Salem, Mass. First Church

Collection History

Please note that as of January 2022, the Salem, Massachusetts. First Church records, 1629-1843, and all future digital collections are now hosted on the library's new digital archive.

The First Church of Salem, founded in 1629, was one of the first churches organized in New England, along with the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and the First Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Salem's church, however, was the first truly Congregational parish with governance by church members. Notable founding members included Roger Conant, the founder of Salem village, and John Endicott, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Various members were involved in the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, including the daughter of the church's pastor, Rev. Samuel Parris, and the junior minister Rev. Nicholas Noyes. Parishioners Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey, who were excommunicated and executed during the trials, were formerly full members of the First Church, Corey having been admitted one year prior in 1691. Both victims were posthumously readmitted in 1712.

The population of Salem grew rapidly during the 18th century, resulting in the peaceful division of the First Church's congregation to form the East Church in 1719. Less peaceful was the mid-century schism during the ministry of Rev. Samuel Fisk, in which the ousted Fisk led supporters to form another First Church in 1735, which was compelled to change its name to the Third Church in 1762. The original First Church split again over ministerial preference in 1772, leading to the creation of the North Church of Salem.

The First Church and North Church reunited in 1923, and moved to the second meetinghouse of the North Church, located on Essex Street. The East Church reunited with the First Church in 1956. The reunited church continues to serve the community today as the First Church in Salem, Unitarian Universalist.

The original manuscripts in this collection are owned by our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. They consist of a bound volume of church records which detail administrative affairs such as meetings, expenses, and chronicles of noteworthy events, as well as assorted loose records from 1687-1780 which include a copy of the church's covenant, articles of agreement, correspondence, and financial records.

For additional information please see the Phillips Library finding aid.


Digital Materials

Church records, 1629-1843

This volume contains copies of early church records, which include historical accounts of various ministers, a copy of the church covenant, a copy of Rev. John Higginson's answer to the ministerial call in 1660, meeting minutes, a chronicle of noteworthy events, and subscriber lists.  Also included are member listings, baptism records, and a list of those who renewed their baptismal covenants. Entries for 1691-2 briefly touch on the local witchcraft trials, recording Giles Corey's induction into the church one year prior to his death at the hands of Salem officials, and the official excommunication of Rebecca Nurse shortly before she was hanged.


Church records (loose), 1687-1780

These assorted loose records include copies of the church covenant, legal and financial documents, and correspondence between parishioners, clergy, and church councils.

1687 legal release of Rev. John Wise of Chebacco Church from a restriction on public preaching. Also included is a petition by John Higgenson entreating leniency on the part of a "Mr. Neal"
1716 articles of agreement drawn up "at a meeting of severall of the neighb'ring Ministers at the house of Mr Prescott Pastor of the Third Church of Christ in Salem"
1724 letter from Rev. Samuel Fisk to Benjamin Lynde offering guidance relating to the formation of a new religious society
1734/5 January 13 letter from Peter Osgood and the First Church in Salem to churches in Andover and Methuen, describing the separation of aggrieved brethren from the First Church and defending pastor Rev. Samuel Fisk
1736 October 28 acceptance of ministerial call by the Rev. John Sparhawke, after the removal of the Rev. Samuel Fisk
1741 list of subscribers in the parish who donated funds toward the installation of a bell "for St Peter's Church in Salem"
1748 receipt for the sale of a church pew by Samuel Giles to James Odell, local blacksmith, for the sum of 11 pounds
1755 letter from Timothy Pickering to "the Council of Churches at Salem for the installment of Mr. Thomas Bernard", lambasting the First Church for its ousting of Rev. Samuel Fisk
1769 letter from Timothy Pickering to the local judge, reprimanding three local officials identified as "Overseers of the Poor" for abusing their office
1780 copy of the 1780 covenant of the First Church
undated description of a church organ


Related Materials

Salem, Mass. Tabernacle Church, 1743-1850

Salem, Mass. East Church, 1717-1806

Salem, Mass. North Church, 1772-1831

Fisk, Samuel. Correspondence, 1731-1755

Leavitt, Dudley. Sermons, 1740-1751

Salem Witchcraft Trial Records, 1692


Special Thanks

These digital resources have 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.