Beacon Street Diary

Archives: October 2018

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