Beacon Street Blog

April 15, 2016

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed this Monday, April 18th, for Patriots' 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 will get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

Good luck to everyone participating in the 120th Boston Marathon.

April 8, 2016

Don't miss out on this month's free lunchtime lecture.

Inventing George Whitefield

On a fall day in 1838, a cortege wound through the streets of Newburyport, Massachusetts, headed for Old South Presbyterian Church. A box contained the humerus bone of eighteenth-century English preacher George Whitefield, who had been previously interred in the basement crypt of the church following his death in September 1770. The reinterment ceremony restored the bone, which had been pilfered by a British admirer of Whitefield's, to its former resting place.

This nineteenth-century memorialization was the latest in a long series of contentious and sometimes strange events involving Whitefield since he first set foot in New England in 1740, at the invitation of Benjamin Colman, Jonathan Edwards, and a small handful of Congregationalists with revivalist sympathies. The invitation of Whitefield was not without controversy among New England's ministerial elite. While Whitefield's sponsors hoped that his visit would renew a waning interest in religious life, his detractors worried that his visit would undermine the authority of clergy and upset the region's fractious peace. Reactions to Whitefield varied, with members of the old Congregationalist guard, such as Charles Chauncy, lamenting Whitefield's effect on religious life in the colonies.

This presentation will discuss what Whitefield's arrival in New England meant for its religious culture, as well as how an itinerant Anglican preacher came to be buried in a Presbyterian Church. It will also discuss how Whitefield's tomb because a site of pilgrimage for his followers.

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.


Tuesday, April 12th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


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


April 6, 2016

Today is a big day for New England's Hidden Histories and the Congregational Library & Archives!

We are pleased to announce the addition of two new collections to our New England's Hidden Histories program — the early records from West Parish Church in Barnstable, and a volume of advice from an anonymous man facing his own mortality. Together these collections add over 500 new pages to NEHH. We are very pleased to be able to provide these collections and would like to give special thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant helped with the processing and digitization.

We are also excited today to launch our updated document viewer. The viewer now comes with new features and a sleek new design. You can rotate images by 90-degree increments and zoom in while retaining the crispness of the image. As we begin adding transcriptions to collections, more features will become available.

Keep an eye on this blog for a user's guide for the new viewer (coming soon) and for more collections digitized with the help of the NEH.


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.

March 23, 2016

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed this Friday, March 25th, in observance of Good Friday.

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 will get back to you when we return to the office next week.

We hope you have a pleasant Easter weekend.


excerpt from "Field Of Easter Lilies" (2008) submitted to Wikimedia Commons by user ForestWander

March 22, 2016

Don't miss out on next week's free lunchtime discussion with our own executive director and resident historian.

Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England's first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth's critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

New England Puritans were known for their moral and doctrinal rigor but the demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination's storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms — from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants — as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

Peggy Bendroth is executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston. She is author of Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present, among other books.


Wednesday, March 23rd
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

March 21, 2016

In the mid-1800s, as mission work expanded in scope, the ABCFM began to actively recruit women missionaries. The goal of the missions — to create self-sustaining churches — required not only pastors, but nurses, doctors, and teachers. While ministers' wives and even single women had long gone to work in missions, the ABCFM formalized women's involvement by establishing the Women's Board of Missions in 1868.

The Women's Board was responsible for recruiting and training women missionaries. The board had offices on the seventh floor of Congregational House, five floors up from where the Congregational Library & Archives sits today. In our present-day archives, we have a collection of pamphlets that were used to encourage women to become missionaries. Glancing through the papers allows us to eavesdrop on a conversations between women that happened over one hundred years ago.

The green-printed cover of one folded brochure speaks directly to young middle-class women:

"TO YOU who are enjoying all the rich fruitage of a Christian education and who are seeking the largest opportunities for sharing what you have received with others, unless you are detained in this land by imperative obligations, the call is to go."

Inside the brochure, women read descriptions of missions in South Africa, Turkey, India, China, Japan, and Micronesia. There were positions for teachers, nurses, even doctors in addition to the more traditional "evangelistic worker". The pamphlet spoke to worried mothers as well, assuring that as their daughters were called to go, they were called to let go.

In a pamphlet with the simple title Being a Missionary, missionary worker Mrs. H. S. Calder spoke directly to other women who are considering missionary work. She addressed both their concerns and their hopes.

"When you mention to your friends that you are thinking of becoming a foreign missionary, some of them will tell you that you are quite too good for this work,-- that some one who has had fewer advantages, some one of less culture, some one made of a coarser fiber, not such a choice spirit as you, some one whose life is more allied to those people in whom you have developed this sudden interest, some one not so far above them in education and refinement,-- that such a person will do that work far better than you can do it; that it is your duty to use your superior talents where they will avail the most, and that it is wrong to 'cast pearls before swine.' …But they need your help and stimulus."

Calder wrote of the challenges educated women would have as missionaries, and spoke frankly about her own struggles.

"You are fond of school work, and feel that you can succeed in that, but you find your attention and time taken by the most uninteresting and distasteful details of domestic work, toward which you never had any learning, and which you know little about. I well remember how appalled I was when, in the first or second year of missionary experience, I was in charge of the schoolgirls for an hour while they were mending their clothes, and one of them quietly said to me, 'Will you please cut my dress?' I stood aghast. I, not at all adept at dressmaking, then and there, without patterns, cut a dress for a girl sixteen years old? Don't ask me the end of this story, for it might be unpleasant for me, but remember that you need to be better equipped for your position than I was for mine."

But the hard work would be fulfilling. Calder wrote, "If you are weak, under this experience you will grow strong. If you are severe, you will soften. I have seen it."

Congregational missionaries worked to engage women who stayed in the United States as well. The Women's Board of Missions of the Interior, based in Chicago, focused primarily on fundraising to support the missions. The WBMI provided opportunities for engagement to women who were not able to venture out into the field, but who wished to support others who went abroad as foreign missionaries. In one pamphlet, the WBMI explains its mission:

"Its object is the engage the earnest, systemic co-operation of Christian women in sending out and supporting women as missionaries, native teachers, and Bible readers to women and Children in Christless lands."

The WBMI published letters from women currently serving in missions in their magazines. Ann Ellis Pullen, Kennesaw State University professor emerita, wrote about the life of Nellie Arnott, who was engaged both in missionary work and in marketing the missions. Arnott wrote letters designed to be read in public and articles for WBMI magazines about her life in Angola, to help raise money for the missions and persuade other women to follow her overseas.

"It was clear to Arnott that pert of her responsibility was to write circular letters to her supporters at home to encourage donations, to encourage just thinking about the missions, and coming to the missions," says Pullen. "The women's magazines were certainly intended to be a marketing tool."

Pullen notes that Arnott's diaries are often discouraged about the mission and her role on it, but the letters she wrote to friends and for publication were upbeat and cheerful. "The female missionaries were encouraged to become missionary journalists in a very positive way, as a marketing tool," she said.

Even if it is propagandistic, these pamphlets and articles are examples of women speaking directly to women in the early 20th century in the marketing of mission work. Through their words, we can begin to understand what mattered to Congregational women, and what might have persuaded a young woman from Iowa to pick up and move to Angola, as Nellie Arnott did. These pamphlets are important records, helping us remember women's dreams, women's frustrations, and voices like Calder's encouraging middle-class women to claim a little agency, and go on an adventure.

March 18, 2016

The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missionaries was active in Hawaii from 1820 until 1863. Missionary Album: Portraits and Biographical Sketches of American Protestant Missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands offers glimpses into the lives of women missionaries who came to Hawaii nearly two hundred years ago.

The biographical details for women in the Missionary Album are often spare, usually just listing the dates of their birth and death, and the names of their children. Some are more in-depth, and a few contain eyebrow-raising details: for example, Mrs. Lucia Holman is believed to be the first American woman to have circumnavigated the globe.

Missionary women often worked with Hawaiian women and children. Several founded schools and seminaries specifically for women, but few had other work. Maria Chamberlain Forbes managed a home for elderly Hawaiians after her husband's death. Another, Louisa Gulick, translated educational texts into Ponape, a vernacular language.

Most missionary women came with their husbands, but single women missionaries were present almost from the beginning of the mission. These women typically had some experience as teachers or in mission work. One exception, Betsey Stockton, had worked for many years as a servant in a Connecticut minister's home. A largely self-taught woman, she shared her knowledge with Hawaiian farmers and their wives. She conducted a school in Hawaii for two years after her extreme piousness led her to serve as a missionary.

Women's experiences on missions were incredibly varied, as we can learn from the Missionary Album. Some stayed for only two or three years, while others settled in Hawaii for several decades. Different women played different roles, but as missionary Ursula Emerson wrote in her journal in 1832, each missionary woman wore several hats. "A missionary here must not only be a pastor and a spiritual guide, but also a school-teacher, doctor, farmer and mechanic, and this is not for a few hundred, but for thousands."


portrait of Miss Betsey Stockton, first single female missionary of the American Board, and teacher at the American Board school at Lahaina, Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands) from Missionary Album, Sesquicentennial Edition, 1820-1970 Hawaiian Mission Children's Society. Honolulu, HI: 1969. p.186

March 16, 2016

For my sixty-hour internship, I processed and created a finding aid for a collection of records from the Congregational Conference of Illinois and its member associations. Because this was my first hands-on experience in the archival field, many aspects of processing surprised me. For example, the importance of preserving original order has been drilled into my mind in class. However, I discovered on my first day at the CLA that I would be imposing an artificial order onto a collection.

Not only did the records have no meaningful original order, the different associations' documents making up the collection had never been intentionally grouped together before. I discovered that because a perfectly preserved original order is not a given outside of the classroom, the archivist's role in creating access and order for researchers is even more crucial. My internship was also an opportunity to learn a new kind of language, as I was completely ignorant about the structure and vocabulary of Congregationalism. For instance, the waves of letters of dismissal I kept bumping into were not evidence of a Great Church Recession that resulted in mass firings. Instead, these documents often signified a minister's transfer between churches. Similarly, I had no idea that an "In Care Association" kept records about future ministers. One of my favorite aspects of the internship was the ability to learn about history through a different perspective. I had no idea that Congregational ministers in Illinois were heavily involved in abolitionist efforts, or that they frequently participated in the Underground Railroad. While doing background research, I even discovered that one Congregational minister lost his life while trying to defend a member of the press speaking against slavery in Illinois in 1837. It was also fascinating to learn the large role the denomination played in developing the Republican Party during its earliest stage. After completing my internship, I am even more excited to enter the archival field and peek into the lives and work of many different people and groups.

-Corinne Bernstein

February 29, 2016

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

The Social Gospel is often associated with well-known reforming ministers such as Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch. But in this talk, based on his newly-published book, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity, Dr. Heath W. Carter will argue that it was, in fact, working people who keyed the rise of social Christianity in industrializing cities such as Chicago. Throughout the Gilded Age, trade unionists, socialists, and anarchists alike advanced theological critiques of laissez faire capitalism and protested 'scab ministers' who cozied up to the business elite. Their criticisms compounded church leaders’ anxieties about losing the poor, such that by the turn-of-the-century many leading Christians were arguing that the only way to salvage hopes of a Christian America was for the churches to soften their position on "the labor question". As denomination after denomination did just that, it became apparent that the Social Gospel was, indeed, ascendant – from below.

Heath W. Carter is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University, where he teaches a variety of courses on the modern United States. He is the author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (Oxford, 2015), and the co-editor of three other volumes: The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class, which is forthcoming w/ University of Illinois Press in March 2016; Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism, which will be published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 2016; and A Documentary History of Religion in America, concise ed., which will also be published by Eerdmans in 2016.

Carter is currently the University Research Professor at Valparaiso University, an appointment that comes with a research leave to begin his next book project, a new history of the Social Gospel in American Life.


Wednesday, March 2nd
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

February 18, 2016

Member profile: Carolyn Sundquist

It has been cold and snowy here in Boston and across much of the United States, but at least one of our members has relished the wintry weather. When we caught up with Carolyn Sundquist, she was headed out for her Monday morning ice skating session in Duluth, Minnesota. She was happy to have the chance to talk about her interest in the Congregational Library & Archives, and the many reasons why she values her membership.

One reason dovetails with her deep involvement in architectural preservation. Carolyn lives in a home built in 1911 and occupied by her family since 1921. Her success at preserving her own home, and later public buildings, evolved into a passion for historic preservation public policy and advocacy. "Architectural preservation is history in 3-D," says Carolyn.

As Carolyn points out, the Congregational Library & Archives is an historic building in an historic district within the historic city where Congregationalism took root. The library building on Beacon Street is as much a part of history as the records within it.

Carolyn's preservation interests also touch on church buildings across the country, which were extremely important to the development of individual communities across the country. The buildings provided a physical place for people to gather and plan the life of the community. "Congregational history goes hand in hand with the preservation of the Library and church buildings," says Carolyn.

The Congregational Library & Archives is also a repository of more traditional 2-D history. Some of that history involves Carolyn's family, which has been Congregationalist for (at least!) five generations. Carolyn's parents and grandparents were instrumental in the beginning of the NACCC, and she grew up attending Pilgrim Fellowship meetings at the annual NACCC meetings. Carolyn has taken her active involvement in her own Duluth Congregational Church to a national level. Over the last twenty years, she has been part of the Congregational Church Development Committee and for the past twelve, she has served on the board of the Congregational Foundation. She steps down as its president later this year.

Carolyn understands why history matters. "When you understand the development of the past, you can understand the actions of the present and formulate policies for the future."

Members guarantee the future for the Congregational Library & Archives, its historic building, and the history it contains. Members will keep it open for many cold winters to come. Please join Carolyn.


February 16, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives is perhaps best known for its stories of white Puritans. But our collection also holds many more diverse voices from across history.

On the third floor of the stacks, there is a box filled with pamphlets and small books from the early nineteenth century. The thin, yellowing volumes contain the first-person narratives of former slaves. The narratives offer portraits of individual men: the violence, heartbreak, and suffering their narrators faced as slaves punctuated with the overwhelming joy of freedom, and fascinating reflections on the United States.

The earliest narrative, first published in 1798, told the story of Venture Smith, who was about nine years old when he arrived in Narragansett, Rhode Island. He remembers violence in his native Guinea that led to his being captured, and he remembers the slave ship crossing the Atlantic.

Religion makes an appearance in several stories as an instrument of oppression. James Mars remembers one master who was a pastor in Connecticut, who taught his congregation that slavery was right and sanctioned by God. Mars was agonizingly aware of the irreconcilability of pro-slavery opinions and Christianity, but his master was hardly alone in his beliefs. The narrative of Henry Watson recalls the twisted gospel preached to slaves, which emphasized quietly bearing suffering for the reward of Heaven. There were many such pastors: back in the library shelves, near the box of slave narratives, we have a collection of pamphlets and sermons advocating for slavery.

The narratives contain plenty of secular hypocrisy as well. For example, Mars' enslaved father fought for freedom in the American Revolution, but remained in captivity after his service. The land of the free, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, was not a welcoming place for escaped slaves. Several stories deal with the decision to leave the United States.

After Henry Watson escaped from captivity Virginia and made his way to Boston, he met William Lloyd Garrison, who advised him to leave the country. It was in Britain that Watson finally felt free. "Wherever I went [in England,] I was treated like a man. They looked not at the color of my skin, but judged me from my internal qualifications."

Josiah Henson's narrative tells about how he decided to make his way to Canada.

"I determined to make my escape to Canada, about which I had heard something as beyond the limits of the United States; for, notwithstanding there were free states in the union, I felt that I should be safer under an entirely foreign jurisdiction."

After traveling on foot from Kentucky to the lakeside town of Sandusky, Ohio, Henson travels by boat to Ontario. He remembers the presence of "Kentucky spies" who watched all the boats sailing across Lake Erie, looking for escapees. To Henson, arrival in Canada feels nothing short of miraculous.

"When I got on the Canada side, on the morning of the 28th of October, 1830, my first impulse was to throw myself on the ground, and giving way to riotous exultation of my feelings, to execute sundry antics which excited the astonishment of those who were looking on. A gentleman of the neighborhood, Colonel Warren, who happened to be present, thought I was in a fit, and as he inquired what was the matter with the poor fellow, I jumped up and told him I was free. "O," said he, with a hearty laugh, "is that it? I never knew freedom make a man roll in the sand before." It is not much to be wondered at, that my certainty of being free was not quite a sober one at the first moment; and I hugged and kissed my wife and children all round, with a vivacity which made them laugh as well as myself."

The narratives' descriptions of freedom are all just as touching, and their reflections on life are powerful. After saving up money from side jobs and off-season labor for other farmers, Venture Smith earned enough to buy freedom for himself and his family, and settled on Long Island. Looking back on his difficult life, he says,

"Amidst all my grief and pains, I have many consolations. Meg, the wife of my youth, whom I married for love and bought with my own money, is alive. My freedom is a privilege which nothing else can equal."

The narratives continue to be interesting after the men become free, because they are detailed stories of the lives of free black people in the early 19th century. Smith went into the shipping trade after he was freed, and found moderate success. Once, one of Smith's white associates cheated him, and Smith wanted to sue. He remembers that no lawyer would take the case, because they believed that the white man was in the right simply because of his whiteness.

James Mars stayed in the same Connecticut town where he had been enslaved, and became part of the community. Mars joined the same church as his former master's family and they had some social relationship. The family suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune, and Mars was the only person at his former master's bedside when he died. Mars found consolation for his suffering in his good health and good social standing in his community.

Henson stayed in Canada, and watched as the number of black people in southern Ontario increased to what he estimated to be around 20,000. In Canada, Henson met Hiram Wilson, a Congregational minister from Massachusetts, and the two started a vocational school for the newly-arrived Canadians, which opened in 1842.

These powerful stories of individuals are not often heard, and as part of our collection serve to make people of the past more human. Just as the relations of faith illuminate early New England, the slave narratives in our collection bring nuanced individual perspectives to ugliest chapter of American history.

February 15, 2016

There's still plenty of time to register for this month's free lunchtime lecture. Don't miss out.

Since the first settlers arrived in New England in the 17th century, there has been movement and migration — first within New England, then to New York, the mid-west, and beyond. Understanding these migrations provides important context and a framework for anyone researching early New England and pioneer ancestors. This illustrated lecture will explain these population shifts, reasons for resettlement, and demographics, plus suggest a number of useful reference works.

Chris Child has worked for various departments at the New England Historic Genealogical Society since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His areas of expertise include: Southern New England, especially Connecticut; New York; ancestry of notable figures, especially presidents; genetics and genealogy; African-American and Native-American genealogy, 19th and 20th Century research, westward migrations out of New England, and applying to hereditary societies. Chris has lectured on these topics and edits the genetics and genealogy column for American Ancestors.


Thursday, February 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


excerpt from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" (1861) by Emanuel Leuteze, located in the US Capitol building, via Wikimedia Commons

February 12, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, February 15th in observance of Presidents' Day.

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


official presidential portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull (ca. 1793) courtesy of The White House Historical Association, via Wikimedia Commons

February 11, 2016

The Superbowl was a luxury for Patriots fans this year, at least for some of us. Yes, we lost to Denver and didn't get to play in Santa Clara — but there's something warm and enjoyable about watching a game just for fun, knowing that in the end you'll be pretty much the same emotionally as you were at the beginning. Call me shallow, but I have more than a little scarring, courtesy of the New York Giants and I admit, even Peyton Manning.

Sports radio makes it even more fun. It's basically gossip for men, of course, mostly snark and hearsay about what someone said to somebody else, and can you believe the nerve of those people? It's also generally immature and often sexist and dumb, and sometimes I just have to turn it off and walk away. But over the years I have been a loyal listener. Maybe it's because sports fans are some of the few people out there who appreciate history.

Compare sports radio with other stations, the kind you hear at the gym or shopping malls. Their definition of "oldies" is just puzzling — it seems to be pretty much everything before last month, a mishmash of the rock music I heard in high school in the 1970s up to last week.

At thirteen, my treasured possession was a small plastic transistor radio strapped into in a white fake leather case. That radio, I dearly hoped, was the first step in a wonderful journey. I was on my way to being cool.

Of course, you had to know what station to listen to. In my town it was WBBF, the local top-40 station, "better by far." And you had to keep up with the play list. It changed all the time, force-feeding us the latest new hits (did anybody really like Bobby Goldsboro?) and tracking their progress up or down the popularity chart. You also had to have a favorite song, one you waited for hours through hours of commercials and DJ blather. But that song would only be around a week or two; after a while it kind of disappeared. And so to stay cool you picked another one. And on it went, year after year. The songs ticked off weeks and months and years. "Hey Jude" was sophomore art class (the teacher was extremely cool and let us play the radio) and "Fire and Rain" the background track to moody months of senioritis.

Now oldies can be anything, including some of the dumbest songs I thought I'd never hear again, forgettable 60s schlock with pseudo-hippy outrage and Jesus freak pieties. There is no concept of time in adult contemporary radio any more.

Not so my friends on the sports station. That's where you go to get the long perspective, the endlessly dissected back story behind every "storied rivalry" or devastating loss. I hate the Yankees because of Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson, all that swagger and spit still fresh after three decades or more. I am a Red Sox fan, but I will always love the Orioles because Eddie Murphy and Ken Singleton and Gary Roenike got me through graduate school. "We Are Family" by Sly and the Family Stone still makes me sad because it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' dopey theme song, the year they beat the Orioles in the World Series.

There are still places in our world today where the past matters, I guess, but you have to look for them. It's worth it though. When you do, you'll find people who really care about something, who have — let's say it — a passion. Maybe that's why some sports still matters so much, even after all the drugs and bad behavior and obscene amounts of money. (Underinflated footballs don't count.) Peyton Manning isn't just another quarterback, any more than Aaron Boone is just another baseball player. As every sports radio diva knows, the past is never really past. It's always alive and ready to bite. It brings pain and sorrow, but also real emotion, genuine feelings. Without history, the container of all those hopes, dreams, and fears, sports and life itself wouldn't matter half as much — and it wouldn't be half as fun.



photograph of vintage transistor radio found via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of user Joe Haupt

February 8, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives is closing at 2:00 pm on Monday, February 8th due to inclement weather so that our staff can get home safely.

All of our online resources will remain available as usual. If you have a question for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you when we return to the office tomorrow.

February 5, 2016

Every community group goes through occasional growing pains, and churches are no exception. In "Disorganized Religion", Peggy Bendroth's recent guest post on the UNC Press blog, she explores the ongoing trend away from bloated bureaucracies in American Protestant churches.

Nobody really likes organized religion. It all seems to have so little to do with actual faith — the endless acronyms of denominational programs and taglines, mind-bogglingly complex institutional reorganizations, and the blind impersonality of national synods and assemblies and conferences. It's the cold wet blanket, the flat gray oatmeal that most people imagine when they say they are "spiritual but not religious."

Organized religion just seems so unnecessary. Though American religiosity looks as varied and intense as ever, study after study has shown it drifting loose from the institutional structures that have defined the last two centuries of belief and practice.

Keep reading >>

If you'd like to learn more about the evolution of American Congregationalism from Dr. Bendroth herself, condiser attending our upcoming History Matters event on March 23rd.

January 29, 2016

Our executive director and resident historian Peggy Bendroth has a new book, and the Washington Book Review has said some very nice things about it:

The Last Puritans is a much needed scholarly book on the history of Congregationalists. It gives deep insight into the role that Congregationalism and other Christian denominations played in making America what it is today. It is meticulously researched and well written. Everybody interested in American history and religions will find this book to be of immense value.

If you'd like to learn more on the topic and discuss it with Dr. Bendroth herself, you can attend our upcoming History Matters event on March 23rd.

January 25, 2016

It's been a while since we've promoted our page of resources for church libraries. We have gathered a list of websites, books, and articles to help with everything from getting started to ensuring your collection can be passed down through the generations.

One of the tools we've recommended in recent years is a free online cataloging system called LibraryThing, and now it's even better. The makers of LibraryThing have just launched an extension called TinyCat that turns your basic list of books into a real library catalog. It can help make your catalog records more robust, makes searching easier, is mobile-ready, and even has a circulation system to keep track of when your books are checked out and when they're due.

If you're already using LibraryThing for your church library (or any very small library), TinyCat could make it even better. If you're not using it yet, this might just be the time to start.

January 19, 2016

Did you miss last week's History Matters talk about researching at the Congregational Library & Archives? Are you interested in hearing about a more specific part of our collection? Then you're in luck. Our digital archivist, Sari Mauro, will be presenting at the Boston Public Library next Wednesday as part of their Local & Family History series.

Genealogical Resources at the Congregational Library and Archives

The Congregational Library & Archives offers a treasure trove of unique materials for family historians. From seventeenth-century church records to the personal papers of ministers and missionaries, these materials provide names and dates of past generations as well as insight into a religious tradition that deeply informed American culture. Sari Mauro explores the collections that are of special interest to genealogists, both those accessible online and onsite. Mauro is the Digital Archivist at the Congregational Library & Archives, where she is the primary archivist assigned to New England's Hidden Histories, the library's largest digitization program making colonial-era church records available online for free to all users.

Wednesday, January 27th
6 – 7:30 p.m.


Commonwealth Salon
Central Library in Copley Square
700 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116


January 15, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, January 18th in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. 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.

January 15, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives received five strong votes of confidence in 2015 in the form of grant awards from prestigious organizations. In this quiet time of year, we are reflecting on the successes of 2015, and gathering strength for the year ahead.

The New England's Hidden Histories program received two major grants in 2015, one from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the other from the Council on Library and information Resources.

These grants will help pay for NEHH processing and thousands of new digital scans, along with an online, fully searchable database of digital, transcribed documents. We are proud to partner with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ.

The H.W. Wilson Foundation has funded a vulnerability assessment for our collection, which will make sure our physical and online presences are secure. The assessment will help us understand the weak spots in our security, and will fund "first level" protection like stronger locks and video surveillance. Past grants from the H.W. Wilson Foundation have enabled us to upgrade and improve our technological capabilities, and we are grateful for the foundation's continued support.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) awarded us a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant for a preservation assessment. This federal funding, provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the MBLC, provides funding for the Northeast Document Conservation Center to conduct a preservation assessment on the library's collections. This assessment will form the basis of a five-year preservation plan to ensure our collections receive the highest level of stewardship and care for their long-term preservation and access.

Finally, Mass Humanities awarded us a grant to develop a walking tour mobile application (app) that explores Boston's early religious history, with a particular focus on the decision-making practices and contentious issues that characterized life in seventeenth-century Boston, with expert scholarship to help tourists understand the connection between American democracy and the Congregational tradition.

We are proud of what we achieved in 2015. Here's to making history matter in 2016!

January 14, 2016

Our newsletter and blog often discuss the records in our collection, from documents of agricultural disputes, to notes on the LGBT struggle. But there's more to the Congregational Library & Archives than the books and papers at 14 Beacon. Our archivist Jessica Steytler often goes out into the wider Congregational world, visiting churches to help congregations care for their own records, and find glimmers of historical gold.

"We teach churches to care for their own records," says Jessica. "We always encourage churches to contact us with questions. Sometimes, I am able to go visit and work with them in person."

One such recent visit is to the First Church in Malden, where Jessica met Marilyn MacAskill, the church treasurer. "The First Church in Malden called initially to ask if we would take their records," says Jessica. "We don't take records from active churches, so we started talking about what the church could do with their material."

The First Church in Malden is a congregation in transition, moving from a church built in the early 1930s to a smaller space. "Our church building has been sold, and we're moving to a building with less storage space," explains Marilyn.

There are generations' worth of material in the Malden church, dating back to the 1870s. But with the move to a smaller building, space to store the records is becoming a problem.

"The big problem now is what we keep and what we do away with," says Marilyn.

After Jessica consulted with Marilyn on the phone about storage and management of the collection, she made the trip to the church.

"I am able to make recommendations in person and over the phone about what resources are available for disaster planning, records management planning, suppliers for archive-quality material. The thing that I try to emphasize to churches is scalable solutions. You can do a little thing, and it can make a big difference. You don't have to pick the Cadillac choice to do the right thing."

Simple choices, says Jessica, can make a difference for both digital and paper records.

"Like keeping only one version of something, naming files logically, trying to be thoughtful about organizing computer files so that it's not just a mess on your desktop. These things require time and thought, but not money."

As far as physical records, Jessica says, "Knowing what you have is the most important step." From there, she recommends starting with simple solutions. To that end, storing items in a well-organized filing cabinet is perfectly acceptable, as are clean, strong cardboard boxes. "Well-marked boxes," she adds, "so it is clear that they are historically relevant. You don't want them to accidentally be confused with Christmas decorations." From there, it's important to keep the records safe from water damage and pests. "Is it too close to the floor in a basement? Is it too close to the roof in an attic? Is it underneath pipes?"

"These are things that don’t require a lot of money, but they require time and interest."

Time and money are constraints for many churches, and some are turning to digitization, hoping for a solution. "Everybody's interested in scanning their records," says Jessica, but she is quick to warn against scanning a record and throwing the paper copy away. "The reason to scan something is because you want to make it available to the public. Pick your favorite thing, scan it, do it well, maintain it. Just don't throw it away when you’re done!"

Digital records are, in the long run, more fragile and more expensive to maintain, Jessica explains. "You will be able to read a piece of paper in 100, 200, maybe even 300 years," says Jessica. Even if the digitized files survived inevitable computer crashes, viruses, and were diligently transferred to each new computer, "You won't be able to read a Word document in twenty years," she says. "Scanning is a short-term solution, and not something to be done lightly. There are so many ways for valuable things to disappear."

Jessica recommends thoughtfully editing the records. "You cannot keep everything," she says. "Not only because it takes up space, but you can't make interesting records accessible when they are buried under unimportant things like cancelled checks," Jessica says.

Whenever possible, Jessica recommends churches work through their records with help from a professional archivist, and that's just what the church in Malden is doing. "Jessica suggested that we get an archivist come in to help in deciding what we should keep and what we should throw away," says Marilyn.

"But when it's not possible to hire an archivist, we need to empower congregations to take on the responsibilities of caring for historical records," says Jessica. "That's very much in keeping with how Congregationalism works, from the bottom up, letting the congregation make their choice on what to do with their records."

Church records are of clear importance to an active church, but they are also of significance to the wider community. "Those records are a window into a town's history," says Jessica. Marilyn agrees. "Our church is one year older than the town, so the town was actually formed in the church. The church was the governing body and the social outlet for everyone. It was where people went to meet and discuss things, as well as to have religious services."

Beyond New England history, church records tell stories that would have otherwise been forgotten, says Jessica. "They have details of people's lives, people who aren't in history books."

Sometimes, clearing out the cancelled checks is necessary to find that gold.

January 12, 2016

Now is the time to reserve your seat for this month's free lunchtime lecture.

Getting the most from our resources

Are you a genealogist with a Congregational ancestor? A historian interested in a Congregational church's history? A researcher with a burning question about Congregationalism? Have you always wanted to come to the Congregational Library & Archives for research but didn't know where to start?

Join our Digital Archivist Sari Mauro to learn more about the many resources available at the Congregational Library & Archives and how to get started on your research. Sari will cover online and on-site resources, how to begin investigating your topic, how to work with staff to get the most of what we have to offer, and what you can expect once you get here. For novice and experienced researchers alike, this presentation will get you started on the right track at the Congregational Library & Archives.

[]Sari first joined the CLA in 2011 as a student archives assistant, and became the full-time Digital Archivist in 2013. Sari's responsibilities include the New England's Hidden Histories program, processing and organizing collections, and speaking with churches about the stewardship for their physical and digital records. She is a graduate of Elizabethtown College and the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science where she received her MSLIS in archival management.


Thursday, January 14th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

December 30, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Thursday and Friday, December 31 and January 1, to celebrate the New Year.

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, January 4th.

We wish all of you the best in 2016.

December 23, 2015

[]The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Thursday and Friday, December 24-25, in observance of Christmas.

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, December 28th.

We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday.


star ornamement image by Nina Matthews via Wikimedia Commons

December 17, 2015

The Congregational Library and Archives has a collection of children's books that may have been given as Christmas gifts in the late 19th century. The Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society published children's books between 1841 and 1917, intended for use in Sunday school or in the home. The publishing house itself is an interesting story, one we have in our records.

[]These books were used by Congregational Sunday school teachers and ministers to teach children the popular Christian and social values of the time.  We can imagine children reading these stories in the 1890s, hunkered down with their families in the depths of winter, or sitting in Sunday school being read to by their teacher. The two stories we will look at transmit messages about the relationship between faith, material wealth, and personal success.

In the 1890s, this was a topic of great interest and concern in churches. Many Americans were becoming wealthier than ever, but others around them were destitute. The growing disparity between the haves and have-nots was troubling to a growing number of ministers, who began to wonder what the church should do about it. Ministers asked, "What would Jesus do about the plight of the working poor among us? Is the gospel of Jesus a plan of personal salvation only, or is it also a plan of social salvation that requires social reform?" Their misgivings eventually solidified as the Social Gospel movement.

The Social Gospel split Congregationalists into two camps. Advocates of the Social Gospel believed the plight of the working poor was primarily due to social injustices that could be rectified through reform and legislative action. Opponents of this view insisted that poverty was inevitable because of human sinfulness, and advocated personal repentance.

The two stories discussed here show the dominance of the latter argument in the 1890s. Even books for children pushed the view that societal ills should not be of concern to Christians.

The first story, "The Best Possible Christmas," addresses this question. It was written by Rev. Alexander Twombly for his youngest parishioners at Winthrop Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and published by the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society.

The story's protagonist, Pansy Trot, is shown three versions of Christmas in a dream. But instead of Christmas past, present or future, Pansy sees three versions of the best possible Christmas.

The first vision is a Christmas without poverty.

"In the square there was a great jubilee of children…Boys and girls were dancing about a huge pile of books, toys, pen-knives, dolls, wax candles, and everything else, and as they helped themselves, they sang a song,—beginning, ‘Old Poverty is dead so we'll be fed, With muffins hot and good white bread.'"

But the vision of a plentiful Christmas quickly sours. "Everybody Pansy met looked cross." The old washerwoman to whom Patsy's family usually brings gifts on Christmas morning is lonely: since she has everything she needs and Pansy's family no longer has a reason to visit. Even wealthy people are worse off after the death of poverty. Pansy sees a man who is angry that his gift has been turned down.

"A great Christmas this is! No poor folks, no chance to enjoy sending them turkeys or sixpences! Well I don't want to and I won't. What's the good in doing good for other people anyway? They never thank you."

Pansy begs to leave the first vision, since it is not the best possible Christmas. In the second dream, sickness is banished. Everyone is healthy and flush, but this vision also troubles Pansy. As she observes,

"Everybody was saying, ‘Isn't it a happy day? No more sickness, no more pain!' But nobody seemed to think they ought to go to church to thank the Author of their great deliverance."

This cannot be the best possible Christmas either. Pansy's third vision of Christmas is holy light shining on everything she sees. There is sickness, poverty, and death all around her, but people are able to bear it because of the light. This, she realizes, is the best possible Christmas.

"Even Pansy, though a child, had found out that no Christmas can be the best possible unless the Savior puts into it and into our hearts, his own sympathy with suffering. [Christmas] might come with poverty, it may have sickness in it; but it is the best—when the Wonderful Being born in Bethlehem is born again in human hearts, to bless and save."

Without suffering, the story says, families no longer care for each other, everybody is selfish, and people have no use for God. Sickness and poverty are presented as necessary evils, part of the path toward individual salvation. This stands in sharp contrast to the Social Gospel perspective that much poverty and suffering can be remedied through social reform.

The second story is titled "The Sleigh Ride" and comes from another collection, also published by the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society. This story connects personal piety and kindness to the achievement of financial success. The story begins as Margaret, "a little girl, a child of very poor but respectable parents," asks for a sleigh ride from Joel, "a strong, rough boy, who was not very regular in his attendance at school." Joel tends not to be very generous, and yet he concedes to give Margaret a ride.

"When she said to Joel, with a timid voice, won't you give me a ride on your sled? he was at first disposed to reply, No! what business have you to have a ride? Something seemed to close his mouth against the utterance of those words."

Joel decides to pull Margaret through the town on his sled, and feels the immediate reward of being kind to others.

"Joel said to himself, am I not a fool for giving this girl a ride? I shall never get anything for it. She is little better than a poorhouse girl. At this moment, Margaret came out with so happy an expression of countenance that Joel could not help feeling its influence; and, without acknowledging it to himself, he felt that he had already got something for his kindness to the poor girl."

But seeing Margaret's happiness is not enough for the story. "The Sleigh Ride" ends with a rich gentleman witnessing Joel's compassion for Margaret. He gives Joel a job, and eventually helps him go into business for himself. Through the kindness of a capitalist, Joel was given access to economic advancement.

This version of success and social advancement places the emphasis on random acts of kindness and the generosity of social superiors, rather than the social structures and circumstances that trapped Margaret's family in poverty and kept Joel out of school.

Churches and parents used children's stories to imparting society's values to children. These two stories show how the prevailing Gilded Age values of individual virtue and personal piety were woven into Christian stories for children. The emphasis of most, if not all, was on the development of Christian character. No thought was given to the Social Gospel concerns of societal sin or social reform. Instead, Christian stories for children taught that social problems such as poverty, suffering and injustices were inevitable, but society's ills were made more bearable through one's faith in a loving Savior, and He is all the world needs. While not denying the truth of those religious sentiments, proponents of the Social Gospel fought an uphill battle for social reform to alleviate suffering and establish justice for all so that God's will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Read these stories in the upcoming issue of the Bulletin, free to all members of the Congregational Library and Archives. Become a member to make sure you get a copy.


-- Norman Erlendson and Joanna Albertson-Grove


illustration from The sleigh-ride, and other stories (1872)

December 11, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives celebrates the life and mourns the loss of a great friend and scholar, Arvel M. Steece.

[]Arvel first came to the Library in 1947 as a Harvard Divinity student, joining the American Congregational Association in 1967. Arvel acted as President of the American Congregational Association from 1975-1999, as Director of the Congregational Christian Historical Society. He was named Director Emeritus of the American Congregational Association in 2000.

A devoted student of Congregational history, Arvel was eager to share his enthusiasm with everyone around him. In addition to his work with the ACA, he served as the NACCC historian from 1980-1988.

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Mauro knew Arvel well. She says, "Arvel was a keen scholar of extraordinary breadth and depth with a passion for Congregationalism. He immersed himself in books, creating an extensive personal library, and he had the intellectual gift of remembering all he read. He was keen to share his considerable knowledge to all who cared to learn from him and was a constant help and resource to seminarians preparing for ministry in Congregational churches. He was a bright light in Congregationalism and will be dearly missed."

"I stood in awe of him, always," said Jim Hopkins, a current member of the American Congregational Association Board of Directors. "He spoke with learned authority while eloquently championing the Congregational Way. I'm grateful to have lived in his time."

December 4, 2015

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, December 7th 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.


December 3, 2015

We are excited to share a newly digitized collection from the New England's Hidden Histories program. This month's new collection is from South Farms parish, Litchfield, Connecticut, an area of Litchfield now known as the town of Morris. The collection is small, but contains an unusually thorough account of the proceedings of an ecclesiastical council called in January 1781.

[]The collection documents the vote to call a council, one of the invitations issued to the participating churches of the vicinity (in this case Glastonbury, Conn.), the minutes of the meeting, the confession of Rev. George Beckwith as ordered by the council, and a final document showing the council's recognition and approval of the dissolution of the relationship between the church and Beckwith, their pastor.

Rev. George Beckwith was the first pastor settled at the South Farms parish church in Litchfield, Conn. The parish and society of South Farms were both founded in 1767 and the church gathered a year later in 1768. Beckwith, a 1766 graduate of Yale College, was called and ordained into ministry at the church in 1772. Some nine years later discord between the pastor and church had grown so much that by mutual agreement of the two parties an ecclesiastical council of the vicinage was called to seek outside wisdom. As the vote and invitation both state, the council was to hear grievances from both sides and put forth a recommendation for how the church and pastor should proceed. In the end, it was the decision of the church to sever ties with Beckwith.

Check out this collection and keep an eye on the blog for a forthcoming post on the whys and wherefores of ecclesiastical councils, particularly in the colonial time period.

December 1, 2015

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.


What is #GivingTuesday?

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It's a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

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 30, 2015

Make sure to let us know if you'll be joining us for this week's free lunchtime lecture.

[]Taking her grandmother's life as inspiration, Virginia Pye, author of the critically-acclaimed debut novel River of Dust, has written a stunning new novel of Americans in China on the cusp of World War II. During the dangerous summer of 1937, a newly widowed American missionary finds herself and her teenage son caught up in the midst of a Japanese invasion of North China and the simultaneous rise of Communism. Shirley must manage her grief even as she navigates between her desire to help the idealistic Chinese Reds by serving as a nurse and the need to save both herself and her son by escaping the war-ravaged country before it's too late.

cover image for "Dreams of the Red Phoenix" by Virginia PyeVirginia will read from Dreams of the Red Phoenix, and also share intriguing, historical photos and writings from her missionary grandparents, who lived in rugged northwest China in the early twentieth century. Virginia holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and has taught writing at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. Her first novel, River of Dust, is also a historical novel set in China. Her father, Lucian W. Pye, was born and raised in China and became an eminent political scientist and sinologist. Her grandfather, Congregational minister Rev. Watts O. Pye, was one of the first returning missionaries after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Virginia's grandmother stayed in China after the death of her husband and fled with her son — Virginia's father — on one of the last ships out of China to the U.S. following Pearl Harbor.

The Congregational Library and Archives is a major repository for diaries and letters of missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) to places around the world. Its headquarters at 14 Beacon Street became a home for missionaries on leave. The collection of these personal manuscripts, as well as, A.B.C.F.M.'S institutional documents and publications are available to the public.

This event is co-sponsored by our neighbors at the Boston Athenaeum.

Books will be available for purchase from Harvard Book Store staff on the day.


Thursday, December 3rd
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


photograph of missionary Gertrude Pye (wife of Rev. Watts O. Pye) driving a cart in China courtesy of Virginia Pye

November 24, 2015

[]The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Wednesday through Friday, November 25-27, 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 30th.

We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday.

November 23, 2015

The other history newsletters can take care of the Pilgrims, turkey, and pumpkin pie. We'll bring the cranberries.

Last month, our New England's Hidden Histories program digitized a three-page document from the Second Church in Wrentham, Massachusetts. While one of our interns from Simmons, Marya Shotkoski, was processing the document, she saw something curious: the church's pastor was dismissed because of something having to do with cranberries. Marya and our digital archivist Sari Mauro dug in to figure out what happened.

[]The story is more serious than the headline. An eighteenth century dispute over cranberries turned out to be a prime example of the Congregationalists' commitment to just and thoughtful governance. The Wrentham document had just a few short lines, but it tells an interesting story.

Two congregants of the Second Church of Wrentham got into a disagreement over a cranberry crop. The two couldn't agree on the price of the cranberries and argued over whether one owed money to the other.

Wrentham's young pastor, Rev. Caleb W. Barnum, learned of the dispute and thought he should step in. Barnum offered to pay the difference in the price of cranberries. He probably thought that if everyone was satisfied with the amount of money they had, the dispute would be settled, and there would be tranquility in Wrentham.

[]How wrong he was! The congregation disagreed with this solution. They worried that the pastor was taking sides in the dispute, implicitly saying that one price was right and one price was wrong, even if he was the one who made up the difference. If the pastor was taking sides in the community, he was no longer fit to serve as the pastor.

The congregation sought guidance in an ecclesiastical council made up the Reverends Bucknam, Payson, Frost, and Hall from the southeastern Massachusetts area, and delegates from their churches. After reviewing the case in late October of 1767, the council recommended that unless Barnum felt called to stay, he should resign from the Second Church of Wrentham.

Barnum was only trying to help, but the congregation bristled at this show of partisanship. They wanted their pastor to be a more neutral arbiter of disputes. Barnum left Wrentham after the judgement and went on to serve at the First Parish in Taunton. We do not know if he intervened in any more disputes before his death in 1776.

History matters, even in the produce section. Consider this when you buy cranberries next week.


photograph of cranberries courtesy of user Cjboffoli via Wikimedia Commons

November 20, 2015

[]Peggy Bendroth's new book The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past is not a story about Thanksgiving. But the declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, one of Abraham Lincoln's last acts as president, came at a striking moment for Congregationalists. Like the rest of the country they were struggling with some big existential questions as the Civil War wound to its conclusion. In their case the problem was history, and whether their storied New England past would be a help or a hindrance as they contemplated their future.

Congregationalists met in Boston in 1865, the first truly national gathering since the Cambridge Synod of 1648, determined to refit the old Congregational Way for new times and new challenges. Did being a Congregationalist mean believing a certain set of doctrines — maybe even Calvinism — or was the bottom line the independence of local churches? Which would best honor the Puritans?

The historical context of the Civil War and the Thanksgiving holiday made these question all the more urgent for those considering the Puritan legacy at the national council in 1865. Bendroth writes,

"The delegates did not just invoke the Pilgrims, they identified with them, having just 'emerged from the stormy deeps of a civil war' to find themselves 'standing on the verge of a vast and mysterious continent of the future.' We do to this day, they said, 'lift the psalm of thanksgiving where our fathers lifted it, mingling, as did theirs with the oar of the Atlantic surge to Him that sitteth King and Lord for evermore.'"

Without a doubt that Pilgrim and Puritan legacy brought Congregationalists into the center of the national mainstream. Suddenly, everyone gave thanks with a feast, and the image of a buckle-hatted pilgrim could be found hawking bread and gelatin. Puritans were everywhere. Thanksgiving made all Americans feel connected to the Puritans, and in a way, the story of Thanksgiving was elevated beyond any single denomination. Would Congregationalists keep their own story alive in the midst of all that celebration? Did the holiday have special meaning for them? And how would they honor the past while keeping their eyes on the future? Pick up Peggy's book to read the whole story.

November 18, 2015

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.


What is #GivingTuesday?

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It's a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

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 10, 2015

Don't forget to reserve your seat for this month's free lunchtime lecture with eminent historian Francis J. Bremer.

[]The historian James F. Cooper examined in great detail the exercise of power by the member of puritan congregations in his study entitled Tenacious of their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts. Drawing on his recently published book — Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism — Dr. Bremer will discuss the importance of the laity in the actual development of puritan Congregational belief and practice. Using previously neglected sources he will examine how belief in the ability of ordinary Christians to read and understand the scripture led to a variety of practices such as lay conferencing, prophesying, and even preaching that were key components of early puritanism.

Frank BremerFrancis J. Bremer is Professor Emeritus of History at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA from Fordham College and his MA and PhD from Columbia University, while also studying at Union Theological Seminary. He has been a visiting scholar at New York University, Oxford University, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin. Dr. Bremer is one of the acknowledged experts on puritanism in the Atlantic world and has published numerous articles and seventeen books on the subject. His study of John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father (2003) was submitted for consideration for the Pulitzer Prize and won the John C. Pollock Award for Christian Biography. His recent works include Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction (2009); First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in the Atlantic World (2012) – a selection of the History Book Club; Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds (2012) – shortlisted for the New England Society in the City of New York Award for Non Fiction 2013 and the 2013 Award in Nonfiction of the Mountain & Plains Independent Booksellers Association; and Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism (2015).

If you'd like a preview of Prof. Bremer, check out our video interview with him from a few years ago.


Thursday, November 12th
12:00 - 1:30 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


Portrait of an Old Woman Reading (ca. 1630-1635) by Gerrit Dou courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam via Wikimedia Commons

November 9, 2015

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

All of our online resources will be available as always. If you have an inquiry that requires help from the staff, please send us an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you on Thursday.


November 6, 2015

Last month, the New York Public Library announced that they had made the papers of Major Joseph Hawley available online.

Hawley was a lawyer, legislator, and militia officer from Northampton, Massachusetts. He also became one of the leaders of the American revolutionary movement in western Massachusetts. The collection contains documents related to his private life, religion in eighteenth-century America, and public affairs in Northampton and Massachusetts during the revolutionary era.

This caught my eye, because one of the earliest collections the Congregational Library & Archives published as part of our New England's Hidden Histories program was the journals of itinerant missionary Gideon Hawley.[]

Joseph (1723-1788) and Gideon (1727-1807) were both from southwestern New England, they were about the same age, and they shared a surname. Additionally, both had personal ties to Jonathan Edwards — Joseph was a contentious congregant in Edwards's church at Northampton; Gideon served under Edwards's supervision, first as a student in Stockbridge, and later as a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. Surely, there had to be a family connection. After a fair bit of digging on various genealogical websites, I finally nailed it down. Major Joseph Hawley and Rev. Gideon Hawley were third cousins, the great-grandsons of brothers Thomas Hawley (1609-1676) and Joseph Hawley (ca.1603-1690) respectively, who emigrated from Derbyshire, England around 1635.

Finding these kinds of connections with other libraries is not only fun and interesting, it also allows us to better help our researchers. If you learn about other collections related to ours, please let us know. You never know how useful that information might be to someone else.


October 26, 2015

Outwardly, the Congregational Library & Archives looks much as it did fifteen years ago — with the card catalog lining the front hall, the reading room preserved, the portraits of the ministers looking down sternly. Archivist Jessica Steytler knows better. The Congregational Library & Archives has changed dramatically since Jessica arrived in 2000. "Technology has really been booming. We have these tools that didn't exist twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. In some ways, my job has morphed quite a bit," she says. "But I still answer reference questions, I still process collections. Those are the pillars of my job."

[]Archiving was a natural fit for Jessica. "I got into the archive field because I wanted to use my history degree, and I didn't want to teach. I liked libraries, and it was always very clear I had an organizational mind. I was the one to sort out the colored pencils, or I was the one to clean up the junk drawer, or shelve all of my father's CDs."

When Jessica finished her MS in Library Science at Simmons, it was hard for archivists to find work in Boston. "It was a tight job market in Boston. I had multiple part-time jobs out of school, and I had very little experience." Dr. Harold "Hal" Worthley, the Librarian from 1977 to 2004, gave Jessica her first full-time job as an archivist. "Hal was known to give new archivists a shot." Jessica jumped right in, processing collections, staffing the reference desk, and even working on the old website. "Hal retired after I had been here for four years, so I thought I should stick around for continuity's sake. And things just kept getting interesting."

Since Peggy Bendroth became the executive director, and more archivists joined the staff, Jessica has felt a great sense of forward momentum in the institution. She's especially grateful that the CLA embraces technology. "We've really always had a lot of support. There's not resistance towards trying something just because it's new." The next new tool? A web-based information management system called ArchivesSpace, funded by a grant from the H.W. Wilson Foundation. "I'm excited to use ArchivesSpace," Jessica says. "It's a powerful tool, and it's really important to our industry. And it's very new. We are on the cutting edge. We're right there."

The new database will bring the Congregational Library & Archives up to the industry standard, and make the archivists more efficient. It will also help CLA patrons get exactly the information they need. Different people want to know different things about our collection, says Jessica. "ArchivesSpace will help us serve everyone better."

But technology has not eliminated the need for traditional ways of helping researchers and historians. "I still like talking to people," says Jessica. She greets visitors from the reference desk, and assists visiting researchers. She works with other visitors to the CLA. "I really enjoyed talking to Eva Grizzard from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who came here for a preservation assessment a few weeks ago." The preservation assessment was funded by a federal grant the library received this year.

Jessica also brings her deep preservation and organizational knowledge to the wider Congregational community. "I talk to churches a lot. I help them understand how to take care of their archives." Jessica gives churches the skills they need to preserve their records, and shows them how to organize their materials. "That educational facet of my work is always very fulfilling."

October 23, 2015

The movement of people from one place to another always strains societies. Today's debate about who to let in and who to keep out of Europe and the United States echoes similar conflagrations from the past. The Congregational Library & Archives has sermons and pamphlets from the mid-19th century discussing arriving waves of immigrants in the United States.

The Irish, fleeing poverty and increasingly reactionary government in their home country, arrived en masse to the United States in the 1840s. Documents in the CLA's collection illuminate striking similarities between this migration and the arrivals in Europe today.

The business of moving people across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe has taken off since 2011. As Europe's borders become more tightly controlled, more migrants need help crossing. Migrant smugglers provide these services — everything from forging immigration papers to providing the low-cost transport methods that have caused so many deaths. The process was not much easier in the 1800s.

In 1851 and 1852, Edward E. Hale wrote a series of letters to the editor published in the Boston Advertiser. He explains the difficulty of negotiating border crossings:

"Emigrants do not themselves usually make their bargains with the masters or owners of ships, —but are brought together and put on board by some 'passenger broker' with whom they have contracted, and who furnishes their stores. Instances of fraud and cruelty on the part of these men sometimes take place, but, on the whole, they are not so many as in so immense a business, as one might have feared."

Emigrating by sea has changed little since the 1840s. It seems there is always another story of people dying as they seek refuge in Europe. Hale wrote of similarly dangerous journey from Ireland to North America, what he called the "terrors of the summer passage of 1847." Writing in December of 1851, he said:

"The experience of the awful suffering of emigrants in 1847, when, of 90,000 who embarked for Canada on British vessels, 15,000 died on the way, or after arrival, called the attention of the English government to the necessity of a more stringent law for passenger vessels."

Hale went on to describe the regulation that the British and American governments placed on passenger ships: 14 square feet of space per passenger, and a set ration of food and water for the length of the crossing to New York. Unfortunately, there are no such regulations in place to protect migrants today.


Congregational missionaries on Ellis Island greeted new arrivals in the 1800s, and helped the often-bewildered newcomers. The Congregational Home Missionary Society published a pamphlet about the experience, called "Daily Tasks on Ellis Island".

"The missionary must often take the place of a lawyer and make an appeal for an excluded immigrant who has a right to one but is helpless to obtain it himself. … The missionary must be a friend to win the confidence of the bewildered immigrant, who has gone through a great deal of previous examination. This takes some time, but success comes with perseverance. The immigrant has no one in whom to confide the story of his or her heart. The mind must be unburdened, and here the missionary acts as comforter and adviser."

Missionaries helped immigrants arrange travel to other cities join friends and relatives, visited them in hospitals, and helped them avoid scams. The work was difficult, but rewarding.

"The work at Ellis Island is full of care, and often brings pathetic experiences which make a large draft on one's sympathy. But there are so many hopeful things about, so many opportunities to bring happiness and cheer into the lives of strangers, that after all there is a glow of joy and satisfaction even in the most trying and discouraging days."

Today, we hear uplifting stories about Europeans bringing migrants food and water, or helping them call loved ones they left behind.

But not everyone is so welcoming. Anti-immigrant demonstrations have become commonplace in Germany, and human rights groups are reporting a spike in hate crimes in Europe. Some are concerned about the cultural impact of a large group of Muslims on majority-Christian countries. Others worry about the potential economic burden of impoverished migrants and refugees.

In his time, Hale was concerned about the impact the millions of newcomers had on the East Coast. While the "cream of the emigrants" moved on to the West, "The 'lame, blind deaf, idiotic, and lunatic,' as our statutes describe them, are strained off by the Eastern States, and remain to fill up our alms-houses and hospitals." He continued, "The public charge of Massachusetts for such persons is larger I think, than of any other State in the Union, New York not excepted." Hale was compassionate, and saw justice in the government caring for the newcomers. He wrote, "It is for the government of the nation to take a trifle from him in his prosperity with which to support hospitals for his sickness."


For all his sympathy, Hale considered even the "cream" of the Irish to be "inefficient as compared with the Saxon and other Germanic races which receive them." However, he welcomed the idea of 'inferior' people as much-needed labor. "Their inferiority as a race compels them to go to the bottom; and the consequence is that we are, all of us, the higher lifted because they are here. … No one can fail to observe… that to the ready transfer of emigrant population to the west, the government owes all the worth of its Western lands."

The United States needed the emigrants in the 1850s as much as they needed the United States. Hale wrote, "…by every laboring man who arrives, the danger of starvation becomes less and less."

Today, many economists say immigrants will help keep social security afloat for Europe's aging population. Germany in particular needs immigration to increase its workforce, and so is preparing to welcome 800,000 newcomers this year. Like the United States in the 1850s, Europe needs immigrants.

The documents in the Congregational Library & Archives hold a mirror to our contemporary dilemmas, and bring us powerful voices from the past. History matters at the Congregational Library & Archives. No matter what the dilemma, our librarians and archivists can help navigate the past to understand the present.



images of "State Emigrant Landing Depot, Castle Garden, NY" by Roylance-Purcell engravers, and "Verplanck State Emigrant Hospital, Ward's Island, NY" by J. Shearman from Immigration and the Commissioners of Emigration of the state of New York by Friedrich Kapp (1870)

October 21, 2015

[]The Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ was established by a group of activists in 1972 to advocate for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the United Church of Christ. The UCC adopted the Open and Affirming Resolution in 1985, and every year since, more UCC churches have joined the movement to become 'Inclusive Churches'. In the forty years since its inception, the Open and Affirming Coalition has expanded its mandate of inclusion from gender and sexual orientation to race, age, and mental health.

The Coalition's success in bringing inclusivity to the UCC happened because of decades of advocacy, activism, and hard work. Now, the Congregational Library & Archives is assembling a collection of records that tells this story.

The Coalition's archival records have trickled into the Congregational Library & Archives. Documents have come from the Coalition's central offices in Cleveland, OH, and from individual Coalition activists turning over their own documents.

Since the Coalition lacked a central office or dedicated staff for its first thirty years, these segments of their story stayed with the people who created them. Each fragment of the story was hidden in somebody's attic or closet — sheaves of correspondence nestled in folders and boxes, resources for activists and churches, and newspaper clippings documenting bitter losses and setbacks, slowly giving way to the movement's victories of the last decade.

Now we have started to piece together that story by consolidating the records here in Boston.

Marnie Warner, one of the co-authors of the original Open and Affirming Resolution, joined the Congregational Library & Archives to assist us with the collection. Since she was directly involved, she can provide context and understanding to a complicated project. Each addition fills holes in the Coalition's story, and brings more nuance to the movement. With Marnie's help, we have aggregated and documented the disparate records, and transformed it into a unified collection. It is fully available for researchers here at the Congregational Library & Archives.

The UCC slogan "God is still speaking" ends with a comma to signify that a conversation continues. The LGBT rights movement, the Coalition's work, and its collection here is an ongoing conversation. Take a look at the collection and see what we are talking about.

October 13, 2015

Seats are filling up fast, so don't forget to reserve yours for this month's free lunchtime lecture.

Food and Spirituality in Early Boston

[]The physical hardships of creating the Massachusetts Bay Colony were extreme, especially for unprepared English colonists, most of whom were from urban areas. Hunger and even starvation was a constant part of their lives, and in this crucible of suffering the colony was transformed. Unlike other English settlements, Massachusetts became a place where people deliberately sought transformation and redemption by a powerful combination of physical suffering and pure religion. As conditions improved, the Puritans of the colony found new ways to recreate the intensity of those early years; one was requiring prospective a church member to relate a convincing story of soul-searching, trial, error, and woe in conversion narratives before being allowed to partake in the most important meal of all, the Lord's Supper.

The New England's Hidden Histories program at the Congregational Library & Archives holds one of the extensive collections of conversion narratives (relations) in the world. Take a look at the Middleboro and Haverhill First Church collections in particular to learn more.

Lori StokesLori Stokes received her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University. She studies the founding decades of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, focusing on the 1630s and '40s when the forms of church and state were put in place that would shape Massachusetts and American history for centuries to come. Dr. Stokes is a volunteer for the NEHH program's Church Records Transcription Project, a digital history project of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston led by Puritan scholar Dr. James F. Cooper, a director of NEHH.


Thursday, October 15th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


woodcut of "wicked Ranters" from the book Hell Broke Loose: or, the Notorious Design of the Wicked Ranters... (1651)

October 12, 2015

October is National Archives Month, and the Society of American Archivists began the month with #AskAnArchivist, a social media campaign that allowed people to ask archivists their most pressing questions about archives and life as an archivist.

Our social media followers asked some great questions about the Congregational Library & Archives, and our archivists Cristina, Jessica, and Sari provided the answers on our Twitter stream and Facebook page. Here are some of our favorites.


Our first question for #AskAnArchivist Day came from our friend, Margaret Bush. She asked, "How are you sure this new electronic information is still going to be here in 100 years?"

Sari explained: As with all things in the archival world, it comes down to preservation. Just as there are steps and processes and guidelines for ensuring that our physical archival items are preserved for use by future generations, there are steps and processes and guidelines for digital preservation. They include things like making sure the we keep up with obsolescence (the tendency of technology to evolve to the point where old media and files are no longer compatible with new hardware and software) of both our digital files and our physical hardware, creating backups and copies to combat system failure and file corruption, and ensuring that the files we are creating today are in stable non-proprietary formats. Are any of these things foolproof? No – but then preservation of a one-of-a-kind manuscript isn't foolproof either (fires, floods, other natural disasters, wear and tear, etc.). What we archivists do is work to establish systems and procedures that meet best practice to give each item (digital or not) within our custody the best chance it has to still exist and be usable in 100 years.


Our friend Jim Hopkins asked, "Do you stop to read the juicy bits?"

All three archivists had something to say.

Sari: It depends on how much time I have! But generally, yes. It's my job to have an idea about what is in a collection – both the boring and juicy bits. The juicy bits are also what can often interest someone in the collection and can be avenues into the material for people who don't usually work with archival collections.

Jessica: If I can, yes. But it really can be a trap when you need to keep moving.

Cristina: Of, course! But… the extent depends on how I'm processing a collection – how large is it, what's my deadline, what's my goal in the value-added description I can add to the collection in a finding aid. It's our job to become the "experts" when processing a collection and we can't write compelling finding aids without understanding what's in a collection. That said, other times my goal is to let people know we have a collection in our possession. In those cases, I do less reading, but we can always go back to those collections iteratively.


What is the funniest thing you’ve come across? Something that made you laugh out loud?

Sari says: Marginalia can be a fun place to find funny things. One of my favorites is this face added to a booklet of sermon notes.[]

I also like when you find someone else has interacted with an item in a funny way. I found this clerk's note on a document from a long, drawn-out fight between two men (first cousins) who clearly didn't get along. It reads "Mr. Burt again." I enjoyed the clerk's mild exasperation because, when I found it, I was also beginning to wonder if these two would ever solve their differences and put an end to their arguing!


Jessica writes: Yes! Earlier this year, I was organizing a church's papers, and they had collected complaints from the neighborhood, apparently mostly from children, about the carillon (the system that rings church bells in a melodic fashion).



Cristina says: During the course of processing a church collection from the 1975, I bumped into an editorial comment that just made me laugh out loud. Someone wrote, "A real loser" across a Pan Am annual report.

[]   []

Another laugh out loud moment is more macabre. The humor is in no way regarding the topic, but rather the imposed organizational structure used to house topical older sermons regarding murder. For such a serious, sad topic, this pamphlet box titled "Murders, Duels, etc." just struck a chord. How could these sermons NOT be intriguing?


What information have you discovered/uncovered that still gives you a thrill?

From Jessica: One of my most recent processing projects was over the summer was sorting out the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition's collection. It's been fascinating to see how the movement has changed over the past 40 years. Each decade had its own focus, which is echoed in the programs and focus for the Coalition. It means a lot to me that I'm able to organize a collection that has to do with living history with new pages being written every day.

Cristina liked this question enough to have two answers…
As both an archivist and a beekeeper, I love the story of Henry C. Gould's time in the Union Army during the Civil War. Through a memorial scrapbook made by his daughter, I discovered Gould survived Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Sherman's March in Atlanta; he survived being hit in the forehead with a spent shell. The only time he was off duty during his service was due to illness from confiscated honey. Second, while processing the First Church in Haverhill collection, I found a statement from Ebenezer Eastman written circa 1730 to be read at service giving thanks that his living wife successfully gave birth to a living child. A simple and powerful statement of thanks.

Sari says: Oh! I think my answer to this is very changeable. Right now the piece of information that amuses me the most (perhaps because I am currently obsessed with the musical Hamilton!) is that Jonathan Edwards, fire and brimstone preacher of the early 18th Century, was the grandfather of Aaron Burr, the United States' third vice president (and the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel). I learned this while writing text to accompany this letter Edwards wrote to his daughter, Aaron's mother Esther.


What are the work rules? Can you eat/drink on the job, etc.?

Cristina answers - We're very careful about making sure our hands are clean and dry whenever we begin handling our materials. But, we also need to eat our lunch during the day! We never handle food while also working with our archival items. We keep food away from our collections and make sure our work surfaces are clean with no residue. Any water we are drinking is kept in a spill-proof vessel and far away from our collection items, on a separate surface.


Board member Mimi Biedron's asked, "What is your favorite material to work with?" Each archivist had a different response:

Sari: Right now, my favorite things to work with are colonial era church disciplinary cases. I like the mystery of trying to piece together what happened (they are often quite vague). These documents also provide insight into people's worries and concerns – and they're where we learn that they're more like us, today, then we tend to give credit for. It's where a lot of our historical stereotypes about New England colonists and Puritans get broken.

Cristina: I love working with oversized materials, such as architectural and technical drawings. Sometimes their sheer size can be the biggest threat to their long-term preservation. Wrangling them under control for both preservation and access of use for researchers is deeply gratifying. I also love working with personal papers; I enjoy the universal connections between people through letters, drawings, and scrapbooks, regardless of era.

Jessica: Missionary family papers are a rich treat when we can get them. We have several families represented. I've worked with papers from families who spent time in Angola, Turkey, and South Africa (look up Blake and Goodsell; Phillips; and Welch on our website!). Missionaries provide details about a time and a culture that we would not get otherwise. It's a resource for people interested in going past what the usual school text books provide on major international events. Being able to work with material that provides this context is exceptionally gratifying.


Our friend Sue asked, "What are the basics of digitization?"

At the most basic level you need to know what you have, it needs to be in good enough condition to digitize it without destroying it, you need a good method of producing good quality digitization that works for the item you are digitizing, and you need a system in place to provide for the on-going care of the digital files you have created (we call this digital preservation). Digitization doesn't mean you digitize your originals and then throw those originals away, but it can prolong the life of the thing you have digitized by providing another way for people to access the information found in the original. Digitization can also provide a way to more easily share the item in ways not possible with the original.


A patron who happened to be in the reading room asked, "How do you find archival supplies?"

We use several archival supply companies depending on needs & occasionally we make our own boxes!



Twitter follower Jenn Parent asked two questions.

1. “How do you market your collections to users?”

Blog posts, finding aid announcements, & talking collections up on social media just to name a few!


2. "What really speaks to you about being an archivist?"

Sari answers: Everything we do (IMO) is about facilitating access. People using collections is what speaks to me!


We hope these answers are both helpful and entertaining. Of course, you don't have to wait until next October to ask our archivists your questions. They are happy to help at any time of year. Please feel free to contact them at any time, and consider becoming a member to help support their work in return.

October 9, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, October 12th, 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 7, 2015

We are pleased to announce two new additions to New England's Hidden Histories — a church covenant from Watertown, Mass. and the results of an ecclesiastical council from Wrentham, Mass.


Watertown West Church

[]Watertown was begun in 1630 by a group of English settlers led by Sir Richard Saltonstall and Rev. George Phillips, and was officially incorporated that same year. Although Rev. Phillips was one of the influential shapers of New England Congregationalism, he was controversial among his Boston brethren.

Presented here is the church's covenant of 1709.


Wrentham Second Church

The Second Church in Wrentham was gathered in 1738. The ecclesiastical council recorded in this document was gathered to judge the moral character of Rev. Caleb W. Barnum and contains the recommendations of the council regarding his removal. According to Emerson Davis, Rev. Barnum left Second Church as the result of his intervention in a difficultly between two members of the church about a crop of cranberries.


You can learn more about these churches and their ministers, and view these records (and many more!) as part of our growing New England's Hidden Histories program.

--Marya & Sari


portrait of Rev. George Phillips found via jaysteeleblog

October 2, 2015

As we mentioned back in June, our executive director Peggy Bendroth is an esteemed historian and prolific author. Her latest book, The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past, has now been published and added to our collection. You can order a copy of your own from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookseller, or become a member of the Congregational Library and Archives to borrow one of ours.

[]Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England's first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth's critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination's storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms — from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants — as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

September 29, 2015

This Thursday, our archivists will be participating in the #AskAnArchivist Day social media event initiated by the Society of American Archivists.

On October 1, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to answer your questions about any and all things archives. This day-long event, sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, will give you the opportunity to connect directly with archivists in your community — and around the country — to ask questions, get information, or just satisfy your curiosity.


As professional experts who do the exciting work of protecting and sharing important historical materials, archivists have many stories to share about the work they do every day in preserving fascinating documents, photographs, audio and visual materials, and artifacts. Increasingly, archival work extends beyond the physical and includes digital materials. #AskAnArchivist Day will give you a chance to connect with archivists who are tackling the challenges of preserving our digital heritage for the future.

What questions can be asked?

Archivists participating in #AskAnArchivist Day are eager to respond to any and all questions you have about archives and archival work.

No question is too silly…

  • What's the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
  • If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
  • What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?

…and no question is too practical!

  • What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?
  • I've got scads of digital images on my phone. How should I store them so I can access them later on?
  • How do you decide which items to keep and which to weed out from a collection?
  • As a teacher, how can I get my students more interested in using archives for projects?

How does it work?

#AskAnArchivist Day is open to everyone — all you need is a Twitter account. To participate, just tweet a question and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet. Your question will be seen instantly by archivists around the country who are standing by to respond directly to you.

Have a question for a specific archives or archivist? Include their Twitter handle with your question. They may not know every answer right away, but they will get back to you after they’ve had the chance to do some digging.

Don't have a question right away? Search Twitter for #AskAnArchivist and follow along as questions and answers are shared.

So get ready!

Archivists from universities, museums, historical societies, churches, businesses, local and state governments, and other organizations are taking to Twitter to answer your questions all day long on October 1 at #AskAnArchivist.

Congregational Library and Archives staff will be answering your questions on our Twitter stream and Facebook page. Come see what others are asking and make an inquiry of your own.

September 17, 2015

College freshmen are settling into their new dorm rooms and starting classes this month, congregating on campuses with the common goal of improving their minds. It was the same in the fall of 1850 when Aaron Lucius Chapin addressed Beloit College. "Year by year, it gathers into its bosom a crowd of bright youth drawn from families of every rank and profession." Chapin was a Congregational minister and the first president of Beloit College. Inspired by Congregational missionaries in the United States and abroad, he was part of a movement to found a dozen Congregational colleges in the mid-1800s.

[]Chapin and his contemporaries took up mission work to make New England values, religion, and education accessible to people outside the northeastern United States. A Yale graduate himself, Chapin felt obligated to extend the privilege of his education to others by replicating a Yale education, and what he called the 'virtuous society' he found in new England across the growing country. Writing in 1850, Chapin saw this process beginning.

"You and I, brother, as sons of Yale, have enjoyed singular advantages, and it behooves us to do what we can to transmit these blessings to succeeding generations, who shall occupy these verdant prairies and be planted along this silvery stream, destined at no distant day to become the crowded residence of wealth, intelligence, and refinement, and all the attractions of virtuous society, in its highest style and development. What was, fifteen years back, the wild man's hunting ground, in fifteen years more, will be as near a paradise as we shall be likely to find on this side Heaven."

For Chapin, academic discipline was inseparable from spiritual rigor, and a college was the best place to instill both in young people. The state universities springing up in the Midwest were too secular for Chapin's taste. He preferred colleges like Yale and Harvard, where New England Congregational values blended with English university academics. But Chapin saw those colleges as distant trees, whose seeds of education could hardly be expected to float all the way to Wisconsin. If a college was local, thought Chapin, its virtuous influence on the community would be stronger.

"A hand from the East will be stretched out to help on the establishment of genuine Christian colleges, judiciously located here and there in the West," wrote Chapin. Beloit College was part of a larger project by Congregationalists at the time to extend their influence outside of New England. Congregational missionaries travelled to frontier towns from the East Coast, both to convert native people and to keep settlers on the proper Christian path. Education was one of the central goals of the Congregational missionaries because it was so closely intertwined with their faith. In 1878, Chapin spoke before to the Mission Board.

"To secure and make abiding these results in all of those young States, colleges have been founded. They are the natural outgrowth of Home Missions. They stand as fortresses to maintain the ascendancy of the truth. In them recruits are trained for service on the field. They are living fountains in which science and religion — kindred elements — are blended according to their natural affinity, to pour forth into the forthcoming civilization healthful streams of intelligence and refined culture."

Many early graduates of Beloit College fulfilled Chapin's vision, and went on to serve as missionaries elsewhere in the United States and abroad.

Congregationalist missionaries founded colleges stretching from Pennsylvania to Utah, all founded in the same spirit of bringing New England values to people in the West. The colleges were meant to be "permanent centers of Christian influence," as Chapin wrote. History intervened.

"In the 1950s and early 1960s, Beloit College had transferred to a more civic-religious sense of identity. It still called itself a Christian college, but it had moved away from call itself Congregational," explained Bill Conover, who runs Beloit's present-day Spiritual Life Program. "The 1960s brought a sense of secularism and a sense of upheaval across our campus and other Christian institutions. The faculty took a vote to take 'Christian' out of the college's name an identity." A Protestant chaplaincy remained until the 1970s, but it was cut during a budget crisis.

Ashley Cleere is the chaplain of Piedmont College, one of two colleges still affiliated with the Congregational tradition. She thinks the gradual secularization of Congregational colleges was a result of Congregationalism's decentralized nature. "Congregational colleges don't have the burden of doctrine they have to maintain on campus, and we don't have something like a denomination giving us money," said Cleere. "It's part of the nature of Congregationalism that made it easy to drift away."

"I would guess that I'm one of a handful of people who even know about the historic connection with the Congregational church," said Beloit's Conover.

Although the explicit Christianity is gone from most Congregational colleges, the tradition of learning, openness, and self-improvement is as strong for the freshmen who started at Beloit College this month as it was for the students Chapin addressed in 1850. Conover sees Congregationalism's stamp even on the secular Beloit College campus. "In the life of the institution, someone who knows Congregational values would really see them," he says. "Congregationalism is really associated with a strong emphasis on freedom of conscience and speech. I feel like there is kind of a Puritan-influenced sense of the necessity of constant improvement, and we really value the project of endless improvement and reform."

The Congregational Library & Archives' collections include many documents related to Congregational colleges founded by American missionaries.

September 14, 2015

Don't forget to reserve your seat for this month's free lunchtime event.

Join archaeologist and author Emerson "Tad" Baker for a discussion of his latest book, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience.

[]In 1692 Salem Village in colonial Massachusetts witnessed the largest and most lethal outbreak of witchcraft in early America. The resulting Salem Witch Trials, culminating in the execution of 19 villagers, persists as one of the most mysterious and fascinating events in American history. Historians have speculated on a web of possible causes for the witchcraft that started in Salem and spread across the region but most agree that there was no single factor. Rather, as Emerson Baker illustrates in this seminal new work, Salem was "a perfect storm": a unique convergence of conditions and events that produced something extraordinary throughout New England in 1692 and the following years, and which has haunted us ever since.

[]Dr. Baker is a longtime professor at Salem State University specializing in the history of seventeenth-century New England. He has served as a consultant for dozens of documentaries and other television productions, published a number of books, and co-developed educational mobile apps relating to significant historical events.


Wednesday, September 16th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

September 11, 2015

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, September 14th 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.