Dorchester, Mass. First Church

Collection History

Please note that as of January 2022, the Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts. First Church records, 1727-1784, and all future digital collections are now hosted on the library's new digital archive.

In 1630, the Rev. John White and a group of 140 individuals formed a church in England, calling themselves Puritans. Soon after their formation, the members of the Puritans decided to travel to North America. They set sail in the 400-ton ship Mary and John and landed first at Hull, and later at a place called Mattapan by the Neponsett tribe. The Puritans named their new home Dorchester Plantation in honor of Rev. White who came from Dorchester in Dorset, UK.

In 1631, a log cabin was built to serve as the first meeting house. The building also served as a fort, storehouse, schoolhouse, and town hall. The second meeting house, originally built on the same site, was moved to Meeting House Hill in 1670. Four additional meeting houses would be built on that same hill during the course of the church's history. The third meeting house was constructed in 1678. The fourth was built in 1743 and the fifth was built in 1816. On February 3, 1896, a fire destroyed the fifth meeting house. The sixth meeting house was built on the remaining foundation of the fifth meeting house and was dedicated on May 6, 1897.

For its first five years of existence, the parish had two ministers, John Warham and John Maverick. John Warham and a group of followers left the church and moved to Windsor, Connecticut. They were followed by Rev. Richard Mather, who served from 1636-1669. Under Mather's pastorate, the church founded the first publically supported elementary school. Other ministers of long-standing tenures included Revs. John Danforth, who served from 1682-1730; Jonathan Bowman, 1729-1773; Thaddeus Mason Harris, 1793-1836; and Nathaniel Hall, 1835-1875.

During Rev. Harris' tenure, circa 1845, the church evolved from a Trinitarian Congregational church to the Unitarian denomination, although Rev. Harris himself never believed in denominational titles. The First Parish Dorchester Church, now a member of the Unitarian-Universalist denomination, continues to serve the local community.

The digital collections below include a volume of church records, loose papers containing membership rolls, and a bound volume of notes on sermons preached at Dorchester First.

For additional details about this collection, please see the finding aid.


Digital Materials

Church records, 1773-1784

This crudely-bound notebook contains chronological entries noting the date, name of the preacher, the names of those baptized, and the scripture used that day. Occasionally special events are also noted, including sacrament and fast days. Many of the preachers are referred to without first names.

Membership records, 1757-1781

Titled "Names of persons who joined the Church", this small collection of loose papers lists the names of members who joined the church. The list is divided into years. In some cases, no first names are given, or members are identified in relation to another member (i.e. "wife of Mr."). The pages most likely originally belonged in a volume, but are now loose. These loose pages are arranged chronologically.

Sermon notes, 1727

This volume contains records of sermons preached at First Church in the year 1727. Notes for forenoon and afternoon sermons are included, as well as the relevant scripture passages and name of the preacher. Preachers include John Danforth (1660-1730), Increase Sumner of Roxbury, Samuel Mather (son of Cotton Mather), and Thomas Clap. The volume is bound at the top. Notes were taken only on the "front" of each page. The volume was then turned over, and notes were taken on the blank "backs" of the pages. This is indicated by hand-written pagination at the top of each page. The volume was digitized in page order to preserve the manner in which the volume was meant to be read. Some pages are missing from this volume.


Related Materials

First Church (Dorchester, Boston, Mass.) published historical materials