Sturbridge, Mass. Separatist Church
The town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, was founded officially by grant of the General Court of Massachusetts in September of 1729 in after three separate petitions. The First Church of Sturbridge was founded as part of the General Court's condition for the establishment of the town of Sturbridge. At the second meeting of the Proprietors of the Church, funds were voted and allocated for the building of a meetinghouse and for the provision of salary for a minister. The first pastor, Rev. Caleb Rice was called and a Church covenant was written and signed September 29, 1736. Rev. Rice served the First Church in Sturbridge for 23 years, growing the church to 114 members.
Circa 1749 fifteen of these members chose to separate themselves from the First Church. Termed "Separates" and later "New Lights", these members left the church. A vote was held by the church requesting those separating themselves from the church to give their reasons for doing so in writing.
Those termed "New Lights" were generally parishioners who, influenced by The First Great Awakening to a new religious zeal, separated from their more staid churches, often creating new churches more in line with this new religious fervor. These separating "New Lights" were also sometimes called, more simply, "Separatists". In Sturbridge, the Separatists or "Separates", as they refer to themselves in these documents, went on to establish the Baptist Church of Sturbridge. Both churches continue today as part of the Federated Church of Sturbridge and Fiskdale.
The materials in this collection consist of relations of religious conversion detailing the New Light's reasons for separating from First Church. Where usually relations are thought of as documents made when a person wished to join the church, these relations were made at point of separation from the church, perhaps at the request of First Church. Also included in these documents is a letter from Rev. Joshua Paine to Miriam Newell requesting she account for her absence from the church.
Sturbridge, Mass. Congregational Church records, 1736-1831 — digital materials