Beacon Street Blog

January 4, 2017

The South Congregational Church was established in 1868; it was a formalization of what M. C. Andrews and J. B. Fairfield started in 1852 when they established a Sunday School. Over the years, the church went through many changes before closing in February 2015. This collection contains meeting minutes and reports; financials; membership ledgers including births, deaths, and marriages; social and auxiliary groups; newsletters; and orders of worship.

As we are transitioning to a new publication system for our finding aids, detailed information about this collection is temporarily only available in PDF format. Basic information can be found the collection's catalog record.


photograph of South Congregational Church in Lawrence, Mass. courtesy of Benoît Prieur via Wikimedia Commons

December 28, 2016

Due to a local utility outage, the CLA has closed early today at 11:30 am.

We expect the problem to be resolved by tomorrow morning and will reopen then as usual.

All of our online resources will remain available. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

December 23, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, December 26th, to allow our staff to return from their Christmas weekend travels.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday, December 27th.

We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday.


photograph of a red Christmas bauble on blurred golden background courtesy of Petr Kratochvil via Wikimedia Commons

December 9, 2016

We are pleased to announce the latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program. All three happen to be from churches that are now known by names that are different from the ones they chose when they were founded.

  • Boston, Mass. Old South Church
    Most people know the Third Church of Boston better as "Old South", either from the meetinghouse that is now a historical landmark or from the current home of the congregation in the Back Bay neighborhood. We have digitized some of their early records, which contain administrative information, as well as lists of members, marriages, and baptisms. One of the more prominent figures to appear in these records is Benjamin Franklin, who was baptized in 1706.
  • Northbridge, Mass. Centre Congregational Church
    Dating from when it was called the Congregational Church of Christ, the early records of this church span more than fifty years of church meetings, memberships, baptism and marriage records, and disciplinary matters.
  • Reading, Mass. Second Church of Christ
    This single volume covers more than eighty years of church history from before it became the First Church of North Reading when the new town was established. Included are vital records of membership, baptisms, marriages, and disciplinary matters, as well as meeting minutes and the church's covenants.


Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

December 5, 2016

Join us for a concert by Renaissonics, accompanied by The Gropina Trio.

Renaissonics' newest program, Such Stuff As Dreams, is an enchanting voyage though the Renaissance imagination where the fantasies and genius of the age of Leonardo, Galileo and Shakespeare come alive through their music.

Such Stuff As Dreams features Renaissance and early Baroque chamber music, dance music, and improvisations. Music from Shakespeare, elegant Italian madrigals and dances, early Baroque sonatas, English masque music, and of course Renaissonics' acclaimed improvisations.

Renaissance music's expressive freedom derives partly from the music's being written completely without barlines. This allows each player the freedom to "speak" with their instruments like a storyteller; a true musical democracy where each voice is equal and free to tell their own individual story all the while intertwining with the other voices in a lush tapestry of sounds that are at once endlessly complex and stunningly beautiful. You can listen to samples of their music on their website.

Tuesday, December 6th
12:00 - 1:30 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


photograph of Renaissonics by Susan Wilson

December 2, 2016

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, December 5th for our board's quarterly meeting.

All of our online resources will be available as usual, and staff members will be in the office to answer questions over the phone or by email.

November 29, 2016

As we approach the end of the year, we reflect on our blessings with our families and prepare for the upcoming holidays. Here at the Congregational Library & Archives, we hope that you will keep us in your thoughts, as well.

About #GivingTuesday:

#GivingTuesday is a movement, built by people around the world, to celebrate giving of all kinds. It is celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), Black Friday and Cyber Monday; this year it falls on November 29, 2016. This movement is the result of the collective power of a unique blend of partners — nonprofits large and small; businesses and corporations; schools and universities; civic campaigns in cities, states and regions; and families and individuals — to inspire people to take collaborative action to improve their local communities and contribute in countless ways to the causes they believe in. Everyone has something to give.

We encourage you to take the opportunity of Giving Tuesday to allocate your charitable giving, and we hope that you will make us a part of that. Our memberships are as little as $25 for students, and every donation is appreciated, no matter how small.

Your support allows us to provide services to researchers of all backgrounds, care for rare and unique historical materials, and increase public access to information that might otherwise be hidden from the world. Help us tell the stories of early New England and its people. Help us preserve our past for future generations. Be a part of our ongoing mission to ensure that history matters.

Whether you become a member or simply make a donation, we will put every contribution to good use.

November 25, 2016

As we approach the end of the year, we reflect on our blessings with our families and prepare for the upcoming holidays. Here at the Congregational Library & Archives, we hope that you will keep us in your thoughts, as well.

About #GivingTuesday:

#GivingTuesday is a movement, built by people around the world, to celebrate giving of all kinds. It is celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), Black Friday and Cyber Monday; this year it falls on November 29, 2016. This movement is the result of the collective power of a unique blend of partners — nonprofits large and small; businesses and corporations; schools and universities; civic campaigns in cities, states and regions; and families and individuals — to inspire people to take collaborative action to improve their local communities and contribute in countless ways to the causes they believe in. Everyone has something to give.

We encourage you to take the opportunity of Giving Tuesday to allocate your charitable giving, and we hope that you will make us a part of that. Our memberships are as little as $25 for students, and every donation is appreciated, no matter how small.

Your support allows us to provide services to researchers of all backgrounds, care for rare and unique historical materials, and increase public access to information that might otherwise be hidden from the world. Help us tell the stories of early New England and its people. Help us preserve our past for future generations. Be a part of our ongoing mission to ensure that history matters.

Whether you become a member or simply make a donation, we will put every contribution to good use. Mark your calendars and get ready to spread a little joy.

November 22, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Wednesday through Friday, November 23-25, in observance of Thanksgiving.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Monday, November 28th.

We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday.

November 10, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Friday, November 11th, in observance of Veterans' Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return on Monday.


November 1, 2016

By the 1640s Massachusetts had already moved beyond paper ballots.

Not that they had any voting machines; it was just that paper was too expensive. So in a cost-cutting move the government went to "Indian beanes" (kidney beans). Their voting law stipulated that in the annual election for Assistants (who comprised the fledgling upper house of the Commonwealth's General Court), "the white beanes manifest election, the black for blanks." (September 7, 1643)

Enter Mighill Smith. On May 26, 1647, the government voted to make Mr. Smith a freeman. That meant he had attained a coveted status in early New England. From the original handful of persons named in the Bay Company charter, the Puritan settlers quickly expanded the right to vote to include a much larger population, namely, all (male) church members. So Mr. Smith proudly joined the ranks of the freemen; and it appears he voted that very day in an election for the Colony's Assistants. It may have been the first time he ever voted in his entire life.

It isn't clear that Mr. Smith believed in voting early and often — but he did drop three beans into the receptacle. A poll watcher caught him. He was accused of violating the October, 1643 law against voting more than once. As a result, in what may have been the first case of voter fraud on these shores, a £10 fine was levied on Mighill Smith. That hefty sum could have amounted to almost half of his yearly income.

Justice was swift. In that same session of the Great and General Court, maybe even on the very next day, the Court reached a judicious and compassionate verdict. "For his puting in of three beanes at once for one mans election," says the record, "it being done in simplicity, & he being pore & of an harmles disposition," Mr. Smith's fine was suspended.

-David M. Powers


photograph of an early ballot box using ballottas courtesy of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution, via Wikimedia Commons

October 31, 2016

Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for tomorrow's free lunchtime lecture.

Taciturn New Englander, avatar of small government, Amherst alumnus, Governor of Massachusetts, and President of the United States. Calvin Coolidge is remembered for being all of these things but less well known yet central to his identity was his Christian faith. Coolidge was the only Congregationalist to serve as our nation's chief magistrate. Come hear the fascinating, inspiring story of how his experience in the Congregational Church shaped his life from rural Vermont to the White House.

Rev. Stephen Silver is the minister of the First Congregational Church of Lebanon, NH. He previously served as Affiliated Minister at Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, MA, and Chief Development and Stewardship Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Steve enjoyed two decades in educational advancement at leading institutions including Harvard Law School and Tufts University. He holds an A.B. in Politics from Brandeis University, an M.B.A. in Marketing and International Management from Cornell University, and both a Master of Liberal Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Lebanon with his family.

Tuesday, November 1st
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


photograph of President Coolidge from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

October 27, 2016

This past Friday, October 21, 2016, the Congregational Library & Archives lost one of its greatest friends. Harold Worthley — known to many as simply "Hal" — died after a brief illness. He was 88 years old.

Hal was director of the Congregational Library for nearly three decades, from 1977 to 2003. Many will remember him as the authoritative source on all things Congregational, a wry and gentle man with a deep knowledge of the tradition and an endless store of anecdotes and stories. Researchers came to know Hal as a friend, always generous with his time and ready to answer any and all questions, no matter how obscure or remote the subject area. We are all deeply grateful for his years of careful stewardship of the library's collection, ensuring its survival in spite of limited staffing and financial resources.

A native of Brewer, Maine, Hal was ordained a Congregational minister in 1954, and served parishes in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Between 1963 and 1977, he taught at Wheaton College in Norton, where he was College Chaplain and Associate Professor of Religion.

Hal's deepest passion was for history. A graduate of Boston University and Harvard Divinity School, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970, he also did postgraduate work at Northwestern University and Simmons College.

Hal was, bar none, the world authority on New England church records. His Harvard doctoral thesis focused on deacons and ruling elders of the early Congregational churches of Massachusetts — but it was the appendix to the thesis (which he sometimes called a 700-page footnote) that became his legacy. Hal took upon himself the massive task of creating an inventory of all the Congregational church records in colonial Massachusetts, tracking them down in churches, historical societies, banks, attics, and basements in every corner of the state. Published in 1970, An Inventory of the Records of the Particular (Congregational) Churches of Massachusetts Gathered 1620-1805 lists by name every original record book, as well as the ministers and lay officers of each congregation. The Inventory became iconic among researchers of early New England history and religion, and remains so nearly a half century after its publication.

Hal's work is foundational to the one of the CLA's most important projects, New England's Hidden Histories. In many ways we are continuing the project he began so long ago, retracing his steps to the last known sites of old church records, and then making them available to researchers anywhere by digitizing, transcribing, and placing them online.

Dr. Worthley's love for Congregational history did not end when he retired in 2003. He and his wife Barbara set to work transcribing documents, beginning with the diaries of missionary Gideon Hawley. They became indispensable to the Hidden Histories project as well. Hal was still transcribing the records of the church in Barnstable, Massachusetts, in his hospital bed.

Hal leaves his wife of 61 years, Barbara L. (Bent) Worthley, and his children: Susan L. Field of Cape Porpoise, ME; Laura M. Worthley and her husband, Andrew Lavash, of New Braunfels, TX; and David B. Worthley and his wife, Stephanie A. Worthley, of Norton, MA. He leaves five grandchildren: Jesse D. Field, Marshall D. Lavash, Morgan C. Lavash, Leah D. Worthley, and Nina B. Worthley. He was the brother of the late Bruce E. Worthley.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, November 5 at 2:00 PM, at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Norton, MA. In lieu of flowers, Hal has requested that memorial gifts be sent to the Congregational Library & Archives, with a note that the gift supports New England's Hidden Histories.

October 26, 2016

For many years "14 Beacon Street" was the home address of American Congregationalists. An eight-story office building at the top of Beacon Hill, it was built in 1898 by the American Congregational Association, an independent organization intent on providing a single space for all the scattered efforts of a denomination dedicated to the principle of decentralization. The key piece, and the core passion of the ACA, was the Congregational Library, established decades earlier, in 1853, to hold hundreds of years worth of priceless historical records. For the last century and a half the Library has carried out that mission, not just safekeeping documents but holding the memory and identity of a long and rich spiritual tradition.

At their September meeting, and after much discussion and deliberation, the board of the ACA made the difficult decision to explore the sale of the building. The ACA has engaged a real estate broker, Jones Lang LaSalle, and marketing will begin in November. Whatever the outcome of this process, the Library & Archives will remain in its present location, under a long-term lease.

14 Beacon is a wonderful building — and it is also over a century old. The ACA has done its best to exercise good stewardship over the years, and made a policy of renting building space to nonprofit organizations. But for a long time now, the board has been aware of pressing and expensive repairs, far beyond the ability of a nonprofit organization to address. They have reached the unavoidable conclusion that the ACA's mission is not managing real estate in downtown Boston.

The board has absolute clarity about the library's mission and lots of energy and enthusiasm for carrying it forward. As always the ACA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and making accessible the story of the Congregational tradition. The past years have seen enormous success in growing public programs, building our collection and making it accessible in digital form, and nurturing cutting edge scholarship. Ambitious plans for the future are in store, especially with the approach of "2020," the 400th anniversary of Congregationalism in North America.

More specific information will unfold over the next several months. In the meantime, Lisa Campoli ( the real estate advisor to the ACA, is available to answer questions.

October 24, 2016

As we continue to feature the CLA's food-related collections for Archives Month, it feels like a perfect opportunity to share some of our favorite recipes, advertisements, and food related stories highlighted from our collections between the 17th and 20th centuries.

We have a recipe for samp, which is a version of a Native American recipe adapted by English colonists. I made the recipe, which is a porridge, adding a little maple syrup and berries for good measure. It made for a hearty breakfast, and tastes like a precursor to Johnny Cakes and pancakes. Also from the Colonial Era, there are multiple mentions of food and foodstuffs in the CLA's New England's Hidden Histories collections including cider from Northbridge, MA; cranberries from Wrentham, MA; and lists of gifts to ministers as payment including chocolate, pigs, and wine from Stoneham, MA and Haverhill, MA.

In the 19th century, we noted a lot of recipes for steamed puddings and baked goods including ingredients such as saleratus, a precursor to baking soda. Making some of these recipes proved harder than expected, as there was no standardization to ovens or thermometer gauges in the 19th century so we had to do a little guess work on recipes. Note that there's no salt, fat, or baking instructions to the Maple Molasses Cookies recipe at all!

Maple Molasses Cookies recipe –
Winnowed Gems Cookbook (1899)
by The Woman's Missionary Society of
the Congregational Church, Summer Hill, NY.
  Laconia Cake –
Mary Whitcher's Shaker House-keeper (1882)

Additionally, in the 19th century, it is easy to see the development of a mass consumer culture through the rise of advertisements for food and cooking related equipment. Here are some examples:

Shakers’ Sarsaparilla ­­advertisement –
Mary Whitcher's Shaker House-keeper (1882)
  Marvel Flour advertisement –
Winnowed Gems Cookbook (1899)
by The Woman's Missionary Society of
the Congregational Church, Summer Hill, NY.
Beardsley’s Shredded Codfish advetisement –
Tried and True Cook Book (1898)
by The Ladies League of
Emmanuel Church, Springfield, MA
  Rising Sun Stove Polish advertisement –
The Boston Almanac and Directory (1891)
Glenwood Range advertisement –
Tried and True Cook Book (1898)
by The Ladies League of
Emmanuel Church, Springfield, MA

Some of the staff's favorite recipes have, without doubt, come from 20th century church cookbooks. These recipes are nostalgic for some, amusing for others, and generally beloved for their usage and creative pairing of ingredients. Here are a few favorites, all from the 1978 Kettle n' Kirke Cookbook, a 175th anniversary historical cookbook from the First Congregational Church, UCC in Littleton, New Hampshire.

Mom's Perfection Salad recipe   Six Can Casserole recipe
Gum Drop Cookies recipe

It's been great fun celebrating Archives Month through food, but it also highlights a more serious message. Archival collections may be used for a myriad of purposes, far beyond their obvious subject matters. All of these materials shed insight into times gone by from, socio-economic, cultural, gendered and geographical perspectives. We hope you've enjoyed learning about the CLA's food related collections as much as we have enjoyed sharing them. Cheers!

P.S. Have a Potato Chip cookie

October 17, 2016

Don't forget to register for this week's free lunchtime lecture. There are still a few seats left.

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Harper's, Aeon Magazine, among many other publications. His latest book, American Philosophy: A Love Story, part intellectual history, part memoir is ultimately about love, freedom, and the role that wisdom can play in turning one's life around.

John Kaag is at sea in his marriage and his career when he stumbles upon West Wind, a ruin of an estate in rural New Hampshire that belonged to the eminent Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking, one of the last true giants of American philosophy and a direct intellectual descendant of William James, the father of American philosophy and psychology. It is James's question, "Is life worth living?" that guides this remarkable book.

The books Kaag discovers in the Hocking library are crawling with insects and full of mold. But Kaag resolves to restore them, as he immediately recognizes their importance. Not only does the library at West Wind contain handwritten notes from Whitman, and inscriptions from Frost, but there are startlingly rare first editions of Hobbes, Descartes and Kant. As Kaag begins to catalog and read through these priceless volumes, he embarks on a journey that leads him to the life-affirming tenets of American philosophy — self-reliance, pragmatism, and transcendence.

Wednesday, October 19th
noon - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

October 14, 2016

This year's joint ACA-Athenaeum Fellow, Jessica Parr, will be presenting on her research. Her forthcoming book will explore the evolution of African American religious thought. This talk will focus on the first chapter, discussing the legal, religious, and cultural matrix that emerged in defense of slavery in the British Atlantic.

Jessica Parr is a historian, specializing in the history of race and religion in the Early Modern Atlantic World. She received her PhD from the University of New Hampshire at Durham in 2012 and also holds an MA in History and and MS in Archives Management from Simmons College. Parr is a regular contributor to The Junto: a Group Blog on Early American History, and a co-editor at H-Net. Her first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2015. Parr teaches at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and Emmanuel College.

Monday, October 17th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Boston Athenaeum
Bayard Henry Long Room
10 Beacon Street, Boston

No registration required.


image of "Jan Tzatzoe, Andries Stoffles, the Rev. Dr. Philip & Rev. Messrs. Read Senr & Junr, giving evidence before the Committe of the House of Commons" painted by H. Room and engraved by R. Woodman courtesy of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, via Wikimedia Commons

October 13, 2016

October is American Archives Month, an opportunity for us to share the Congregational Library & Archives' incredible resources, demonstrate the value of archival collections, and make connections with patrons and potential researchers far and wide. Celebrated since 2006, the Society of American Archivists hosts Archives Month as an outreach opportunity for archivists to share our work and demystify what we do all day. A popular feature of Archives Month is "Ask an Archivist Day", a Twitter hosted event that allows patrons, archivists, librarians, and the general public to interact. This year, the CLA's archivists participated via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. As a result, we saw engagement increase and had an amazingly fun day.

We decided to continue featuring our collections throughout the month in the most fun way we know how — through food. To help celebrate Archives Month we will be featuring recipes and food-related materials from the library and archives collections. The goal is to share information about our collections, not only with regular patrons and researchers, but also with a general audience in mind.

Food is sustenance but it's also an engaging way to talk about cultural shifts, globalization, diversity, community, economics, anthropology, and more. Our NEHH collections highlight lists of presents presented to ministers in lieu of payment in Colonial America, as well as discourse on cider and cranberries. Other archival collections include cookbooks, such as Winnowed Gems from Summer Hill, NY in 1899 as well as food related advertisements buried between church records such as a ca.1955 roaster oven advertisement from East Chicago, IN. Our Local Church Histories collections feature numerous cookbooks like the Kettle and Kirke from Littleton, NH in 1978 and the Monroeville, OH community Congregational Church Commemorative Cookbook from 1932-1982. Our library has both primary and secondary sources featuring food, menus, and food culture from the 17th through 20th centuries.


Follow us on these platforms to see the food related collections and recipes we will be highlighting all month!

Twitter: @Congrelib

October 7, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, October 10th, in observance of Columbus Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return on Tuesday.

We hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend.

October 6, 2016

We're pleased to announce the availability of three new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program. All of them contain some interesting history and insights into the lives of the people who created them.


Northampton, Mass. First Church of Christ (1661-1846)

The church was gathered June 18, 1661. The congregation was established with representatives from the Churches of Christ from Dorchester, Roxbury, Springfield, and Hadley. Their first minister was Elezear Mather, followed by Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard's grandson, Jonathan Edwards, became their third minister, and served from 1727-1750.

This volume contains articles of faith, a covenant, meeting minutes, admissions, dismissions, membership lists, baptisms, deaths, and marriages, and an index for members by name. The original book is owned by and housed at the Forbes Library in Northampton. We are grateful for their participation in this program.


Braintree, Mass. First Church (1697-1825)

The Mount Wollaston Parish Meeting House was established in 1639 in the present-day Quincy Area, and by 1640 the town was renamed Braintree. Braintree originally included present-day Braintree, Quincy, Randolph, and Holbrook. The Parish Meeting House was the site of the original church, which first gathered on September 10, 1707. In 1708, old Braintree was divided into the North Precinct (Quincy) and the South Precinct (Braintree). When Quincy became an official town in 1792, the 1707 church was designated as the First Church in Braintree.

The records in this collection include the journal of Samuel Niles dating 1697 to 1777, a volume of the Braintree Precinct's Financial Records dating 1708 to 1796, and a volume of church records dating 1790 to 1825.


Avery, David. The Case of the Pastor in Wrentham (1794)

Rev. David Avery (1746-1817) was born in Franklin, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1769, studied theology at Dartmouth College, and was ordained as a missionary to the Native Americans in 1771. After serving as an army chaplain during the Revolutionary War, he was installed as the pastor in Bennington, Vermont in 1780. He moved to Wrentham, Massachusetts in 1783 to replace a minister who had died. The difficulties described in this volume grew, and he was dismissed from his service in Wrentham in 1794.

This manuscript was prepared by Rev. David Avery and sent to David Howell, Esq. "for his judgment & advice" about the strife that had grown between Avery and his congregation.


Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these resources do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

October 3, 2016

Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for tomorrow's free lunchtime lecture. There are still a few seats available.

Epidemics and Awakenings in the First Congregational Church of Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1735-1740

In May of 1736, John Boynton of Haverhill, Massachusetts, proclaimed to fellow parishioners, "I have been awakened and put upon my duty by the many and sudden deaths in this place." While intense religious revivals had sprung up across the Atlantic world, this relation of faith found its inspiration in a biological event particular to the frontier communities of Northern New England. Beginning a year earlier, John had watched a new disease take thousands of lives across Essex County, Massachusetts and Rockingham County, New Hampshire. By the end of the following decade, the total lost would exceed ten thousand individuals; ninety-eight percent would be children. Despite these high death rates and the impact such an unusual event had on a community in the midst of religious upheaval, scholars have largely ignored both the disease and its social ramifications.

Using sources held in the Congregational Library & Archives, this talk explores the reactions of one town to this horrifying disease, Haverhill, Massachusetts. Combining traditional research methodologies with digital humanities technology, it reconstructs this catastrophic event from church records to reveal the magnitude of mortality in this town and the manner by which the unprecedented loss of so many children left parents isolated from supportive community networks, and thus, from the historical record. Far from stoically internalizing this grief in a manner consistent with a reductionist interpretation of Calvinist thought, parents living in these frontier settlements detached from their communities, many times stumbling through a grieving "darkness" toward early death. These otherwise silent sufferings, like dark matter in a universe of human experience, account for a missing mass of emotional outpour contemporary to the First Great Awakening. It provides a useful medical-historical analogue to post-colonial techniques for recovering subaltern "lost voices" while furnishing a new model for understanding these silences.

Nicholas E. Bonneau is a doctoral candidate and instructor in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame and will be the Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies and a Friends of the MCEAS Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies for the 2016–2017 academic year. He specializes in the global environmental history of emerging infectious disease, concentrating on seventeenth to early nineteenth century North America. He is interested in the memory of epidemics and what factors influence how they succeed or fail to find a place in the historical record. Nicholas is the creator of the Death Records of Early America Database, linking hundreds of thousands of individuals' vital records from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries across the Atlantic World. This database allows scholars to track individuals and groups through births, marriages and deaths as well as social networks including family links, parish affiliation, and common employers. He has received fellowships though the National Science Foundation IGERT, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, American Antiquarian Society, Philadelphia Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (formerly PACHS), as well as research residencies at the Philadelphia College of Physicians and the Philips Library of the Peabody-Essex Museum. Nicholas teaches US History (to 1877) at the University of Notre Dame and the History of Medicine at the Westville Correctional Facility through a partnership with Holy Cross and Bard Colleges. His dissertation, "Unspeakable Loss, Distempered Awakenings: North America's Invisible Throat Distemper Epidemics, 1735 – 1765", is scheduled for defense in the spring of 2017.

Tuesday, October 4th
noon - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

September 30, 2016

Congregational missions reached around the world. In addition to Hawaii, contingencies brought educational and social services to the Asia and the Near East. Many schools founded by missionaries still exist in Turkey, but our story comes from a school in rural Kansas where three students at the Royal Valley Middle School in Mayetta tell the story about an unsung hero, Emma Darling Cushman.

Cushman, an American nurse, saved the lives of thousands of Armenian children during the Armenian genocide. In addition to caring for countless orphans, Cushman served as Acting Consul of the Allies and Neutral Nations, overseeing millions of dollars in relief funds and prisoner exchanges. Their video that documents Cushman's heroism earned the $7,500 Top Prize in International Discovery Award Competition from the Lowell Miliken Center for Unsung Heroes. In addition, the students have been given the honor of providing the inscription on her unmarked headstone at the American Cemetery in Cairo. The students can be commended for their extensive research and interviews.

One stop on their quest was The Congregational Library & Archives. Archivist Jessica Steytler worked with the young researchers and their teacher Nate McAlister to locate significant images from our collection. Jessica tells the story, "The students discovered through our online resources that we had photographs of Emma Darling Cushman, and we were able to provide details on how to request copies of the images that landed in the students' documentary.  While it's our number one priority to make the collections accessible to anyone who wishes to use our resources, being able to assist young researchers is particularly special."

We hope that you get a chance to watch the video; you will be glad that you did.

September 28, 2016

Traffic stops as eager students clamber onto school buses, traveling toward new adventures. Their rides vary in length from 15 minutes to the 2-hour trek that Nate McAlister's students make through the Kansas Prairie (see this Friday's article) but none travel as far as the sons and daughters of missionaries did when they sailed from Hawaii to Boston seeking an formal education. The journey rounding Cape Horn lasted from 5 to 6 months and students, once in North America, were unable to return home for many years.

The voyages, let alone long separations, took their toll on the missionary families and in 1841 a school was founded on the lands of Ka Punahou, named for natural spring discovered centuries before. From the first class of 15 students Punahou has grown to 3,768 students.

No longer just for children of missionaries, the K-12 institution strives to provide unparalleled opportunities to cultivate students' unique interests and talents through rigorous academics, programs in athletics and the arts, and an array of co-curricular opportunities. Punahou boasts of many accomplished graduates including Congregational Library & Archives members and its best known, Barack Obama, 44th American president.

Last month visitors from Punahou made their way to Boston as part of a pilgrimage to trace their early beginnings and found many clues right here at 14 Beacon Street. After a visit at Park Street Church, ACA board member Rich Elliott brought the group to the library. Group member Dita Ramler wrote about their visit in the school's blog.

September 9, 2016

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, September 12th for our board's quarterly meeting.

All of our online resources will be available as usual, and staff members will be in the office to answer questions over the phone or by email.

September 7, 2016

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from two churches that have survived many changes.


Granville, Mass. First Congregational Church records, 1757-1848

This diverse collection contains the expected administrative, membership, and disciplinary records, as well as a handful of ecclesiastical councils, sermons, and essays. There is also a selection of letters from Rev. Lemuel Haynes, the first ordained African American minister, to Rev. Timothy Cooley who was serving as pastor to Granville at the time.


Sturbridge, Mass. Congregational Church records, 1736-1831

Many of the volumes in this collection were transcribed from deteriorating or disorganized original versions by the church's clerks and pastors in order to preserve its history. As such, they are very well organized and indexed, making it easy to find the meeting minutes, membership records, disciplinary cases, correspondence, and other information you might be seeking.


Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

September 2, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, September 5th in observance of Labor Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.


August 25, 2016

I don't usually post sermons, for a lot of good reasons. Number one, I have never taken a course in sermon-writing or biblical exegesis, so other than sitting through thousands of them over my lifetime, I'm a rank amateur. The other reason is that if I post this I'm going to have to write something entirely new for the next congregation. But that's a good thing. The third reason is that I hope it might get a few other congregations thinking about their practices of remembering, anniversary years or not.

The title comes from another congregation up in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, a wonderful line from their church covenant of 1798.


Lively Stones
Joshua 4: 1-9
[Sermon preached August 21, 2016 at Orleans, MA]
Peggy Bendroth

When my children were small I used to be pretty systematic about keeping "memory boxes." Everybody has these, right? They were a place to keep family mementos: the first pair of shoes, old report cards, years' worth of Mothers' Day cards, leftover casts from broken bones, collars from long-dead pets.

I'm a lot less intentional these days: in fact I keep running across things that I simply don't know what to do with. Now I’ve got rocks from various European countries, shells that once looked beautiful on a beach somewhere, a watch I think one day I will have fixed, and single earrings I keep because who knows maybe someday the other one will turn up. All impossible to throw away. Someday, of course, I'm going to gather it all up, create a spreadsheet and organize it all: one box for family memories, one for Goodwill, and one for the trash. I will go to Ikea and get some metal shelves, and create a little archive in my basement.

Actually, no I won't. Unless some miracle or personality transplant happens, all of this flotsam and jetsam is going to keep roaming aimlessly around my house and I'm going to keep wondering why I don't do something about it.

There's a name for this kind of aimless keeping: we call it hoarding. Of course, my house isn't anything like the ones you see on reality television, brimming with beer cans or cats or old food. But the basic principle is there: not knowing what to keep and what not to, not being able to distinguish between something important and valuable and something that is not.

It's a metaphor of sorts for our culture today — there are more museums devoted to everything than ever before — not just American history and modern art, but Spam, lunchboxes, a giant ball of string. Back in the days of P.T. Barnum people went to museums to see things they couldn't anywhere else — two-headed calves, ten-foot spiders, Egyptian mummies — but now we are happy to see something utterly familiar.

And as I know from my work at the Congregational Library, the digital universe is exploding. We have millions of old documents in digital form on the internet, from medieval Spain or ancient Peru, all available in the comfort of your living room. We are, as people often say, an amnesiac culture, in love with anything new and improved; but we're also obsessed with the past. The obsession grows out of anxiety, the fear that we might lose something valuable, though we don't know what it is, fear of forgetting and of loss.

Christian remembering, as we might call it, is something different. This is what I'd like to talk about this morning, why people of faith need to have good memories. This is your 370th anniversary, and it can be an opportunity to do some creative thinking about your past and what it means to the present and in the future — to honor the past without dwelling on it.

We all know that there's a certain kind of remembering that churches are good at, and I can almost feel pastors shuddering when I bring up the subject. Mrs. Magillicuddy will never forget the time the pastor's wife walked right by her in coffee hour without even saying anything, Mr. Bumpkins can't get over the way the building and grounds committee dismissed his idea for a three-story parking garage in the church lot, the pastor lives with simmering resentment over the way Mrs. Magillicuddy and Mr. Bumpkins took it all out on him or her. And many churches live with regret, over missed opportunities, families we let leave, programs we were enthusiastic over at the beginning but let linger and die. That's not Christian remembering.

Remembering as a spiritual practice is life-giving; telling stories about the past strengthens communities, builds common bonds, a sense of solidarity with each other, opens our hearts and minds to the world. Both Christianity and Judaism are, as Abraham Joshua Heschel has called them, "religions of remembrance." In other words we are both basically story-tellers; history for us is not just a hobby, a pastime for "buffs" or people with an insatiable need for useless facts. It's what we do. It's the reason why the Bible is a book of stories about people in the past, a record for us of their lived experience of faith. What is the Passover seder but a re-enactment of a historical event — the same is true for the Lord's Supper, in which we are told to "remember and believe." It is more than just a re-enactment, as history is for us more than a rundown of names and dates and bits of information. It is a story we tell to each other that places us here in the present day in Orleans, Massachusetts, within a multitude, across time as well as space. We are sharing a story with Christians in first-century Corinth, Elizabethan England, fifteenth-century Japan, twentieth-century Africa.

There's nothing nostalgic about this kind of relationship with the past. When Christ commanded us to celebrate communion “in memory of me,” he wasn't suggesting we pull out all the old picture albums and trade our favorite stories about the first century. Remembering for the people of Israel and in the words of Jesus means that we are re-upping our commitment, throwing in our lot with others. We are placing ourselves into a story, into a community of memory, receiving the promise that we are not alone. We are also entering into a story that matters, one that is going to make demands of us.

Thus our story in Joshua: "In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."

If you know anything of the background of this story, it's a big moment in Israelite history, when they are finally ending forty long years of wandering the Sinai peninsula and crossing the Jordan into the promised land. The future ahead of them is full of promise, but it will also bring frightening challenges. And it's in this moment that God commands them to stop, literally in the middle of things, and set up a memorial, a pile of stones meant as a message to future generations. It wasn't enough, in other words, just to write it down and put it in the archives — there had to be something concrete, something visible, maybe even something cumbersome and heavy, something that took extra special effort — hauling heavy stones — to make sure the memory did not fade away easily.

There's not a day that goes by, at least between April and October, when I'm reminded that Paul Revere is buried below my window. Somehow everybody who comes across him feels the need to yell "the British are coming." But they also do something else — I look down and see on the monument and on the sidewalk around it, and see that they have left stones behind.

Stones appear in the Bible a fair amount. They are used as altars, even projectiles, and they formed protective walls. Jacob was even using one as a pillow when he had a dream about a ladder reaching up to heaven. They are also used in ancient rituals, as carriers of memory. As we saw in Joshua's story, stones have a religious meaning in Jewish culture, one that goes way back. People left stones on graves for practical reasons, to mark a corpse, to make sure no one unknowingly stumbled upon a spot of ground that was ritually unclean. But they were also there to allow the grieving to come back, to keep up a connection with someone who was gone, but should not be forgotten. Stones weigh down a soul that might otherwise drift away — it keeps the dead from forgetting about us. They also are a symbol of permanence. Unlike flowers, our object of choice in cemeteries, stones do not wither and dry up. They are always there, no matter what.

We come from a tradition with deep reservations about ritual. Our Puritan ancestors have been criticized a lot for being intolerant and nit-picky, and perhaps with justification. But that's not what they were really about — they wanted to keep religion clear and simple — no stained glass, choir lofts, ministers' robes, crosses, incense. They wanted religion to be fresh, immediate, unencumbered by rote forms and mindless repetition. Churches needed to be as bare and plain as possible, worship services as straightforward as they could be, so that nothing would get in God's way.

Is there a way to keep that idea, really the genius of our tradition, and have some regular practices that keep us from being so present-minded, so easily forgetful about the people who have minded and built this church for the last 370 years?

Are there practices, habits, you could keep, almost like a string around the finger, to bring to mind the people who established both of the congregations you represent, both of the religious traditions? Are there ways you might recognize that, all told, you number in the thousands, and this church has had a reach and an influence over the past nearly 4 centuries that you cannot even begin to imagine? How will you maintain the continuity with the past? And what will you tell those lined up to take our places? How will they learn your story?

This does not have to be dead serious or require a lot of studying. We all need a connection with the past that is life-giving (which means it might even be fun), more than just nostalgia. This means we will not overly romanticize the past, and how much better things must have been back then. And we also won't condescend to our ancestors, as somehow not quite as smart or tolerant or progressive as we are, "back there," or lower down on the ladder of progress. (Yes, we've come a long way in some respects, but we've also discovered ways to do damage to each other that they could never have imagined.) What we need is a mature, grown-up relationship with our ancestors in the faith — and in this church.

In the course of my work I visit lots of local Congregational churches, and as you might guess, I've seen everything. I remember one in particular, in an old church building that over the course of time had found itself surrounded by a mini-mall and a few car dealerships. The congregation was kind of hanging on for dear life, the whole building felt kind of aging and depressed. After my presentation one of the members sidled over to ask me a question: "what would they think about us today?" And I knew the deeper fear was, are we a big disappointment? Would they be angry at how far we've drifted from the founding vision?

I probably mouthed a few comforting platitudes at the time — this was a profound and unusual question. But if we believe we are a community of memory, one that includes both the living and the dead, those kind of questions are going to come up.

What would our ancestors wonder about if they could see us today? They'd probably wonder why my sermon is going to finish so soon (and of course about my gender) and why we aren't coming back for another two hour sermon after lunch. They'd be astonished that most of us can't tell the difference between a Presbyterian and a Congregationalist, much less an Episcopalian and a Catholic.

But I think they'd also wonder why we don't tell more stories about our history, whether we have any idea of how much we owe to them and to others — all the things they've given us: songs to sing, pews to sit in, books and ideas that inspire us, the names and layout of our streets. Novelist Wendell Barry calls this a "long choosing," that we and our world are the result of the thousands of decisions by other people, about who to marry and where to live, what to care about.

I think it's going to take a lot of rethinking and undoing of old spiritual habits before we can break through all the layers of indifference, condescension, and confusion that have accumulated around faith and history over so many years. We can start just by saying thank you, acknowledging over and over again that we are not making all of this stuff up as we go along, but are stewards of memory for our ancestors in the faith — and for generations still ahead.

In a way we are talking about remaking our Christian imagination so that we can see the cloud of witnesses around us, recover an older language of faith. "Seeing dead people," as I sometimes call it, is a profoundly countercultural act — it can be scary and uncomfortable, and a little weird sometimes too — but it's not optional and it's not something you have to do every twenty-five or fifty years.  It's the responsibility, promise, and adventure of our Christian faith.


Photograph of the memorial cairn at the top of Popolopen Torne in New York state courtesy of user Kafziel via Wikimedia Commons.

August 24, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed to the public on Thursday, August 25th for a staff training day.

If you have questions that need staff attention, please send an email or leave a voicemail and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience as we work to provide you with the best service possible.


August 18, 2016

The Congregational church in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, is marking its 250th anniversary this year, and my husband and I drove up this past weekend to join the festivities. I offered greetings from the Congregational Library & Archives and gave the Sunday sermon, a twenty-minute drop in the bucket compared to the months, even years this congregation has spent on putting together a creative, thoughtful celebration.

Most impressive to me, they had assembled a team of church members with a bent for research and writing, and produced one of the best local church histories I'd ever seen. The book included the usual narrative of ministers and building projects, but folded these into the relevant social context, wars and changing social mores, and the ups and downs of the coastal Maine economy. It also told much more of the story than we often hear, introducing us to sinners as well as saints, not just the long-dead variety but those involved in more recent struggles. The specifics won't surprise anyone who's ever been part of a church for any length of time, and especially not me, doubly wary as a cynical historian and a pastor's wife for over thirty years. We all know that every congregation has secrets — but very few of them make them part of their written history.

The entire weekend up in Maine made for musing about the distance between what we see and what we don't. To anyone else my husband and I probably looked like run of the mill tourists with Massachusetts plates, checking one more destination off of our bucket list before moving on. But Boothbay Harbor is not an ordinary place for us. My husband's family has roots in the area, and we used to visit his grandma when we were first married. We kept going up there after she died and when our children were small, staying in the family cottage — a grandiose term for a Rube Goldberg cabin, rooms randomly added over the years. Back then we didn't have a lot of money to spend on vacations and so we amused ourselves in inexpensive ways, picking blueberries in the back yard, hanging out in the hammock for hours at a time, taking the dogs for a walk down to the Sheepscot River, where we'd all enjoy the smell and muck of low tide. The little splurges were memorable.

I arrived early for the Sunday service, and since I had a little extra time to roam around, I did what most nosy historians do, visit the local graveyard. The Boothbay church had been founded by Scots-Irish Presbyterians, some of whose family still lived in the area and were part of the congregation, and I thought I might spot one or two on a tombstone, maybe find a story or two to tell at coffee hour. As in most old cemeteries, Boothbay Harbor's dead were grouped into extended families of parents and children, husbands and wives. The inhabitants were right out of a Melville novel, sea captains named Uzziah and Elijah, wives named Prudence and Sarah and Priscilla.

And then there was Cinderella Smith. Gravestones are fairly sparse information-wise and hers only made he wonder further. This woman had died relatively young, before the Civil War, perhaps of one of the epidemics that took people with depressing regularity during that time. She'd also lost both her parents at an early age — her tombstone included their birth and death dates — and, even more tantalizingly, it indicated that she'd been adopted by other couple with the same last name. Though adoption was a fairly common, informal practice among families back when a head cold could turn into a fever and an infection that brought death in days, I've never seen the actual word on a nineteenth-century gravestone. Nor have I ever come across a Cinderella.

She must have come from special people, who named her for a fairy tale character and then kept her close within the family after what must have been a tragic loss. And I wouldn't doubt that a local historian or an expert on New England graveyards could piece together a lot more of the mystery than I can. But do you really want to know? Isn't it enough that almost two centuries ago, back in the days when Mainers made their living on fishing smacks and hard-scrabble farms, someone loved a little girl enough to name her Cinderella? The past loves to keep its secrets, I've found, and sometimes it's more than enough to enjoy the mystery.

-Peggy Bendroth

July 28, 2016

The streets of Boston are alive with visitors and locals alike, taking in these few fleeting weeks of summer. Down the street, we can see tourists buying slushes and taking photos on the Boston Common, while locals sprawl out on the grass with books. Our Assistant Librarian Sara Belmonte picked out some books you might enjoy reading on the Common, or under another shady tree in your area.

Those Good Gertudes: a Social History of Women Teachers in America

Geraldine Clifford turned the personal writings of women teachers into a larger historical statement about the role women have played as teachers in the United States. The book covers the colonial era and the 19th century, and brings to light the often-overlooked voices of women.

Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England

Puritans are often portrayed as stern and rigid, but Abram C. Van Engen smashes that misconception. He contends that Puritan theological thought and practice emphasized the importance of sympathy and compassion, not buckled hats and witch burnings.

A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World

A different kind of beach read! The Atlantic Ocean serves as a backdrop for 17th century transatlantic voyages. James Oglethorpe's 1735 journey from London to Georgia is the main story, and Stephen R. Berry's book expands from there across the 18th century transatlantic world. Berry was a 2004 fellow of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium.

Daughters of the Samurai: a Journey from East to West and Back

Janice P. Namura's meticulously researched book tells the story of five young Japanese women sent to the U.S. by the Japanese government in the 1870s. After ten years, they return home and are faced with the task of reforming Japan's educational system. Much of the collection at the Congregational Library & Archives deals with American and Western European missionaries bringing their culture to other parts of the world, so it is particularly interesting to see the cultural exchange go the other way.

Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago

Those of you who attended our History Matters lecture this past March will recognize the name Heath W. Carter, the Valparaiso labor historian who explored the intersection of religion and labor in the 19th century. In his book Union Made, Carter reframes the rise of the Social Gospel to focus on the contributions of the labor movement of the 19th century. Anyone interested in the tension between revivalists and Social Gospel adherents will appreciate this book, as will readers who wish to view labor history through an unconventional lens.

Members of the Congregational Library & Archives can check these books out. Become a member today, and enjoy these books wherever you do your summer reading.

July 25, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed to the public on Tuesday, July 26th for a staff training day.

If you have questions that need staff attention, please send an email or leave a voicemail and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience as we prepare some exciting projects for the coming year.

July 21, 2016

This week the Congregational Library & Archives is helping to host a series of events marking the 425th anniversary of Anne Hutchinson's birth. Besides Anne, seventeenth-century Boston's famous Puritan dissenter, the list of attendees and speakers is pretty impressive. Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, who issued a pardon in 1987 revoking the General Court's order of banishment, was present at an opening commemoration at the Hutchinson memorial on the State House Lawn last evening; afterwards, we retired to the Congregational Library & Archives for birthday cake and toasting. This morning Eve LaPlante, author of American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans, will give a talk in the library's reading room. This afternoon, three prominent historians Mary Beth Norton, Catherine Brekus, and Robert Charles Anderson, will participate in a panel on Hutchinson's life and legacy, a conversation our executive director Peggy Bendroth be moderating at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

That's only the tip of the iceberg, though. The celebration also includes other events in Boston, including a walking tour, and an expanded itinerary following Anne's travels from Massachusetts to Rhode Island and then New York. (See the Anne Marbury Hutchinson Foundation website for further information about schedule and tickets.) It's a tribute to an unusual and gifted woman who charted her own path — and paid the price for doing so.

Involvement in these events makes sense for the Congregational Library & Archives, as we live at the intersection of serious academic scholarship and the wider world of people who are just plain interested in history. We are committed to supporting excellent historical research in every way possible, but more than that to provide occasions for two-way conversations between academics and readers from other professions and walks of life. That's why we host "History Matters" lunches: we want to build a conversation between professional historians and people who, though they might not read through an entire academic tome footnotes and all, want to know what it's about and why it's important.

In the case of Anne Hutchinson, that intersection is tricky. Most people do not have an opportunity to learn much about the New England Puritans. Our average tourist here in Boston, for example, can go on a Duckboat and hear a spiel about Quakers being hanged or might go up to Salem and visit the "witch museum". Everything else is the American Revolution: Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, Redcoats and Tea Parties. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but why stop there? We'd argue that you can't really understand what happened in 1776 without first knowing something about the Puritans — not lore and stereotypes but history in all its nuance and complexity. They were, after all, the ones who laid the ground rules for participatory democracy, in churches that gave voice to ordinary church members and demanded accountability from those in power.

The Puritans were not, in other words, a monolithic group of killjoys terrified of free speech, so afraid of Anne Hutchinson that they drove her into exile. They were people — just like us — who wanted a close-knit community, motivated by a common vision of the common good. And, like us, they stumbled over the problem of dissent, the clash between individual freedom and community integrity. Back in the 1630s Anne Hutchinson paid a steep price for challenging those categories — but are we any different now? Our own debates about gay marriage and immigration are in many ways the continuation of one started in Puritan Boston long ago.

Of course, there's another mythology about the Puritans that's just as inaccurate and potentially harmful as the witch-burning stereotypes. It's the declaration that they were the source of everything good and decent about American society, the ones who established the United States as a "Christian nation". That's a disservice not only to the Native Americans who fell in the Puritans' wake but to all those other founding fathers and mothers in other colonies like, say, Virginia.

To my mind, Anne Hutchinson fits best in between all of our myths and legends about the Puritans. She was, at bottom, a woman who was willing to defy categorization, and accepted the price for doing so. Now that's a birthday worth celebrating.

July 20, 2016

Our reading room will be closed to researchers on Thursday, July 21st from 9 am to 2 pm for an event.

If you would like to join us for Founding Mothers Celebration - American Jezebel & Founding Mother with esteemed author Eve LaPlante, a few tickets are still available.

July 19, 2016

I spent last week at the Kenyon Institute, a program for writers held at Kenyon College in Ohio. This one was geared toward people interested in things spiritual — for a whole host of reasons, I soon discovered — and brought together a mix of rabbis, ministers, and priests, as well as riffraff like me, who defied easy categorization. It was a lot like summer camp, making new friends and challenging yourself to do something scary — reading your composition out loud to your writing group was every bit as nerve-wracking as jumping off a rope swing into the lake — complaining about the food and then eating way too much of it.

Over the course of the week we tried out different kinds of writing: lyrical essays, personal memoir, and even blogging and op-eds. We talked about midrash and juxtapositions, scripture and poetry. Once we opened Bibles and with our eyes closed, put our fingers on a text, Augustine style, and wrote what came to mind. (How did I end up in 2 Esdras?) Every afternoon was free for working on assignments, napping or reflecting, or in my case logging a few miles on the treadmill (it was way too hot to spend much time outside) and playing music in a quiet practice room. By the end of the week I had no problem spending an hour or more just lying on the grass, listening to birds and looking at clouds.

On the first morning I told my writing group that my goal for the week was to escape from footnotes. Historians are trained to build their ideas on those of others, which means we are very uncomfortable going for more than a paragraph without some kind of outside reference. The more the better, in fact. For us, writing is a slow, deliberate process of crafting an original thought from hours, days, years of reading what other people have written, constructing an argument with nuance and precision, absolutely faithful to the texts that those others left behind. I often think of historical writing like sculpting a block of marble into a statue, one deliberately planned chip at a time.

That means that historians don't normally just sit down and write things, any more than an astronaut would jump out of the mother ship without a tether and a decent supply of oxygen. We stay close to our sources as a matter of respect — and if we were perfectly honest, out of an abundance of personal caution.

Turned out, however, that I had no trouble leaving footnotes behind. In fact, jumping off the cliff on a rope swing was the easiest thing I did all week, fully accomplished before lunch the first day. The real problem, one I shared with the ministers and rabbis in my writing group, was much more complicated. Writing is by its nature anti-social. It requires time and distance apart. And of course, in an age of social isolation and media feeds targeted toward our personal algorithms, it's far too easy to fall into the trap of writing for and about me, me, me. Writing can be the ultimate act of self-indulgence.

In the end my most important reboot had nothing to do with footnotes. It was learning to see writing as a form of compassion, a way of engaging other people with respect, clarity, and vulnerability. That means leaving behind the preachy sermon mode — read this, it will be good for you — and, for the historian-expert in full footnote body armor, accepting the risk of exposure, being willing to be, at least for a little while, a party of one. That takes a lot more courage than most of us realize, not just to be honest and vulnerable, but, as I am learning, to fight against easy distractions, whether it's social media or the pile of oughts and shoulds clamoring from my calendar and smart phone. Somewhere out there, I keep reminding myself, are birds waiting to be listened to, and clouds waiting to be watched.

-Peggy Bendroth

July 1, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, July 4th in observance of Independence Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

We hope you have a safe and happy celebration.


image of fireworks over the Charles River in Boston courtesy of Pablo Valerio via Wikimedia Commons

June 29, 2016

At the beginning of summer, we find ourselves daydreaming about summer road trips, escapes to cabins and cottages, and the afternoons when we might slip away to the beach. Others, including some of the library staff, travel to conferences and industry meetings.

One summer, over 100 years ago, a group of businessmen made a very long journey: across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Seattle, Washington. Shortly after their arrival, they were photographed in Spokane. Their shiny top hats create a striking contrast against the rough logs of the building behind them. In the upper right-hand area of the photo, you can see the curious face of a child, straining for a glance of the visitors.

This group arrived just over fifty years after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce opened up diplomatic and commercial relations between Japan and the United States. The exchange was facilitated by Eiichi Shibusawa, a prolific Japanese entrepreneur and an advocate for stronger ties with the West.

The visitors met with President William H. Taft, J.P Morgan, and Thomas Edison among many others famous Americans of the day. They began in Seattle and traveled by train across the United States for three months, ending on the east coast. Along the way, they stopped in Spokane and posed for a group photo.

How the photograph wound up in our collection is a mystery to the library's current staff, but they speculate that it was among the papers given to us by a minister of missionary.

We have hundreds of other images in our collection, many of which can be viewed online. It's not quite like a vacation, but they can still transport you.

June 28, 2016

On a recent Thursday evening, we invited members of the Congregational Library & Archives to join us for a special evening lecture.

Dr. Peter Becker of the Harvard College Writing Program gave a lecture about slave narratives. The Congregational library & Archives has many examples of the writings of former slaves who escaped the South before the Civil War. Becker explored the slave narrative as a literary genre, and delved into its historic, social, and religious implications. He discussed how themes and tropes carried through centuries of narratives, from the first slave narrative in 1770s to contemporary works inspired by the slave narrative genre, like the films Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave. Along the historical and literary journey, Dr. Becker drew connections between slave narratives and works as divergent as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Toni Morrison's Beloved.

An unexpected guest joined the group that evening: The great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Jones, a one-time slave who penned a famous narrative (a copy of which is in our collection). She brought with her a collection of letters, including a letter of introduction written by William Lloyd Garrison to help Jones as he made his way in Canada.

The event was presented in collaboration with the National Park Service's Boston African American National Historic Site, one of our regular collaborators.

We periodically host special programs for members. Becoming a member of the Congregational Library & Archives gets you a seat at these events, and, even more importantly, helps preserve the history behind them.

June 13, 2016

This year marks the 425th anniversary of the birth of Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), a prominent figure in Puritan New England. Her role in the Antinomian Controversy led to fierce theological debate in the colony, criminal and religious trials, and finally her excommunication from the church and banishment from Massachusetts. We're partnering with the Anne Marbury Hutchinson Foundation for two events as part of their commemoration of Mrs. Hutchinson's life. Reserve your tickets today.


Anne Hutchinson's 425th Birthday reception

Join fellow Anne Fans and Hutchinson descendants in a (pre-dinner) birthday celebration. Co-hosted by the CLA and the AMHF, guests will enjoy Puritan-fun delicacies and raise a toast together in "Mother Anne's" memory. Following a convivial swirl of conversation, hugs, and song the assembly will be invited to join arms and trot to local, Beacon Hill dining establishments for more history-loving cheers.

Wednesday, July 20th
5:30 - 7:00 pm


American Jezebel & Founding Mother

Join fellow "Anne fans" and Hutchinson descendants in a lecture and extended Q&A by Eve LaPlante, acclaimed author of American Jezebel. Co-hosted by the CLA and the AMHF, guests enjoy an informative presentation LaPlante as she explores the life and times of her ancestor, Founding Mother Anne Hutchinson, followed by a Q&A with fellow "Anne fans".

Thursday, July 21st
10:30 am - noon


June 8, 2016

There are two new additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program, both of which have experienced changes in geography since their creation.


Medway, Mass. First Church of Christ records, 1730-1876

The records of this church contain the usual meeting minutes and vital statistics, as well as a handful of disciplinary cases and two sermons. Although the church orginated in the town of Medway, the geography of the area has changed such that the building itself is now in Millis, Mass.


Brunswick, Maine. First Parish records, 1735-1829

This extensive collection contains a variety of materials. Something that may be of particular interest to some researchers is a group of documents relating to the call and ordination of Rev. Asa Mead, a process that isn't always so thoroughly recorded. The majority of these records date from before Maine's separation from Massachusetts.


Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

May 30, 2016

Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for this month's free lunchtime lecture.

David Mislin is a historian of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, with a focus on American intellectual and religious history.

His latest book, Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age, shows how Congregationalist ministers and laity in and around Boston were instrumental in encouraging Americans to start celebrating religious diversity during the late 19th and early 20th century.

He will discuss how shifting views in Boston helped inspire other mainline Protestants throughout the U.S. to adopt a similar outlook, and suggest that this shift was pivotal for fostering a more inclusive society.

Mislin received his Ph.D. from Boston University, where he taught before joining Temple University's intellectual Heritage faculty in the fall of 2014. in addition to his latest work, Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age (Cornell University Press, 2015), he has also contributed chapters to several edited volumes on religion and American life, and he has published or has articles forthcoming in the Journal of the Historical Society, Religion and American Culture, and Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture. He is currently at work on a second book-length project, tentatively titled Evil in America: The Cultural History of an Idea.


Wednesday, June 1st
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

May 27, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, May 30th in observance of Memorial Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.


image of historical American flags courtesy of

May 25, 2016

If you missed Peggy Bendroth's recent talk on The Last Puritans, or simply want to hear it again, you're in luck. She'll be appearing at Old North Church as part of their Summer Speaker Series in two weeks.

The New England Puritans have had a powerful hold on the American imagination, as everything from the founders of democracy to witch-burning killjoys. The Congregational churches, whose tall white spires still dot the New England countryside, took enormous pride in their Puritan and Pilgrim roots, especially as, in the years after the Civil War, Thanksgiving became a premiere American holiday. But, as they quickly discovered, history can be an unwieldy burden. The heirs of the Pilgrim Fathers also had to keep up with the times, to meet modern challenges that their 17th century forebears never could have imagined. Margaret Bendroth, author of The Last Puritans, will explain how a religious tradition deeply knitted to the past struggled to honor their founders even as they ran up against their faults and limitations, growing to become one of the most progressive and forward-looking religious groups in American society.

Please join us for a reception and book signing following the lecture.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
6:30 - 8:00 pm

Old North Church
193 Salem Street
Boston, MA 02113

RSVP through Eventbrite.

The Congregational Library & Archives is pleased to co-sponsor this event.

May 23, 2016

Range 2 of the library shelves, deep in the back of the stacks, is a tough neighborhood. Between tomes about white supremacists, the box of sermons about "Murder, dueling, etc." and the quarantine for damaged books, the range  contains stacks of pamphlets and reports about institutions with evocative names like, "The Church Home for Orphan and Destitute Children", "Relief of Aged Indigent Females", "Prevention of Pauperism", and "Consumptives Home". Among those pamphlets are two board reports from the Retreat for the Insane at Hartford, Connecticut, dated 1848 and 1851. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we decided to page through the reports and get a snapshot of mental health treatment more than 150 years ago.

Opened in 1823, the Hartford Retreat for the Insane was the third mental institution in the United States and represented a new era of mental health care. The dungeon-like "lunatic asylums" of the past were falling out of favor, and the focus was on trying to improve patients' conditions. The Retreat started as a fifty-bed facility for upper-class patients. The founders were interested in "moral treatment" more than the pharmacology of the day, which still involved bleeding and herbal remedies. The two reports reflect this focus on therapy. The superintendent physician, John S. Butler, wrote both accounts to the Retreat's board. He writes about patients participating in walking and riding groups in the Retreat's grounds, reading circles, and cultural activities in Hartford. Despite the Retreat’s growing indigent population, Butler's writing makes it clear his focus was still on therapy.

Budgets provide another window into the operation of the Retreat. Both reports include detailed lines about how much was spent on staff salaries and wages, different types of food, and maintenance. Tellingly, "Wine and Medicine" were aggregated into a single line item that accounted for just a few hundred dollars of the Retreat's $25,000 operating budget. Butler's report also discusses an expansion completed in 1848, necessary to keep up with the Retreat's growing population.

Perhaps most interesting are the statistical tables at the end of each report. They organize the patients by county of origin, gender, profession, age, and cause of illness. Eyebrow-raising tidbits emerge. Common causes of illness included "Intemperance" and "Over-work", as well as the rarer "Religious excitement" and "Erroneous education". "Farmer" was the most common profession for men entering the hospital in both years, while for women it was "Domestic pursuits".


In some cases, Butler editorialized on the statistics. Hartford and New Haven counties produced the most patients, and Butler wrote in the 1848 report that urban areas are not conducive to physical health, and therefore cannot support mental health.

Butler also remarks on the frequency with which young women come through the doors of the retreat, suffering from an affliction that Betty Friedan, writing a hundred years later, might call "the problem with no name". Butler pins the blame on their husbands, who he says did not recognize the labor involved in domestic pursuits, and take advantage of wives' free labor to make more money. In Butler's estimation, many of these women just needed a break. He believed all mental illness could be cured with enough rest, exercise, talk, and patience.

The medical establishment's belief in the ability to cure mental illness withered over the next decade. Butler claimed a 52.5% recovery rate in 1851, but also describes a growing number of patients who are not helped: those who died in the hospital, shortly after exiting the hospital, and patients who leave the Retreat unimproved, most likely for financial reasons.  

The reports make it clear that a stay in the Retreat was not possible for everyone. The minimum length of stay was three months, and the cost put it out of reach for impoverished patients. Butler recommended the creation of economical accommodations for less well-off patients in the 1848 report, but by 1851, they had not yet materialized.  But the number of low-income and chronically ill patients grew over the next two decades, and Retreat devoted more and more of its resources to custodial care for chronic patients.

Connecticut's state mental hospital opened in the late 1860s. The new facility relieved pressure on the Retreat, which had until then been the only mental health care facility in the state. The Retreat returned to its role as an upper-class haven. It is still in operation today, as the Institute of Living, and is part of Hartford Hospital, a large teaching hospital. A little part of its history is in our Range 2, among other small fragments of mental health care history and a puzzle of American history stretching across the stacks.


engraving of the Hartford Retreat for the Insane courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

May 20, 2016

Member profile: C. Ronald Wilson

Few of us can claim as interesting a background as Ron Wilson, a longtime member of the Congregational Library & Archives and of the Tappan Society. The Congregational Library & Archives has followed Ron through the varied chapters of his life. The Malden, MA native quit school after ninth grade, joined the Navy at seventeen and eventually became a well-respected UCC pastor and an author. Throw in that he worked as a professional magician, was deported from Honduras for a pamphlet which dealt with social issues, owned the largest Guatemalan import business in the U.S., and created a children's book, and it starts to sound more like material for a Netflix series.

Ron's initial encounter with the Congregational Library & Archives happened by chance. He was delivering his summer camp application to the Boston City Mission Society when he turned and saw our big glass doors with the words "Congregational Library" stamped in gold across the lintel.

Ron has fond memories of the camp, but the iconic image of the doors stuck with him through his stint in the Navy and his time at the University of Connecticut (how he managed to be accepted without a high school diploma is another story altogether). In 1967, Ron returned to 14 Beacon Street as a Bangor Seminary student and walked through those glass doors.

Given free rein by librarian Hal Worthley, Ron spent days at a time in the stacks digging through sermons dealing with slavery, uncovering roots. He was pursuing his thesis on the influence of Puritan Theology on the Abolitionist movement. After receiving his Masters of Divinity, and with Worthley's encouragement, he continued to borrow books for his own preaching as it took him overseas, and then to Connecticut, Ohio, and Arizona.

From 1998 until 2010, Ron served the Library & Archives as a member of the Board of Directors. He continues his relationship today as a patron, a member and a donor. His most recent research in the archives explores the story of the Congregational church in the Marshall Islands through the lens of the Morning Star (a ship paid for by Sunday school children in 1857 to bring the Gospel to the South Pacific). Ron is working closely with archivist Jessica Steytler from his home in Tempe, Arizona. Jessica is helping him work through resources in our collection — Necrologies of Missionaries correspondence, missionaries' personal papers, and the newspaper The Missionary Herald — and is excited to be involved in Ron's research.

Ron and his wife Dona became legacy donors in 2015 because they have great faith in the Congregational Library & Archives as a preserver of history. It is history that "connects the dots, and connecting the dots gives you a different prism to look through," says Ron. He sees the influence of the Congregational Way throughout time, a tradition that reveals itself in "very personal" ways.

One such example comes from the Church-in-the-Gardens in Forest Hills, New York where Ron served as interim pastor. Branch Rickey, the man who helped make history by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a member of Church-in-the-Gardens. "Where did the moral fiber come from?" asks Ron of Rickey's brave decision. "It was not insignificant that Rickey was a Congregationalist." Ron can point to many others who drew strength from their roots in the Congregational tradition.

Ron knows that the history in our archives continues to tell the story of an influential intellectual and spiritual tradition, linked to the development of this nation and its future. His Tappan Society legacy gift will help sustain the Library & Archives and the Congregational story. Learn more about making your own legacy gift.

May 18, 2016

It is almost impossible to find the beginning of the story of the Congregational Church of the Marshall Islands.

We could start with the faith of Hawaii. In less than thirty years after the first missionary's first sermon the people of this island nation were ready to send missionaries forth from their own flock. A beginning date could be the formation of the Hawaiian Missionary Society and their partnership with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Clearly the story of the Morning Star can claim that first place position in the history of this great church. She was so much more than a ship. The very name conjured up images of adventure, faith and commitment. Built with the support of the children and young people of the Congregational Church, her name alone kept the enthusiasm for foreign missions alive in that fellowship for generations.

The first group of missionaries sailed to Micronesia in the Caroline in 1852. The years that followed saw small and uncomfortable ships charted to take the missionaries to the islands. The story was known of the ship John Williams, a missionary ship built by the children of England. One Titus Coan suggested that the children of the United States could do likewise. The name first suggested was the Day Star. Shares in this new vessel were to be sold at ten cents a share. In August 1856 the American Board made its first appeal. Support poured in; one Sunday school in Hawaii took out 300 shares. On November 12, 1856 the Morning Star was launched, and on December 2, 1856 she sailed from Boston, Massachusetts. The Morning Star arrived at Honolulu on April 24th. On April 29th, a service of "Order of Exercises at the Presentation of a Signal Flag to the Morning Star" took place. Addresses were given in Hawaiian and English. The Honorable John Ii gave an address in Hawaiian and one was given in English by Rev. S. C. Damon. Songs were sung in both languages. Prayers were given in Hawaiian by Rev. L. Smith, and the presentation was made by Rev. R. Armstrong. The benediction was given by Rev. E. W. Clark. In view of thousands the new flag was hoisted by Captain Moore, and the story of the hundred and fifty years of the Congregational Church of the Marshall Islands begins.

-C. Ronald Wilson

May 17, 2016

Reserve your seat for tomorrow's free lunchtime lecture.

David M. Powers will speak about William Pynchon, the founder of Springfield, MA. Two things stand out about Pynchon's life: he enjoyed uniquely positive relationships with Native peoples. And he wrote the first book "banned in Boston", and publicly burned in the market place, where the Old State House is today.

Powers has written the first book-length study of William Pynchon, entitled Damnable Heresy: William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned (and Burned) in Boston. It traces the stages of his momentous life: from origins in England, transatlantic crossing in 1630 to Roxbury, trek to Springfield (which he founded), his forced return to England in 1652, to his end ten years later. And, along the way, misunderstandings between races and hostilities between cultures. Anxiety from living in a time of war in one's own land. Being accused of profiteering when food was scarce. falseUnruly residents in a remote frontier community. Charges of speaking the unspeakable and publishing the unprintable.

David is a native of Springfield. He is a graduate of Carleton College and Harvard Divinity School. Since retirement from ministry in the United Church of Christ he has focused particularly on researching and writing on early New England history. He lives on Cape Cod.


Wednesday, May 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


illustration by Frank T. Merrill showing the burning of Pynchon’s book from The History of Springfield in Massachusetts, for the Young (1921) by Charles H. Barrows

May 9, 2016

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Tuesday, March 10th, so that our staff can review safety procedures that protect ourselves, our patrons, and the invaluable materials under our care.

If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you as soon as we can.


May 4, 2016

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Thursday, March 5th, so that our staff can learn about upcoming improvements to our online catalog system.

If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Researchers will start seeing the transition to the new version of our catalog next week, and we plan to complete the necessary updates on our website by the end of the month. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to get in touch.

April 25, 2016

Spring is finally here in Boston: the Granary Burying Ground is turning green, the leaves are budding on Beacon Street, and tourists are walking the Freedom Trail again. Spring also signals the end of cold and flu season. Considering health and wellness reminded us of a researcher who visited the Congregational Library & Archives a few years ago.

Nicholas Bonneau, a PhD candidate at Notre Dame University, is on the trail of a 1730s outbreak.

"I was interested in diseases, in the history of diseases spreading through populations," said Bonneau. "My questions were more historical; I was interested in how things changed after European contact in the Americas." Bonneau wants to know how we look back at past diseases from the present. His dissertation research centers on an outbreak of throat distemper that killed thousands of people in just a few years — and has been largely omitted from the history of New England.

"I was looking at the burial records for Rowley, Massachusetts. There was this huge spike [in burials] in 1736. I wasn't looking for it but it was there. I thought it might have been a mistake." After seeing similar spikes in nearby towns, Bonneau knew he was onto something big.

"Investigating further into church records and town records throughout the region really settled that this was a legitimate thing that had been underreported in the mainstream narrative of prerevolutionary New England." From 1735 to 1740, an epidemic of a disease called 'throat distemper' ravaged towns in coastal New Hampshire, southern Maine, and northern Massachusetts.

The throat distemper killed some 5,000 people in the first 4 years of the outbreak, 95 percent of them children under the age of 20, says Bonneau. It was a major event in New England, but it has been mostly forgotten. "I really wanted to explore more why this hadn't reached into the mainstream of our accepted narrative of the time."

Bonneau came to the Congregational Library & Archives to comb through our church records, looking for evidence of distemper. He leaned heavily on collections from our New England's Hidden Histories program. The CLA's collection appealed to him because of its focus on churches, which were the center of religious and secular life in early New England. "Beyond anything, the parish community is really important to the history of New England. I was hoping to use a parish community as my focal point, to see what could go from there."

The disease's effect on families, parishes, and towns was most interesting to Bonneau. "People were dealing with the loss of five or six of their children within a few weeks, sometimes even worse. What was going on with people who were sort of in the midst of this?" Bonneau was curious to know how communities responded to the loss of life.

Bonneau worked with the faith relations (the written explanation for why a person chose to join the church) and other digitized documents from the First Church in Haverhill. In the relations, he began to find mention of disease. Other church records, the dry accounting of town life, also provided clues.

"A big part of what we're doing is going through church records: not just death, but births and marriages." Any notes in the records or marginalia might be a clue about the distemper outbreak, Bonneau says, because the epidemic was very rarely addressed directly in sermons. "A couple times here and there, you might find a clergyman saying 'These deaths were really awful.' Those are things you wouldn't look for in things that were supposed to be a list," said Bonneau of the records. "But they're written by people."

Our collection of sermons show a possible explanation of why the disease was underreported: Sermons from the time rarely mentioned it. "There wasn't as much in sermons as one might expect. There seemed to be a few hints here and there," Bonneau said.

The sermons also provided Bonneau with clues about how communities responded to the distemper. "The sermons were very, very useful," he said. "I wanted to compare how specific preachers had compared before and after the epidemic. It was a little bit opposite of what I expected, and it's been a little bit difficult to parse out." Before the epidemic, warning children that they could die at any time was a common trope in sermons. Bonneau saw this kind of message wane in the 1740s and 1750s. "There is sort of drop-off in the call to early piety to children."

The human and emotional aspects of the throat distemper are most interesting to Bonneau. "I hope that my work with disease and with trying to understand how to think about the grief of parents falls under those same lines. This is something that tells us about the human experience across time. I'm trying to give voice to a voluntarily voiceless group of grieving parents."

Life changes after a disaster of this magnitude, and Bonneau wants to figure out how people dealt with their losses in the 1730s. "We need to find a way of accounting for this 'dark matter' of grieving in our histories," said Bonneau. Parents who lost children and others may have moved to different towns because of their losses, he says, or changed some other aspect of their lives in response. "The study of disease is the study of loss, and this is outside of history in certain ways, but it connects us with the past in that we can identify with past actors on their own terms."

Through our records, Bonneau says, you can see people renegotiating their relationships with pastors, community, and religion. "Your collection in particular is something people are looking to from a confession aspect: this is their face and they're very much alive, and these traditions feed into a larger tradition."


"By a Sickbed" (1879) by Michael Ancher courtesy of The Hirschsprung Collection, found via Wikimedia Commons

April 22, 2016

The latest issue of our journal, the Bulletin of the Congregational Library & Archives, is due out in a few weeks. Become a member now to make sure you get your copy. All it takes is an annual contribution of $50, and just $25 for current students.  The upcoming issue of the Bulletin is dedicated to evangelists.

Executive Director Dr. Peggy Bendroth starts it off with, writing, "We know so little of these people and their colorful lives, perhaps because the misdeeds of televangelists have all but ruined the reputation of other gospel preachers. But, as you'll find in this issue, they are worth knowing, people who resisted the easy fashions of their day, famous but not afraid to be unpopular, the ultimate non-conformists in the long history of the Congregational Christian tradition."

The 17th-century revivalist George Whitefield is one of the first to preach outside of church, drawing thousands to his open-air sermons. Art historian Linda Johnson analyzes three portraits of the preacher, showing the progression of Whitefield’s life through art. Discussing a portrait by Joseph Badger, she writes,

"Painted only a few years following his conversion experience, Whitefield's image demonstrates his meditative efforts during an early period of his ministry, where the experience of God was embodied in the bodily "touch" of his left hand "painted" over the physical space of his heart. Once "quickened" by the "flames" of scripture the experience of "seeing" with the eyes of the heart was revealed. This was dependent on the faith of Christ's presence in this moment to apply grace. Badger composed a dark and closed composition suggestive of an intimate moment where Whitefield (like David in the pages he holds before him) "sings" about his personal relationship with God."

Dr. Jessica Parr discusses not a portrait, but a supernatural image of the preacher and explores Whitefield's fascinating life after death:

"An article appeared in 1781, following the burning of New London, Connecticut. It claimed that the ghost of eighteenth-century evangelical preacher George Whitefield had frightened a company of British regulars, led by turncoat Benedict Arnold, "into a burnt offering of all their finery," on threat of damnation."

The Bulletin follows thread of evangelism into the 19th century. Before women were ordained in any mainline denomination, Abigail Roberts preached and helped to found at least fourteen congregations during the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s. Marjorie Royle has the story of how the post-Revolutionary political and social climate allowed a woman to become an influential religious figure.

"By the 1840s and 50s, as the Christian Connection and similar groups grew and became more like the established denominations, they became much less open to women's leadership. Abigail Roberts and other women evangelists thus were in the right place at the right time.

Whitefield wouldn't be the last evangelist on Boston Common. As Dr. Bendroth writes, he began a tradition that continues today.

"Other outdoor preachers followed. A few decades later, in 1790, the famous Methodist evangelist Jesse Lee stood on a table and preached to a huge crowd under the "old elm," a tree said to have been standing when the first Puritan settlers arrived in Boston in 1630. The Methodists would not be the last to experience the power and immediacy of religion in the open air. In fact, as Boston grew larger and more diverse, the Common was also becoming prime real estate for anyone with an axe to grind or a soapbox to stand on."

Make sure you get your copy of the Bulletin by donating today. Not sure if you are a current member? Email us or call 617-523-0470 ext. 230.


engraving of George Whitefield by Frederick Halpin (ca. 1870) based on a painting by John Greenwood (ca. 1768)