Salem, Mass. Tabernacle Church

Church History

Tabernacle Church in Salem, Massachusetts, traces its historical roots back to 1629 with the founding of First Church of Salem. In 1735 First Church Pastor Samuel Fisk was dismissed from his position by ecclesiastical council. A group of parishioners followed Fisk from First Church, built a new meetinghouse, and met also under the name First Church until 1762 when they were compelled by the colonial legislature to change their name to "Third Church of Christ in Salem". In 1774 the great fire of Salem burned the Third Church meetinghouse to the ground. A replacement meetinghouse was built in 1777 and was copied from the Tabernacle in Moorfields (London) made famous by its association with George Whitefield, leading to the nickname "Tabernacle Church".

It was during the building of this meetinghouse that strife drove a portion of the Third Church congregation to split and form South Church of Salem in 1775. Originally also referring to themselves as "Third Church", the split church later rejoined Tabernacle Church in 1924.

In 1781 the proprietors of Third Church were reincorporated as "the proprietors of the meetinghouse and land where the Reverend Doctor Nathaniel Whitaker now preaches." Reverend Whitaker was removed from office in 1784 by ecclesiastical council. Another split occurred in 1802 when a portion of Tabernacle Church left to form a Presbyterian church.

In 1812 Tabernacle came to the forefront of Congregational consciousness when it became the church from which the first six Congregational missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions were commissioned.

In 1834 the proprietors of the church were once again reincorporated, this time as "The Proprietors of the Tabernacle Church".

For more information about this collection, please see the finding aid.

 

Digital Materials

At the Phillips Library:

The following original manuscript is owned by our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. Further information about their collection can be found in the Phillips Library's finding aid.

Covenant, 1786

A covenant lays out doctrines agreed upon by the congregation, usually at its founding. This document includes the church's covenant and articles accepted in 1786. These include guidelines for ministerial appointments, disciplinary actions, admissions, and other matters.

 

At the Congregational Library & Archives:

Church records, 1743-1775

This record book contains records of membership, church meeting minutes, church discipline and baptisms. Of particular note are a series of charts documenting pastoral visits to parishioners. These charts contain census-like data on the household, including number and age of people living there.

Church records, 1778-1796

These records contain meeting minutes, pew valuations, membership lists, calls to church meetings, and records pertaining to Dr. Nathaniel Whitaker, then-pastor of Tabernacle Church, mostly records discussing ministerial salary.

Church records, 1783-1805

This volume was created in 1833 when loose-leaf records from 1783-1805 were transcribed into it. These records contain meeting minutes, correspondence, membership records, and records of church discipline.

Church records, 1783-1833

This volume contains records of church membership, church covenant, and meeting minutes. Of particular note in this volume are historical accounts pertaining to the church's difficulty with Dr. Nathaniel Whitaker.

Church records, 1795-1832

This record book contains records of meeting minutes and votes, copies of warrants, pew valuations, and records pertaining to the sexton's and minister's salaries.

Church records, 1832-1849

Records in this volume include lists of donations, financial accountings, pew taxes, expenses, records of a standing committee, and meeting minutes.

Covenant, 1795

A covenant lays out doctrines agreed upon by the congregation, usually at its founding. This document is a copy of the covenant made in August 1795.

Construction plans, ca. 1774

This unbound volume details the congregation's plans for constructing their church building, and the means of administering it, as well as a list of founding subscribers.

Loose records, Administration

These documents are similar to the records in the bound volumes.

Date Creator name(s) Description
undated unknown scribe pew chart and list of rates
1775 February 14 "The Council of 1775" brief account of the ecclesiastical council leading to the formation of Third Church
1784 January 29 John Pickering (justice of the peace) notarization of Jonathan Meservy's swearing in as clerk of the proprietors
1785 March 1 Miles Ward, Samuel Thomas, Benjamin [Punchard], Samuel Jones, Joseph Ross, Jonathan Ireland, John Punchard, [Stephen] Caldwell, John Ashby, John Woodbury, Benjamin Smith, John Flint, William Gray IV, Nathaniel Knight record of the vote to choose Joshua Spalding as the new minister
undated John Punchard, Nehemiah Adams, William Treadwell recommendations from the committee for the relief of the poor of the church
undated unknown scribe vote to formally accept the Vestry as part of the Society's holdings
undated unknown scribe vote regarding the caretaking of the Vestry
1765 unknown scribe,
printed material
recto: "Circular about Indian school in Dearborn 1765. & a plan of pews. Whitaker times"
verso: portion of a pew diagram for the Tabernacle

 

Loose records, Doctrine

These documents pertain to the character of the congregation and its members.

Date Creator name(s) Description
undated unknown scribe extract from the church covenant
undated unknown scribe "Laws restricting polygamy"
undated unknown scribe "Preliminary resolution on Temperance"
undated unknown scribe draft of a pledge of temperance

 

Loose records, Education, 1763

This document relates to the home missionary movement.

Date Creator name(s) Description
1763 September 5 Jeffrey Smith, Nathaniel Whitaker letter in support of the Indian school in Connecticut

 

Loose records, Financial, 1774-1788

These documents detail income and expenses related to the building and maintaining the meetinghouse, the pastorate, and other parish matters.

Date Creator name(s) Description
1774 December 31 Nathaniel Whitaker receipt for salary and reimbursement for miscellaneous expenses
1774 December 31 Nathaniel Whitaker extremely formal receipt for salary and reimbursement for miscellaneous expenses
1774-1777 Nathaniel Whitaker itemized expense report
1775 March 25 Nathan Goodale deferral of an application to build a meetinghouse on land owned by Mr. Goodale's ward, Samuel Orne, until Orne comes of age
1776-1778 unknown scribe tally of select pew rents
1776-1777 unknown scribe tally of work days and compensation owed to Daniel Bancroft for work constructing a new meetinghouse
1777 unknown scribe tally of money paid to Mr. Gould for pew(s) in the meetinghouse
1778 November 24 P. Edward Lang (collector) receipt for payment of 300 pounds from Francis Dennis toward the cost of the meetinghouse
1779 September 25 Nathaniel Gould receipt for funds received from Jacob Clark and Mary Lister
1780-1782 Nathaniel Whitaker, Thomas Mason itemized expense report
1786, 1797 David Smith itemized expense report
1782 May 20 unknown debtor promissory note to Thomas Mason and Samuel Ward
1787 unknown scribe, Joseph Ross receipt for work done on the meetinghouse pulpit and wages paid to Mr. Ross
1788 December 8 George Southward Jr. promisory note to the church proprietors
1794 May 18 Nehemiah Adams receipt for payment to Mr. Ross for construction of pews
1788 February 17 Joshua Spalding request to the proprietors for the balance of his salary in advance of his upcoming marriage

 

Loose records, Membership and discipline

These materials record the admission, dismission, and disciplinary actions of church members.

Date Creator name(s) Description
1789 December 4 Joshua Spalding record of vote to accept new members
undated unknown scribe set of questions and guidelines for use in disciplinary cases
undated Subscribers of the church advice toward resolving a dispute between William and Mary Shillaber & a Mrs. Perkins
[no year] August 24 - December 15 Nancy Farmer,
Nehemiah Adams (clerk pro tem)
recto: confession of Nancy Farmer,
verso: church meeting minutes including discussion of Mrs. Farmer's case and eventual excommunication
undated unknown scribe Simon Noyes's complaints against Deacon William Safford
undated unknown scribe copy of a letter speaking to the character of Dr. William Warren
undated unknown scribe denial of a female member's request for dismission

 

Loose records, Real estate, 1772-1773

In the early 1770s, there was a dispute over the ownership of the parsonage house occupied by Rev. Nathaniel Whitaker.

Date Creator name(s) Description
1772 December 16 George Bickford, William Nichols, William Lauder, Edward Smith, William [Dowst], Jonathon Neal, Isaac Needham, Thomas Stimpson, John Pittman, John Bray accusation against Capt. John Gardner that he destroyed the Proprietors' deed to the parsonage house and had a new one drawn up in his own name, evicted Dr. Whitaker, and collected rent from another tenant, Capt. Charles King ; petition for a meeting to redress all resulting damages ; outside inscribed "deceiving & fraudulent"
1773 May James Symonds Jr., [Dixey] Morgan, Samuel Williams, Benjamin Ropes, Gabriel Holman, Jacob Ashton, Joseph Symonds, Jonathon Webb, John Saunders, Jonathan Verry, William Morgan, David Felt, Benjamin Daland, James Nicholls, John Gardner Jr., Peter Cheever, John Gardner, John Symonds, Samuel Symonds, Thorndike Proctor, Benjamin Goodhue, Daniel Cheever, I. Procter Jr., Billings Bradish, Robert Procter, Joseph Clough, Miles Ward Jr., Joseph Henfield, Jonathan Mansfield, David [Masvery] reply to petition from the Standing Committee

 

Loose records, Whitaker case, 1781-1785

There was a lengthy dispute between the church's first pastor and its proprietors regarding Rev. Whitaker's conduct and salary, as well as the decision of the congregation to end their affiliation with the local Presbytery and return to Congregationalism.

Date Creator name(s) Description
1781 April 3 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors imploring that they provide the money and supplies stipulated in his employment contract ; to be read at a meeting held on the 4th
1781 November 24 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors asking again that they pay his promised salary and detailing compensation he had received ; to be read at a meeting held on the 26th
1781 November 30 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors responding to a proposed salary and detailing further expenses to provide food and household supplies ; to be read at a meeting held on Dec. 3rd
1781 December 10 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors again requesting his salary and money for household necessities ; to be read at a meeting the same evening
1782 May 20 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors asking for his salary
1782 July 8 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors asking for his salary
1782 October 2 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors asking for his salary
1783 December 14 Proprietors of the church
("your grieved Brethren")
petition to Dr. Whitaker to call a meeting of the church's elders and proprietors
1784 February 14 William Presson, Samuel Jones, [Peter] Whittemore, Jonathan Neal, Joseph Ross letter from subscribers (congregants) to the Proprietors urging them to settle their debt to Dr. Whitaker
1784 January 29 Samuel Jones, William Safford letter from 20 parishioners to the Church of Christ in Ipswich under Rev. Joseph Dana seeking advice in the case of Dr. Whitaker and detailing other churches to which they are making the same appeal
1784 January 1 John Cleaveland
(pastor at Rowley)
reply to Samuel Jones and William Safford offering advice in the matter of Dr. Whitaker's salary dispute ; addendum distinguishing between ruling elders and teaching elders in New England Congregational church structure
1784 January 7 unnamed scribe of the congregation report of a congregational meeting renouncing Presbyterianism in favor of Congregationalism, and asking Dr. Whitaker to return to their service
1784 February 7 Samuel Jones, William Safford letter to Dr. Whitaker informing him of a council meeting on the 10th re: his character and past difficulties with the church
1784 January 7 Miles Ward, Benjamin Smith, Nehemiah Smith, [Ruben] [Tirmans], Nathaniel Eastes, John Cloutman, Samuel Thomas, Joseph Ross, Samuel Jones, Jonathan Ireland, William Gray IV, William Safford, Stephen Caldwell, Francis Cook, John Flint, John Woodbury, John Punchard, Joshua Cross, John [Ashy], Thomas Needham Jr. minutes of a meeting at which the brethren voted to withdraw from the Salem Presbytery
1784 January "The Ruling Elders or sessions of the Presbyterian Chh. Salem" request for a church meeting, including provisions in the event that Dr. Whitaker refuses to call said meeting
[1874 January] John Strickland
(clerk of the Presbytery)
letter to Samuel Jones & William Safford informing the "twenty disaffected Brethren" of the requirements to formally bring their complaints against Dr. Whitaker before a meeting of the Presbytery at New Boston
1784 January 7 unnamed scribe of the congregation petition to Dr. Whitaker reporting the church's withdrawal from the Presbytery and asking him to return to their service
1784 January 7 William Gray IV
(clerk for the meeting)
record of votes at a congregational meeting
1784 February 10 Eli Forbes
(scribe of the ecclesiastical council)
minutes of an ecclesiastical council regarding the church's relationships with the Presbytery and Dr. Whitaker
1784 February 10 unnamed copyist, Eli Forbes (scribe of the ecclesiastical council), Joseph Roby (moderator of the ecclesiastical council) copy of the minutes of the ecclesiastical council regarding the church's relationships with the Presbytery and Dr. Whitaker
1784 February 13 "The Church" report of the church's decision to Dr. Whitaker
undated Mrs. Whitemore testimony against Dr. Whitaker's character
undated Hannah Thurstin testimony against Dr. Whitaker's character
undated Ebenezer Nutting testimony against Dr. Whitaker's character
1784 James Thomas testimony against Dr. Whitaker's character
1784 January 26 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors regarding financial matters
1784 February 12 William Safford, Samuel Jones
(on behalf of the church)
letter to Dr. Whitaker requesting his presence at the ecclesiastical council and enumerating the congregation's complaints against him
1784 February 12 "Committee of the Church"
([William Safford, Samuel Jones])
copy of letter to Dr. Whitaker requesting his presence at the ecclesiastical council and enumerating the congregation's complaints against him
1784 February 12 Nathaniel Whitaker response to Safford and Jones
1784 March 8 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors regarding his status as minister and continued financial disputes ; to be read at a meeting on the 13th
undated Nathaniel Whitaker letter to deputy sheriff John Waite
1784 March 27 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors insisting that he will still act as their minister despite their prohibition
1784 April 17 Nathaniel Whitaker response to the church (via Safford and Jones) denying the validity of the charges against him
1784 April 30 Nathaniel Whitaker summons to the Proprietors (via Jones and Safford) to appear before a meeting of the Presbytery in Groton and answer his charges against them
1784 May 15 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors demanding back pay with interest
1784 May 15 Nathaniel Whitaker letter to the Proprietors requesting a copy of their votes
1785 May 12 Subscribers of the church resolution to pay Dr. Whitaker the sum of 334 pounds and 6 pence of his back pay
1785 July 11 unnamed clerk / accountant list of money received from parishioners toward Dr. Whitaker's settlement
1785 September 23 William Ingalls (deputy sheriff) receipt for fees paid by the church Proprietors for his role as agent in Dr. Whitaker's settlement
1785 December 8 Nathaniel Whitaker resolution of settlement case

 

Special Thanks

The digital resource contributed by the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum has 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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