Medfield, Mass. First Parish Unitarian Church

Collection History

The First Parish Church in Medfield dates back to the beginning of the town itself in 1651, when settlers from Dedham and Braintree, Mass. requested the incorporation of a new town by the General Court. They founded the Medfield Church of Christ in the same year, calling Rev. John Wilson as their first pastor. The second minister was Rev. Joseph Baxter, a Harvard graduate and native of Braintree, Massachusetts, who served from 1697-1745. During his ministry the church membership grew from 65 to 375, and a second meeting house was constructed in 1706.

During the pastorate of the fourth minister Rev. Thomas Prentiss, which lasted from 1770-1814, a third meetinghouse was built, dating to 1789. As of 2019, a heavily remodeled version of this building is still standing, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1809 the inside of the church was refurbished, with seats in the body of the meeting house being taken up and replaced with pews, as well as the creation of a segregated gallery seating area.

In 1813 the town and the parish began to be legally separated. The members of the church incorporated as The First Parish. In 1816 the trustees of the Medfield Ministerial Fund, Inc. were granted a charter and by-laws by the General Court. The first Sunday school was organized in 1818, officiated entirely by women, with the wife of Rev. Thomas Prentiss playing an active role in its administration.

In 1827 a group of members of the First Parish petitioned for permission to withdraw from the First Parish, which was becoming increasingly Unitarian, in order to form an Orthodox church. An ecclesiastical council was called and granted their request. The Orthodox Church of Medfield was organized officially on February 6, 1828 with 17 total members, and is still active today as the United Church of Christ in Medfield.

The original First Parish church was subsequently known as the First Parish Unitarian church from 1828 onwards. The meeting house was extensively remodeled again in 1839, including a complete reorientation of the front of the building from east to south, and the construction of a larger spire. During the hurricane of 1938, the taller spire which had been added when the building was remodeled in 1839 was destroyed, and remains un-replaced. By the 1970s the congregation had diminished to 10 members and was in danger of dissolution. Growth increased in the following decades, however, to the extent that the Unitarian Universalist Association granted the church an award in recognition of their revitalization. The First Parish UU of Medfield continues to serve the community in Medfield today.

For additional information, please see the finding aid.

 

Digital Materials

Church records, 1738-1880

This bound volume contains the administrative records of the church as well as the vital records of the church's members. The volume contains meeting minutes, records of important votes, marriage records, baptismal records, necrologies, lists of admitted members and founding documents such as the church covenant.

 

Loose records, 1709-1842

These loose records include legal documents such as deeds, documents relating to the office of the ministry, correspondence of various kinds, and meeting minutes.

1709 from Rev. Joseph Baxter to the First Parish in Medfield  correspondence regarding Rev. Baxter's dissatisfaction with his ministry
1731 September 3 by the town of Medfield to Joseph Baxter deed granting land
1742 May 19     town meeting minutes
1762 May 19 from John Fisher to John Baxter deed granting land
1748     ecclesiastical council minutes
1770 August 26 from Rev. Thomas Prentiss to the Church of Christ in Medfield correspondence with acceptance of ministerial call
1770 October 1     church meeting minutes
circa 1770 from Rev. Thomas Prentiss to the Church of Christ in Medfield correspondence with acceptance of ministerial call
1788 August 30 from David Whitmarsh Jr. to Nathaniel Bosworth deed granting land
1812 from "N.B." to "Captain Turner" personal correspondence in which the writer details their provision of the sloop Experiment with a barrel of sweet potatoes and provides instructions for cooking them.
1813 May 7     church meeting minutes
1817-1860     church meeting minutes
1840 March 9     parish meeting minutes
1840 April 13     parish meeting minutes
1842 March 12 from Jonathan Bishop (Justice of the Peace) to members of the Congregational Society in Medfield court summons
undated from Thomas Baxter to John Baxter correspondence [fragmentary]
undated     unattributed sermon [fragmentary]

 

Relations of faith, 1697-1788

These records consist relations of faith by parishioners seeking to join the church in Medfield. The documents are organized alphabetically by last name. In some cases, female parishioners are identified only under their husband's name.

Allen, Aaron relation 1739 July 19
Allen, Eleazer (wife of) relation 1726 April 3
Allen, Joseph (wife of) relation 1731 July 11
Allen, Patience relation 1788 April 13
Adams, Jeremiah (wife of) relation 1720 June 26
Bullard, Eleazer relation undated
Bullard, Josiah (wife of) relation 1739 July 29
Bullard, Ebenezer relation 1738 August 20
Bullard, Ebenezer (wife of) relation 1742 July 18
Bullen, Keziah relation 1741 December 6
Clap, Stephen (wife of) relation 1729 June 8
Clark, Mehetabel relation 1742 July 18
Clark, Phebe relation 1741/2 January 31
Clark, Rowland relation 1742 March 28
Clark, Ruth relation 1720/1 February 26
Clark, Sarah relation 1727 February 18
Cook, Nathan relation 1742 July 18
"Leutenant Dwight" (wife of) relation 1714/5 January 16
Fales, Peter relation 1704/5 April 9
Fales, Peter  relation 1725 December 26
Fisher, Josiah (wife of) relation 1742/3 January 2
Fisher, John (wife of) relation 1738 July 2
Harding, Abraham relation undated
Kingsberry, Samuel (wife of) relation 1724 October 24
Lovel, Alexander relation 1731 March 14
Lovel, Hannah relation 1727 May 14
Lovel, Hope relation 1741/2 January 3
Lovel, Lydia relation 1728 April 21
Lovel, Nathaniel relation 1711 April 8
Morse, Nathaniel relation 1733 June 17
Mason, Abigail relation 1735/6 February 1
Mason, Joseph relation 1742 September 26
Partridg, Elizabeth relation undated
Partridge, Samuel (wife of) relation 1706 May 5
Partridge, William Jr. relation 1728 March 31
Partridge, William Sr. relation 1727/8 February 4
Plimpton, Benjamin relation undated
Plimpton, William (wife of) relation 1730 May 17
Rocket, Josiah relation 1697 September 12
Rocket, Mary relation 1697 August 1
Sparhawk, Timothy relation 1742 March 28
Thurston, Joseph relation 1737/8 March 3
Wight, Mercy relation 1743/4 February 19
unknown relation 1766 February 9
unknown relation 1693 July 17

 

Membership records, 1713-1813

These loose documents relate to individual parishioners, and include letters regarding dismissals, admonitions, and excommunication of Medfield church members.

1713 December 4 Baxter, Rebekah notice of death [copy]
1775 March 17 Parkman, Lydia request for dismission from the Church of Christ in Medfield
1801 Boyden, Joseph admonition
1801 November 21 Boyden, Joseph reply to admonition
1802 February 14 Boyden, Joseph admonition (2nd)
1802 August 8 Boyden, Joseph excommunication
1810 June 9 Peplow, Hannah request for dismission
1813 May 7 Smith, Sarah admonition
undated Clark, Abigail letter of recommendation by Walpole Church

 

Financial records, 1731-1832

This collection consists of loose financial records relating both to the church and its parishioners, including receipts, lists of subscribers, and a fragment of a will.

1725 November 17 from Rev. Joseph Baxter to Samuel Sewall receipt
1744 October 10 from Rev. Joseph Baxter to the town of Medfield letter with calculations for salary
1753 February 2 by Edward Davis to John Baxtor receipt
1765 October 28 by John Fisher to John Baxter receipt
1832 by Jonathan Fiske Heirs of John Baxter receipt
undated     lists of subscribers for payments toward the spire of Unitarian Meetinghouse
undated     lists of subscribers for payments toward the purchasing of an organ for First Congregational Meetinghouse in Medfield
undated by John Baxter to his heirs will of John Baxter [fragment]

 

Sermons, 1744-1759

This collection of loose documents consists of manuscript sermons, unattributed but written largely in the same hand. The sermon dates align with the ministry of Rev. Jonathan Townsend (1745-1776) and it is likely that he is the primary author. Verse text, dates of preaching, and place of preaching are ennumerated below.

 

  • Matthew 4:7 – "Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God..."
      first preached at Medfield, 24 February 1744/5
  • Psalms 116:4 – "Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul..."
      first preached at Medfield, 29 June 1746
  • James 4:13-14 – "Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain..."
      first preached at Medfield, 3 January 1747/8
  • James 4:15 – "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that..."
      first preached at Medfield, 3 January 1747/8
  • Amos 2:4-5 – "Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept his commandments, and their lies caused them to err, after the which their fathers have walked..."
      first preached at Medfield, 28 January 1747/8
  • James 3:15 – "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish..."
      first preached at Medfield, 17 May 1747
  • Mark 6:3 – "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon?"
      first preached at Medfield, 22 May 1748
  • Deuteronomy 32:5 – "They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation..."
      first preached at Medfield, 25 June 1750
  • James 1:21 – "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls..."
      first preached at Medfield, 5 August 1750
  • James 1:21 – "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls..."
      first preached at Medfield, 12 August 1750
  • James 3:17-18 – "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy..."
      first preached at Medfield, 15 March 1752
  • Proverbs 22:17-22 – "Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge..."
      first preached Medfield, 28 June 1752
  • Matthew 13:36-44 – "Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field..."
      first preached at Medfield, 21 January 1753
  • James 1:27 – "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world..."
      first preached at Medfield, 12 August 1753
  • James 1:27 – "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world..."
      first preached at Medfield, 12 August 1753
  • James 4:8
      first preached at Medfield, 31 March 1754
  • James 5:12 – "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation..."
      first preached at Medfield, 29 June 1755
  • James 5:12 – "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation..."
      first preached at Medfield, 13 July 1755
  • Romans 10:9-10 – "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved..."
      first preached at Medfield, 25 January 1756
  • Exodus 20:8-11 – "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy...""
      first preached at Roxbury, 1 February 1756
  • Amos 4:7-8 – "And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest..."
      first preached 20 June 1756
  • 1 Peter 5:7 – "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you..."
      first preached 14 November 1756
  • Psalms 103:19 – "The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all..."
      first preached at Roxbury, 13 March 1757
  • James 5:7 – "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord..."
      first preached at Medfield, 12 June 1757
  • Romans 2:13 – "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified..."
      first preached October 1757
  • Luke 2:10-11 – "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people..."
      first preached at Roxbury, 25 December 1757
  • James 1:12 – "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him..."
      first preached 8 January 1758
  • Matthew 22:1-14
      first preached at Roxbury, 18 March 1759
  • Joshua 1:7-8 – "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest..."
      first preached at Medfield, 27 May 1759
  • James 4:6 – "But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble..."
      first preached at Medfield, 19 August 1759
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58 - "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord..."
      first preached at Roxbury, 23 September 1759
  • James 4:4 - "...know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God..."
      first preached at Medfield, 25 November 1759
  • James 4:4 - "...know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God..."
      first preached at Medfield, 25 November 1759

 

Church correspondence, 1776-1817

These loose documents consist of official correspondence both to and from the church in Medfield, largely constituting letters of invitation to ecclesiastical councils and the ordinations of new ministers.

1745 October 22 from the Church of Christ in Needham to the Church of Christ in Medfield parishioner transfer of Jonathan Townsend
1776 June 4 from the Church of Christ in the 2nd precinct in Dedham to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1779 August 13 from the Church of Christ in Pepperell to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1780 May 24 from the Second Church of Christ in Dedham to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1787 September 19 from the First Church of Christ in Hingham to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1797 May 2 from the Congregational Society in Wrentham to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1799 December 14 from the Church of Christ in Walpole to the Congregational Church in Medfield parishioner transfer of Sarah Adams
1808 August 10 from the First Church of Christ in Medway to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council
1808 December 20 from the Church of Christ in Upton to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council
1817 February 5 from the Church of Christ in Sudbury to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
1817 March 17 from the Second Congregational Society in Charlestown to the Church of Christ in Medfield invitation to ecclesiastical council for ordination
undated from the First Church of Christ in Medway to the Church of Christ in Medfield parishioner transfer of James Bryden

 

Prayer requests, undated

This collection of prayer requests likely dates to the 17th-18th centuries, with the names of parishioners making the request and a brief description of the desired prayer. They include prayers for safe passage, protection of relatives during military service, bolstering of personal faith, and sanctification of deaths occurring in the family.

 

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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