Sturbridge, Mass. Congregational Church - Disciplinary cases

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During the colonial period, the local church often functioned as the legal authority in matters of morality. Parishioners were disciplined by the congregation in instances of intemperance (excessive drinking), adultery or fornication outside marriage, and other breaches of their duties as members of the Christian community. Punishment in such cases usually consisted of censure — a temporary restriction from attending services and participating in church business — until the guilty party made a formal confession or request for forgiveness.


Ephraim Ainsworth

Mr. Ainsworth was admonished in a letter from the church for unchristian conduct, pride, and other assorted wrongdoings, and asked to repent.

admonition Paine, Rev. Joshua undated admonition for unchristian conduct, pride, lying, and rude comments


Adaline Allen

Adaline A. Allen, in response to a complaint made by Mr. and Mrs. Hartshom, wrote a letter publicly apologizing for inconsiderate and prejudicial expressions about them.

apology Allen, Adaline 1831 July 21 letter of apology to the Hartshoms


Chickering and Wight / White

Mr. Chickering and Mr. Wight, having a longstanding disagreement between them, were requested to forgive each other before the church and ask the church's forgiveness as well.

call for accord unsigned undated letter calling on Chickering and Wight to forgive each other and act as Christians


Sarah Coburn

William Allen accused Sarah Coburn of public intoxication. Mrs. Coburn confessed and asked forgiveness of the congregation.

complaint Allen, William 1822 April 12 Mr. Allen's report to the church of witnessing Mrs. Coburn so drunk she "was unable to walk or stand"
confession Coburn, widow S[arah] 1822 May 19 public apology of Mrs. Coburn admitting to her drunkenness and asking forgiveness

The matter is also referenced in the bound church records.


Delinquent members

These three documents comprise two separate cases of delinquency (lack of church attendance). The first, from the 1790s, is a letter from the pastor Rev. Joshua Paine to a Mrs. Miriam Newel, exhorting her to return to communion. In 1826, a committee was formed to address the improper conduct of Widow White and two members who had “long absented from communion service”, Daniel[le] Copeland and Thomas P. Wallace. The committee then wrote a letter to Widow White informing her of their decision.

letter Newel, Miriam  circa 1790 letter from the Rev. Joshua Paine exhorting Mrs. Newel to return to the church after a period of "absenting [her]self from the public worship of god"
committee report Plimpton, Joel;
Chapin, James;
Dunton, James
1826 April report of the committee on three members of the church with a recommendation for action
letter Plimpton, Joel;
Chapin, James;
Dunton, James
1826 May 5 letter to Mrs. White explaining the actions of the committee regarding her case and requesting her attendance at a church meeting to defend her actions or apologize

These matters are also referenced in the bound church records.


Fletcher Forster / Foster

Mr. Forster had a protracted disagreement with the Allen family begun by his "ungarded expressions". Although Forster made attempts to reconcile over the course of several months, the Allens weren't satisfied and the church intervened.

complaint Fay, Ebenezer;
Allen, Aaron;
Allen, Jacob;
Stevens, Cyprian
1787 September 5 accusation of Mr. Forster having struck and yelled at Mrs. Timothy Allen the previous March
testimony Corbin, James Jr.;
Draper, Olive;
Fletcher, Mary;
Allen, Hannah
1788 May 13 corroboration of the events in the initial complaint
defense Forster, Fletcher 1788 May 14 request for certain church members to form a committee and work toward reconciliation
defense (copy) Forster, Fletcher 1788 May 14 copy of Forster's request made by Rev. Paine
proposal Forster, Fletcher 1788 July 1 offer to denounce the use of "god damn you"
committee judgment Mason, Abel;
Harding, Joshua;
Weld, Moses;
Parker, Timothy
1788 July advice for all parties involved to forgive one another
second complaint Allen, Aron;
Allen, Jacob
1789 May 15 request for their complaint to be brought before the entire church, which was granted
defense Forster, Fletcher undated submitting himself to the judgment of the church

The matter is also referenced in the bound church records.


Jonathan Gould

Joshua Weld accused Jonathan Gould of lying on multiple occasions about his actions regarding Mr. Weld and appealed to the church for satisfaction. A church committee was formed and moved to dismiss the matter.

complaint Weld, Joshua 1783 February 25 list of Mr. Gould's unchristian and sinful behavior against Mr. Weld
summary Paine, Rev. Joshua 1783 March 9 - April 6 timeline of the actions taken concerning the complaint against Mr. Gould leading up to the ruling of a committee on the matter
committee judgment Croft, Ebenezer;
Harding, Joshua;
Ellis, Samuel
1783 June 10 summary of the committee's actions and its ruling in the case
summary Paine, Rev. Joshua 1783 September 18 - November 13 summary of actions taken up by the church after the committee's report
ecclesiastical council Williams, Nehemiah (scribe) 1784 January 13 minutes of the ecclesiastical council called to weigh upon the matter of Mr. Weld and Mr. Gould, asking them to forgive each other
ecclesiastical council (copy) Williams, Nehemiah (scribe) 1784 January 13 copy of the same ecclesiastical council notes


Frances Johnson

Mrs. Johnson was accused of "excessive use of ardent spirits" (drunkenness). At a meeting of the church, this charge was upheld by numerous testimonies. She was asked to repent and improve her behavior. Some months later, a standing committee was tasked with addressing her behavior more directly.

summons church clerk 1824 November 15 letter from the clerk to Mrs. Johnson summoning her to a church meeting to rule on her behavior
committee judgment Walker, [Perez?] 1825 January 13 report from the standing committee on their actions in reviewing the complaint against Mrs. Johnson

The matter is also referenced in the bound church records.


Timothy Parker

A matter arose between Ebenezer Croft, Esq. and Captain Tim Parker, resolved by a committee convened by the church.

vote (draft) Paine, Rev. Joshua 1777 May 20 draft report of the vote on the accusations against Parker
vote (clean copy) Paine, Rev. Joshua 1777 May 20 vote of the church on the accusations against Parker by Erasmus Babbit and Ebenezer Croft
committee judgment Harding, Joshua;
Ellis, Samuel;
Gould, Jonathan
1778 April 9 ruling by the committee regarding the case, namely that there is no need for public acknowledgement and to let the matter subside


Daniel Plimpton

Mr. Plimpton was accused of "excessive use of ardent spirit" (drunkenness), a charge he admitted before the church and begged forgiveness. A committee later accused him of not reforming his behavior.

confession Plimpton, Daniel 1827 March 16 acknowledgement of guilt by Mr. Plimpton and request for forgiveness by the church
second complaint Plimpton, Joel;
Dunton, James;
Davis, George
1827 May 2 committee notification to inform Mr. Plimpton that he has not reformed his behavior as promised, requiring that his case be again brought before the church

The matter is also referenced in the bound church records.


Prudence Plimpton / Plimton

Mrs. Plimpton was accused of having taken property promised to Mr. Davis and Mr. Wight as a security deposit on the apartment the Plimpton family rented. The property was then also leveraged as security to get Mr. Plimpton out of debtor's prison. Mrs. Plimpton claims that the property was worth more than the debt and the articles she reclaimed were therefore rightfully hers.

defense Plimpton, Pr[udence] 1831 May a four-page defense written by Mrs. Plimpton "as if under oath" to vindicate her conduct
summary Wight, David 1831 summary of the events from the perspective of Mr. Wight


Isaac and Elisabeth Stacy

The couple admitted their guilt of "manifold transgressions and sins", specifically "violating the Seventh Commandment", and asked the forgiveness of both the congregation and God.

confession Stacy, Isaac;
Stacy, Elisabeth
undated confession to "the sin of fornication"


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