Beacon Street Diary

January 17, 2019

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, January 21st, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you when we return to the office next week.

December 5, 2018

We are excited to announce the arrival of newly digitized documents in our New England's Hidden Histories program, brought to you in partnership with the historic First Church in Natick. Materials digitized while on loan from the church have been added to our existing Natick First collection page, which previously only included the earliest church record book, dating from 1721-1794.

The new digital accrual has allowed us to feature later records of the church and associated documents including eighteenth-century sermons and correspondence. The historical note has also been expanded to elucidate the tumultuous and often racially-charged fluctuations in church membership and affiliation throughout Natick’s three-hundred-year history. Of particular note are the forced removals of early Indigenous parishioners to Deer Island during King Philip’s War in 1675, and a schism in 1798 which largely resulted in the segregation of whites and Native congregants into two different localities, both of which retained the designation of Natick First.

 

Natick, Mass. First Congregational Church

Known contemporaneously as a "Praying Indian" community, the town and church of Natick came about in 1651 as a result of the missionary efforts of Rev. John Eliot, who sought to convert local Native populations to Christianity, famously publishing an Algonquin-language translation of the English Bible with the assistance of a Montaukett interpreter. The new converts were mainly members of the Massachusett tribe, whose territory had encompassed the Massachusetts Bay area before the upheavals brought about by European immigration. Together with white and black members they formed a diverse congregation based in old South Natick, which persisted until the beginning of the nineteenth century with the removal of the fourth meetinghouse to the increasingly segregated Natick Center. The digital collections include the earliest church records (1721-1794), associated eighteenth-century correspondence and sermons, as well as a record book (1802-1833) and financial records (1822-1862) from the "Center" division of the church after the 1798 split.

 
November 15, 2018

These new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program are provided in partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society. They comprise notes for eighteenth-century sermons preached by four New England Congregationalist ministers, all of whom originally hailed from Massachusetts. Two of the collections (Rev. Eells's and Rev. Parsons's) contain only a single sermon, while the other two are more comprehensive. The quality of the notes varies widely depending on their author, since they weren't intended for posterity. While some, such as Rev. John Hooker's, generally include dates of preaching and location information, others comprise hastily-written outlines without identifying headings. Each collection offers unique insights into sermon content, as well as the drafting and writing process.

 

John White's sermons

Rev. John White (1677-1760) was a Harvard graduate ordained in 1703, serving as minister to the First Church of Gloucester, Mass. until his death. He was married three times; his second wife was the widowed Abigail Blake (née Mather), daughter of Rev. Increase Mather. This small volume of loose papers contains fragmentary notes on sermons preached by Rev. White in Gloucester, Mass.

Nathaniel Eells's sermon

Rev. Nathaniel Eells graduated from Harvard in 1728 and became the minister of the East Congregational Church in Stonington, Connecticut in 1733. He was the son of Rev. Nathaniel Eells, Sr. of Scituate, Mass., and was evidently visiting his father's parish when he delivered this single Thanksgiving sermon on November 13, 1740. His chosen verse text was Ephesians 5:20: "giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".

Moses Parsons's sermon

This single sermon on Galatians 6:3 was first delivered on July 27, 1746 by Rev. Moses Parsons of Byfield Parish Church in what is now Newbury, Massachusetts. Dates and locations of subsequent preaching are noted at the end of the document.

John Hooker's sermons

By far the most comprehensive collection of these four, the sermon booklets authored by Rev. John Hooker (1728-1777) span his entire career at the Congregational Church of Northampton, from 1753 until his death from smallpox in 1777. The quality of information provided varies extensively; a number of volumes are undated and lack a specified location. A prayer request is also included among the notes.

 

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.

November 8, 2018

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The collections comprise papers from two prominent Massachusetts families, the Hoveys and the Wigglesworths. Cumulatively they span a broad timeframe, from the late seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth. Both collections begin with the personal papers of the family patriarchs, Rev. Michael Wigglesworth and Rev. Ivory Hovey. Later materials consist of their children's and grandchildren's correspondence, business, and legal records.

Both families were heavily involved in contemporary society. Rev. Wigglesworth was a popular poet, and his son and grandson were professors of divinity at Harvard College. The Hovey family documents bear witness to significant historical events of the time, including the 1775-1776 Siege of Boston, the 1783 evacuation of New York, the reading of the Declaration of Independence, and the American retreat from Ticonderoga. Also of note is Olive Hovey Pope's letter home to her parents, in which she describes her experience on the Maine frontier, including mention of "a grate plenty of woolves" which were troubling the livestock.

 

Wigglesworth family papers

This collection includes personal papers from three generations of the Wigglesworth family of Massachusetts. The majority of them were produced by Rev. Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705). Rev. Wigglesworth was also a poet, penning The Day of Doom in 1662, which went on to become one of the most popular poems in New England at the time. Other papers in the collection belong to his son Edward Wigglesworth, Sr. (ca. 1693-1765) and grandson Edward Wigglesworth, Jr. (1732-1794). Both men served as professors of divinity at Harvard College, and Edward Jr. was also a merchant in Boston. Their papers include correspondence, deeds, estate papers, poetry, and records of estate settlements and property exchanges. Many of the documents are written using various systems of shorthand.

Ivory Hovey's papers

Rev. Ivory Hovey (1714-1803) was minister of the First Congregational Church of Mattapoisett, and later the Second Church of Plymouth at Manomet in 1770. He and his wife Olive Jordan had five children who lived to adulthood; three of his sons served in the American Revolution and his daughter Olive settled with her husband on the Maine frontier. The family material includes four letters from Rev. Hovey's sons, Dominicus (b. 1740), Ivory III (b. 1748), and Samuel (b. 1750), who witnessed notable events of the American Revolution. The items in this collection include correspondence, sermons, ecclesiastical council decisions, church records, vital records, and other papers relating to family affairs and Rev. Hovey's congregations.

 

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.

November 1, 2018

These new additions to our New England Hidden Histories program are provided in partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society. They consist of extensive notes on sermons heard by three lay individuals living in Boston in the 17th and 18th centuries. Two of the authors are identified and one is anonymous. Judging from the names of preachers mentioned in the texts it is probable that the anonymous author was attending Boston's Old South Church in 1723, and that Boston merchant Joshua Green (1731-1806) heard most of his sermons at Brattle Street Church. Each notebook is fairly standardized in form, consisting of sermon summaries with headers identifying the preacher, date, and citations for the bible verse upon which the sermon is based.

 

John Lake's memoranda

In John Lake's single memoranda booklet he records sermons heard during 1687-1688 in Boston, Massachusetts. Lake's notes include the name of the minister, the date, and abstracts of sermons preached by such dignitaries as Rev. Cotton Mather, Rev. Increase Mather, Rev. Samuel Willard, Rev. Samuel Phillips, Rev. John Higginson, Rev. Joshua Moody, Rev. Israel Chauncy, and a "Mr. Leverett" and "Mr. Baly", among others.

Unknown author's memoranda book

In this booklet, the anonymous author records a diverse array of sermons and preachers heard in Boston in 1723. Their handwritten notes include the names of the preachers, date of delivery, the verse text, and a detailed summary of each sermon. The sermons were likely delivered at Boston's Old South Church, due to the predominance of those preached by resident ministers Rev. Joseph Sewall and Rev. Thomas Prince. A number of other ministers are also included, however, including Revs. Colman, Scivall, Cooper, Thatcher, Wordsworth, Webb, and Gee.

Joshua Green's memoranda

Joshua Green (1731-1806) was a merchant in Boston, and kept extensive records on sermons he attended, which are contained in several volumes spanning the years 1768 to 1775. The location of the preaching is not specified, but it is likely that most were delivered at Brattle Street Church in Boston, the pastorate of the most frequently cited preacher, Rev. Samuel Cooper (1724-1783). Green's summaries consist of a short series of annotations on each sermon, and a header with the date, the name of the preacher, and citations for the relevant bible verses. There are also occasional notes about local deaths and other noteworthy events. At the end of the booklet Green cites the total number of sermons he heard, how many were preached by each minister, and the liturgical occasion of each.

 

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.

October 17, 2018

These latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. They constitute three eighteenth-century diaries composed by Massachusetts residents, all of whom were actively engaged in their local Congregational parishes. Two of the individuals were lay deacons and one was Longmeadow minister Rev. Stephen Williams, notable for having survived the 1704 raid on Deerfield, Mass. as a child. While Thomas Jossely's diary consists of faithfully-kept short daily entries, Storer and Williams's volumes are more sporadic meditations on spiritual matters.

 

Stephen Williams's diary

This collection consists of handwritten journal entries, memoranda, and sermon notes kept occasionally by Rev. Stephen Williams from 1716 to his death in 1782. Rev. Williams’s early life was remarkable; he grew up in Deerfield, Massachusetts and was captured by French and Indigenous allies during their raid on the town in 1704 when he was eleven years old. He was liberated after almost two years in captivity, going on to graduate from Yale College in 1713 and subsequently ministering to the Congregational Church of Longmeadow, Mass. He also served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War. Rev. Williams focuses heavily on ecclesiastical matters in his journal entries. Many entries consist of written prayers and brief meditations on bible verses.

Thomas Josselyn's diary

Thomas Josselyn of Hanover and Hingham, Mass. was deacon of Hingham First Church and proprietor of a forge. On the first page of his diary, he describes his intent "to keep an account of the affairs of Divine providence, concerning myself and my family and the Church of God…". The volume consists of daily entries in which Josselyn usually devotes a sentence or two to details of his work, meetings, church attendance, visits with friends and family, and travel to Boston and other locales.

Ebenezer Storer's diary

Ebenezer Storer was a Harvard and Yale-educated lay person who went on to become Treasurer of Harvard College in 1777. He was deacon of the Congregational Church in Brattle Square, Cambridge, as well as an early member of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in North America, the American Academy of Arts and Science, and several other organizations. He updated his journal intermittently, with long form entries detailing deaths in his family, spiritual reflections and prayers, and segments of poetry. He also includes occasional genealogical or family information, as well as passing observations on current events. The entry for March 11, 1764, mentions the spread of smallpox and Storer's decision to have his children inoculated.

 

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.

October 10, 2018

These two dramatic additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The collections relate to judicial cases which were played out within the ecclesiastical framework of the Colonial era, before the separation of Church and State. The first collection dates to 1728 and consists of a Medford minister's overview of a 1720 witchcraft case in Littleton, Mass. The second dates to 1811-1814 and contains two large volumes of correspondence related to the disciplinary case of a female parishioner at Boylston, Mass. and heated arguments over church jurisdiction.

 

Ebenezer Turell's account of a witchcraft case

Rev. Ebenezer Turell, minister of the First Parish in Medford, Massachusetts, offers his opinion regarding a 1720 witchcraft case at Littleton, Mass. in this somewhat polemical essay. The handwritten volume contains a summary of alleged paranormal events besetting a Littleton family, local opinions and reactions, and an advisory section in which Rev. Turell warns against deceitful children and encourages watchfulness and the application of corporal punishment by adults. He advises against the conflation of "tricks and legerdemain" with genuine Satanic covenants. Rev. Turell's essay was written more than three decades after the infamous miscarriage of justice at Salem, Mass. during the 1692 witchcraft hysteria, in which the testimony of children was instrumental in the indictment and execution of innocent townspeople.

Ward Cotton's correspondence

This collection contains correspondence dating from 1811-1814, relating to a dispute between Congregational churches in Boylston and Worcester, Mass. Parishioner Betsy Flagg was a vocal opponent of the ministry of Rev. Ward Cotton and was consequently suspended from services until she recanted. Instead, Flagg began attending the nearby Congregational church of Worcester, Mass. under the auspices of Rev. Samuel Austin. Her lack of an official dismissal from Boylston created a disagreement between Revs. Cotton and Austin, escalating into mutual accusations and calls for arbitration by an ecclesiastical council. Ultimately the case was decided in favor of Rev. Cotton and against Miss Flagg, whose acceptance by the Worcester parish was deemed an overreach of the church's authority.

 

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.

October 3, 2018

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This material relates to the Massachusetts parishes of West Stockbridge and Boylston (formerly part of Shrewsbury), and consists of church record books and associated materials. Both collections are primarily comprised of eighteenth-century records, which include admissions, member lists, baptisms, marriages, and funeral registers.

 

West Stockbridge, Mass. Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts was founded in 1789, along with the town itself. The meeting house was also used for civic purposes, and was shared with a local Baptist congregation until 1793. A Second Church was formed in 1833 to serve the area's growing population. The volumes include the First Church's record book, as well as an assortment of loose documents found inside the volume.

Boylston, Mass. First Church

The North Precinct or Parish of Shrewsbury, Mass., was established in 1742, with Rev. Ebenezer Morse ordained as its first pastor. This parish remained a part of Shrewsbury until 1786, when it was established as the town of Boylston and its church became the Congregational Church of Boylston. The church record book consists of handwritten entries of member admissions, baptisms and marriages. It was composed by Rev. Morse, who was ultimately dismissed in 1775 for his loyalist sympathies.

 

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.

October 1, 2018

With great sadness, the Congregational Library & Archives notes the passing of the Reverend Robert Wood who died on August 19. The CLA's friends and followers may already know Rev. Wood's name, as he donated his papers to us in 2004, and I've written about him a few times in the past. In June this year I was honored to have been able to visit him for at Havenwood-Heritage Heights, the United Church of Christ's retirement community in New Hampshire. While there I presented a brief lecture with a Q&A on his collection to the residents, visiting friends, and the UCC's New Hampshire Conference. The event served as an opportunity to ask Rev. Wood directly about his life and experiences.

For those new to his story, Rev. Robert Watson Wood was born May 21, 1923 and is known among the LGBTQ community for his steadfast dedication to civil rights. That journey started with his book, Christ and the Homosexual, published in 1960 under his own name as an ordained United Church of Christ minister. He was part of the first group to picket a federal building in 1965 and he argued in favor of same-sex marriage decades before Obergefell.

One of the biggest defining aspects of Wood's life was his relationship with his husband, Hugh "Buck" Coulter. The two met in New York City in 1962 and remained devoted to each other until Coulter's death in 1989. Coulter was a World War II veteran, a rodeo cowboy, and an abstract artist. Circumstances kept the two from ever sharing a house or being legally married. Despite that, they made the most of their time together. Wood's collection includes significant representation of Coulter's life: photographs, correspondence, and samples of his art, particularly.

Another major facet of Wood's life and identity was as a decorated combat World War II veteran. Wood knew he was gay when he was in high school. Before he could truly navigate the ramifications of coming out, the US joined the war. Wood was open about his anxiety over being discovered and punished. Nevertheless, he volunteered, fought for our country, and survived with a strong sense of duty that he directed towards LGBTQ civil rights. During this past June's presentation, someone asked why he risked his safety and well-being, coming out and fighting for equal rights. He answered that he did it because nobody else was. It's that sense of purpose, service, compassion, and bravery that I celebrate as I remember him. I'm proud to have known Robert Wood and even more proud to care for his personal papers. Moreover, I do not take his sacrifices and hard work for granted.

Rev. Wood's memorial will be at Havenwood on Wednesday, October 3, at 2 pm.

Those interested in learning more about Robert Wood and his life and work are welcome to visit the Congregational Library & Archives. His papers are open to the public and the CLA welcomes all visitors interested in research. My trip in June included adding new material for Rev. Wood's collection and I've spent a great deal of time reviewing what we already held and integrating the photos, letters, original diaries, and so much more for our patrons. That new material is not yet reflected in our current guide, but stay tuned.  

—Jessica

September 27, 2018

These two new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program are provided in partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Rev. Jonathan Parsons and Rev. William Rand were both Congregationalist ministers in Massachusetts, but the two men held very different opinions of the Great Awakening, the evangelical zeitgeist of the 1730s-40s which swept through much of Britain and America. The movement emphasized personal salvation and encouraged a degree of unity across different denominations. Ironically, it also created serious divisions within existing traditions, which began to fracture along the lines of converts and traditionalists.

Rev. Parsons was a convert to the movement and a personal friend of the famous evangelist George Whitfield, while Rev. Rand became a staunch opponent of the new theology. Despite their differences, the two ministers did have one notable circumstance in common; the views of both men were at odds with their congregations, who consequently swapped them out for more suitable candidates. Both Rev. Parsons and Rev. Rand were rehoused with congregations whose views more closely matched their own.

 

Jonathan Parsons's sermons

Rev. Jonathan Parsons (1705-1776) graduated from Yale in 1729, and was the minister at the First Church in Lyme, Connecticut from 1729/30 to 1745. He was heavily influenced by the Great Awakening, particularly by the evangelists Gilbert Tennent and George Whitefield, the latter of whom became his personal friend. Rev. Parsons was subsequently compelled by traditionalist parishioners to leave his parish in Lyme. George Whitefield personally recommended him to the new Presbyterian Church of Newburyport, Mass., and he took up ministry there from January 1745/6 until the end of his life. The collection consists of notes for sermons delivered by Rev. Parsons in his home parish of Newbury, as well as a published print copy of a sermon originally delivered at the funeral of George Whitefield, who died suddenly "of a fit of asthma" in Newburyport in 1770.

William Rand's sermons

Rev. William Rand (1699-1779) was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College in 1721. He was the minister at Sunderland, Mass. from 1722 until 1745, when he was dismissed due to his opposition to the Great Awakening. He subsequently replaced the Rev. Thaddeus McCarty as minister at Kingston, Mass. when the latter was dismissed for inviting the evangelist George Whitefield to preach there. Rev. Rand remained at Kingston from 1745 until his death in 1779. The volumes in this collection contain a large number of Rev. Rand's sermons preached after his move to Kingston. These were largely delivered in his home parish, but also in neighboring communities such as Plymouth and Duxbury.

 

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.

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