Salem, Mass. Tabernacle Church
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 meeting house, 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 meeting house to the ground. A replacement meeting house 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 meeting house 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 meeting house 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".
The church records below are a combination of material held by the Congregational Library and Archives, and our project partners, the Philips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. The material from Philips includes the Church's covenant of 1786, as well as four letters written to the famous revolutionary Col. Paul Revere, regarding the installation of a new church bell sourced from his foundry in Boston. The records from the Congregational Library and Archives represent a comprehensive collection of church record books spanning 1743-1849, and numerous other documents relating to church administration, doctrine, education, finance, and disciplinary cases.
At the Phillips Library:
The following original manuscripts are 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.
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.
John Punchard correspondence, 1806
These four letters entail a request by church committee member 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||from John Punchard (on behalf of the Tabernacle Church)||to Col. Paul Revere|
|1806 August 5||from John Punchard (on behalf of the Tabernacle Church)||to Col. Paul Revere|
|1806 August 16||from John Punchard (on behalf of the Tabernacle Church)||to Col. Paul Revere|
|1806 August 19||from John Punchard (on behalf of the Tabernacle Church)||to Col. Paul Revere|
At the Congregational Library & Archives:
For more information about this collection, please see the finding aid.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Records in this volume include lists of donations, financial accountings, pew taxes, expenses, records of a standing committee, and meeting minutes.
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.
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.
|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|
|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.
|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.
|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 meeting house, the pastorate, and other parish matters.
|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 meeting house 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 meeting house|
|1777||unknown scribe||tally of money paid to Mr. Gould for pew(s) in the meeting house|
|1778 November 24||P. Edward Lang (collector)||receipt for payment of 300 pounds from Francis Dennis toward the cost of the meeting house|
|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 meeting house 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.
|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.
|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.
|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 ThanksPhillips 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.