Boston, Mass. Old South Church

Collection History

The Old South Church originated when twenty-eight members of the First Church in Boston separated in 1669 to found the Third Church of Boston. These seperatists disagreed with the minister's insistence that adults must have "a regeneration experience of God" before their own children could be baptized. These members instead believed that childhood baptisms assured young adults they were full members and could baptize their children, a belief consistent with the Half-way Covenant.

In 1670, the congregation met for the first time in a building known as the Cedar Meetinghouse, which soon became known as South Church due to its location in the south end of town. The "Old" moniker was added in 1717 to distinguish the church from a newly-formed New South congregation. Prominent members of the Old South congregation included Benjamin Franklin, who was baptized at Old South in 1706, Phillis Wheatley, the renown black female poet, and writer Elizabeth Vergoose, better known as Mother Goose for her nursery rhymes.

During the Unitarian Movement of the early 19th century, Old South was the sole Congregational church in Boston to adhere to the doctrine of Trinitarianism. In 1816 Old South Church joined with Park Street Church to form the City Mission Society, a social justice mission serving Boston's urban poor. During the American Civil War, Old South became a recruiting center for the Union Army under minister Jacob Manning. Though the congregation was not entirely abolitionist, it strongly supported the Union cause. During the ministry of Rev. George Gordon the congregation moved from its meeting house at Washington Street to its Back Bay location in 1875. The current Old South Church is a member of the United Church of Christ.

The digital collections below include four volumes of the earliest church record books, with entries beginning in 1669. These include extensive meeting minutes, copies of official correspondence, member lists, and financial records, in addition to an index volume. There are also separate volumes with listings of admissions, baptisms, marriages, and member rolls. For additional information please see the finding aid.

 

Digital Materials

Church records, 1669-1767

This volume contains two sets of records, presented here sequentially for ease of use. The first set of records dates from 1669 to 1766, and include the church covenant and minutes of meetings. The second set of records found on the reverse side of the volume dates from 1735 to 1767, and include meeting minutes and records of funds collected for charity.

Church records, 1768-1816

The records in this volume include minutes of meetings and transcriptions of several letters received by the church and written by ministers.

Church records, 1669-1854

This volume provides a topical and name index for three volumes of Old South Church records, including the two preceding volumes and the record book for 1817-1854 which has not been digitized for the NEHH program.

Church records, 1669-1713

This volume contains a transcribed list of names of First Church members who broke away to form the Third Church, and the names of members who joined from 1669 to 1713.

Baptisms, 1669-1875

This volume contains chronological records of baptisms performed in the church for children and adults. It includes the 1706 baptismal record for Benjamin Franklin.

Admissions, 1669-1855

There are two sets of records within this volume, presented here sequentially for ease of use. The first set contains records of admissions into the church from 1669 to 1855. The second set of records contains admissions from 1669 to 1814. There is a note within the records about the effects of the Revolutionary War on church membership.

Membership list, 1669-1855

The records within this volume are transcribed from earlier record books to document the membership history of the church. They are arranged alphabetically by surname.

Marriages, 1780-1882

This volume contains records of marriages performed by the church's ministers. It begins with a compiled list of marriages performed by Rev. Eckley, taken from his own notes and those of the town clerk; followed by a transcription of those performed by Rev. Huntington, transcribed from an earlier church register; and continues with original records thereafter.

 

Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Become a Member