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Cambridge, Mass. First Church records, 1784-1968.

 Collection
Identifier: RG4935

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the records kept by a number of ministers at the First Church in Cambridge as well as the records of various church organizations which were gathered by members of the First Church in Cambridge. The ministerial records within the collection contain extensive sermon records, and the diaries of Alexander McKenzie. The church organizations records within the collection contain meeting minutes, financial records, membership records, attendance records, and historical sketches.

Dates

  • 1784-1968

Creator

Restrictions on Access

Access to this collection is unrestricted and open to the public.

Restrictions on Use

Items in this collection are subject to U.S. Copyright Law. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine the copyright status of collection items and to secure any permissions necessary for their reproduction and publication. Requests for permission to publish material must be discussed with the archivist or librarian.

Historical Note

Cambridge, Massachusetts, originally called Newe Towne and then Newtowne until 1638, was fist settled in 1630. The first meeting house was erected in 1632. Public worship began in 1633 with Thomas Hooker as the minister. In 1636 Hooker, and all but eleven members of his congregation, moved to Connecticut after he dissented from other Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. Thomas Shepard became the second minister in 1636 and the First Church was officially organized with him as the minister on February 1, 1636. It was the eleventh congregational church founded in Massachusetts. In 1637, Harvard was settled in Newtowne in part so that students could "benefit from proximity to the soul-ravishing preaching" of Rev. Shepard. In 1648 the Cambridge Platform of Church Doctrine and Discipline, an important document outlining church government in New England, was adopted in the First Church meeting house. Rev. Shepard continued to be the minister of the First Church until his death on August 25, 1649.

By 1650 the first meeting house had fallen into disrepair and the second meeting house was erected in the College Yard. Johnathan Mitchel succeeded Rev. Shepard in 1650 and served as the minister until his death in 1668. He was instrumental to the creation of the Half-Way Covenant which granted baptism to the children of nonmembers of the church. Rev. Mitchel was succeeded by Urian Oakes (1671-1682) and Nathaniel Gookin (1682-1692). In 1696, William Brattle, a 1662 graduate of Harvard, was installed as the minister of the First Church. During his time at the church he was also a tutor and treasurer at Harvard and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. By 1703 the second meeting house had also fallen into disrepair and the town voted to begin construction on a third. Construction on the third meeting house was completed in 1706 and remained near the location of the second. Rev. Brattle’s pastorate ended in 1716 with his death.

At 24 years of age, Nathaniel Appleton, was installed as the minister of the First Church in 1717. He is the single longest serving minister at First Church having served for 67 years until his death in 1784. Beyond his pastorate, Rev. Appleton was also a Fellow of Harvard and was the second ever recipient of the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Harvard in 1771. In 1718 the third meeting house was expanded. In 1753 the fourth meeting house was constructed. Timothy Hilliard was installed as an assistant pastor in 1783 while Rev. Appleton’s health began to fade and in 1784 Hilliard was installed as the new minister. He served until his death in 1790.

Rev. Hilliard was succeeded by Abiel Holmes who was installed as the minister of the First Church in 1792. He graduated from Yale College in 1783 and became a minister in South Carolina and then in Midway, Georgia until 1791 when he permanently moved back to New England. In 1803 he was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1805 he published his history, American Annals. In 1813 he was elected as a member of the American Antiquarian Society and served as the secretary there from 1816-1828. In 1829, Rev Holmes’ contract with the Parish of the First Church was severed over his refusal to invite Unitarian preachers and his strict adherence to evangelical Congregationalism. As a result, a majority of the church’s members withdrew from the parish and formed the Shepard Congregational Society, hiring Rev. Holmes to lead the new congregation. In 1831 the fifth meeting house was constructed by the Shepard Congregational Society at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Holyoke Street. Rev. Holmes continued to be the pastor of the Congregational Church until 1831 when declining health forced him to resign from the position. The parish which remained in the fourth meeting house eventually became the First Parish Unitarian and built their fifth, and current, meeting house in 1833.

In 1829 Nehemiah Adams Jr. was installed as an assistant pastor at the First Church. When Rev. Holmes resigned in 1831 Rev. Adams became the minister. In 1834 he resigned from the pastorate to become the pastor of the Essex Street Church in Boston. In 1835 Dr. John Albro was called to become the next minister of the First Church. Rev. Albro was both scholarly and community oriented, serving on the School Committee and often inviting students to his residence for the study of the Greek Testament. He published a work titled the Life of Thomas Shepard. He resigned in 1865 and died the following year.

Alexander McKenzie was installed as the pastor of the First Church in Cambridge in 1867. During his pastorate, the church’s membership grew significantly. He founded the Young People’s Alliance in 1882. He also maintained close relations with Harvard and other academic institutions; at Harvard he was the preacher to the University and the Secretary of the Board of Overseers and he was also a trustee of Wellesley College. In 1872, the sixth, and final, meeting house was constructed. That church was also known as the Shepard Memorial Church. The fifth meeting house was sold to the Roman Catholic congregation following the construction of the sixth meeting house. In 1924 that building was sold to Harvard. Alexander McKenzie served as the pastor of the First Church until 1910 when he resigned, though he maintained the title of pastor-emeritus until his death in 1914.

In 1919 the First Church and Shepard Congregational Society were incorporated into a single legal entity, the First Church in Cambridge. In 1957 the First Church joined the United Church of Christ. In 1991 the First Church adopted the open and affirming title. Renovations on the sixth meeting house were completed in 2000. The First Church in Cambridge continues to serve the local community today.

Ministers

Thomas Hooker
1633-1636
Thomas Shepard
1633-1649
Henry Dunster (interim)
1649-1650
Jonathan Mitchell
1650-1668
Charles Chauncey (interim)
1668-1671
Urian Oakes
1671-1682
Nathaniel Gookin
1682-1692
William Brattle
1696-1717
Nathaniel Appleton
1717-1783
Timothy Hilliard
1783-1790
Abiel Holmes
1792-1831
Nehemiah Adams
1831-1834
John A. Albro
1835-1867
Alexander McKenzie
1867-1912
Raymond Calkins
1912-1940
John H. Leamon
1940-1962
Wells Grogan
1962-1976
Allen Happe
1977-1999
Mary Luti
2000-2008
Daniel Smith
2008-present

Extent

6.98 Cubic Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Cambridge, Massachusetts, was fist settled in 1630 and the first meeting house was erected in 1632. Public worship began in 1633 with Thomas Hooker and the First Church of Cambridge was formally established in 1636 with Thomas Shepard as the first minister. In 1650, 1706, and 1757 the second, third, and fourth meeting houses were constructed. The Parish split in 1829 between Unitarians and traditional Congregationalists after the parish severed its contract with Abiel Holmes over his refusal to invite Unitarian preachers into the church. In 1831 the newly formed Shepard Congregational Society built the fifth meeting house and in 1872 the sixth, and final meeting house was constructed. In 1919 the First Church and Shepard Congregational Society were incorporated into a single legal entity, the First Church in Cambridge. The First Church in Cambridge continues to serve the local community today. This collection contains the records kept by a number of ministers at the First Church in Cambridge as well as the records of various church organizations which were gathered by members of the First Church in Cambridge and include diaries, sermons, correspondence, meeting minutes, and financial records.

Arrangement

This collection has been arranged into the two series listed below. Both series are further divided into subseries based on topic. Within each series, materials have generally been arranged in chronological order by start date. Materials have also been grouped together by subject matter when there is a clear continuation of content between volumes.
Series 1: Ministerial records, 1784-1914
Subseries 1: William Brattle records, undated
Subseries 2: Nathaniel Appleton records, undated
Subseries 3: Timothy Hilliard records, 1784-1788
Subseries 4: Abiel Holmes records, 1788-1837
Subseries 5: Nehemiah Adams records, 1826-1834
Subseries 6: Samuel Green records, 1830
Subseries 7: John Albro records, 1864-1865
Subseries 8: Alexander McKenzie records, 1846-1914
Series 2: Church organizations, 1813-1968
Subseries 1: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions records, 1813, 1821
Subseries 2: Missionary Sewing Circle records, 1819-1870
Subseries 3: Female Tract Society records, 1819-1875
Subseries 4: Margaret Shepard Society records, 1830-1932
Subseries 5: Maternal Association records, 1833-1856
Subseries 6: Holmes Chapel Association records, 1857
Subseries 7: Freedmen's Aid Society records, 1864-1875
Subseries 8: Church Aid Society records, 1870-1875
Subseries 9: Ladies Union Missionary Society records, 1872-1891
Subseries 10: Young People's Alliance records, 1884-1929
Subseries 11: Sunday School records, 1888-1968
Subseries 12: Captains of Ten records, 1889-1932
Subseries 13: Woman's Foreign Missionary Society records, 1892-1923
Subseries 14: Knights of King Arthur records, 1897-1934
Subseries 15: Woman's Home Missionary Society records, 1900-1920
Subseries 16: Riverside Alliance records, 1900-1928
Subseries 17: Parish Auxiliary records, 1916-1923

Custodial History

Prior to 2010 the records within this collection were deposited on loan to the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Acquisition Information

Materials were loaned to the Congregational Library & Archives by the First Church in Cambridge in 2010; accession 2010-01.

Related Materials

The Houghton Library at Harvard University continues to hold onto some First Church in Cambridge materials, including an account book and sermon papers whose digital representation can be accessed as part of the Congregational Library & Archive's New England's Hidden Histories project.

Additional records books from the First Church in Cambridge, and related to the church, are held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Bibliography

Calkins, Raymond. First Church in Cambridge, Congregational. 1946. 17.11.1 C14.24 FirC

Processing Information

Originally processed by Jessica Steytler in 2010 and 2013. Reprocessed by Zachary Bodnar, August 2019, using DACS Second Edition.
Title
Cambridge, Mass. First Church records, 1784-1968.
Status
Completed
Author
Zachary Bodnar
Date
2019-08-23
Description rules
Dacs2 2013
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English

Repository Details

Part of the Congregational Library & Archives Repository

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