Dover, N.H. First Parish Church

Collection History

Gathered in 1633, the First Parish Church in Dover is the oldest church in New Hampshire. The lands that would eventually become Dover were initially settled by a pair of fishmongers from London. In 1633, the land was bought by a group of English Puritans. Over the next 150 years, with the arrival of mills and other infrastructure, the small settlement grew in population, size and prosperity. The settlement’s first church services were held on the last Sunday of October 1633 by Rev. Leverich at Dover Point; a year later the first meeting house was built on the same location. Little is known about the first meeting house except that it was made of mud and logs with a thatched roof and that it served the community’s purposes until 1654 when a new meeting house was erected on Dover Neck. The third meeting house was located on Pine Hill from 1710-1759. In 1758 the fourth meeting house, built out of wood, was constructed in Tuttle Square. Construction on the fifth, and final, meeting house, a new brick church building, was concluded with its dedication on December 31, 1829.

Rev. William Leverich was the first minister to hold church services in Dover in 1633 and is considered the founder of Mission and Action in Dover. Rev. Hanserd Knollys organized the First Parish Church as a religious organization in 1638. Rev. Jeremy Belknap, who wrote the three volume “History of New Hampshire” and founded the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1791, was the minister at the First Parish from 1769-1786. Rev. David Root was well-known for his opposition to slavery and his anti-slavery sermons, as was his successor Rev. Jeremiah S. Young. During his ministry in 1841, the church passed a resolution against slavery after Frederick Douglass addressed the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society there. The First Parish Church joined the United Church of Christ in 1961. It is a member of the New Hampshire Conference, UCC and of the Carroll-Strafford Association. First Parish Church Congregational, United Church of Christ continues to serve the community of Dover, New Hampshire, today.

The Dover, N.H. First Parish Church records consist of administrative church records and correspondence from 1614-1862. The scope includes records of births, marriages, deaths, meeting minutes, financial records, and pew plans; letters by Rev. Jeremy Belknap, Rev. Hubbard Winslow, and the church's clerk Asa A. Tufts, between congregations, and from parishioners wishing to leave the congregation.

The physical materials in this collection are held by the First Parish Church in Dover, New Hampshire. The Congregational Library & Archives maintains digital and microfilm surrogates for much of the collection. For additional information, please see the finding aid.

New England’s Hidden Histories wishes to thank First Parish Church in Dover for its financial contribution to our project, and especially wishes to recognize church member Diane Fiske for her skillful transcription efforts and her longtime dedication to our work.

 

Digital Materials

Letter of public assurance, 1639

This single-page document consists of a "letter of public assurance" addressed "to all public officers and others in this jurisdiction whom this may concern". The content relates to the case of Separatist minister "Mr. Hansard Knollys" (Rev. Hanserd Knollys, 1599–1691) who was subject to prosecution on charges brought against him by the high commission court in England. In the letter, the unsigned authors grant legal assurance of safe passage for Rev. Knollys during his trial.

Baptisms, marriages, and deaths, 1717-1829

This ledger volume records parishioner marriages from May 1767 - January 1829, and baptisms and deaths from October 1717 - December 1786. It is signed by the church's minister Rev. Jeremy Belknap.

Church records, 1762-1862

This church record book contains committee reports, meeting minutes, correspondence drafts and copies, as well as some financial records. Between pages 122-123, three loose documents were found in and placed in their own folder (Tax documents, 1781-1784).

Church records, 1766-1829

This church record book contains Rev. Jeremy Belknap's historical notes on the town and church of Dover from its foundation until 1789. The volume also contains records of marriages and baptisms, lists of members admitted to the church, a list of the children of Rev. Jonathan Cushing, and notes written by other clergymen.

Tax documents, 1781-1784

These three loose documents were found in the church record book dating to 1762-1862, between pages 122-123, and placed in their own folder.

1781 April 10 by Rev. Jeremy Belknap   notice of receipt for parish taxes levied
1784 May 1 by Stephen Evans to the parish wardens request for payment of one pound, nine shilling and sixpence from the parish collection of 1782
undated     list of payments received from various subscribers

Jeremy Belknap correspondence, 1786

These six items of correspondence were all authored by the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, a Congregational minister better known for his contributions to the corpus of American historical works. After twenty years as minister to the Parish Church in Dover, Rev. Belknap resigned due to the church's failure to resolve his salary complaints. The letters ennumerated below correspond to this dispute, which reached a breaking point in the spring and summer of 1786 and resulted in Rev. Belknap's dissolution of his ministry.

1786 April 30 from Rev. Belknap to the First Parish in Dover letter regarding Rev. Belknap's effort to lobby for an increase in salary due to the depreciation of paper currency
1786 June 12 from Rev. Belknap to the First Parish in Dover letter declining the church committee's invitation to converse about the current "difficulties"
1786 June 15 from Rev. Belknap to the First Parish in Dover letter confirming Rev. Belknap's decision to resign from his former duties
1786 June 16 from Rev. Belknap to the First Parish in Dover letter with a further reiteration of Rev. Belknap's intentions
1786 June 16 from Rev. Belknap to the First Parish in Dover letter with request for an official dismissal or alternatively the convening of an Ecclesiastical Council to decide the matter
1786 July 27 from Rev. Belknap to the First Parish in Dover typewritten copy of an original letter elaborating on the reasons for Rev. Belknap's resignation, including objection to the practice of a general parish tax as a means to pay his salary

 

Church records (loose), 1828-1855

These loose documents relate to the administration of the church, and include meeting minutes of the church and parish, articles of faith and covenants, and official correspondence between churches.

undated [used by] Rev. Clary   articles of faith
1828 August 6 by Jonathan French [moderator]   result of ecclesiastical council dismissing Rev. Clary
1831 November 16 from the Church of Christ at Meredeth Bridge to the Church of Christ at Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination 
1832 June 6 from the Church of Christ in Pleasant Street, Portsmouth to the Church of Christ in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1833 February 6 by John Smith [scribe]   result of ecclesiastical council to install Rev. Root
1833 January 25     template letter for ordination invitation
1834 July 15     articles of faith and covenant
1835 September 17 from the Congregational Church in Rochester to the Church in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council to dismiss pastor
1845 May 11 by E. J. Lane [clerk]   church and parish meeting minutes
1849 December 2 by E. J. Lane [clerk]   church meeting minutes
1849 December 5 by B. R. Allen [moderator]   ecclesiastical council meeting minutes
1852 July 6 by Adam Jobey [moderator]   ecclesiastical council meeting minutes
1852 May 27     meeting notice
1853 December 16 from the Mather Church and Society to the First Church in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1854 March 31     list of subscribers for the American Sunday School Union
1855 January 1     reports of the church treasury committee

 

Church correspondence 1828-1855, vol. 1

This material consists of official correspondence to and from the First Parish Church, including requests for preaching and responses, invitations to ecclesiastical councils, and official dismissals and parishioner transfer letters.

1828 September 13 by Asa Tufts [secretary]   meeting minutes
1828 November 23 from Hubbard Windlay to the church and society of the first congregational parish of Dover letter declining invitation to preach regularly
1831 November 30 from J. H. Keeler to Asa Tufts letter excusing himself from an ecclesiastical council
1831 December 7 from "L" to [unknown] letter requesting references for two potential ministers
1832 May 28 from A. D. Eddy to William Woodman letter with description of recent travels
1832 October 23 from Warren Fay to the First Church in Dover letter declining ministerial call
1838 August 6 from the Congregational Church in Great Falls to the First Church in Dover letter of recommendation for parishioner Oliver Carter
1839 August 28 from E. J. Lane to Rev. Mr. Young letter with request for pulpit supply
1839 September 4 from William J. Breed to E. J. Lane letter making arrangements for preaching
1839 October 10 from Rev. J. S. Young to the committee of the First Church in Dover letter declining offer to continue preaching
1842 July 6 from Rev. J. S. Young to Charles Ricker letter with summons to a disciplinary hearing
1842 July 8 from E. J. Lane to Mr. Palfrey Downing letter with summons to a disciplinary meeting
1842 July 10 from Elizabeth L. Fols to the Congregational Church in Dover letter asking for dismissal
1845 June 14 from Homer Barrow to the First Congregational Church and Society in Dover letter with acceptance of ministerial call
1845 June 23 from the First Congregational Church of Christ in Dover to the Congregational Church of Christ in Rochester invitation to ecclesiastical council for the ordination of Rev. Homer Barrow
1848 September 4 from the First Church in Dover to the First Presbyterian Church in Newburyport parishioner transfer of Hannah Coffin
undated from the First Church in Dover to the Baptist Church in Dover parishioner transfer of "Miss A. B."
undated from the First Church in Dover to Daniel Gale letter with summons to a disciplinary hearing
undated from the First Church in Dover to Samuel Prescott letter with summons to a disciplinary hearing
1849 March 1 from Hayden K. Higby to E. J. Lane letter requesting letter of transfer to the Old South Church in Boston
1853 December 22 from the Congregational Church in Great Falls to the Congregational Church in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for dismission of Rev. McCollom
1853 December 12 from the Congregational Church in Epping to the Congregational Church in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for the ordination of Rev. Lyman White
1855 October 31 from the Congregational Church in Hampton to the Congregational Church in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for the ordination of Rev. John Colby
1855 October 22 from the North Church and Parish in Portsmouth, N.H. to the Congregational Church in Dover invitation to ecclesiastical council for the ordination of Rev. Lyman Whiting

 

Church correspondence 1828-1855, vol. 2

This material consists of official correspondence to and from the First Parish Church, including requests for preaching and responses, invitations to ecclesiastical councils, and official dismissals and parishioner transfer letters.

1831 June 11 from Rev. H. Winslow to "the wardens of the First Parish in Dover" letter describing his health concerns and need for a new pastor
1831 June 11 from Rev. H. Winslow to "the wardens of the First Parish in Dover" copy of above letter with reply from church wardens
1831 November 13 from Rev. H. Winslow to Dr. Asa A. Tufts letter describing his health concerns
1831 November 30 by Israel W. Putnam [moderator]   results of an ecclesiastical council dismissing Rev. Winslow
1831 December 11 from H. Winslow to Dr. Asa A. Tufts letter suggesting replacement ministers
1831 August 19 from Allen Gannett to William Woodman recommendation of J. T. Backus as replacement minister
1832 February 13 from J. Turnbull Backus to William Woodman letter declining the ministerial call
1831 October 31 from J. Turnbull Backus to William Woodman letter reiterating his poor health and declining the ministerial call
1831 August 24 from J. Turnbull Backus to William Woodman letter with arrangements for preaching
undated from Rev. David Root to the First Parish in Dover copy of letter declining preaching due to ill health
1833 January 21 from Rev. David Root to the committee of the First Church and Parish in Dover letter regarding his ministry
1834 April 24 from Charles Ricker to Rev. David Root letter regarding his dismission
1835 March 25 from J. H. Miller to the First Church in Dover invitation to an ecclesiastical council for the merging of the Pleasant Street Church in Portsmouth, N.H. and the North Church
1835 May 28 from Rev. David Root to the First Parish of Dover copy of resignation letter
1837 June 10 from Rev. David Root to the First Congregational Church of Dover letter calling for an ecclesiastical council regarding his resignation
1834 February 10 by T. E. Sawyer   copy of receipt by Richard McDuffee to Thomas Roberts, with elaboration of legal dispute
1835 March 17 from John W. Hayes to Daniel Norris [on behalf of the church] letter with summons to a disciplinary hearing
1835 March 23 by Thomas Roberts   legal testimony
1835 March 26 by John W. Hayes   report on disciplinary case of Daniel Norris
1835 January 19 by Thomas Pickering, David Legro, and Richard McDuffee   legal testimony
1839 February 5 from Daniel Norris to the congregation of the First Church in Dover confession and request for forgiveness
1840 December 5 by Francis Cogswell and others   committee report on Asa Farnsworth's behavior toward the widow Mrs. Benn
1841 April 9 from Asa Farnsworth to the Congregational Church of Dover letter relating to his own disciplinary case
1841 June 28 from Asa Farnsworth to the Congregational Church of Dover letter relating to his own disciplinary case
undated     draft of ruling in Asa Farnsworth's disciplinary case
1842 October 9 from Abraham Folsom to the First Congregational Church in Dover letter regarding the abolition of slavery
1842 October 9 by the First Church in Dover   letter dismissing Abraham Folsom and other members
1852 December 28 from Benjamin Parsons to the Congregational Church and parish in Dover letter with acceptance of ministerial call
1852 December 29 from Benjamin Parsons to the Congregational Church and parish in Dover addendum to acceptance of call with salary request
1852 December 31 from the Congregational Church in Dover to S. L. Pomroy invitation letter to the installation of Rev. Parsons
1853 January 12 by B. N. Allen [moderator]   results of ecclesiastical council for the settlement of Rev. Parsons

 

Church records, 1831-1857

This church record book contains names of church members, records of deaths and baptisms, notices of ministers, and prints of Rev. Hubbard Winslow, Rev. David Root, and Hanserd Knollys. There are printed church manual clippings as well as a photograph of Deacon Lane. The title leaf is signed by Asa A. Tufts in 1831.

 

Special Thanks

This 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.

Become a Member