The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
First Church of Newbury (Newbury, Mass.)
First Parish Church of Newbury
5 linear feet (10 boxes)
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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 records and registers
Women--Societies and clubs
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research use.
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
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
Collection processed by Caroline D. Preston, May 1982. Updated by Hilary Streifer,
Anniversary Publications Committee. The Heritage of the First
Church Gathered in 1635 Newbury, Massachusetts: 325th Anniversary Year
Booklet. Newburyport, MA: 1960.
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
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
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,
Withington, Leonard. Thanksgiving Sermon, Preached Nov. 28,
1850, at Newbury, First Parish. Newburyport, MA: Charles Whipple,
Leonard Withington Diaries, 1849, 1857, 1863, 1877. DIA
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.
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.
First Church of Newbury (Newbury, Mass.); Newbury (Mass.); Holton, Charles Sumner, 1866-1939; Popkin, John Snelling, 1771-1852; Withington, Leonard, 1789-1885; Charities; Church records and registers; Church buildings--Massachusetts--Newbury; Clergy; Diaries; Sermons; Societies; Women--Societies and clubs
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.