Salem, Mass. Tabernacle Church

Church History

Tabernacle Church in Salem, Massachusetts, traces its historical roots back to 1629 with the founding of First Church of Salem. In 1735 First Church Pastor Samuel Fisk was dismissed from his position by ecclesiastical council. A group of parishioners followed Fisk from First Church, built a new meetinghouse, and met also under the name First Church until 1762 when they were compelled by the colonial legislature to change their name to "Third Church of Christ in Salem". In 1774 the great fire of Salem burned the Third Church meetinghouse to the ground. A replacement meetinghouse was built in 1777 and was copied from the Tabernacle in Moorfields (London) made famous by its association with George Whitefield, leading to the nickname "Tabernacle Church".

It was during the building of this meetinghouse that strife drove a portion of the Third Church congregation to split and form South Church of Salem in 1775. Originally also referring to themselves as "Third Church", the split church later rejoined Tabernacle Church in 1924.

In 1781 the proprietors of Third Church were reincorporated as "the proprietors of the meetinghouse and land where the Reverend Doctor Nathaniel Whitaker now preaches." Reverend Whitaker was removed from office in 1784 by ecclesiastical council. Another split occurred in 1802 when a portion of Tabernacle Church left to form a Presbyterian church.

In 1812 Tabernacle came to the forefront of Congregational consciousness when it became the church from which the first six Congregational missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions were commissioned.

In 1834 the proprietors of the church were once again reincorporated, this time as "The Proprietors of the Tabernacle Church".

For more information about this collection, please see the finding aid.


Digital Materials

Church records 1743-1775

This record book contains records of membership, church meeting minutes, church discipline and baptisms. Of particular note are a series of charts documenting pastoral visits to parishioners. These charts contain census-like data on the household, including number and age of people living there.

Church records 1778-1796

These records contain meeting minutes, pew valuations, membership lists, calls to church meetings, and records pertaining to Dr. Nathaniel Whitaker, then-pastor of Tabernacle Church, mostly records discussing ministerial salary.

Church records 1783-1805

This volume was created in 1833 when loose-leaf records from 1783-1805 were transcribed into it. These records contain meeting minutes, correspondence, membership records, and records of church discipline.

Church records 1783-1833

This volume contains records of church membership, church covenant, and meeting minutes. Of particular note in this volume are historical accounts pertaining to the church's difficulty with Dr. Nathaniel Whitaker.

Church records 1795-1832

This record book contains records of meeting minutes and votes, copies of warrants, pew valuations, and records pertaining to the sexton's and minister's salaries.

Church records 1832-1849

Records in this volume include lists of donations, financial accountings, pew taxes, expenses, records of a standing committee, and meeting minutes.

Covenant 1795

A covenant lays out doctrines agreed upon by the congregation, usually at its founding. This document is a copy of the covenant made in August 1795.

Plan for Erecting the Tabernacle

This unbound volume details the congregation's plans for constructing their church building, and the means of administering it, as well as a list of founding subscribers.

Loose materials

The loose material found in this collection includes financial records, church records, and records pertaining to the controversy with Dr. Nathaniel Whitaker.

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