New NEHH collections - Salem ministers' personal papers
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.
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.
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 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.