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New NEHH material - Salem First, Newbury Second, Boxford, and Topsfield Churches

Our New England's Hidden Histories program continues to grow, with the latest collections provided in partnership with the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. They encompass records from four historical area Congregational churches: Newbury Second, Salem First, Boxford First, and Topsfield. Together these collections represent a wealth of data and historical documents ranging from the colonial era to the nineteenth century, encompassing witchcraft trials, heated theological disputes, and letters to Paul Revere.


Salem, Mass. First Church

Salem's First Church was the first truly Congregational Church in America, founded in 1629 with governance by church members. Its history also has a dark side, with numerous clergy and parishioners involved in the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692. Four volumes of church records ranging from 1629-1843 are included in the collection, three bound and one loose. These include meeting minutes, member and pew listings, baptisms, financial records, and historical chronicles. Loose records include correspondence relating to the church and community as well as administrative documents and officer lists. Of particular note are four letters from John Punchard on behalf of the church committee in 1806, requesting a church bell from Paul Revere's foundry in Boston.

Newbury, Mass. Second Church

The Newbury Second collection includes a bound volume of church records from 1696-1857, which contains accounts, meeting minutes, member lists, seating lists, and a register of baptisms. There is also a collection of correspondence relating to a dispute in the 1740s between religious revivalists in Newbury First Church and their staunchly traditionalist pastor Rev. Christopher Toppan (Rev. Toppan was rumored to have brought a whip into church with which to "scourge the heretics"). Also included are the Second Church's 1729 Articles of Agreement, updated after the acquisition of a new meeting house.

Boxford, Mass. First Church

The Boxford First Church records consist of loose documents ranging in date from 1703-1823, which include meeting minutes and member listings. The bulk of them, however, are correspondences related to a lengthy dispute between two Boxford First parishioners during the ministry of Rev. Isaac Briggs – sparked when one man accused the other of stealing his sheep. These records are part of a much larger archival collection, the Perley Family Papers.

Topsfield, Mass. Congregational Church

Another venerably historic church, Topsfield Congregational was founded in 1663, although there are no surviving records from the earliest period. The extant collection consists of two bound volumes of church records dating from 1684-1869. These include meeting minutes, admissions and member lists, and listings of baptisms, marriages, and deaths.


Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

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