Beacon Street Blog

December 5, 2013

This week we sent two boxes out to be scanned at Internet Archive's Boston digitization center. The boxes contain 13 volumes of notes on the lives and careers of Congregational pastors and will prove a great resource to genealogists, church historians, and other researchers. We are excited to be adding them to our collection and our obituary database. But that's not even the best part.

[]We have been digitizing things with Internet Archive for the past several years -- it's a great arrangement. Internet Archive's digitization prices are highly competitive, the scanning center is just a mile away (making delivery and pick up a breeze), and digitizing our collection items means people can access and use them without needing to visit Boston -- making a portion of our collection immediately accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection.

We have over 1,250 catalog items that are digitized in Internet Archive and are available for your use. You can access them through our catalog by searching for "Internet Archive".

[]Each catalog record contains a direct link to the digitized item on Internet Archive's webpage. Alternatively, You can view a list of 1,131 items we ourselves have contributed by visiting our contributor page on Internet Archive.

Internet Archive makes their text items available for online reading or download as PDF, full text, and EPUB and Kindle ebook formats for reading offline on your computer, eReader, tablet, or smart phone. They also make their online reader full-text searchable, enabling you to search an entire book for a single name, place, or word.

I encourage you to check out the rest of the items Internet Archive has to offer -- including audio and visual media. Between the many and varied contributors, it's a great resource both on Congregational history and on pretty much any other topic you can think of.


December 3, 2013

[]The day has arrived. Today is Giving Tuesday, a global day of contributions to charitable organizations.

As part of the nation-wide #GivingTuesday campaign, the Congregational Library and Archives is asking those with a passion for history to contribute to the New England's Hidden Histories program. Your donation helps us find, digitize, and make freely available rare records of America's past. Join us on Twitter and Facebook as we spread the word about #GivingTuesday, the Hidden Histories program, and the importance of saving the primary documents of America's past.

[]Scattered across New England, in church closets, bank vaults, or town clerk offices lies a richly detailed view of the prevailing cultural currents in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century America. Help rescue these historic manuscripts often exposed to the elements and in danger of deterioration, beyond the reach of the average scholar. Join the Congregational Library and Archives' search and rescue mission to find and preserve these records and make them available to the public.

To learn more and make a donation, visit our Giving Tuesday page.

November 29, 2013

One of the books I refer to most often throughout my week is Richard H. Taylor's The Churches of Christ of the Congregational Way in New England. Around the library it's referred to as "Rick's book" or, if we're being particular, "Rick's New England book", since he's now written a book for each region of the US. []They detail all Congregational (United Church of Christ) churches' genealogy: origin date, name changes, mergers, denominational changes and, if it closed, when. If that wasn't enough, he's also done the same for the German Evangelical churches. All his books also provide detailed histories of the denominations and the regions. The staff here relies on them to help answer reference questions and fill in details while processing church collections. Having this exhaustive, encyclopedic information makes us look like wizards and rock stars when we can answer what is otherwise not collated data. It represents decades of painstaking work. I can't imagine being able to do my job well without these resources. We use and refer to the New England volume so much that we asked permission from Rick to have it digitized and added to the Internet Archive, which he generously granted.

Not that long ago, however, there were no published books and no guarantee that Rick would get to complete his works and get them published. When it was all still in progress, our former librarian, Hal Worthley, safe-guarded the drafts by storing the handwritten lists, then later the typed lists. We also stored a portion of the raw data that Rick gathered from the individual churches: surveys and supplemental historical essays. With the author's oversight, we did remove the incomplete lists from the manuscript collection now that we have the published, authoritative work. We did keep the surveys, which tell more than what could be said in a strictly regimented list.

Originally, Rick's essays on a wide range of historical topics were cataloged and stored in our non-circulating collection as they were donated. However with the latest addition, we realized both staff and researchers would benefit from storing them as a group. The drafts, as well as Rick's sermons from 1999-2006, are all sorted out and available for patrons to use.


November 28, 2013

As the holiday season begins, many of you will be getting ready for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. There's a new movement gaining ground this year. It's called Giving Tuesday, and it's a global day of contributions to charitable organizations.


Scattered across New England, in church closets, bank vaults, or town clerk offices lies a richly detailed view of the prevailing cultural currents in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century America. Help rescue these historic manuscripts often exposed to the elements and in danger of deterioration, beyond the reach of the average scholar. Join the Congregational Library and Archives' search and rescue mission to find and preserve these records and make them available to the public.

As part of the nation-wide #GivingTuesday campaign, the Congregational Library and Archives is asking those with a passion for history to contribute to the New England's Hidden Histories program. Your donation helps us find, digitize, and make freely available rare records of America's past. Join us on Twitter and Facebook as we spread the word about #GivingTuesday, the Hidden Histories program, and the importance of saving the primary documents of America's past.

To learn more and make a donation, visit our Giving Tuesday page.

November 26, 2013

The library will be close at 1:00pm on Wednesday, November 27th and remain closed for the rest of the week so that our staff members can be with their families for Thanksgiving.

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 next week.

November 25, 2013

[]Recently, while processing materials transferred from the Chicago Theological Seminary, I found a small volume that caught my eye. It is a simple commemorative scrapbook / biography made by Mildred Gould on the occasion of her father's death in 1915. Henry C. Gould served as sexton at University Congregational Church in Chicago in the last years of his life, from 1897-1915. He was also a locally known Prohibitionist and Civil War Veteran. Reading the pages of this scrapbook it is clear Henry C. Gould was well loved by his daughter, his family, and his community. The book is filled with heart-filled condolences and stories about his life. But… it is his army record that really stood out to me.

Born in Smithville Flats, New York in 1842, Gould enlisted in the 154th regiment, New York Volunteers, at twenty and later reached the rank of Corporal. He served for almost three years in the Armies of the Potomac, Cumberland, and Georgia under Generals McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Sherman. He took part in the following battles: Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wauhachie, Lookout Valley, Lookout Mountain, Mission Ridge, Orchard Knob, Rocky Faced Ridge, Recaca, Pumpkin Vine Creek, Pine Knob, Culp's Farm, Kenesaw Mountain, and Chattahoochie River.

At the back of the scrapbook, there is section titled Army Record from 1912 with Gould's signature and an amazing story.[]

"I have the musket which I carried the two years and nine months during which I was in service. It was the only one in my company that did not change hands. I was off duty only once during my term of service, and that time I was sick from eating too much confiscated honey. I did not receive a wound during my service, but was hit in the forehead by a spent ball at the battle of Gettysburg. I was promoted to corporal, May, 1st, 1865."

To be clear — Gould survived Chancellorsville, Gettsyburg, 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. It amazes me he could outplay death on the battlefield but be done in by bad honey. By way of confession, I am a backyard beekeeper, so I found this story particularly fascinating. I took some time discussing it with my own beekeeping mentor (we have such things!), trying to figure out the nature of the toxic honey, and we came up with some reasonable theories. The phrase "confiscated" is interesting, since we do not know from whom it was confiscated.

  • It may have been intentionally adulterated.
  • It may have been honey made from the pollen and nectar of poisonous flowers (azalea, for example). That seems unlikely, however, as the concentration of that single source would have to be very high.
  • While honey is generally known for lasting indefinitely under the right circumstances, yeast can grow in it if the moisture content is too high, causing honey to ferment. If the bees were not done curing the honey before it was consumed, it could have caused his reaction. (Under controlled conditions, and with the right yeast present, this is how mead is made.)
  • The honey may not have been what caused his illness at all; eating it may have been a coincidence.

In the end, we'll never know what caused Henry C. Gould's wartime illness, but it is remarkable he survived his time in the army, walked home with his regiment from Virginia to New York, and was able to continue on with his life. Henry C. Gould and Marcia A. Wheeler married in October 1, 1873 in Mexico, NY, and not too long after moved to Massachusetts before settling down in Chicago and having their daughter, E. Mildred Gould. Beekeeping-related mysteries aside, this is a wonderful little scrapbook and memorial to Henry Gould. It depicts his life, clearly demonstrates its impact to those around him, and provides some fantastic insight to the Civil War era.

The scrapbook is now processed and available for patron research.



Second photograph captioned: "Musket, Canteen, Belt, and Cap Box which he carried during the two years and nine months of the Civil War 1862-1865. Taken on the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg – July, 1913"

November 22, 2013

Because we're located in Boston, we have more materials from New England than elsewhere in the country. Whenever possible, we like to highlight resources at other institutions that our researchers might find useful. One such resource that I came across recently is Documenting the American South at the University of North Carolina.


Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. Currently DocSouth includes sixteen thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs.

Collections that may be of particular interest to our readers are "The Church in the Southern Black Community", "North American Slave Narratives", "First-Person Narratives of the American South", "Oral Histories of the American South" available as both recordings and transcribed text, and "The Southern Homefront, 1861-1865". If any of these sound useful or interesting to you, go take a look around.


November 21, 2013

Back in 1999, The Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, deposited some of their records with us for safe-keeping. The bulk of that collection is 20th-21st century administrative files, documenting their minutes and reports. However, they also sent us some legacy material.

[]First, the Massachusetts Missionary Society. I did not realize there's a direct connection between the two, but they have a blended past. The earliest iteration of the Conference, the General Association of Massachusetts, was established in 1802. As the Congregational denomination evolved over the 19th century, the conference followed suit. Similarly, the Missionary Society was established in 1799 and as the mission movement evolved, the society refined its purpose for state-level and home mission work. The two groups joined forces in 1927. The Conference sent the founding documents to us for safe-keeping.

The second part of the legacy material comes from the Franklin Association, which is a sub-set of the Massachusetts Conference and represents the Western Massachusetts county. There are 19th and 20th century administrative records, some of their women's mission group records, and a photo album that's probably from the 1860s-1890s. What's stunning and noteworthy about the album is the impressive design:

[]   []


November 19, 2013

November is Native American Heritage Month here in the United States, so we thought it would be the perfect time to highlight some of our relevant resources.

Several of the colonial-era church records in our New England's Hidden Histories program include information about the local native peoples. Because they are recorded by the British colonists, these records contain several references to "Indian attacks", but there are also more peaceful historical accounts. For example, the First Church in Natick had a large percentage of Native American congregants, and Rev. Gideon Hawley traveled across western New England ministering to Brits and Native Americans alike. Both of these collections have been transcribed for easier reading.

list of members of First Church in Natick,
including English and Indian parishioners

Creating the "Eliot Bible" (1663) provided the motivation for missionary John Eliot to learn and transliterate the language of the local tribes in order to provide a written translation of the scriptures. Once the Bible was published, Eliot then used those copies to teach his new converts how to read and write using the Latin alphabet. In recent years, it has even been used by scholars to reconstruct and preserve the Wôpanâak (Wompanoag) language for future generations.

Take a look in our catalog to find other materials relating to Native American history. You might be surprised at what you'll learn.


November 18, 2013

[]The First Hundred Years

Faith, Polity and Wider Fellowship are the three tenets from which rose the important affirmation of faith adopted by the Congregational Churches in 1913 when the National Council met in Kansas City, Missouri "to affirm traditional congregationalist principles in a form that would meet the needs of the new century."

Visitors to the Congregational House at 14 Beacon Street are greeted by a copy of the Statement cast in bronze on our foyer's wall. Many of us pass the declaration every day, but what does it mean and what part does it play in the history of American religion?

Join Executive Director Dr. Peggy Bendroth as she explores the historic significance of the Statement and its contribution to a full century of religious and social life and thought.

Wednesday, December 11th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through SurveyMonkey.

November 15, 2013

The Administrative and Development Coordinator works under the direction of the Executive Director and the Director of Development of the Congregational Library and Archives with responsibilities in planning and implementing all fundraising activities, institutional events, and communications, for general office administration. The coordinator will be the first face and voice that many members, donors and prospective donors will encounter.

See the full job description for details.

November 14, 2013

[]Next month marks the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. To commemorate this event, our neighbors at the Old South Meeting House historical site are hosting a reenactment, including a town meeting, a procession to the harbor, and reserved seating alongside The Beaver during the tossing of the tea. You can reserve tickets online.

The 240th Anniversary Boston Tea Party Annual Reenactment

It's December 16 and trouble is brewing in Boston! Travel back in time and relive one of the most iconic public protests in American history -- the Boston Tea Party! Gather at Old South Meeting House, the actual historic landmark where the colonists met in 1773, with Boston's infamous rabblerousers like Samuel Adams, Paul Revere -- and even some crown-loving Loyalists -- to debate the tea tax and demand liberty from the British crown! Join the procession to Griffin's Wharf accompanied by fife and drum and scores of colonists! Then, line the shores of Boston Harbor to witness the daring destruction of the tea firsthand as the Sons of Liberty storm the Brig Beaver, tossing the troublesome tea into the sea!

If you'd like to read up on the event a bit beforehand, local scholar Benjamin L. Carp has written a fun and informative article to dispell some of the popular myths about the Boston Tea Party. Find out what the colonists were really protesting and where the catchy name for it came from. You may find that it's more complex than your middle school textbook made it seem.

And if you'd like to do some research of your own, we have a handful of books about the Boston Tea Party, as well as numerous primary sources from the time. Take a look in our catalog and peruse our archival finding guides to see if anything looks like it might hold the answers you seek.


November 8, 2013

The library will be closed on Monday, 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 next week.

November 7, 2013

When serving the researching public, we don't always know the final results of our patrons' hard work.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"191","attributes":{"alt":"cover image of \"Martyrdom\"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 120px; height: 187px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"cover image of \"Martyrdom\"","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Earlier this week, E. Fuller Torrey sent me a wonderful, signed copy of his new book, The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey, a project that brought him in to the Congregational Library quite a few years ago to discover what our Charles Torrey collection might say about his ancestor. Happily for him and for us, we were able to shed some light on the 19th century social reformer. Martyrdom illuminates the lesser studied abolitionist, who spent his career in opposition to William Lloyd Garrison.

Congratulations to Dr. Torrey on successfully finishing this book, which was published just this week. For those interested in learning more about Charles Torrey, our collection is still open and available to researchers.



The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey is now available for borrowing by our members, and joining is easy.

November 5, 2013

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

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"192","attributes":{"alt":"\"One Colonial Woman's World\" cover image","class":"media-image","style":"width: 120px; height: 176px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"\"One Colonial Woman's World\" cover image","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Join us for a discussion with Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, author of One Colonial Woman's World: the Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit. This book reconstructs the life of Mehetabel Chandler Coit (1673–1758), the author of what may be the earliest surviving diary by an American woman. A native of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who later moved to Connecticut, Mehetabel began her diary at the age of fifteen and kept it intermittently until she was well into her seventies. A previously overlooked resource, the diary contains entries on a broad range of topics as well as poems, recipes, folk and herbal medical remedies, religious meditations, financial accounts, and even some humor. An extensive collection of letters by Mehetabel and her female relatives has also survived, shedding further light on her experiences.

Coit's long life covered an eventful period in American history, and this book explores the numerous — and sometimes surprising — ways in which her personal history was linked to broader social and political developments. It also provides insight into the lives of countless other colonial American women whose history remains largely untold.

Wednesday, November 6th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through SurveyMonkey.

November 4, 2013

The J. Paul Getty Trust is committed to making images of its public domain artworks freely available through its Open Content Program. A few weeks ago, they added more than 5400 images from the Getty Research Institute's special collections, bringing the total to more than 10,000.

These high-resolution images span centuries and continents, and include artists' sketchbooks, drawings and watercolors, rare prints from the 16th through the 18th century, 19th-century architectural drawings of cultural landmarks, and early photographs of the Middle East and Asia. Over the coming months, we'll supplement these images with other material critical to the study of art history, including artists' books and letters, stockbooks of famous art dealers, documentary photographs of art and monuments in situ from around the world, important historical treatises, and archives of famous artists, photographers, and collectors.

The Open Content images in the Getty catalog include over 1200 religious pieces — paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, and other decorative objects. One that caught my eye is an illuminated intial S from the Book of Job. It was created by a 15th century Florentine artist named Francesco di Antonio del Chierico.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"193","attributes":{"alt":"\"Initial S: Job\" by Francesco di Antonio del Chierico","class":"media-image","style":"width: 350px; height: 377px;","title":"\"Initial S: Job\" by Francesco di Antonio del Chierico","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]
"Initial S: Job" by Francesco di Antonio del Chierico
click to enlarge

The contrast between the beautiful floral border and the despondent figure of Job enclosed by the lower loop of the S is striking.

Take a look for yourself. What artworks strike your fancy?


November 1, 2013

Regular readers of our blog may remember "The Story of Niijima Jo" that we posted in June, and may recall that every year we are visited by 90 Japanese middle schoolers from the Kyoto school Neesima founded. I, myself, enjoy telling people about the Neesima story and explaining the unlikely connection this library shares with a school 6,830 miles away (give or take a few miles).

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"194","attributes":{"alt":"Niijima Yae and Jo, ca. 1876","class":"media-image","height":"325","style":"width: 150px; height: 244px; float: left; margin: 3px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"Niijima Yae and Jo, ca. 1876","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"200"}}]]Neesima's story has all the ingredients one needs for a really good tale: stowaways, the kindness of strangers, native son made good, prodigal son returning home, a hero serving a higher purpose. What I didn't know is that Neesima's wife, Yae, has an equally interesting and compelling story.

Yae was born in 1845 in Aizu (now known as Fukushima). Her father, Yamamoto Gonpachi, was a samurai and gunnery instructor, and Yae learned marksmanship at an early age — an unusual activity for a woman in her era. When the Boshin War (an anti-government civil war) began in 1868, 22 year-old Yae joined the defense and fought against the Meiji government in the Battle of Aizu.

Yae went on to become a teacher at a school for girls established in Kyoto by her brother. Her brother encouraged Yae to study with Joseph Neesima and six months later Yae was baptized and she and Neesima were married. It was the first Protestant wedding in Kyoto. Yae went on to teach at the Doshisha founded by her husband, and assisted him in his role as pastor in the first Protestant church in Kyoto.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"195","attributes":{"alt":"Niijima Yae, 1886","class":"media-image","height":"355","style":"width: 150px; height: 222px; float: right; margin: 3px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"Niijima Yae, 1886","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"240"}}]]When Joseph Neesima died in 1890, Yae went on to serve in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War as a nurse. She was later decorated by the government for her role in nursing Japanese soldiers, becoming the first woman who was not a member of the Japanese imperial family to receive such an honor. This was not unusual for Yae who, as the Japan Times observed, "def[ied] Japanese society's stereotypes of women." Yae died in 1932.

Yae's life is the focus of a historical drama airing on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) this year called "Yae no Sakura".




photograph of Jo and Yae Niijima, ca. 1876, courtesy of the Doshisha University Archives Center, via The Japan Times

drawing of Niijima Yae, 1886, via Wikipedia.

October 31, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"196","attributes":{"alt":"James Hunter, (d. 1917)","class":"media-image","style":"width: 150px; height: 240px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"James Hunter, (d. 1917)","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]The hazards of being a librarian include the distraction of coming across an item that has no relationship to the research one is doing. In this case, I was asked to locate information on a James Hunter, missionary to China. I also found another James Hunter whose story I'll now share. From The Missionary Herald, September 1917, "Never has a missionary of the American Board met his death as did Mr. James Hunter..." Shall I go on? Mr. Hunter and his wife went to Angola, West Central Africa in 1915 as missionaries for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He was a printer at Kamundongo and had worked diligently to "speed up" the printing process. Having that well in hand, together with Dr. Hollenbeck, an experienced hunter, Mr. Hunter decided to take a holiday and go hunting for hippopotami. He planned to use the hide to produce glue for the bindery.

Dr. Hollenbeck was successful in shooting a hippopotamus while Mr. Hunter continued his quest. Unfortunately, the boat was overturned and Mr. Hunter's body was never recovered. He died April 26, 1917. "His labor is surely not in vain in the Lord." (Missionary Herald)

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"197","attributes":{"alt":"a deceptively docile hippo in a river","class":"media-image","style":"width: 350px; height: 195px;","title":"a deceptively docile hippo in a river","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

I'm sure that these missionaries did not know that hippopotamuses are by nature very aggressive animals. Hippos are exceedingly aggressive towards humans, whom they commonly attack whether in boats or on land with no apparent provocation. They are widely considered to be one of the most dangerous large animals in Africa. (Wikipedia)



hippopotamus photograph "Hippopotame dans le Lac de Tengréla" (2010) by Wikimedia Commons user GuideStephane, released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license

October 29, 2013

We're very proud to be making manuscripts from the 17th century available online through our New England's Hidden Histories program. It's rare to find records that have survived for more than two hundred years. They are so often lost to fires, floods, other natural disasters, or well-meaning parishioners who take them home to store in their attics.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"198","attributes":{"alt":"Gospel of Thomas in Greek, ca. 300 A.D.","class":"media-image","style":"width: 150px; height: 329px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"Gospel of Thomas in Greek, ca. 300 A.D.","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]That's why I'm so excited by the British Library's recent announcement that they have digitized a handful of papyrus pages that have lasted almost ten times that long. Three of the seven newly digitized manuscripts from their impressive collection are fragmented sections of the Bible estimated to have been written between the second and fifth centuries. There are portions of Genesis in Latin, as well as apocrypha in the form of the Gospel of Thomas and the otherwise unknown "Egerton Gospel", both in Greek.

None of these pages have transcriptions or translations in the British Library's catalog, but they are still amazing to look at. If you view the documents themselves, you can even zoom in to see the warp and weft of the woven reeds that make up the papyrus.

If you're interested in such things, the BL Digitized Manuscript repository has a large number of religious and secular materials that are worth exploring. It includes a illuminated Gospels, Psalters, and other texts, and is searchable by any range of dates in the last 2000 years. Whether you can read the ancient languages they're written in or not, they are beautifully made.



Gospel of Thomas fragment in Greek, ca. 300 A.D. courtesy of the British Library

October 28, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"199","attributes":{"alt":"Assyrian church reading lesson","class":"media-image","height":"296","style":"width: 150px; height: 222px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"Assyrian church reading lesson","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"200"}}]]The Community Renewal Society records are now processed and available for research. Donated by the Chicago Theological Seminary in 2011, this collection documents the history of the Community Renewal Society, originally known as the Chicago City Missionary Society, between 1881 and 1978.

Incorporated on December 31, 1882, the Chicago City Missionary Society (CCMS) was created to promote religion and morality through Congregational Churches in Chicago and its vicinity. The original Executive Committee comprised three ministers, three laymen, and a professor from the Chicago Theological Seminary. Caleb Foote Gates was elected first President and Dr. Julius C. Armstrong first Superintendent of CCMS. Caleb Gates wrote of the Society's creation, "It will be seen... that the Society was brought into existence to meet a felt want, and for the discharge of a sacred duty that burdened the hearts of the churches."

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"200","attributes":{"alt":"Firman House Mexican Mission, late 1920s","class":"media-image","height":"370","style":"width: 150px; height: 278px; float: left; margin: 5px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"Firman House Mexican Mission, late 1920s","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"200"}}]]The Society's core mission, serving the city's underserved populations, never changed though the way in which the Society accomplished it changed with the times and the needs of different groups served. The Society's various name changes throughout its history highlight this evolution as well as its own sense of self-identity. In 1919 the Chicago City Mission Society was renamed the Chicago Congregational Missionary and Extension Society (CCMES), in 1930 it was renamed the Chicago Congregational Union (CCU), and in 1967 it became the Community Renewal Society (CRS).

These records highlight the organization's missionary work in Chicago, Illinois in the late 19th and 20th centuries as it worked to provide services to the city's underserved populations. Their mission evolved from providing services to predominately European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to being deeply involved in issues surrounding racial, economic, and social justice in Chicago by the 1960s. Included in the records are correspondence, ledgers, reports, minutes, directories, newsletters bulletins, photographs, negatives, engraved print blocks, slides, and a compact disc.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"201","attributes":{"alt":"Friendly Town kids, 1965","class":"media-image","height":"388","style":"width: 400px; height: 310px;","title":"Friendly Town kids, 1965","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]

In total, the records illustrate a changing city and highlight the ways in which the CRS helped Chicago's growing population via missions, outreach programs, and consultation. Beyond the wealth of early 20th century documentation, this collection is rich in recent records particularly from the 1950s and 1960s highlighting the struggle for racial, economic, and social equality in Chicago. The Community Renewal Society continues its mission today. For more information about its work, see the CRS website.

View the complete finding guide on our website.

October 25, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"202","attributes":{"alt":"Alexander McKenzie's yearbook portrait","class":"media-image","style":"width: 150px; height: 179px; float: left; margin: 5px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"Alexander McKenzie's yearbook portrait","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]I'm reviewing and re-describing our records from First Church in Cambridge. A lion's share of the records we have are from Alexander McKenzie, who was minister there from 1867 to 1914, the year he died. McKenzie left records from his student years in this collection, including his 1855 yearbook from Phillips Academy. Each young man had his own page in the yearbook, buffered by blank pages between each portrait to allow for autographs and tributes. The publishers did not include anyone's name along with the photograph, however McKenzie's annotations help fill in some blanks. While he did not label each student by name, he frequently listed tidbits about scholastic focus and later added further education and professional developments and finally included an alphabetic index of the whole class at the end of the book.

While I was investigating, I discovered the note his roommate wrote, which is so sweet and loving. It illustrates how dramatically societal norms have shifted over the last 158 years. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"203","attributes":{"alt":"Cyrus Osborne's yearbook portrait","class":"media-image","style":"width: 150px; height: 179px; float: right; margin: 5px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"Cyrus Osborne's yearbook portrait","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]We do not see many written contemporary examples of deep feelings shared between men. Cyrus Osborne's graduation farewell to Alexander McKenzie is heartfelt:

My Dear Chum,

I hardly know how to express my feelings as we part today. For one year we have been connected as roommates. This intimate relation which has proved to me so pleasant and profitable is now to cease. I assume you this day brings no thought more sad than that I must leave you. I shall always feel grateful for the influence you have exerted over me. Your kindness and forbearance with my faults I shall never forget. Though we are no longer roommates, no longer shall together delve in classic love, no longer bow together at the throne of grace; yet often shall I in imagination return to this spot, endeared by so many sacred recollections; and surely have memories [that] will always be pleasant.

I am most truly yours

Cyrus P. Osborne

Neither gentleman's obituary marks when they began their time at Phillips Academy, however at graduation, they were 21 (Osborne) and 25 (McKenzie). At the end of their formative education, with their higher education and eventual calling all still in the hazy future, waxing poetic and sentimental is unsurprising. What these friends did not realize was that they would have a further six years in each other's company; they both graduated from Harvard and then Andover Theological Seminary before they would separate and settle as ordained ministers. Even then, both men eventually gravitated into each other's company through their work with the Boston Seaman's Friend Society towards the end of their lives.

It was an honor to witness this deep connection between friends; I hope it truly did last their entire lives.


October 24, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"204","attributes":{"alt":"historian Alex Goldfeld welcomes the group in North Square","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 300px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"historian Alex Goldfeld welcomes the group in North Square","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Last Saturday was a lovely day for a walk. Participants in our Mather Redux symposium did just that, taking in significant sites in Cotton Mather's life in a tour led by Alex Goldfeld of the North End Historical Society. The North End Waterfront website has a recap and slideshow of photos by our own Cary Hewitt for those of you who couldn't attend in person.

"Mather Redux" Brings Perspective on the North End's Cotton Mather

The symposium Mather Redux: New perspectives on Cotton Mather culminated on Mather's home turf this weekend in Boston's North End. Alex Goldfeld, Board President and Historian of the North End Historical Society expertly led a tour exploring places related to the much-misunderstood cleric, physician and philosopher.

You can read the full article and view all of Cary's photos on the North End Waterfront site. And if you missed it, you can relive more of the tour on our Twitter feed.

October 21, 2013

The Murlin Heights Congregation, established 1847, started out within the Christian denomination. The church's first parsonage was constructed in 1917 allowing for permanent residence for pastors. Dayton was a focal point for Christian leadership, from which Murlin Heights benefited in the church's early years, particularly from McDaniel Howsare, who served as the denomination's secretary of evangelism and life service and Roy Sparks, secretary of home missions. It was a rural church for several decades until Dayton industrialized. It identified as having rural roots and location, but had blue and white collar members in the congregation. The congregation did join the United Church of Christ in 1957. The church struggled with financial concerns and closed in 2011.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"205","attributes":{"alt":"Murlin Heights Church 125th anniversary cake","class":"media-image","style":"width: 300px; height: 310px;","title":"Murlin Heights Church 125th anniversary cake","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]
"Cake decorated with picture of
the Murlin Heights United Church of Christ,
Nov. 1972 — 125 yr. anniversary"

This is one of our "MPLP" collections, so it is not fully processed, only accessioned and described as we received it. Because of that, the precise year scope of the collection has not been fully determined. The information we received indicates that it contains materials dating 1948-2011. There are 17 boxes of materials including subject files, annual reports, executive board minutes and reports, Sunday bulletins, newsletters, membership records, and financial records. This collection is now open for research. For more detailed descriptions, see the finding guide on our website.


October 18, 2013

After months of anticipation, our symposium on Cotton Mather has finally begun. We're very excited to host such a fine group of scholars and discuss a broad range of topics.

Last night, we hosted a reception for our presenters, board members, and members of our Advisory Circle friends group. There was lively conversation, good food, and got us very excited for the next two days.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"208","attributes":{"alt":"Mather Redux reception","class":"media-image","height":"390","style":"width: 400px; height: 390px;","title":"Mather Redux reception","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"400"}}]]

presenter Reiner Smolinski and members of our Advisory Circle
enjoy wine, hors d'oeuvres, and a chat

If you're unable to attend in person, keep an eye on our Twitter feed. We'll be live tweeting the highlights of today's talks and tomorrow's walking tour of the historic North End.

October 16, 2013

Our reading room will close to researchers at noon on Thursday, October 17th so that we can prepare for Mather Redux, and will remain closed during the symposium on Friday, October 18th.

Staff will be on hand to answer questions by phone or email, and all of our online resources will be available as usual.


If you'd like to join us for Mather Redux: New Perspectives on Cotton Mather, there are still a few spaces available. Register now through our EventBrite page.

October 15, 2013

In 16th-century England, some Puritan communities decided that the names being given to children at the time were too often the Hebrew names of the Old Testament and the French names of their former Norman conquerers. In reaction to this trend, the Puritans began giving their newborns more eccentric names in the hope that they would either be reminded of mankind's sins or be inspired to embody their virtues. Still others were given entire Biblical passages or exhortations.

One name that became popular was Increase, as in, "The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children," from Psalm 115. Increase falls into a category referred to as thanksgiving names. In a time when childbirth was a difficult process with high mortality rates for both infant and mother, every healthy birth was seen as a blessing. As such, some children were given names like Good-gift, More-fruit, and Deliverance.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"206","attributes":{"alt":"portrait of Increase Mather","class":"media-image","style":"width: 189px; height: 225px;","title":"portrait of Increase Mather","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]   [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"207","attributes":{"alt":"portrait of Increase Tarbox","class":"media-image","height":"214","style":"width: 210px; height: 225px;","title":"portrait of Increase Tarbox","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"200"}}]]
Increase Mather
  Increase Tarbox

Boys named Increase became common in colonial New England due in part to Increase Mather, the influential preacher and father of Cotton Mather. Increase Nowell, a founding member of both the Massachusetts Bay Colony and First Church in Charlestown, was undoubtedly another inspiration. The name continued to be popular into the late 18th century. Among the entries in our obituary database are: Rev. Increase Davis of Dorchester, NH; Rev. Increase Graves of Bridport, VT; and Increase N. Tarbox, a prominent author, newspaper editor, historian, and educator. While recently processing archival materials from First Church in Dochester (originally the church of Increase Mather's father, Richard), Sari came across mentions of sermons preached by Increase Sumner.

October 14, 2013

Over the past two months, we have introduced you to some of the scholars who will be presenting at our upcoming symposium on Cotton Mather. Last but not least, we'd like you to meet a these two gentlemen.


Prof. Robert Brown

Robert BrownProfessor Brown's research has been focused on transitions toward intellectual modernity in early America. His book,Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, examined Edwards's appropriation of critical interpretive methods and their implications for understanding the Bible as a form of divine revelation. He is currently editing a volume of the Biblia Americana, which is the first American work to integrate critical interpretation with biblical studies. He has also written about religion and literacy, as well as the history of theological method in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Prof. Brown teaches courses on Religion in America, including New Religious Movements, African American religion, and evangelicalism. He also teaches courses on the history of Christianity, such as global Christianity and the history of Christian thought.


Dr. Kenneth Minkema

Ken MinkemaDr. Kenneth P. Minkema is the Executive Editor of The Works of Jonathan Edwards and of the Jonathan Edwards Center & Online Archive at Yale University. From 2004 through 2009, he served as the Executive Secretary of the American Society of Church History. Besides publishing numerous articles on Jonathan Edwards and topics in early American religious history in professional journals including The Journal of American History, The William and Mary Quarterly, The New England Quarterly, Church History and The Massachusetts Historical Review, he has edited volume 14 in the Edwards Works, Sermons and Discourses: 1723-1729, and co-edited A Jonathan Edwards Reader; The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader; Jonathan Edwards at 300: Essays on the Tercentennial of His Birth; and Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God": A Casebook. He has also co-edited The Sermon Notebook of Samuel Parris, 1689-1694, dealing with the Salem Witchcraft crisis. Finally, Dr. Minkema is currently part of a team that is preparing Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana for publication.


For more information about Mather Redux: New Perspectives on Cotton Mather, including abstracts of each presenter's topic, visit our Mather Redux page.

October 11, 2013

The Congregational Library will be closed on Monday, October 14th in observance of Columbus Day.

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

October 10, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"192","attributes":{"alt":"\"One Colonial Woman's World\" cover image","class":"media-image","height":"500","style":"width: 120px; height: 176px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"\"One Colonial Woman's World\" cover image","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"340"}}]]Join us for a discussion with Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, author of One Colonial Woman's World: the Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit. This book reconstructs the life of Mehetabel Chandler Coit (1673–1758), the author of what may be the earliest surviving diary by an American woman. A native of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who later moved to Connecticut, Mehetabel began her diary at the age of fifteen and kept it intermittently until she was well into her seventies. A previously overlooked resource, the diary contains entries on a broad range of topics as well as poems, recipes, folk and herbal medical remedies, religious meditations, financial accounts, and even some humor. An extensive collection of letters by Mehetabel and her female relatives has also survived, shedding further light on her experiences.

Coit's long life covered an eventful period in American history, and this book explores the numerous — and sometimes surprising — ways in which her personal history was linked to broader social and political developments. It also provides insight into the lives of countless other colonial American women whose history remains largely untold.

Wednesday, November 6th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through SurveyMonkey.

October 8, 2013

Tomorrow's event has been postponed. Please check back soon for the rescheduled date.

Inspiring Images of the 19th Century

[]Erin Egresitz, a ranger for the Boston African American National Historical Site, will lead an interactive discussion exploring the role of African Americans in 19th century art. The discussion will center on images and focus on African Americans as subjects in art, and prominent African American artists of the 19th century. Since so much of art is subjective, it is our hope that you come with to share your thoughts and reactions to these works of art.

Erin Egresitz received her master's degree in art history from Brooklyn College in New York. Before coming to the National Park Service she employed with New York State Parks and Recreation. As a graduate of Emerson College she was happy to move back to the Boston area to join the team at Boston African American.


image of Contraband (1875) by Winslow Homer courtesy of the Arkell Museum and photographed by the Art Renewal Center

October 7, 2013

It's less than two weeks away and spaces are filling up. Don't miss your chance to join our esteemed group of scholars for discussions about everything from fashion to social issues, and from education reform to the debate over the "real" Old North Church.

Mather Redux: New Perspectives on Cotton Mather

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"165","attributes":{"alt":"portrait of Cotton Mather","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 241px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"portrait of Cotton Mather","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]To commemorate the 350th anniversary of the birth of Cotton Mather, the Congregational Library & Archives will host a symposium exploring new ideas and revisiting familiar themes around this important figure. Best known as a pastor and a preacher, Cotton Mather was an isolated figure who nonetheless helped shape our self images as Americans.

Join a group of Mather experts for a day of presentations revealing new perspectives on the man, his work, and his times. We will be displaying rare and unique items by and about Mather from our own collections. On the second day we are partnering with the North End Historical Society to provide an optional walking tour of Mather-related sites in Boston's North End.

For a detailed schedule and information about the presenters, please see the Mather Redux schedule page on our website.


Friday, October 18th
9:30 am - 4:00 pm

Saturday, October 19th
10:00 am - 1:00 pm


Register through EventBrite

Advance registration is required.

Contact Kate Parsons if you have any questions.

October 4, 2013

A recent article brought to light some of the unusual naming conventions among early Puritans.

A Boy Named "Humiliation": Some Wacky, Cruel, and Bizarre Puritan Names

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"212","attributes":{"alt":"portrait of Praise-God Barebone","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 296px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"portrait of Praise-God Barebone","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]A wide variety of Hebrew names came into common usage beginning in 1560, when the first readily accessible English Bible was published. But by the late 16th century many Puritan communities in Southern Britain saw common names as too worldly, and opted instead to name children after virtues or with religious slogans as a way of setting the community apart from non-Puritan neighbors. Often, Puritan parents chose names that served to remind the child about sin and pain.

Some of the highlights are the man mentioned in the article's title, Humiliation Hynde (who passed the name on to his son), Praise-God Barebone, the brothers Die-Well and Farewell Sykes, Sorry-for-sin Coupard, and the unfortunate Kill-sin Pimple. Some of them were even saddled with entire Biblical phrases, like Praise-God Barebone's son, If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned.

There were, of course, also a good number of their contemporaries named for virtues. Some of them remain popular today, such as Hope, Faith, Felicity, Grace, and Justice.

You can find out more by reading the entire article.

We've come across a fair number of unusual names in our own collections, so we're going to be starting a monthly feature to share some of our favorites with you. Keep an eye out for the first one in the next week or so.



"The Portraiture of M Praise God Barebone," published Feb. 1840 by Wm. Richardson. Image via Kentucky Digital Library.

October 3, 2013

I'm still working on the box of deferred small collections. In this week's processing I read a letter from one minister to another dated 1864 — the same year in which Dickens wrote Our Mutual Friend and General Sherman razed Savannah. In it, Horace Pratt writes to an old school friend, William Mandell. Both men attended Westminster Academy and then Amherst College before separating to attend different theological schools (Union for Mandell and Bangor for Pratt). []Rev. Pratt asks his classmate if he knows of any possible leads for a new pastorship. He details some failed leads and talks of working as a supply minister to make ends meet, but he is anxious for a more permanent situation. He says, "To be nearer Boston would be more favorable in respect to Sabbath opportunities. But so it is." He goes on to the more mundane conversation: "We are pretty well save that I have a cold upon me and our little daughter Mary Emma (3 yrs.) is not fully restored from an illness of three weeks past."

Pratt and Mandell's obituary notices from 1902 help give some context to the letter's contents and the two men's service. Pratt mentions a previous placement in Deighton, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Pratt's obiturary did not give details on any dates of service for any of his pastorships. But knowing his full curriculum vitae means we know Pratt eventually worked at the church in Orfordville, New Hampshire. He refers to his classmate living in Lunenberg, Massachusetts, which Mandell's obituary notes is his last church before retiring at age 55 in 1866.

This is just the sort of communication that happens today: old school friends contacting each other, asking if they have any leads on a job, worrying about finding something that fits their needs and will last a while before talking about how their families are faring. Unfortunately, our collection cannot give further clues to Pratt or Mandell's life or works; this is the only document we have where they are explicitly mentioned.


October 1, 2013

"He was ripened for the gallows"
—Cotton Mather's Puritan True Crime narratives

[]Cotton Mather wrote prolifically and, having a capacious intellect, he wrote everything from scientific treatises to hagiographies and poetry to medical manuals. Amidst his massive output, he produced a curious work that some historians see as possibly the first instance of True Crime writing published in the Americas. Titled Pillars of Salt and published in 1699, the non-fiction prose work compiles twelve true stories of shocking crimes committed in colonial New England. Odd as it may seem that a pious and lofty man like Cotton Mather may hold the distinction of being America's first True Crime writer, as with all of his writings, Mather wrote Pillars of Salt with a righteous purpose in mind: to guide the reader away from sin.

Pillars of Salt grew out of sermons that Mather wrote on the occasion of public executions. In Puritan New England the local minister gave a sermon related to the crime committed prior to a public execution. For a number of hangings that occurred in Boston during his tenure as pastor at the Second Church, Cotton Mather gave the pre-execution sermon and ministered to the accused, before he/she was led to the Boston Common for the public hanging.

In 1699, Mather created a new work based upon these sermons and his experiences ministering to condemned criminals. This work, which he would give the Biblical title Pillars of Salt, consists of twelve chapters, each pertaining to a different executed criminal and his/her crime. While some chapters offer accounts of notable crimes from around New England to which Mather had no connection (some occurring before his birth), the rest were drawn from his own experiences in talking with accused criminals in Boston prior to their deaths. These latter chapters include a reproduction of a confessional note from the criminal or a dialogue in which the accused reveals his/her guilt to Mather (who refers to himself only as "Minister"). Mather likely heavily edited or possibly even invented part of these confessions, judging from their contrite tone and religious content.

Regardless of its possible lack of journalistic integrity, Pillars of Salt provides fascinating insights into crime and punishment in Puritan New England. The crimes enumerated include murders of spouses, infanticides, homicides committed in drunken passion, and various sexual transgressions. The people described in Pillars of Salt certainly do not match the penitent churchgoers that the Puritans are sometimes caricatured as. Instead, the image of Puritan society that Mather paints is a complex one, not lacking for violence, tragedy, and desperation.

Cotton Mather reveals the main objective of the book, once he begins to explore the pathology of each criminal he profiles. In the biography of each criminal, Mather finds a noted regression towards an increasingly sinful life. By giving in to smaller sins and moral lapses, each criminal grew vulnerable to the influence of more wicked inclinations. A history of drunkenness, skipping church, neglecting obligations to pray, disobeying parents and elders, and cursing unite all of the criminals. In this exegesis of sin and crime, Mather makes clear that had the criminals been more astute in correcting minor faults, they would not have eventually fallen into committing more extreme malefactions.

In almost all of the chapters the criminals themselves reach the same conclusion and express regret for their past moral lapses. One reprobates herself by admitting, "I am a miserable Sinner; and I have justly provoked the Holy God to leave me unto that folly of my own Heart, for which I am now Condemned to Dy…He hath Fulfilled upon me, that Word of His, Evil pursueth Sinners." Another criminal more dramatically proclaims, "Oh! 'Tis my Drunkenness, 'Tis my Drunkenness, that hath brought me to this Lamentable End!"

Although the crimes described in Pillars of Salt may excite the macabre or lurid fascination of the reader, the clear message of the book is contained in the laments of the criminals. If Mather held concerns that such a book would memorializes the most sinful, scurrilous, and debauched of society, those fears were allayed by the fact that the criminals that he presents express remorse for the crimes and immoral lives, as well as a fear of facing the wrath of God in death, and a desire to atone for their behavior. As horrible as the recounts of the crimes may be in Pillars of Salt, clearly Mather hopes that the anguished internal suffering of the criminals will affect the reader even more profoundly than the shock of their crimes.

[]If you'd like to read Cotton Mather's accounts of crime and punishment in early New England (a perfect preparation for Halloween), you can find it in a number of anthologies, in which it is included in various edited and truncated forms. These include:


Learn more about the grittier side of Cotton Mather's world at our upcoming symposium Mather Redux. Space is limited, so register today.


illustration of the execution of Ann Hibbins on Boston Common in 1656 by Frank Thayer Merrill, originally published in Lynn and Surroundings, by Clarence. W. Hobbs, Lynn, Mass.: Lewis & Winship Publishers, 1886.: 52., and found via Wikimedia Commons

September 30, 2013

Here is a snippet from the Rev. Smith Baker scrapbook, which I cataloged recently:

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"216","attributes":{"alt":"Rev. Baker's ticket to the MNAS Exhibition","class":"media-image","style":"width: 500px; height: 308px;","title":"Rev. Baker's ticket to the MNAS Exhibition","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Rev. Baker's ticket to the MNAS Exhibition

What struck me at first was the use of "... & lady" in the admittance line. While technically accurate, I do not imagine that an invitation or admittance document would be phrased in that way. "...& guest" is much more likely. However, this word choice was eclipsed by the organization — Middlesex North Agricultural Society — and that they went to the trouble to create such beautiful tickets for their exhibition. Finally, it's a bit hard to read due to the word "complimentary" stamped over it, but this event took place in September 1886. This is not the oldest document I've handled today. I love my job.


September 27, 2013

Now that I've cleared the proverbial decks of a hulking, multi-box collection, I'm circling back to the "Round Tuit" box — the smaller projects that are set aside for when things slow down. When I wasn't looking, the Round Tuit box grew from one or two boxes to four. Just about everything in here is a one-off or an item that should be integrated into an existing collection.

One such item was a volume from First Church in Southampton, Mass. It's a gorgeous copy of an early church ledger dating back to 1743-1832 and contains church meeting minutes (proceedings), births, deaths, membership records, and a list of deacons. We were lucky enough to get this copy because First Church Southampton won a grant from the town's Community Preservation Act. With the money awarded, the ledger was given the world's best makeover that a manuscript item can get: the pages were washed, edges repaired, text block resewn and everything rebound. While they were going through all this trouble, they took the time to make preservation copies, one of which they presented to us.


title page of the Southampton church record book

We welcome scholars to come visit this Southampton treasure.


September 26, 2013

One of our most used collections is from a prominent local church, Old South. We have had a long and friendly relationship with our friends in Copley Square. For those new to us and this collection, the celebrity feature is Benjamin Franklin's baptismal record:

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"226","attributes":{"alt":"Benjamin Franklin's baptismal record","class":"media-image","style":"width: 500px; height: 73px;","title":"Benjamin Franklin's baptismal record","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Notable personages notwithstanding, the information captured in the meeting minutes, vital statistics, correspondence, and ministers' works is a window into the history of both Boston and Congregationalism spanning more than 300 years.

Now that we have a revised and radically improved approach to creating finding aids, I was compelled and morally obligated to apply the new standards to the Old South guide, which was overdue for a revision anyway. Archive insiders will appreciate that in reality, this is only a half step: I will be tackling this guide one more time in the foreseeable future as we start coding into EAD. In the meantime, we hope you will get a lot out of today's guide.


September 24, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"221","attributes":{"alt":"page from the Sanford church records","class":"media-image","style":"width: 150px; height: 227px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"page from the Sanford church records","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]There was a very nice feature about our church records digitization program in the Washington Post last week.

From burlap sack to digital file, church records get makeover
By G. Jeffrey Macdonald

Launched in 2011, New England's Hidden Histories project has created electronic copies from 22 churches, most of which have also given originals to Boston's Congregational Library for safekeeping. The goal is to digitize the best records from 200 to 300 Massachusetts churches before turning to other states.

The effort, in partnership with Yale University's Jonathan Edwards Center and benefactors who've provided small grants, has already brought rich troves to light.


Beyond the ins and outs of church life, the records hold keys to understanding how the first experiment with government by consent of the governed played out. Readers hear ordinary people claiming particular rights for the first time and laying foundations for the country's democratic experiment.

You can read the full article on the Washington Post website.

If you'd like to take a closer look at our digitized manuscript collections, visit the New England's Hidden Histories section of our website. They contain membership records, town and administrative records, financial records, sermons, disciplinary cases, and more. We are constantly surprised by the details we uncover as we are processing them. What will you find?

September 20, 2013

Inspiring Images of the 19th Century

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"211","attributes":{"alt":"Contraband (1875) by Winslow Homer","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 276px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"Contraband (1875) by Winslow Homer","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Erin Egresitz, a ranger for the Boston African American National Historical Site, will lead an interactive discussion exploring the role of African Americans in 19th century art. The discussion will center on images and focus on African Americans as subjects in art, and prominent African American artists of the 19th century. Since so much of art is subjective, it is our hope that you come with to share your thoughts and reactions to these works of art.

Erin Egresitz received her master's degree in art history from Brooklyn College in New York. Before coming to the National Park Service she employed with New York State Parks and Recreation. As a graduate of Emerson College she was happy to move back to the Boston area to join the team at Boston African American.

Wednesday, October 9th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Program begins promptly at noon.

Register via SurveyMonkey.


image of Contraband (1875) by Winslow Homer courtesy of the Arkell Museum and photographed by the Art Renewal Center

September 19, 2013

Somewhere around 1710 Cotton Mather decided to become a do-gooder. He invented that word, in fact, in the title of one of his most famous books, Bonifacius, or Efforts to Do Good.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"222","attributes":{"alt":"portrait of Cotton Mather","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 248px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"portrait of Cotton Mather","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Cotton knew he had a bad temper and a tender ego. Both got him into trouble, especially as he and his father Increase waded into the fray of Boston politics during the fragile 1680s and 1690s. And so as much to save himself as to benefit others he resolved to do at least one good act every day.

Systematic as always, Mather laid out a weekly plan: on Tuesdays, for example, he took out the list of his personal enemies ("as many of them as I can know of"), and decided that every time he found himself thinking angry or resentful thoughts he would "extinguish it, and contradict it," and form a "good Thought, that shall be directly contradictory unto it." Cotton also began to keep a daily record of his do-gooding in his diary. Thus every entry included a "G.D." or "good devised,” with a brief description: sometimes an intention to send an "instrument of piety," (one of his books or sermons) to a needy person, and many others to do a specific act of charity, giving money or buying clothing. Mather kept a "Catalog of the Poor," and made regular visits to prisoners and sent money and books.

Always touchy and often self-absorbed, Mather genuinely struggled in his resolve, but it did take root. By the end of his life, as he wrote to his son, he took more delight in reliving the "distresses of any one Poor, Mean, and Miserable Neighbor" than he did his wide knowledge of history and science, and his ability to write in seven languages.

Bonifacius, published in 1710, is Mather's call to other do-gooders, providing encouragement and of course numerous suggestions for others to promote human welfare. The wealthy should donate scholarships for orphans, he urged, and lawyers should devote their time pro bono; physicians should both heal the sick and read widely — we would say keep up with the literature — to increase their usefulness. And on went the list.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"223","attributes":{"alt":"Benjamin Franklin portrait (1778) by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 251px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"Benjamin Franklin portrait (1778) by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Inevitably perhaps, Mather's earnestness, always just shy of self-promotion, ended up satirized. In 1722, a young printer's apprentice made a permanent name for himself with a series of articles by a pseudonymous widow, Mrs. Silence Dogood. Mrs. Dogood described herself as a woman of "extensive Charity and a great Forgiver of Private Injuries," but also gifted with a "natural Inclination to observe and reprove the Faults of others." Everyone knew, of course, that the author was Benjamin Franklin and Mrs. Dogood was actually Cotton Mather, at his most tiresomely righteous — ultimately the personification of everything that was wrong with Puritan moralism.

The articles made Franklin famous, but that was not the end of his debt to Cotton Mather. Bonifacius produced in him, Franklin later said, "such a turn of thinking, as to have an influence on my conduct through life." Benjamin Franklin, the founder of hospitals, fire departments, libraries, and an American bent toward philanthropy, wrote that because of Mather, "I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good, than of any other kind of reputation." If I have been in any way a "useful citizen," he said, "the Public owes the advantage of it to that book." Cotton Mather would have been proud — and then, mostly likely, a bit remorseful for that feeling, as he jotted down the good deed in his diary.



Benjamin Franklin portrait (1778) by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons

September 17, 2013

Tomorrow's free lunchtime lecture on this year's Charter Day topic, "Crime and Punishment in Early Massachusetts" is filling up fast. Be sure to reserve your spot.

A Preview of the Annual Boston Charter Day Celebrations

On September 7th, 1630, the city of Boston received its present name and was made the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Since 2001, that day has been celebrated in Massachusetts as Boston Charter Day. Wilfred Holton, President of The Partnership of the Historic Bostons, which has been responsible for Charter Day events for nearly ten years, will describe the origin of Boston Charter Day and the many interesting program themes that have been part of the celebrations, such as Women in Early Massachusetts and Built in the Massachusetts Bay Colony: 17th-Century Architecture Adapted to the New World.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"224","attributes":{"alt":"colonial man and woman in stocks","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 180px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"colonial man and woman in stocks","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]This year's Boston Charter Day programming (September 26-30) will focus on the fascinating legal traditions, innovations, and conundrums of early Massachusetts. Crime and Punishment in Early Massachusetts will explore this intriguing topic from many perspectives. Local students will bring 17th-century trials to life through dramatic readings at the John Adams Courthouse Conference Center. A panel discussion tentatively titled "Judicial Legacies from Early Massachusetts" will feature Professor Abigail Chandler from UMass Lowell and Professor Jonathan Chu from UMass Boston. Finally, the topic of "Sin and Punishment in Puritan Churches" will also be on the agenda, and the historical record might surprise you!

Join us to learn more about past and present Boston Charter Day celebrations.

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

Program begins promptly at noon.

Register through SurveyMonkey.

September 16, 2013

We pride ourselves in collecting some obscure manuscript collections. The information contained in these unique materials can be better than gold to scholars. The Christian (as in the "Christian Connection") material we have collected is particularly rare and precious given the denomination's propensity to either not keep formal records or to destroy them in accordance with their religious principles.

[]Therefore, when we are given a surprise gift such as the one we acquired this month, it goes to the top of our to-do list. Rob Peters joined our board for their fall meeting and presented an amazing ledger book from the Ohio Central Christian Conference, which had been kept by his family for generations. This book was started by his ancestor, Isaac N. Walter, the first secretary of the Conference; Rev. Walter transcribed over half the contents of this book. It contains an historical introduction, lists of ministers and delegates, and the Conference's annual meeting minutes. It is a stand-out collection due to its rarity, but additionally, it has gorgeous, sturdy paper, handwriting that is a work of art, and finally a fascinating commentary from the good Rev. Walter dated 1841 and sealed for an undetermined amount of time. He wrote:

The Christian denomination wants public spirit and enterprize and I am fearful never will advance much, beyond what it now is. Notwithstanding our last Conference posed a resolution to build a College. I am fearful it never will be finished even began. I hurt I may be mistaken. You will determine.

Beware of Coveteousness for I have discovered more of this sin in the Christian Church than an other.

Beware of those men who always slandering their brethren in the Ministry and trying to rise on the downfall of others.

Beware of those men who will never do any thing for the cause of Christ unless they are the leaders and at the head.

Beware of Campbellism, when ever a man begins to try to every form first just let him go for he will be a curse of you keep him. From such turn away.

Two men belonging to the Christian Church I am fearful will yet cause trouble to the body.

Brethren, live prayerful, holy and godly lives do good and get good, that you might be prepared to meet me in heaven.

December 10th 1841

Yours in Christian Love

Isaac N. Walter


We hope many of you will be visiting us to use this new collection. Special thanks to Barbara Brown Zikmund and Mrs. Peters for supporting the idea of donating it, and the biggest thank you to Rob Peters for sharing this family heirloom.


September 13, 2013

Religious scholar and friend of the library Diana Butler Bass is featured in a new video series about faith in the modern world.

Best-selling author, speaker, scholar, and "cultural observer" Diana Butler Bass explores what Christianity may look like "beyond religion and beyond the church." In this engaging and provocative study, Diana leads a small group of diverse adults, young adults, and youth in a fascinating discussion of how, both culturally and spiritually, we are in the midst of another of history's "great awakenings."

You can view the second video session, "Believing", on the publisher's YouTube channel, along with clips of other prominent religious scholars like Marcus Borg, Walter Bruggemann, and Kathleen Norris.

September 12, 2013

When an organization's job is the care and wellbeing of hundreds of years of history and tradition, it's important to find ways to share our most treasured things with our support network. We want to bring to life an idea or person who has been gone for hundreds of years, particularly with our supporters who have not had the opportunity to delve into that chapter of our story. We call these moments "Visitor from the Stacks".

Our latest visitor graced us during our board meeting earlier this week. In honor of our upcoming Mather Redux symposium, our own board member, Charlie Hambrick-Stowe, took on the mantel of the late, great Cotton Mather. Speaking as Mather, Rev. Stowe spoke to his audience about the great man's life. In reality, I fear Mather did not have telepathy or cleansing fire, as was imagined in comic book form. However, his piety, extensive work, and passion are more complex and varied than general culture usually discusses.

Thank you again to Rev. Hambrick-Stowe for donning robe and wig and providing a window into Cotton Mather's humanity.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"229","attributes":{"alt":"Charles Hambrick-Stowe as Cotton Mather","class":"media-image","height":"353","style":"width: 250px; height: 353px;","title":"Charles Hambrick-Stowe as Cotton Mather","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"250"}}]]
Charlie Hambrick-Stowe as Cotton Mather

For more information on Mather Redux: New Perspectives on Cotton Mather, please see our Program & Workshop Schedule page.

September 10, 2013

Last month, we introduced you to some of the scholars who will be presenting at our upcoming symposium on Cotton Mather. Now we'd like you to meet a couple more.


Dr. Harry Clark Maddux

H. Clark MadduxHarry Clark Maddux is the Director of Service-Learning at Appalachian State University. He earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University in 2001, and has served as teaching faculty at Tennessee State University and, most recently, Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he was an associate professor of English. The volume editor of Ezra-Psalms in the Biblia Americana series, Clark has been awarded research fellowships from the Beinecke Library, the Huntington Library, the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbuettel, Germany, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Prof. Francis Bremer

Francis BremerFrancis J. Bremer is Professor of History Emeritus at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. He also taught as a Visiting Professor at NYU and was a fellow at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England and Trinity College in Ireland. He is the author of numerous books and articles on seventeenth-century puritanism in the Atlantic world, most recently First Founders: Puritans and Puritanism in the Atlantic World (2012) and Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds (2012).


Keep an eye out for more featured presenters as the date approaches.

For more information about Mather Redux, visit our Program & Workshop Schedule page.

September 9, 2013

During the 19th century, there was a mass movement to convert the peoples of the world -- particularly in Africa and eastern Asia -- to Christianity. When American missionaries traveled to other countries, they set up churches and schools and even hospitals to not only change the locals' spiritual practices, but to improve their overall lives. When they returned home, the missionaries often brought back souveniers, and some of them have ended up in our collections.

We have previously featured a selection of pages from our collection of foreign language Bibles, but our holdings are broader than interesting Bibles or even books. We have religious and secular artifacts including cuneiform tablets, small statues, a Japanese prayer charm, a Buddhist prayer wheel from China, and a case containing a relief map of Jerusalem.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"232","attributes":{"alt":"Japanese prayer charm","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 150px;","title":"Japanese prayer charm","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]    [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"234","attributes":{"alt":"Buddhist prayer wheel","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 150px;","title":"Buddhist prayer wheel","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

These items and more are on display in our conference room. If you're in the Boston area, come by and see them. If you're closer to Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress is currently featuring several religious items in its Treasures of the World exhibition.

September 6, 2013

Our reading room will be closed on Monday, September 9th for our board's quarterly meeting. Staff will be on hand to answer questions by phone or email, and all of our online resources will be available as usual.

September 5, 2013

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"236","attributes":{"alt":"Richard Boles","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 195px; float: left; margin: 0px 10px 5px 0px;","title":"Richard Boles","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]I've known Richard Boles for several years now. Before he moved off to teach history at City College in New York City, I knew him through his work at Park Street Church with its archive, here at 14 Beacon with the National Park Service, and in our library while he did his research. Richard is a great friend of the library and we have always enjoyed helping him discover new things. Earlier this year he presented a talk for one of our brown bag lunches on free colonial African Americans and church membership, a warm up to his dissertation defense.

Over these years, Richard has built a fascinating collection of his own, focusing on New England church history and whenever possible including African and Native Americans' stories within the scope of church participation. The items in this collection have been gathered between 2002 and the present. The collection includes handwritten manuscripts, printed material from the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, published sermons, 19th-century church histories, and records.

Most collections of this type are carefully kept by their owners and the material never seen by the public. We appreciate Richard's willingness to let his collection continue to stay available to the researching public. Patrons will find that the guide to the collection has significantly more detail than other guides might, as Richard provided a great deal of information about each of items he collected.


September 3, 2013

Most library users are familiar with one or two classification systems — the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal. When researchers look in the Congregational Library's catalog, however, they are sometimes baffled by the call numbers assigned to the items in our collection. We are the first to admit that they're a little odd, but we do have our reasons.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"237","attributes":{"alt":"our call numbers","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 178px; float: right; margin: 0px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"our call numbers","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]The reason our call numbers don't look quite like anybody else's is because... we kind of made them up. Or mashed them up, to use more modern lingo. Our system isn't entirely original, but rather inspired by two other systems — Charles Cutter's expansive classification, developed for our neighbors at the Boston Athenaeum, and Ernest Richardson's decimal system, which originated in the Princeton University library — along with some tweaks and customizations from our past librarians to better suit the needs of our materials.

Because our collections are so specific, using LC or Dewey would result in us only using about half a dozen broad subject categories — history, religion, sociology, biography, reference, etc. By creating our own system, we can sort our materials in ways that are much more useful to our researchers. And even if they're unusual, our staff knows how to use the call number system to find whatever you need.

If you're interested in other idiosyncratic systems, the Mass. State Library recently featured a proposed location-based classification system that was never implemented. There are other topic-specific classifications like the Moody System used at Harvard for their international law collection, and format specific systems like the ANSCR (Alpha-Numeric System for Classification of Recordings) for audio materials.

Do you know of other quirky classifications? Do you have a favorite? Let us know.


August 30, 2013

The Congregational Library will be closed on Monday, September 2nd in observance of Labor Day.

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