Salem, Mass. First Church

Collection History

The First Church of Salem, founded in 1629, was one of the first churches organized in New England, along with the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and the First Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Salem's church, however, was the first truly Congregational parish with governance by church members. Notable founding members included Roger Conant, the founder of Salem village, and John Endicott, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Various members were involved in the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, including the daughter of the church's pastor, Rev. Samuel Parris, and the junior minister Rev. Nicholas Noyes. Parishioners Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey, who were excommunicated and executed during the trials, were formerly full members of the First Church, Corey having been admitted one year prior in 1691. Both victims were posthumously readmitted in 1712.

The population of Salem grew rapidly during the 18th century, resulting in the peaceful division of the First Church's congregation to form the East Church in 1719. Less peaceful was the mid-century schism during the ministry of Rev. Samuel Fisk, in which the ousted Fisk led supporters to form another First Church in 1735, which was compelled to change its name to the Third Church in 1762. The original First Church split again over ministerial preference in 1772, leading to the creation of the North Church of Salem.

The original manuscripts in this collection are owned by our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. They consist of three bound volumes of church records which detail administrative affairs such as meetings, expenses, and chronicles of noteworthy events, as well as loose records from 1629-1831 which contain administrative correspondence, complaints, financial and legal documentation, and lists of officers. Also included are four letters from church officials to Paul Revere's foundry in Boston, regarding an order for a church bell.

 

Digital Materials

Church records, 1629-1843

This volume contains copies of early church records, which include historical accounts of various ministers, a copy of the church covenant, a copy of Rev. John Higginson's answer to the ministerial call in 1660, meeting minutes, a chronicle of noteworthy events, and subscriber lists.  Also included are member listings, baptism records, and a list of those who renewed their baptismal covenants. Entries for 1691-2 briefly touch on the local witchcraft trials, recording Giles Corey's induction into the church one year prior to his death at the hands of Salem officials, and the official excommunication of Rebecca Nurse shortly before she was hanged.

Church records, 1717-1757

This volume includes items related to the building of the Eastern Meeting House in 1719, meeting minutes, ministers' rates, pew listings, and itemized expenses.

Church records, 1757-1792

This volume includes meeting minutes, ministers' rates, and records of other taxes levied by church collectors.

Church records, loose

These assorted loose records include copies of covenants for the First and North churches, legal and financial documents, and correspondence between parishioners, clergy, and church councils.

1629 June copy of the original covenant of the First Church, for use by the newly founded North Church
1687 legal release of Rev. John Wise of Chebacco Church from a restriction on public preaching. Also included is a petition by John Higgenson entreating leniency on the part of a "Mr. Neal"
1831 legal notice by Thomas West, treasurer of the North Church, stating that lapsed payments for pews will result in their public auctioning
1716 articles of agreement drawn up "at a meeting of severall of the neighb'ring Ministers at the house of Mr Prescott Pastor of the Third Church of Christ in Salem"
1724 letter from Rev. Samuel Fisk to Benjamin Lynde offering guidance relating to the formation of a new religious society
1734/5 January 13 letter from Peter Osgood and the First Church in Salem to churches in Andover and Methuen, describing the separation of aggrieved brethren from the First Church and defending pastor Rev. Samuel Fisk
1736 October 28 acceptance of ministerial call by the Rev. John Sparhawke, after the removal of the Rev. Samuel Fisk
1741 list of subscribers in the parish who donated funds toward the installation of a bell "for St Peter's Church in Salem"
1748 receipt for the sale of a church pew by Samuel Giles to James Odell, local blacksmith, for the sum of 11 pounds
1748 list of donations for the Rev. James Diman, who "has bin viseted with sickness and death in his family and hath bin at extraordinary charge"
1755 letter from Timothy Pickering to "the Council of Churches at Salem for the installment of Mr. Thomas Bernard", lambasting the First Church for its ousting of Rev. Samuel Fisk
1758 list of poor in the East Parish in 1758
1764 March 20 lists of officers in the East Parish as of 1764
1767 March 3 lists of officers in the East Parish as of 1767
1769 letter from Timothy Pickering to the local judge, reprimanding three local officials identified as "Overseers of the Poor" for abusing their office
1780 copy of the 1780 covenant of the First Church
1802 legal document incorporating the North Meeting House
1806 a valuation of the East Meeting House and its accoutrements at 3,300 dollars
undated description of a church organ

 

John Punchard correspondence, 1806 

These four letters detail a request by John Punchard, on behalf of the Salem Tabernacle, for a church bell from Col. Paul Revere's bell foundry in Boston. There is much discussion of the chosen bell and its quality, with the committee remarking that they "do not think it quite equal to the best English bells".

1806 July 3 Col. Paul Revere
1806 August 5 Col. Paul Revere
1806 August 16 Col. Paul Revere
1806 August 19 Col. Paul Revere

 

Related Materials

Salem, Mass. Tabernacle Church — finding guidedigital materials

Fisk, Samuel. Correspondence — digital materials

Salem Witchcraft Trial Records

 

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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