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First Parish Church of Newbury Records

First Parish Church of Newbury Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:First Church of Newbury (Newbury, Mass.)
Title:First Parish Church of Newbury Records
Quantity:5 linear feet (10 boxes)
Abstract:The First Parish Church of Newbury's records is a nearly complete set of early church records starting less than thirty years after the establishment of the first church in Newbury, Massachusetts.
Collection Number:MSS 54

Series List

SERIES I. Church Record Books
SERIES II. Ministers' Records
SERIES III. Church Society Records
SERIES IV. Unbound Church Records
A. Church Records
B. Church Society Records
C. Miscellaneous

Scope and Content Note

The First Parish Church of Newbury's records is a nearly complete set of early church records starting less than thirty years after the establishment of the first church in Newbury, Massachusetts. These records cover over three hundred years of church history and consist of record books, ministers' records, church society records, and other records. This collection has been divided into four series.

Series I. Church Record Books contains record books from 1661 to 1958, and record information such as member records, meeting records, deeds, and financial records. These records include information such as marriages, baptisms and deaths.

Series II. Ministers' Records contains records from 1745 to 1943. It contains record books, but a large portion of the series is made up of sermons and related printed materials. Also included are photographs, correspondence and news clippings.

Series III. Church Society Records contains records from 1819 to 1968. Included in this series are records from some of the various societies and clubs that were associated with the Church. This includes: Female Reading Society, Missionary Benevolent Society, Parker River Village Female Reading Society, Women's Home Missionary Society, Oldtown Mission Band, Young Ladies Missionary Society, Oldtown Junior Auxiliary of Women's Foreign Band Society, Women's Benevolent Society Records, Newbury Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, Newbury Improvement Society, and the Home Department Sunday School.

Series IV. Unbound Church Records contains materials that are not in bound/record book form. This series has been divided into three subseries. Subseries A. Church Records contains materials related topics covered in the church record books, such as church meeting and financial records, and membership information. Subseries B. Church Society Records contains materials related to the various church societies. Subseries C. Miscellaneous contains miscellaneous church materials such as letters of admission and transfer, church history, and miscellaneous printed materials. Also included here is a copy of The Heritage of the First Church Gathered in 1635 Newbury, Massachusetts: 325th Anniversary Year Booklet.

Historical Sketch

The First Parish Church of Newbury, in Newbury, Massachusetts, was established by Reverend Thomas Parker and Reverend James Noyes in approximately 1635. During the summer of 1635, the building of the first meeting house began. The building of the meeting house caused the town of Newbury to fall into a debt of sixty pounds, which led the church to apply to the General Court of Massachusetts for support from taxation in 1637. The General Court ordered that the money to pay the debt "should be raised by a tax on personal property and real estate…the beginning of the system of compulsory support of religious worship which…did not entirely disappear in Massachusetts until 1833" (Little 14-15). A similar tax was imposed upon the citizens to pay for the completion of the meeting house in 1638.

Over the next couple of years, as the town's population expanded and moved north, it was voted that the existing meeting house would be taken down, and moved north to a new location. The original "Old Meeting House" was replaced a few years later by a newer building in approximately 1651 (Little 17). Sources suggest that the meeting house became crowded and a new meeting house was built by 1661, a little south of the old one. This new meeting house became the subject of many disagreements over seating arrangements, which had been assigned for life on the basis of social position (17). There was also controversy involving Reverend Parker and the church's organization; he leaned more towards Presbyterianism than Congregationalism, which many citizens had a problem with. On March 16, 1670, Parker was suspended from his church offices and notified that two of the church elders were to be ordained within a week. Parker and the church elders continued to be at odds with one another and in 1672, the General Court ordered several churches to send their own elders and messengers to investigate the state of affairs at Newbury and to give their advice. In May 1672, the General Court issued its ruling based on the final reports: both parties were condemned for their actions, and it was tactfully suggested that a ruling elder or two be chosen to help the elderly Reverend manage church discipline. Reverend John Richardson began to assist Parker with the ministry (22-25).

The town continued to grow and in early 1695, the parish was divided when a second church was built, "which meant that the First Parish and its church would no longer contain all the religious and intellectual life of the town" (26-27). Richardson was succeeded by Reverend Christopher Toppan, who was ordained pastor of the church on September 9, 1696. On July 5, 1698, the town voted to build a new meeting house. The builders were instructed to build "a house 60 feet in length, 50 feet in breadth and 20 feet in height", which was finished in 1700 (31).

In 1702, a meeting house was built near the dividing line of Newbury Falls and Rowley. Citizens who chose to worship at this location were "released from obligation to support the gospel elsewhere" (33). In 1726, another church was built in Newburyport—the Third Church in Newbury, which later became the First Religious Society in Newburyport.

As Toppan became older, he became very superstitious and eccentric, causing a number of parishioners to withdraw from the Church, and form what became the First Presbyterian Church. Reverend John Tucker arrived in 1745 to assist Toppan. When Toppan died in 1747, Tucker assumed control of the parish (34-35). After Tucker died in 1792, the church was without a permanent minister until Abraham Moor took on the job in 1796 (41). Reverend John Snelling Popkin became minister in 1804, after Moor's early death (43).

On May 4, 1806, parishioners assembled for the last time at the old meeting house, as another one was being built. On September 17, 1806, the new meeting house was dedicated. This meeting house was 61 feet long by 51 feet wide, and the pews were sold for $7,577, becoming the property of several owners who were expected to paint and furnish them. The pulpit was reached by a flight of stairs, galleries covered three sides of the building, with a singers' gallery at the back, opposite the pulpit (48-49).

Popkin left the Church in 1815, accepting the position of Professor at Harvard College. Reverend Leonard Withington was ordained on November 5, 1816 (52). Withington resigned from his position in 1858. He was succeeded by John R. Thurston in January 1859 (63). In the early morning of January 26th, 1868, the Church was burned by an incendiary fire. While the fire department arrived promptly, a lack of water made it impossible to save the building, which was destroyed. The parish promptly voted to rebuild, and the new building, 70 feet by 50 feet, was designed to hold six hundred people comfortably. The new building and land cost $15,500, all of which was raised without any encumbrance and was dedicated on March 4, 1869 (64-66).

Thurston resigned from his post in March 1870, and was followed by Reverend Omar W. Folsom in October 1872 (67). Folsom resigned in June 1884, and was followed by Reverend Francis Wood Sanborn, who became pastor in November 1884; he resigned in 1896 (69-70). On May 11, 1897, Reverend Charles Sumner Holton became the eleventh pastor of the church (72). In 1939, Holton was replaced by Reverend Harold G. Leland, who acted as pastor until 1943. Leland was replaced by Reverend Lionel A. Whiston, Jr., who held the position until 1948. In 1949, Reverend J. Herbert Brautigam, Jr. became the pastor, until he was replaced by Reverend Leslie R. Wadsworth in 1955, who held the position until 1959. In 1960, Reverend Truman O. Ireland became pastor of the First Parish Church (Anniversary Publications Committee, 9).

Sometime in early 1818 (an exact date is not available, as the records were destroyed) a Sabbath school opened in the church. Classes were held in the church after the conclusion of the morning service. The first superintendent and assistant superintendent were elected in 1838 (Little, 79-80). In 1921 a Student Council was organized to direct "the social activities and the altruistic work of the school…this organization did invaluable work in visiting shut-ins and institutions…sponsored many socials and plays as well as directed the classes in conducting the devotional services one Sunday a month" (82). The school also sent donations to other churches and organizations as it saw fit to do so.

Various organizations have been associated with the Church over the years: Women's Missionary Society, Female Reading Society, Ladies' Benevolent Society, King's Daughters, Dorcas Society, Boy Scouts (this is in association with other Newburyport parishes), 4-H Clubs, and Newbury Grange, Patrons of Husbandry. There was also the Society of the Sons and Daughters of the First Settlers of Newbury, and the Parish Circle (later called the Ladies' Social Circle).

In 2008, desperate for funds, the Church sold its gilded rooster weather vane, which had been on top of the Church since before the fire of 1868 (which it survived intact), to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This sale, under the direction of Reverend Nancy Haverington, provided the Church with an additional $575,000 of funding (Ballou).

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Holton, Charles Sumner, 1866-1939
Popkin, John Snelling, 1771-1852
Withington, Leonard, 1789-1885
First Church of Newbury (Newbury, Mass.)
Church buildings--Massachusetts--Newbury
Church records and registers
Women--Societies and clubs
Newbury (Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

First Parish Church of Newbury Records, MSS 54, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was left on deposit by the First Parish Church of Newbury in May 1982. Materials relating to the Merrimack Bible Society, which were donated by the Church at the same time, were removed from this collection, because the two organizations had no direct affiliation with each other (see MSS 55).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Caroline D. Preston, May 1982. Updated by Hilary Streifer, November 2014.

Related Material


Anniversary Publications Committee. The Heritage of the First Church Gathered in 1635 Newbury, Massachusetts: 325th Anniversary Year Booklet. Newburyport, MA: 1960.

Ballou, Brian R. "For Struggling Newbury Church, Weather Vane a Gift from Above." The Boston Globe, February 25, 2009. Accessed November 10, 2014.

Little, Eliza Adams, and Lucretia Little Ilsley, eds. The First Parish Newbury, Massachusetts 1635-1935. Newburyport, MA: News Publishing Company, Inc., 1935.

Popkin, John Snelling. A Sermon, Preached in Newbury, First Parish, on the Day of Annual Thanksgiving in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, November 25, 1813. Newburyport, MA: William B. Allen and Company, 1814.

Popkin, John Snelling. Two Sermons, on Quitting the Old, and Entering the New Meeting-House in the First Parish in Newbury. Newburyport, MA: W. and F. Gilman, Printers, 1806.

Tucker, John. A Brief Account of an Ecclesiastical Council, so Called, Convened in the First Parish in Newbury, March 31. 1767; and Again, By Adjournment, April 21. Following. : To which is Annexed, a Discourse, Upon Acts XX. 17,--21. Being a Minister's Appeal to his Hearers, as to His Life and Doctrine. Boston: Mein and Fleeming, 1767.

Withington, Leonard. Take Warning. A Sermon Delivered at Newbury (First Parish), August 22: and in the First Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, August 29, 1830. Newburyport, MA: W. and J. Gilman, Printers, 1831.

Withington, Leonard. Thanksgiving Sermon, Preached Nov. 28, 1850, at Newbury, First Parish. Newburyport, MA: Charles Whipple, 1851.

Related Collections

Leonard Withington Diaries, 1849, 1857, 1863, 1877. DIA 239

Leonard Withington Papers, 1871. Fam. Mss. 1107

Account Book of the First Parish of Newbury, Mass., 1821-1885. MSS 1744

Weather Cock, about 1772, by Thomas Drowne. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Order of exercises, at the ordination of Rev. John R. Thurston, over the First Church & Parish in Newbury, Thursday, January 20, 1859. Broadside.

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