Cotton, Ward. Correspondence

Collection History

This collection contains correspondence dating from 1811-1814, relating to a dispute between Congregational churches in Boylston and Worcester, Mass., over issues of church discipline and Unitarianism. A flurry of correspondence was incited by the suspension of Boylston parishioner Betsy Flagg over her vocal criticism of the church's minister, Rev. Ward Cotton. In the meantime, Flagg sought support from Rev. Samuel Austin, minister of the nearby Church of Christ in Worcester. Rev. Austin began a correspondence with Rev. Cotton, which quickly escalated into mutual accusations and calls for mediation by an ecclesiastical council. Ultimately a council was formed and ruled in favor of Rev. Cotton.

The original manuscripts in this collection are owned by our project partners, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Further information about the collection can be found in the NEHGS catalog.

 

Digital Materials

Correspondence, 1811-1812

These letters contain the early discussions in the case of Boylston parishioner Betsy Flagg, who was suspended from communion at Boylston and subsequently began attending Rev. Samuel Austin's parish in Worcester, without an official release from Rev. Cotton. The majority of the correspondence consists of jurisdictional arguments between Rev. Cotton and Rev. Austin. Other records include Boylston Church meeting minutes related to the case, and letters from Flagg herself to Rev. Cotton, requesting an official recommendation to join the church in Worcester.

1811 June 24 by Rev. Cotton   church committee vote on the suspension of Betsy Flagg
1812 January 30 from Rev. Austin to Rev. Cotton letter requesting justification of Betsy Flagg's suspension
1812 February 15 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin letter accusing Rev. Austin of fomenting discord
1812 March 5 from Rev. Austin to Rev. Cotton letter defending Flagg's admission and calling for a church council
1812 April 7 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin letter refuting Rev. Austin's arguments
1812 June 18 from Betsy Flagg to Rev. Cotton letter requesting transfer of Flagg's relation from Boylston to Worcester Church
1812 July 24 from Betsy Flagg to Rev. Cotton letter requesting transfer of Flagg's relation from Boylston to Worcester Church
undated by the Congregational Church of Boylston   legal documentation and testimony regarding Flagg's case
1812 August 21 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin letter in reply to Rev. Austin's visit to Rev. Cotton's home
1812 September 1 from Rev. Austin to Rev. Cotton letter in reply to Cotton, encouraging a personal visit and reiterating positive intentions


Correspondence, 1813-1814

These letters continue the discussion of Betsy Flagg's case. They include further correspondence between Rev. Cotton and Rev. Austin, as well as letters from the Worcester Association of Ministers, and Rev. Aaron Bancroft of the Second Church of Worcester, who intervened in the case. Also included is a copy of Flagg's statement before a church council in 1814. Ultimately the case was decided in favor of Rev. Cotton and against Flagg, whose acceptance by the Worcester parish was deemed an overreach of the church's authority.

1813 January 18 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin official document reiterating Betsy Flagg's suspension
1813 January 18 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin draft of letter further admonishing Rev. Austin
1813 January 18 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin letter further admonishing Rev. Austin
1813 March 4 from Rev. Austin to Rev. Cotton letter calling for formation of a joint committee to investigate Flagg's case
1813 March 13 from Rev. Cotton to Rev. Austin letter refusing committee
1813 March from the Congregational Church in Boylston to the First Church in Worcester official letter denying committee formation
1813 March 18 by Rev. Austin to Rev. Joseph Sumner letter explaining refusal to read Worcester Association's letter
undated by the Worcester Association of Ministers   letter expressing concern over admission of Flagg to Worcester First Church
1813 May 22 from Rev. Aaron Bancroft to Rev. Austin letter expressing concern over admission of Flagg to Worcester First Church
1813 May 21 from Rev. Austin to Rev. Aaron Bancroft letter admitting impropriety of admitting Flagg but defending the decision on other grounds
1814 February 7 from Rev. Cotton to Betsy Flagg letter referring the case to a church council
1814 October 20 from Rev. Cotton to Betsy Flagg letter on behalf of Boylston Church, rejecting Flagg's second confession
1813 May 20 by the Worcester Association of Ministers   testimonial clearing Rev. Cotton of wrongdoing
1814 May 4 by Rev. Cotton to the Worcester Association of Ministers statement on the Flagg case

 

Related Materials

Boylston, Mass. First Church — digital materials

 

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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