A Record Of The First Parish In Watertown, Massachusetts,
Compiled By Arthur B. Fuller, Minister Of The First Parish, Watertown: 1861
[Transcribed by Sandra Boudrou]
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE FIRST PARISH (UNITARIAN), IN WATERTOWN
A company of early emigrants from England, whose principal leaders were Sir Richard Saltonstall, Rev. George Phillips, and Elder Richard Browne, came to Watertown, as settlers, in 1630. The town was incorporated, after the manner of that day, by a colonial enactment, Sept. 17, 1630. The First Parish (now the Unitarian Society) was established the same year, and its affairs were then identified with those of the town. Watertown was so called from its abundance of water in the river, and the springs, and ponds in its then limits. It originally included in its boundaries what now are the towns of Waltham, Weston, Belmont, and a portion of territory since forming a part of Lincoln and Cambridge, besides what is to-day the town of Watertown. There were also the "Watertown farms," or lands given by the colonial legislature to this town in Princeton, near Wachusett mountain. It will be seen that our town has been largely shorn of its original possessions, and much circumscribed in territory. The Church in this Parish, which word was then synonymous with that of township, was organized July 28, 1630, and is the most ancient in the colony of Massachusetts Bay, except one-The First Church in Salem. It was the only Church in Watertown for sixty-six years. Rev. George Phillips became its pastor on the day of its organization. He had previously been settled in England. He was extremely liberal and charitable in his theological opinions, and the earliest advocate of strict Congregationalism and Independency in the colony. Indeed, until the arrival of Rev. John Cotton from England, he stood, in this respect, alone among the clergy in New England. He also, in advising the town to resist a colonial tax, was the earliest asserter, in colonial affairs, of the doctrine that "taxation without representation is tyranny," the ground-principle, many years subsequently, of our American Revolutionary struggle. Mr. Phillips died July 1, 1644.
The Church also fully sympathized with its pastor in liberal views and love for strict independency. It was the first church which adopted thorough Congregationalism and entire independency of other churches and human authority as its basis, and for a long time stood alone in their advocacy; it was regarded as somewhat heretical in ecclesiastical matters then, though its Congregational system is now prevalent throughout New England as the method of church government. Some of the earlier members of the church were distinguished for their liberality of views, and tolerant spirit. Among these, Hon. Richard Saltonstall, who, after his return to England, wrote a letter to the magistrates of this colony in favor of toleration, and Elder Richard Browne, who averred that even the Romish churches, in spite of many errors, were nevertheless churches of Christ, were preeminent. The parish and its ministers were also uniformly in favor of civil freedom, so that the town, then identical with the Parish, was selected as a place of refuge for the General Court during the Revolutionary struggle.
Rev. Mr. Phillips was sole minister of the church and parish till Dec. 19, 1639, when Rev. John Knowles was ordained by the Church as a colleague pastor with Rev. Mr. Phillips. Mr. Knowles had never been settled elsewhere. It was an early custom to have two ministers of each church, one as pastor, the other as teacher, but this distinction was never observed in this Parish. Mr. Knowles was set apart to the work of the ministry by the action of his own church and parish only; no ministerial council was called, nor were the neighboring churches and ministers asked to assist, or even notified. This is in conformity to the principles of strict Congregationalism, though it caused some complaint by other ministers at the time. The right of each congregation to ordain or install its own ministers, wholly by itself, is clear and unquestionable, the expediency is a separate consideration.
Mr. Knowles continued colleague pastor till the death of Mr. Phillips, and for some years subsequent, but in 1650 he returned to England, where he died, April 10, 1985(?) He also was a strick Congregationalist, and deemed in his day, too liberal in ecclesiastical matters.
Rev. John Sherman became colleague with Mr. Knowles in 1647, and remained pastor after Mr. Knowles's return to England, until his (Mr. Sherman's) decease, Aug. 8, 1685. He was a good, and a just man, and of marked intellectual ability, as had been his predecessors. These three pastors were the sole ministers of Watertown, for the first fifty-five years after its settlement.
Rev. John Bailey was installed as Mr. Sherman's successor, Oct. 6, 1686. This was the first installation in Massachusetts. It differs from ordination by the omission of the practice of "laying on of hands." Mr. Bailey took the ground and strenuously maintained it, his Church assenting, that having been once ordained, consecration anew to the work of the ministry was unnecessary, and seemingly called in question the validity of the original act. Rev. Thomas Bailey, his brother, was also employed as his colleague, until his (Thomas') death Jan. 21, 1689. It does not appear from the records that he was ever ordained or installed over the church, though he was one of its regular pastors, for fourteen months.
In 1692, Rev. John Bailey left Watertown, and returned to Boston and became there the assistant minister of the First Church. His change of residence and pastorship was doubtless occasioned by his depression of spirits, owing to the death of his beloved wife and of his brother, which led him to feel that change of scene and labor was absolutely requisite. No dissatisfaction between him and his people is anywhere mentioned, and we have his private journal, as well as official records. He died Dec. 12, 1697.
Rev. Henry Gibbs was invited to be assistant pastor with Mr. Bailey in 1691. He accepted the call, and entered at once upon his duties, but was not ordained or installed until Oct. 6, 1697. He continued pastor till his death, Oct. 21, 1723.
Rev. Seth Storer was ordained July 22, 1724. He died Nov. 27, 1774, aged seventy-two, after a useful ministry of over fifty years. After his death, Rev. Dr. Cooper, of Brattle Street Church, Boston, resided in this town for some time, Boston being in the possession of the British. He supplied this pulpit during his temporary residence here, and it was not until April 29, 1778, that any successor to Mr. Storer was found. On that day the Rev. Daniel Adams was ordained. His ministry was of short duration, for he was stricken down by the fatal hand of death the same year, and died Sept. 16, 1778, after a ministry of less than six months.
Rev. Richard Rosewell Eliot was ordained pastor of this church, June 21, 1780. He died Oct. 21, 1818, aged sixty-six, after a ministry of thirty-eight years.
As all these Christian ministers have now gone to their long home, it is proper to add that all were of irreproachable moral and religious character and most of them were men of distinguished mental ability and pastoral gifts.
Rev. Converse Francis, D. D., was ordained pastor of the First Church and parish in Watertown, June 23, 1819. After twenty-three years pastorate, he resigned June 21, 1842, in order to accept the important professorship of Pulpit Eloquence and Pastoral Care, in the Divinity School of Harvard University. His farewell discourse was preached Aug. 21, 1842.
Rev. John Weiss, Jr., was ordained Oct. 25, 1843. He resigned Oct. 3, 1845, but resumed his pastorate, on invitation of the parish, in 1846, and continued in the work of the ministry here, until his resignation in Nov. 1847.
Rev. Hasbrouck Davis was ordained March 28, 1849. He resigned May 11, 1853.
Rev. George Bradford was ordained Nov. 6, 1856. He died Feb. 17, 1859, after a brief but useful ministry.
Rev. Arthur B. Fuller, formerly pastor of the New North Church, Boston, became pastor of the First Parish, Watertown, March 1, 1860. Following the precedents of former pastors in the parish, and by his own express desire, there was no formal installation-service by a council from abroad, but he preached discourses, defining the mutual duties of pastor and people, on the first Sunday in March, at which time his letter of acceptance of their call, was read to the parish and congregation.
There have, of course, been several houses of worship for the First Parish in this town. The first meeting-house of the parish was probably built soon after the settlement of the town, as in the earliest town records, in 1635, a vote of 80 pounds is ordered for the charge of the new meeting-house, plainly implying that there had been another, and older one, previous to that date. It was probably a very humble affair, and fit only for a few years occupation in the infant state of the settlement. We are satisfied that the first two meting-houses were built upon a rising knoll of ground belonging to the old Coolidge estate, on the main road, near Mr. George Frazar's house. The oldest parsonage house is now the residence of Joshua Coolidge, Jr.
The principal part of the earlier settlers of Watertown, lived in the part of the town near Mr. Auburn, early called Sweet Auburn, nearly all of which was originally comprised in the territory of Watertown. The second meeting-house, probably the first of any pretension, was erected at a very early date, and was doubtless quite humble in its architectural character. As early as 1654, a new meeting-house was ordered by the town, but owing to a fierce contention about its site, it was not built and occupied until Nov. 1656. It stood near, or upon the old site, in the vicinity of the ancient burial ground. After an exciting controversy about location, another meeting-house was built for the parish, and subsequently accepted February 4, 1695. It stood at the crossing of Lexington and Belmont streets, at a place called frequently the "Four Corners." The building of this church led to a parish division and the formation of a society, over which Mr. Angier was pastor, and which subsequently became the first society in Waltham. But it is not to our present purpose to follow the history of any other parish than our own. The parish records remaining with our church and society, and the minister employed by the town (Mr. Gibbs), as colleague with Rev. Mr. Bailey, continuing to minister to this parish, and being ordained over it, are facts decisive as to the question whether this, or the Waltham parish, is the original society in Watertown.
Jan. 14, 1723, it was voted to build a church on Meeting-House hill, then called School-House hill, and a church was accordingly erected there. In 1754, after renewed controversies, a church was erected, on land given for the purpose, on Mt. Auburn St., near the new burying ground in this town, but before its entire completion, May, 1754, it was burned to the ground by some incendiary. Another church was built on the same spot, and completed Feb., 1755.
Sept. 7, 1836. A church, on the spot where our present one stands, was completed and dedicated. On the day of dedication, the bell for the church was broken in the raising. The edifice itself was destroyed by fire, July 21, 1841. The fire broke out, not in the church, but in a barn in the rear of the Spring Hotel, and in less than an hour the church was in ashes, making the second church belonging to this parish thus lost; one entirely new, and the second only a few years old. The Orthodox church, during the present year (1861), makes the third thus destroyed in town. Our present church was dedicated Aug. 3, 1842.
In the foregoing historical sketch, I have consulted Rev. Dr. Francis' Historical Sketch, published 1830, Bond's History of Watertown, Mr. De F. Safford's lecture, and the parish records. Many points are involved in obscurity, and the authorities do not always coincide respecting dates, in which cases I have sought to decide according to the weight of evidence and latest research.
LIST OF CHURCH MEMBERS; (Alphabetically arranged.)
Ivers J. Austin
Mrs. Elizabeth T. Austin
SUNDAY-SCHOOL ORGANIZATION FOR 1861
SUPERINTENDENT W. H. INGRAHAM
LIBRARIANS D. F. LEARNED, THOMAS CAMPBELL
Ivers J. Austin
Mrs. I. J. Austin
No. of Scholars 108
No. of Teachers 20
No. of Vols. in Library 860
PARISH ORGANIZATION FOR 1860, TILL ANNUAL MEETING IN 1861
Brad Bailey, H. P. Page, Wm. H. Ingraham
Clerk And Treasurer Isaac Robbins
CONSTITUTION OF THE WATERTOWN SOCIAL BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION
AS ADOPTED OCT. 9TH, 1860
ART. 1. Name. The name of this Society shall be "THE WATERTOWN SOCIAL AND BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION."
ART. 2. This association shall meet the third Wednesday of each month, at the vestry, or at private houses, as shall be most agreeable to the party entertaining the association.
Treasurer. MISS MARIA LIVERMORE
Secretary. MISS ETTA LINCOLN
FEMALE SOCIETY FOR RELIEF OF THE SICK
In 1816, the ladies of Watertown, witnessing around them much distress arising from poverty, aggravated by sickness, proposed to unite under the name of the Watertown Female Society for the relief of the indigent sick. Subscribers having been obtained, they met for the first time, at the house of Mr. E. W. Dana, Dec. 17, 1816, for the choice of officers.
In 1817, it being the wish of the ladies that the object of this society be extended, it was voted to expunge the word "indigent," and that the society be known by the name of "The Watertown Female society for the relief of the sick." A desire was also expressed that any individual in town, who had occasion for any articles belonging to the society, should call upon the treasurer, with an order from the president, without hesitation.
This useful society, under the judicious direction of a lady who was one of the original members, continues at the present time, its benevolent labors.