The First Parish in Watertown, MA

Blue Gray Line

First Parish Unitarian Church, built in 1842

A Record of the First Parish (Unitarian) in Watertown, Massachusetts by Arthur Buckminster Fuller.
Who were the first members - and what they believed in.  Very nice book of which I have transcribed only the first 14 pages.
The rest of the book goes into the late 1800s and early 1900s.
 Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth

A Record of the First Parish (Unitarian) in Watertown, Massachusetts by
Arthur Buckminster Fuller.
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, September 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 bound-
aries 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

It will be seen that our town has been largely shorn of its original possess-
ions, and much circumscribed in territory. The Church in this Parish, which
word was then synonymous with that of the 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 assert-
er, in colonial affairs of 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
through 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 methof of
church government. Some earlier members of the church were distinguished for
their liberality of views, and tolerant spirit. Among these, Honorable Rich-
ard Saltonstall, who, after his return to England, wrote a letter to the magi-
strates of this colony in favor of toleration, and Elder Richard Browne, who
averred that even the Romish Churches, in spite of many errors, were neverthe-
less 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 December 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 obeyed 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 conform-
ity to the principles of strict Congregationalism, though it caused some com-
plaint 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 considera-

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, 1685. He also was a strict Congregationalist, and esteemed in his day, too
liberal in ecclesiastical matters.

Rev. John Sherman became colleague with Mr. Knowles in 1647, and remained pastor
after Mr. Knowles return to England, until his (Mr. Sherman's) decease, August
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, October 6, 1686. This
was the first installation in Massachusetts. It differs from ordination by the
ommission 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 vali-
dity of the original act. Rev. Thomas Bailey, his brother, was also employed as
his colleague, until his (Thomas') death, January 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 pastor-
ship 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 December 12, 1697.

Reverend 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 not ordained or in-
stalled until October 6, 1697. He continued pastor until his death, October 21,

Rev. Seth Storer was ordained July 22, 1724. He died November 27, 1774 aged
seventy-two years, 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 September 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 October 21, 1818, aged sixty-six years after a ministry of thirty-eight

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 at Harvard University. His farewell
discourse was preached August 21, 1842.

Reverend John Weiss, Jr. was ordained October 25, 1843.

He resigned October 3, 1845, but resumed his pastorate on invitation of the
parish, in 1846, and continued in the work of the ministry here, until his re-
signation November, 1847.

Rev. Hasbrouck Davis was ordained March 28, 1849. He resigned May 11, 1853.

Rev. George Bradford was ordained November 6, 1856. He died February 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 the

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 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 meeting-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 in now the
residence of Joshua Coolidge, Jr.

The principal part of the earlier settlers of Watertown lived in the part of the
town near Mt. 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 November,
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, 1696. It
had probably been occupied before that time, as a town-meeting was held "in the
new meeting-house," December 20, 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. Bit 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 Reverand 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.

January 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 pur-
pose, on Mt. Auburn Street, near the new burying ground in this town, but before
its entire completion, May, 1754, it was burned to the ground by some indendiary.

Another church was built on the same spot and completed February, 1755.

September 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 August 3, 1842. (picture above)

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 authori-
ties do not always coincide respecting dates, in which cases I have sought to decide according to the weight of evidence and latest research.

In the presence of God and this Church, you confess your belief in the only living and true God and your desire to live according to his will.

You believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain the
records of God's revelations to mankind, and afford the only perfect rule of
faith and practice.

You affirm your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, as the promised Messiah, and
the Saviour of the world, and you desire to manifest your love and gratitude to-
ward him, by becoming his faithful disciple.

You profess a true and earnest repentence of your sins, and you promise that
you will endeavor henceforth to observe all God's holy ordinances, and to yeild
obedience to every truth of His, which has been, or shall be made known to you
as your duty, the Lord assisting you by his spirit and grace.

We, then, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, in this place, receive you into
fellowship with us, to watch over you in the Lord, as becometh our sacred re-
lation to you, and this we do with our prayers to the God of all grace, that
you, and that we, may be faithful to our religious engagements. Amen.

First Parish Unitarian Church. Interior view showing names of owners of pews.
Tyler Bigelow in red box

(Alphabetically arranged.)

Ivers J. Austin
Arad Bailey
Charles J. Barry
Charles Bemis
Tyler Bigelow see ../rod/tyl5692c.htm
Morton W. Brown
George Frazar
Hiram Hosmer
Daniel Learned
Daniel F. Learned
Elisha Livermore
Samuel Richardson
Thomas Livermore
Sumner Sargent
Asa Stone
Nathaniel R. Whitney.


Mrs. Elizabeth T. Austin
Mrs. Harriet E. Attwill
Mrs. Joan Bailey
Mrs. Francis Barnard
Miss Sarah A. Barnard
Mrs. Sarah Barrett
Miss Sarah W. Barrett
Mrs. Anne V. Bemis
Mrs. Mary Bird
Mrs. Mary Brigham
Miss Susan Brigham
Mrs. Susannah Bright
Mrs. Mary Broad
Mrs. Ann Brown
Mrs. Rachel Carlton
Miss Sarah G. Clarke
Mrs. L. F. Chenery
Mrs. Sally Chenery
Miss Sarah Cook
Mrs. Ruth Dana
Mrs. Lydia B. Farmer
Mrs. Caroline C. Harrington
Mrs. Lydia Harrington
Mrs. Jane Holden
Mrs. Emily Horn
Mrs. Margaret V. Kendall
Mrs. Eleanor Learned
Mrs. Lucy Learned
Miss Lucy A. Learned
Miss Helen A. Learned
Miss Mary Elizabeth Learned
Mrs. Sarah S. Lincoln
Miss Hannah Livermore
Miss Eliza Livermore
Mrs. Sarah Livermore
Mrs. Hannah Livermore
Miss Maria Livermore
Mrs. Sarah May
Mrs. Mary Jane Meacham
Mrs. Jane Anne Meacham
Mrs. Mary Richardson
Mrs. Roxey Robinson
Mrs. Sarah Robbins
Miss Lois Robbins
Mrs. Lucy Rogers
Miss Caroline A. Rogers
Mrs. Roxanna Russell
Miss Elizabeth Sanger
Miss Martha Sanger
Mrs. Mary A. Sargent
Miss Lydia Sprague
Mrs. Mary A. Sherman
Miss Sarah Stearns
Mrs. Abigail S. Stone
Mrs. Mary Stone
Miss Nancy Swift
Mrs. Lucy Thaxter
Mrs. Lucy Titcomb
Miss Abby B. Vose
Mrs. Rebecca Whiting
Miss Addie Whiting
Mrs. Sally Whitney
Mrs. Ruth Whitney
Mrs. Martha G. Whitney.

FOR 1861.

Mrs. I. J. Austin
Miss Lucy D. Bailey
Mrs. George Bradford
Miss M. Bright
Miss S. Brown
Mrs. B. Dana
Mrs. A. B. Fuller
Miss M. E. Learned
Miss Maria Livermore
Miss C. Sanger
Mrs. M. A. Sargent
Miss Lydia Sprague
Miss M. Whitney.
Number of Scholars 108
Number of Teachers 20
Number of Volunteers in
Library 860




Art. 1. Name. The name of this Society shall be "The Watertown Social and
Benevolent Association."
Art. 2. Objects. Our objects shall be the relief of the destitute, the support
of religious institutions, and mutual acqaintance and friendship.
Art. 3. Officers. The board of officers shall consist of twenty directors (ten
ladies and ten gentlement), one of whom shall act as secretary and one as treas-
urer; and they shall be chosen at the annual meeting of the association.
Art. 4. Duties. It shall be the duty of the officers to preside at the meetings
of the association, in rotation and also to arrange work, devise plans, and, in
general, to act for the welfare of the Society. Upon them also, shall devolve
the duty of

visiting any families connected with the Watertown Unitarian society, not
members of the association, and inviting them to become members.

The secretary and treasurer shall present, at each meeting, a report of the
proceedings and receipts at the previous meeting.
Art. 5. Order. While one of our objects is social intercourse, yet as nothing
can be accomplished without order, it shall be the duty of both officers and
members to preserve quiet and attention during the transaction of business,
which shall uniformly be conducted in an orderly and regular manner.
Art. 6. Membership. This association shall consist of both gentlemen and
ladies, who shall become members by the payment, each of the sum of twenty five
cents annually.
Art. 7. Meetings. The annual meeting of this association shall be held on the
third Wednesday in November, and other meetings on the third Wednesday of each
month, at such place as the association may determine, and a meeting may be
called at any time by a notice from the pulpit.
Art. 8. Amendments. This constitution may be amended by a vote of two-thirds
of the members present at any meeting, provided notice of the intended amend-
ment has been given at the previous meeting.

Art. 1. 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 entertain-
ing the association.
Art. 2. Each member shall pay a monthly tax of five cents, or if preferable, may
pay the entire sum for the year in advance,) said tax to be collected by the
Art. 3. The supper shall not exceed tea, bread and butter, good cake and cheese.
Art. 4. The association shall convene at three o'clock p.m. and be closed at ten
with singing or prayer. Tea at half past six.

Treasurer. Miss Maria Livermore.
Secretary. Miss Etta Lincoln.

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, December 17, 1816 for the choice of officers.

In 1817, it being the wish of the ladies that the object of this society be ex-
tended, 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.

Unitarians have often been accused of having no creed, and the accusation as
often denied. Our denomination are satisfied with nothing less than the Bible,
which is always our ultimate appeal, in matters of religious faith and practice.
We do object to imposing any man-devised formularies of faith, any bodies of
divinity (often bodies without a soul), any abstracts of doctrine, upon a church, and making these abstracts a test of fellowship and Christian character.
In respect to human creeds, Unitarians have always contended that if they con-
tained more than the Scriptures, they contained too much; if less, they were
insufficient; and if precisely as much, that they were needless.

But while we have thus rejected the imposition of any arbitrary test framed by
men, be they never so pious and learned, we have at all suitable times been
willing to utter most freely our sentiments, and to give a reason for the hope
which is in us, making, however, no such declaration binding upon the con-
science of others.

The following brief statement of the Unitarian belief, written by an esteemed
clergyman of our denomination, has already been widely circulated among us.
I have myself distributed many copies of it, both in the Western frontier settlements, and in New England. At our views - calumnies often ignorantly
uttered - and has been received with acceptance by pious men of every denomina-
tion. I have often thought that some such statement was needed and have seen no

other which so fully met the existing want as this. Its brevity secures attention, while its clearness and force carry with it conviction. We ask of
any, into whose hands it may come, carefully to peruse it, compare it with the
sacred voluem, and to receive its statements only if found in conformity with
Scripture; but to read it without prejudice, and with a feeling that truth, come
from whom it may, is equally valuable to each intelligent and immortal being.
Arthur B. Fuller.

"Unitarians believe the Bible, i.e., the Scriptures of the Old and New Testa-
ments, to be a record of the revelations, dispensations, purposes and will of
God to Man.

They receive this precious volume as their only guide in faith and practice.

"Unitarians 'believe in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Ghost."

"they believe in God the eternal and uncreated One, the Creator and upholder
of all things - the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob - Israel's God -
Jehovah, revealed by Jesus of Nazareth as not only such, but also as the God
and Father of the whole human family - than in and of Himself, He possesses all
those attributes and perfections which render Him worthy of homage, love and
obedience, which he requires of his children; - they believe in His power, wis-
dom, and goodness, in His providence, bounty and grace - that He only is en-
titled to supreme worship and veneration, the hour having come, when all true
worshippers are required to worship the Father in spirit and in truth."

"They believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised of Jehovah to the
Jews - the Christ, 'The Son of the Living God' - santified and sent into the
world by his Father, because 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only
begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever
lasting life' - that he is the only Saviour of sinners, the only Mediator be-
tween God and man - 'the way, the truth and the life' worthy to be loved,
honored, trusted and obeyed - They believe that all their prayers should be
offered to the Father, in the name of Christ - they they should possess his
mind and spirit, imitate his example and through Him, look to God for pardon
and eternal Life.

The full book is online with Google Books Online

Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth

Blue Gray Line

Rod Bigelow
Box 13  Chazy Lake
Dannemora, N.Y. 12929
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