter Cockenoe, eventually publishing a translation of the Bible in phonetic Algonquin.

Those who converted were known as "Praying Indians" and became foundational members of the First Church in Natick, which was typified by its racially diverse congregation during the 17th and 18th centuries. There was a sizeable minority of congregants who were identified as "Negro" in the earliest church registers, as well as increasing numbers of white members. The Native presence persisted despite major fluctuations in their numbers, including those resulting from deadly forced removals to Deer Island in 1675, during King Philip's War.

In 1721 the old meetinghouse was rebuilt and local missionary Rev. Oliver Peabody was appointed as minister. During his tenure (1721-1752), he created the first extant records for both the church and town. Construction on a third meetinghouse in the same location began in 1754.

By 1749 however, white congregants were lobbying to move the church from South Natick to the increasingly segregated Natick Center. These "Center Members" were at odds with the largely Indigenous South Natick members who wished to retain the old location. Despite the unifying efforts of Rev. Peabody's successor, Rev. Stephen Badger, a fourth meetinghouse was eventually built in Natick Center in 1767. In 1798 the congregation officially split, largely (although not completely) along racial lines, with both groups retaining the moniker of "First Church". Rev. Badger was subsequently dismissed for his refusal to preach at the Center church, continuing to reside in South Natick until his death in 1803.

After the congregational schism, the South Natick division of Natick First fell into historical obscurity. The "Center" church continued through several physical iterations until the present day. Notable among these was the sixth meetinghouse, a costly edifice erected on the same site in 1854, which included a bell and fine organ, and played host to several prominent luminaries of the Civil War era. This structure however burned down only two decades after its construction, in the great Natick fire of 1874. A gothic-style church was erected adjacent to the former site in 1877 and is still in use. Natick First joined the United Church of Christ shortly after the latter organization's foundation in 1957.

The collections below are a combination of materials held by the Congregational Library and Archives and those digitized while on loan from the First Church in Natick. They include church record books from 1721-1794 and 1802-1833, financial records from 1822-1862, associated local correspondence (1755), and sermons notes by Rev. Benjamin Caryl, a minister from the neighboring village of Dover (1762-1803).

 

Digital Materials

Before accessing transcriptions, please read this Note on Transcription >

Church records, 1721-1794

This volume contains the earliest extant records for the town of Natick and of the First Church. They begin in 1721, the year in which a second meetinghouse was built and in which Rev. Oliver Peabody began his 30 year tenure. It includes lists of members, baptisms, deaths, church meetings minutes, and a copy of the church covenant. Stewardship of the records passed to Rev. Stephen Badger in 1752, after Rev. Peabody's death. To learn more about this collection, see the archival finding aid.

A full transcription of this volume is available.

 

Correspondence, 1755

This single piece of correspondence is both unsigned and unaddressed. Its writer expresses sympathy with a bereaved parent whose son was killed in the disastrous defeat of General Edward Braddock's forces near Fort Duquesne, in the "Battle of the Monongahela" during the French and Indian War. The letter was sent from Boston and dated August 4, 1755.

 

Sermons, 1762-1803

This volume contains drafts of sermons by Rev. Benjamin Caryl of Dover, Mass., preached during the latter part of the 18th and early 19th century, usually upon multiple occasions. He includes the dates of preaching, and sometimes location information, in the sermon headers.

  • Romans 8:9 – "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you…"
      first preached 3 August 1777
  • Romans 15:9 – "And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy…"
      first preached 30 March 1783
  • 2 Corinthians 1:12 – "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God…"
      first preached 28 Sep 1783
  • Job 17:1 – "My breath is corrupt, my days are extinct, the graves are ready for me…"
      first preached 28 Dec 1783
  • Psalm 4:4 – "Stand in awe and sin not…"
      first preached 30 May 1784
  • Mark 15:2 – "And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto them, Thou sayest it..."
      first preached 4 July 1784
  • Revalations 21:5 – "And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new…"
      first preached 1 Dec 1785
  • Revalations 21:5 – "And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new…"
      first preached 4 Dec 1785
  • Luke 14:15 – "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God…"
      first preached 19 Mar 1786
  • Psalm 4:4 – "Stand in awe and sin not…"
      first preached 2 Sep 1787
  • Song of Solomon 3:9 – "King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon…"
      first preached 31 May 1795

 

Church records, 1802-1833

This bound volume dates from shortly after the Church's 1798 schism and comprises the records of the "Center" division of Natick First. It includes a history of the church's formation authored by Rev. Freeman Sears, articles of faith, the church covenant, financial records, member lists, records of baptisms, marriages, deaths, church meeting minutes, and correspondence. The death records include detailed mortality information such as age at death and cause of death, and occasional demographic details. Correspondence includes a letter from Rev. Sears seeking reconciliation with the people of South Natick. A table of contents is included at the front of the volume.

 

Church records, 1822-1862

This bound volume comprises financial ledgers from Natick First's 'Center' church subsequent to the congregational split of 1798. The records, kept by various of the church's treasurers, detail incoming and outgoing revenue, ministerial salaries, member rates, and other miscellaneous expenses.

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