Cotton, Ward. Correspondence
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.
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|
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|
Boylston, Mass. First Church — digital materials
Special ThanksCouncil 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.