Beacon Street Diary

February 3, 2020

Sarah Vowell's The Wordy ShipmatesIt should come as no surprise that when librarians (and archivists) want to learn more about something, they hit the books. In order to deepen our knowledge of the collection, the CLA staff has resolved to start 2020 off by reading and discussing one book a month related to the collection and our work within it.

We eased into this with our first book club pick, The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, who you might know from NPR’s This American Life, or as the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. In her characteristic arch style, Vowell introduces us to Boston’s Puritan forebears, led by John Withrop, and the ways in which the ethos of this group still impacts us today.

Vowell places heavy emphasis on Winthrop’s sermon, “On Christian Charity” which famously calls on those in the colony to establish “a city on a hill”, an image which has echoed through American culture. In many ways, this speech prefigures the best and the worst of the Puritans and of us, at once “yoked together” and committed to mutual aid and also chosen by God to serve as an example to others, and therefore above reproach.  Rather than revert to tired stereotypes of stodgy Puritans, Vowell imbues these complex historical figures--John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson--with humanity. She describes them lovingly, but doesn’t shy away from criticism. There’s a lesson here about how we can approach the discussion of more complicated aspects of material in our collection.

Throughout the book, Vowell weaves history with her contemporary experience of it, describing her visits to our neighbors, the MA State Archives and the Massachusetts Historical Society,  and the Pequot History museum in Connecticut. She sheds light on a period of history often glossed over in textbooks and history class and describes the complicated conflicts of religion between the Boston colonists and others, and all of the factors that preceded King Philip’s War.

After finishing Wordy Shipmates, staff have come away with a better understanding of who the Puritans were (even those of us who grew up in close proximity to the Mayflower waterslide), a deeper understanding of parts of American history that are often glossed over in school and the ways material in our collection ties into these stories and how we can share them in a way that’s both engaging and informative.

Our February read will be The Book: a History of the Bible by Christopher De Hamel.

December 1, 2019

by Debbie Gline Allen

Many thanks to Debbie Gline Allen for this endorsement of “Plymouth’s Pilgrims,” which we’re re-posting. She’s the author of the “youth version” of the study guide – also available on our website.

When Margaret (Peggy) Bendroth, the Executive Director of the Congregational Library and Archives, approached me last winter about writing youth materials to honor the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower on this continent, I was not exactly sure how I felt about the project. While I love learning interesting facts about our history, and I come from an ancestry that dates back to the next boat after the Mayflower, our United Church of Christ values of justice and concern for all of God’s children caused me to pause before accepting her request.

What do we do with the parts of our history that include colonialism and slavery? How should we feel about what happened, and continues to happen, with the peoples who first inhabited this land? Is it even possible to offer reparations or find ways to turn back what was considered progress, but diminished the rights of non-white people?

Listening to Peggy talk about history — the fact that we can’t change history, but we can learn from it — caused me to realize that we have an opportunity and an obligation here after 400 years. And our shared love of history inspired me to offer our teenagers a way to wrestle with our congregational history and allow it to inform the way they live their lives today. We challenge them to look at the past in order to make good judgements for the present, and the future.

I am pleased to let you know that these resources are now available to download for free. Click here  to locate Plymouth’s Pilgrims: Their Church, Their World, and Ours. There is a link to the Adult Discussion Guide, and another link to the Youth Discussion Guide. While it is critical that the leaders who offer these materials to teens read the Adult Discussion Guide, I have some colleagues who believe that adults should engage in the activities recommended for the youth!

As you make your plans for the year 2020, consider adding this study to your calendar. It is perfect for Confirmation programs, and would only be enhanced by an intergenerational learning experience for both adults and teens together.

There are four sessions:

They Were One Body In Christ
They Were People of the Book
They Were Colonists; They Were Colonizers
They Were Congregationalists

Each session opens with an engaging history of the session focus, beautifully written by Linda Smith Rhoads, the Editor Emerita of The New England Quarterly: A Historical Review of New England Life and Letters. Key players, both European and Wampanoag, are introduced alongside essential understandings about the influences of the day that made them who they were. This is followed by four discussion questions that engage both scripture and reflections on how these events compare to who we are today and the choices we make as people of faith. In the youth materials, the history is presented as readers’ theater, storytelling, or a choral reading. This is then followed by four or five learning activities — from word clouds to prayers and from discussion questions to creating memes.

Incorporating these resources into your congregation’s learning environments will be a great way to celebrate and learn from the courage and insights of our ancestors — both European and Native American. I invite you to be transformed!

Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Christian Education & Youth Ministry Consultant for the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ.

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.

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