Beacon Street Diary

June 12, 2018

Our New England's Hidden Histories program continues to grow, with the latest collections provided in partnership with the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. They encompass records from four historical area Congregational churches: Newbury Second, Salem First, Boxford First, and Topsfield. Together these collections represent a wealth of data and historical documents ranging from the colonial era to the nineteenth century, encompassing witchcraft trials, heated theological disputes, and letters to Paul Revere.


Salem, Mass. First Church

Salem's First Church was the first truly Congregational Church in America, founded in 1629 with governance by church members. Its history also has a dark side, with numerous clergy and parishioners involved in the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692. Four volumes of church records ranging from 1629-1843 are included in the collection, three bound and one loose. These include meeting minutes, member and pew listings, baptisms, financial records, and historical chronicles. Loose records include correspondence relating to the church and community as well as administrative documents and officer lists. Of particular note are four letters from John Punchard on behalf of the church committee in 1806, requesting a church bell from Paul Revere's foundry in Boston.

Newbury, Mass. Second Church

The Newbury Second collection includes a bound volume of church records from 1696-1857, which contains accounts, meeting minutes, member lists, seating lists, and a register of baptisms. There is also a collection of correspondence relating to a dispute in the 1740s between religious revivalists in Newbury First Church and their staunchly traditionalist pastor Rev. Christopher Toppan (Rev. Toppan was rumored to have brought a whip into church with which to "scourge the heretics"). Also included are the Second Church's 1729 Articles of Agreement, updated after the acquisition of a new meeting house.

Boxford, Mass. First Church

The Boxford First Church records consist of loose documents ranging in date from 1703-1823, which include meeting minutes and member listings. The bulk of them, however, are correspondences related to a lengthy dispute between two Boxford First parishioners during the ministry of Rev. Isaac Briggs – sparked when one man accused the other of stealing his sheep. These records are part of a much larger archival collection, the Perley Family Papers.

Topsfield, Mass. Congregational Church

Another venerably historic church, Topsfield Congregational was founded in 1663, although there are no surviving records from the earliest period. The extant collection consists of two bound volumes of church records dating from 1684-1869. These include meeting minutes, admissions and member lists, and listings of baptisms, marriages, and deaths.


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 re

May 25, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, May 28th in observance of Memorial Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

historical American flags


image of historical American flags courtesy of

May 21, 2018

These latest additions to the New England's Hidden Histories program again come from our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. The two collections constitute a treasure trove of documents relating to a single individual, Rev. John Cleaveland, who lived from 1722-1799 and ministered to the Chebacco Church in Ipswich for 52 years until his death.

Rev. Cleaveland lived through both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. He was an army chaplain during both conflicts, first as a British colonial serving against the French, and later as an American resisting British overreach. Rev. Cleaveland's story is both an intimate and universal example of shifting loyalties and identities during the formation of the United States.


John Cleaveland papers

Seldom are we treated to so comprehensive a collection as Rev. Cleaveland's personal papers, which reveal diverse aspects of 18th-century life in thrilling detail. These include an extensive array of correspondence, religious papers, biographical material, church administration, handwritten sermons, and relations of faith from local parishioners. Also included is a short diary by Rev. Cleaveland's wife, Mary Cleaveland, in which she details the births of her children. Among the most notable records are documents related to Rev. Cleaveland's expulsion from Yale, a long and somewhat fraught correspondence with his eventual fiancée, a letter urging the conversion of Native American peoples, and a sermon against British tyranny.

John Cleaveland sermons

These two volumes contain Rev. Cleaveland's handwritten notes for sermons preached from 1752-1799. Most were delivered multiple times, with dates and locations specified in the headers. Rev. Cleaveland's home parish of Chebacco served as the main location, however some were delivered to neighboring parishes, and also while encamped during his service in the French and Indian War.


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.

May 16, 2018

This new collection in our New England's Hidden Histories program comes from the Church of Christ in Westborough, Mass. These earliest records begin with the founding of the church in 1724 under Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, and chronicle the congregation's growth through 1787. During the First Great Awakening, both George Whitefield and Johnathan Edwards preached there.

This digital resource has been provided by the Westborough Public Library, where the original manuscript is held.


Westborough, Mass. Church of Christ

The single volume in this collection includes church meeting minutes, records of votes, marriages, baptisms, admissions and dismissions, membership lists, and church covenants.


Special Thanks

NEH logoThis digital resource has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

May 14, 2018

More digital content is now on offer via our New England's Hidden Histories program, in collaboration with the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. These new collections include two personal diaries from the early 1700s, one belonging to a celebrated Salem minister, the other to an ordinary citizen from Lynn, Mass. Despite the authors' differences, the two accounts share striking similarities, such as a preoccupation with local weather, farming and husbandry, travel, and visits with family and friends. As if these personal records weren't fascinating enough, the third collection is a legal testimony by John Stockman of Salisbury, Mass. admitting to a physical assault on the King's Highway.


Joseph Green diary

Rev. Joseph Green was a celebrated minister of the First Church of Salem. Ordained in 1698, he inherited a divided and traumatized congregation after the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. He replaced the controversial Rev. Samuel Parris, reuniting the church and facilitating reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of the witchcraft hysteria. His diary of 1700-1715 deals mainly with day-to-day concerns such as religious study, errands and meetings, though it also touches on more monumental events such as Ann Putnam’s public admission that she had falsely accused others of witchcraft.

Zaccheus Collins diary

The diary of this Lynn, Mass., man details a 43-year period of daily life, including agricultural tasks, notations on attendance at religious meetings, visits from his friends, and observations about the weather. The diary is contained within two bound volumes, the first comprising the years 1726-1750, and the second 1750-1769.

John Stockman testimony

In this document John Stockman admits wrongdoing and apologizes to a Mr. Caleb Moody, Jr., whom he assaulted "in the Night under the temptation of Satan". The Moodys and Stockmans were both prominent families in the Newbury/Salisbury area during the early 18th century.


Have a look through these collections to get a sense of what daily life in New England was like during the early 1700s, through the words of those who lived it.


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.

May 10, 2018

These latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. Both collections comprise the personal papers of two prominent Salem ministers, Rev. George Curwen and Rev. Samuel Fisk. The two men served consecutively as pastors in the First Congregational Church in Salem during the early 1700s, not long after church members had been rocked by the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. Rev. Fisk infamously caused a split in the congregation with his alleged mishandling of records and his doctrinal peculiarities. He and his supporters went on to form the Third Church in Salem, which would later become known as the Salem Tabernacle.


George Curwen papers

The collection includes an array of biographical material such as professional and personal correspondence, church administration, and posthumous legal records.  A number of sermons delivered by Rev. Curwen during his time at Harvard are also included. These were preached under the auspices of various local ministers, including a "Rev. Mather" who was either the famed Rev. Cotton Mather or his son, Rev. Increase Mather.

Samuel Fisk papers

These manuscripts are part of the Joseph Bowditch Papers, a larger collection at the Phillips Library. They contain a sizeable amount of correspondence concerning Rev. Fisk, both personal and legal. Most of the records relate to the split within the First Church's congregation during (and due to) Rev. Fisk's controversial ministry. These include heated letters back and forth, Rev. Fisk's official dismissal at the hands of an ecclesiastical council, and a legal ruling on the case by the Massachusetts House of Representatives.


Anyone with an interest in the history of the Congregational Church in Salem will find these collections a useful primary source, and — in Rev. Fisk's case — also quite a juicy read!


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.

May 3, 2018


The people of Gloucester—the English one, not its namesake in Massachusetts—are remembering their native son, George Whitefield, in a very practical way. The St. Mary de Crypt Church, where he was baptized educated, and preached his first sermon, has undertaken an ambitious restoration project. The Discover DeCrypt project is bringing the church into the twenty-first century as a place of worship as well as community center and part of a Whitefield heritage trail.

Last fall we met Mark Jones and Richard Atkins, who came to the Library from Gloucester. They were, like George before them, traveling up and down the East Coast, tracing Whitefield’s career for a BBC radio program. What was the connection with the Congregational Library? Rev. Whitefield was not, of course, a Congregationalist, but we possess a rare portrait that hangs prominently in our reading room. And I was glad to be interviewed for their program, which aired last winter.

Both of the de Crypt buildings are very old, and as the renovations have progressed, more of their history is unfolding. Below the schoolroom floor, archeologists on site discovered remains from the fifteenth-century (maybe not old by English Gloucester standards but pretty impressive here).  The congregation also discovered a collection of Whitefield sermons from 1742, given to the church in 1899.

Projects like this one are expensive, and we are passing the word along about the renovation in hopes that some of our readers might want to contribute. US donors can give directly through the website ( It’s gratifying to see George Whitefield’s home town remembering one of the most famous people of the eighteenth century in such an ambitious and thoughtful way.

May 3, 2018

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Friday, May 4th from noon to the end of business. The staff will be doing some reorganizing of our stacks, and don't wish to disrupt any researchers with the noise.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions that require staff assistance, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

April 30, 2018
By: Douglas Winiarski
Historians of religion in early America ought to be shouting “Huzzah!” for the Congregational Library & Archives these days. Since 2011, Jeff Cooper and a team of scholars at this important research archive on Boston’s Beacon Hill have been gathering at-risk Congregational church records from basements, bank vaults, and private homes. The goal of the Library’s New England’s Hidden Histories project is stunningly ambitious: to preserve, digitize, and transcribe tens of thousands of pages of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century church records.
I’ve been fortunate to serve on the steering committee for the program, which is led by Cooper and the Congregational Library’s executive director, Peggy Bendroth. Many of the key manuscript collections cited in Darkness Falls on the Land of Light are now available online through the NEHH portal, while many others are coming soon.
Highlights from the NEHH collection (so far) include:
More than 500 church admission relations from Haverhill, Middleborough, and Essex, Massachusetts—all in full, glorious color!
  • Church records from the “praying Indian” church at Natick;
  • Ministerial association record books from nearly every county in Connecticut;
  • Lists of men and women admitted to the First Church of Ipswich, Massachusetts, site of one of the largest religious revivals of eighteenth-century North America;
  • Minutes from the Grafton, Massachusetts, church record book, with transcription, detailing the troubled pastorate of the ardent revivalist clergyman Solomon Prentice and his separatist wife, Sarah;
  • Disciplinary records resulting from the bitter New Light church schisms in Newbury and Sturbridge, Massachusetts;
  • Miscellaneous church papers from Granville, Massachusetts, featuring letters by the celebrated African American preacher Lemuel Haynes;
  • And a wide range of sermons, theological notebooks, and personal papers by eighteenth-century Congregational clergymen, including luminaries Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Hopkins.
Cooper and Bendroth have forged partnerships with New England’s leading history institutions, including the American Antiquarian Society and Peabody Essex Museum. And they have digitized An Inventory of the Records of the Particular (Congregational) Churches of Massachusetts Gathered 1620–1805, the indispensable guide compiled by Bendroth’s predecessor, Harold Field Worthley.
For teachers eager to show their students what seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history is made of; for undergraduate and graduate students seeking primary texts for papers; for genealogists searching for baptismal records of long-lost ancestors; for scholars engaged in major book projects—NEHH is now the go-to hub for online research on the history of New England puritanism and the Congregational tradition.
As with all digital history initiatives, NEHH is a work in progress. They’re always looking for volunteers to support their crowd-sourced transcription projects. It’s a great opportunity to involve students in the production of new historical knowledge. For more information, contact Jeff Cooper or Helen Gelinas, director of transcription.
Thanks to a second $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bendroth, Cooper and their colleagues at the Congregational Library will be churning out high quality digital images and transcriptions of rare Congregational manuscript church records for years to come. Congratulations, CLA! Huzzah!
To read more about the NEH grant, check out this article from the Christian Science Monitor.

This blog was originally featured in Douglas Winiarski's blog The People Called New Lights

April 23, 2018

On Tuesday, April 17, James “Jim” Matarazzo, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, passed away in Boston. To those of us in the Library and Archives’ field, Jim was a legend. For almost 50 years, he guided students from the classroom to successful careers, always being available and never forgetting anyone and their life. His gentle and humble nature belied a brilliant and cagey navigator of the working world…and he always paved the way into that world for his students.

The mention of Jim’s name always elicits a smile to the many whose lives he touched. The image of Jim’s pleasant smiling visage with his beloved pipe will forever be etched in my heart. His ability to remain calm and understanding while subtly being relentless in your behalf were the building blocks of his success. He was the Will Rogers of the Library and Archives world…never meeting a person he didn’t like and he took that easy-going nature a step further and always connected good people with each other.

Here at the Congregational Library and Archives, we are forever indebted to Jim for his tireless work on our behalf to help move many projects and endeavors forward with wisdom and funding. Many a student has walked through our doors with confidence and abilities that Jim helped craft.

We are among the many who will miss Jim dearly, but his confidence in us (and everyone) is contagious. A day won’t pass without someone whispering thank you for a successful path he started.