Harwich, Mass. First Congregational Church

Collection History

Please note that as of January 2022, the Harwich, Massachusetts. First Congregational Church records, 1745-1899, and all future digital collections are now hosted on the library's new digital archive.

The First Congregational Church of Harwich, Massachusetts, was founded in 1747 when the town of Harwich was split into the North and South Parishes. On April 8, 1747, the precinct voted to begin construction of a meeting house with construction being completed the following year. Also in April of 1747, Edward Pell, a Harvard graduate and Boston native, preached to the South Parish. Not long after, he was called by the South Parish to become the first pastor of the South Parish, a call he accepted graciously. Rev. Pell was ordained to the office on November 12, 1747. He served until his death in 1752. The period between 1773 and 1792 was particularly rocky for the church, marked by numerous religious dissensions, shared pulpits with the West Harwich Baptist Church, and general unrest which resulted in the quick succession of multiple pastors during this period.

In 1792, the second meetinghouse was completed after the first had been condemned a year earlier. With the new meetinghouse came a new minister, Nathan Underwood, whose name became synonymous with the second meetinghouse. Underwood served the parish for thirty-six years, the longest ministry at the church. During his time at the First Congregational Church, Rev. Underwood expanded the membership of the church and advocated for further independence for the South Precinct. He retired from active service in 1819, though he continued to offer support until 1828 when his relation with the church was formally dissolved. By 1832 the second meetinghouse needed to be replaced, and by the fall of that year Moses B. Lakeman completed construction. The church officially became known as the First Congregational Church of Harwich when the church became incorporated under Massachusetts state law on December 19, 1898 at the behest of the Rev. George Y. Washburn. In 1961, the church voted to become a member of the United Church of Christ. The First Congregational Church UCC of Harwich continues to serve the community today.

The digital volumes below include a number of the earliest church record books, containing meeting minutes, vital statistics and membership records, correspondence, and other administrative information. There is also a single separate volume of financial records, foundational documents of the church, and a small collection of official correspondence.

For additional information please see the finding aid.


Digital Materials

Church records, 1745-1899

This record book contains the records of the First Parish.  The records dating from 1745-1803 are handwritten transcribed copies of the original oldest records of the church. They were transcribed by Obed Brooks who also edited and annotated the records. The Congregational Library & Archives holds an incomplete collection of those original documents which are now considered too fragile to handle. All records in the book from 1830-1899 were original. Included within these records are the minutes of church and parish meetings, minutes of precinct meetings, legal calls of assembly, church correspondence, the original members list, and treasurer accounts.

Financial records, 1791-1793

This record book includes meeting minutes, financial records, receipts, pew deeds, treasurer reports, and the church ledger for the years 1791-1793.

Church records, 1792-1835

This record book contains church records. Included within these records are the Church Covenant, church proceedings, lists of admitted members, lists of members received from other churches, lists of members removed to other churches, baptismal records, dates for the administration of the supper, and marriage records.

Church records, 1792-1857

This record book contains parish records. Included within these records are the minutes of church and parish meetings, minutes of government meetings, legal calls of assembly, and financial records.

Church records, 1832-1855

This record book contains parish records. Included within these records are building dedications, the form of the first covenant, the Confession of Faith, the Church Covenant, the Confession of Faith and Covenant, records of church business, admissions lists, baptismal records, lists of dismissions, church by-laws, records pertaining to the organization of the church, marriage records, church meeting minutes, lists of deaths and funerals, lists of subscribers, and membership lists.

Church register, 1746-1747

These unbound records include two documents which cover the founding of the First Congregational Church of Harwich in the newly established South Parish.

1747 April 17 by Samuel Nickenson a copy of the petition to the Massachusetts General Court, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the South Parish
1746-1747   documents related to the petition to form the South Parish of Harwich, as well as a list of the founding members of the First Parish.

Correspondence, 1792-1828

These unbound records include copies of official church communications and correspondence, relating to finances, church officers, and the ministry.

1792 April 18     a receipt for five pounds two schilling paid for half of a new pew in the newly constructed second meetinghouse.
1792 October 29 from Rev. Nathan Underwood to the First Congregational Church of Harwich a letter accepting the invitation to settle in Harwich and serve as the First Parish’s minister.
1820 February 5 by Nathaniel Doone (scribe) to the inhabitants of Harwich an official notice warning of an upcoming vote for church officers.
1828 April 8 from an ecclesiastical council to Rev. Nathan Underwood a letter regarding the official end of Rev. Underwood's pastorship of the church


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

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