Essex, Mass. First Congregational Church

Collection History

Please note that as of January 2022, the Essex, Massachusetts. First Congregational Church records, 1681-1879, and all future digital collections are now hosted on the library's new digital archive.

The church now known as the First Church in Essex, Mass. was originally a church within the parish of Ipswich called Chebacco, and was known as the Second Church in Ipswich or simply the "Chebacco Church". From 1679, residents had been granted permission to employ a minister and worship in a private house. The First Parish of Ipswich would, however, not allow them to build a church. A group of local women nonetheless solicited donations for that purpose from neighboring towns and were ultimately prosecuted, but released after confessing wrongdoing before the County Court at Salem.

After occassional preaching by Rev. Jeremiah Shepard, Rev. John Wise of Roxbury, who had graduated at Harvard in 1673, was officially ordained first pastor of the church in 1683. He was temporarily deposed from the ministry and imprisoned for exhorting the town not to pay a provincial tax, but was later restored. In 1680 he served as chaplain with the British army in Canada. Upon Rev. Wise's death in 1725, Rev. Theophilus Pickering became minister. He was followed by Rev. Nehemiah Porter in 1750, who served until his dismissal in 1766.

Beginning in approximately 1745 there was dissention between orthodox and revivalist elements in Chebacco Church and Parish. This caused a rift leading to the temporary formation of a Separatist Fourth Church in Ipswich by the Whitfield-inspired revivalists known as "New Lights," which was pastored by Separatist leader Rev. John Cleaveland. In 1752, the Separatists gained official release from Chebacco Parish and were officially granted a new precinct: the Sixth Parish in Ipswich. In 1766 proceedings began for reuniting the Second and Fourth Churches. In 1774 both churches voted to unite as the Second Church in Ipswich, under the leadership of Rev. Cleaveland. In 1819 Chebacco Parish was incorporated as the town of Essex and the Second Church in Ipswich was renamed the First Congregational Church in Essex.

This collection contains volumes of church records and town meeting records of Chebacco Parish. It also includes some papers written Rev. John Cleaveland during his time as pastor, a few loose administrative records, and relations of faith from female members.

The original manuscripts in this collection are owned by our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. For additional information please see the Phillips Library's finding aid.


Digital Materials

Parish records, 1681-1726

This volume mainly contains parish meeting minutes, as well as listings of rate payers and monies received, and marriage banns (engagement announcements).

Church records, 1725-1869

This volume contains church meeting minutes; financial records, including benevolent contributions; a timeline of church officers; and lists detailing admissions, dismissions, marriages, baptisms, and deaths of members.

Church records, 1752-1878

This volume primarily contains church meeting minutes and annual parish meeting reports. There are also financial records, correspondence, proposals for alterations to the south end of the meetinghouse, and membership lists.

Church records, 1774-1879

This volume begins with a typed insert: A Sketch of the History of the Second Parish in Ipswich; A Discourse delivered in the said parish on Jan. 1, 1815 by Robert Crowell. The hand-written records follwing include resolutions to reunite the Second and Fourth Churches in Ipswich under the name of the former, their new covenant, membership lists, and chuch meeting minutes. Also included are a disciplinary case against David Mears for lying, financial reports, and a listing of book titles donated to the church library.

Town meeting records, 1726-1775

This volume contains a list of clergy, church meeting minutes, and the Conditions of Union between the Second and Sixth parishes of Ipswich. It also contains a letter from Rev. Nehemia Porter accepting the call to be the minister in 1749.

John Cleaveland papers, 1758-1779

The following documents are essays and letters by Rev. John Cleaveland, the pastor of Second "Chebacco" Church in Ipswich, including an essay in which he recounts the local religious revival of 1763-64. Also included are letters and documents relating to the eventual unification of the Second and Fourth churches.

undated by Rev. Cleaveland   account of the local 1763-64 religious revival and increase in church membership
1758 January 2 from Rev. Cleaveland to Samuel Giddinge letter condemning Samuel Giddinge's behavior
1767 December 16 from the Fourth Church in Ipswich to the Second Church in Ipswich letter regarding proposed merger between the Second and Fourth Churches
1768 March 30 from the Fourth Church in Ipswich to the Second Church in Ipswich letter regarding proposed merger between the Second and Fourth Churches
1772 May 10 from the Fourth Church in Ipswich to the Second Church in Ipswich itemized list specifying terms of union between the Second and Fourth Churches
1779 November 30 from Rev. Cleaveland to the Second Church in Ipswich letter regarding Rev. Cleaveland's salary
1765 October 13 by Ezekiel Cheever   relation of faith by Ezekiel Cheever with attestation by Rev. Cleaveland

Loose documents, 1699-1777

These selected records are largely administrative in nature, and relate to complaints against the minister, a 1749 church covenant, articles of union between the Second and Fourth Churches, and a list of male members from 1746.

1760 October 11 complaint by members of the Second Church of Ipswich against their pastor for "unfaithfulness in keeping church records, abusive language and hard treatment"
1749 January 31 "The Covenant of the Second Church of Ipswich, and an additional copy of the same, by Rev. Theophilus Pickering"
[1749] draft copy of the 1749 church covenant, by Rev. Theophilus Pickering
undated partial articles of union between the Second and Fourth Churches
1746 April 10 list of male members of Second Church

Relations of faith, 1801-1816

Relations are written accounts of individuals' religious experience, often required in the process of applying for full membership. These were submitted by various female members of the Second Church of Ipswich in the early 1800s.

1801 Choate, Sarah relation of faith
1807 Burnham, Suky relation of faith
1807 Burnham, Peggy relation of faith
1807 Story, Lucy relation of faith
1807 Cogswell, Elizabeth relation of faith
1816 Sewall, Mary relation of faith


Related Materials

Cleaveland, John. Papers, 1741-1810

Cleaveland, John. Sermons, 1752-1799


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.