Church History

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.

Digital Materials

Relation of Nancy Ward, 1762

Relations are written accounts of individuals' religious experience, often required in the process of applying for full membership. Unusually, these relations were made at point of separation from First Church.