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The Protestant churches of Cambridge.

Rev. Alexander McKenzie, D. D.
Whoever writes the early history of Cambridge must write of the first churches which were here, and the continuance of the history must include the churches, which have had a goodly part in making the town and the city. The founders of the town were men of the church. The first settlers in these parts had come from a land where the church and the state were closely united, and they intended to keep their places in both while they found homes in this new world. They were loyal to the institutions under which they had been born. Their thought proved impracticable. The first churches in Massachusetts Bay soon severed their connection with the English Church, as the men of Plymouth had done before they left England. Afterwards, the colonies declared themselves independent of the government also. The original plan, to make the town here the metropolis of the province, was abandoned. Still, the settlement was highly respectable. It was one of the best towns in New England, and it is reported that most of the inhabitants were very rich. In England, many of them had been under the ministry of Rev. Thomas Hooker, who was driven from them; whereupon, they sought a new home across the sea, which they trusted he would share with them. They began to make their settlement at Mount Wollaston, and the Court ordered them to come to the New Town. In 1632 a meeting-house was built, and in 1633 Mr. Hooker and Rev. Samuel Stone were made the ministers of the new church. This was the eighth church in the Massachusetts Colony. But in 1636 the ministers and most of the church and congregation left New Town for Connecticut. Some families, eleven or more, remained here. Fortunately for them, another company of about sixty persons had come from England, having Thomas Shepard as their leader. On a mural tablet in the church which bears his name [234] it is recorded, as it is in Shepard's autobiography, that ‘Some went before, and writ to me of providing a place for a company of us, one of which was John Bridge.’ John Bridge was one of those who stayed behind. His statue now stands on the Cambridge Common. A part of the original church thus entered into the new church, which was formed in February, 1636. Thomas Shepard was installed as the minister. It was a notable gathering of the chief men of the colony when the church was organized, and it was a notable event. It was a Congregational church, and in this reconstructed form was the eleventh in Massachusetts. The form of the covenant has not been preserved, but probably it was like the one used in Charlestown and Boston, wherein the members promised to walk ‘in mutual love and respect each to other, so near as God shall give us grace.’ That was certainly a very good beginning, and in its seriousness and simplicity was quite in keeping with the purpose of those who founded the colony and the town.

It must be remembered that this was not an isolated event. This was a part of the religious and political movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which so greatly affected English history, and made the beginning of the new England and so of the American republic. As it has proved, the establishment of a Puritan church here was to be an important fact in the history of the colony, and thus of the nation. It was an embodiment of the spirit of which Dr. Palfrey has well said: ‘It is as old as the truth and manliness of England.’

That church remains the First Church in Cambridge. It is not proposed to recite its annals here. The story has been told more than once. Yet a few things which have marked its past may be repeated. The first meeting-house was not an imposing building. We have no plan of it. But the meeting-house in Boston had mud walls and a thatched roof. This was, we may suppose, very much like that in character, though it was probably built of logs, and in accordance with the law the roof was ‘covered with slate or board.’ The chimney could not be made of wood. Thus early were they taking precaution against fire. This house was small and plain, especially if compared with the stately parish churches of England. But it had a rare dignity from the presence of Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepard, and the earnest exiles who were with them. The people of the town were required to come to the meeting-house [235] on the first Monday of every month within half an hour after the ringing of the bell. This would indicate that there was a bell on the house. But when Edward Johnson was here in 1636, he wandered out from Charlestown till he came to a large plain, where he heard a drum. He asked a man whom he met what the drum was for, and was told it was to call people to the meeting-house where Mr. Shepard preached. He found his way to the place, and was so deeply impressed that he resolved to live and die with the ministers of New England. The town and church acquired special prominence when in the same year in which the church was formed the General Court agreed to give four hundred pounds, equal to a year's rate of the whole colony, a grant of fifty cents from each of the four thousand inhabitants, towards a school or college. The next year it was ordered that the college should be here, and in 1638 the college was opened, and Newtown became Cambridge. The college was founded here because this was a pleasant and convenient place, and the town was ‘under the orthodox and soulflourish-ing ministry of Mr. Thomas Shepheard.’ The college was meant to serve the churches, and to give them a learned ministry when the first ministers should lie in the dust. The ministers of the church had a constant influence in shaping the life of the college; and the presence of the college, with its teachers and students, conferred a rare distinction, which has remained. A very exciting and important matter in the colony was the arrival of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson in 1634. She soon declared some peculiar views, which were deemed erroneous and hurtful. Then came a fierce dissension, and the colony was in dire peril. There was so much confusion in Boston that the General Court met here, and an election was held on the Common. Then an ecclesiastical synod, the first held in America, was called, and met here, in the little meeting-house on Dunster Street, and its sessions lasted for three weeks. Eighty-two of Mrs. Hutchinson's opinions were condemned with great unanimity. We can easily imagine what the people here were talking about in those days. In 1648 the Cambridge Platform was framed. In 1649 Thomas Shepard died, and in 1650 Jonathan Mitchel—‘the matchless Mitchel’—became his successor in the church and parsonage, and married the widow, Margaret Shepard. In the Quinquennial Catalogue of the college, at the head of the list for 1647, stands Jonathan Mitchel, A. M.: Fellow. In that year, [236] 1650, the second meeting-house was built on Watchhouse Hill. A very sad event in this pastorate was the declaration of Henry Dunster, president of the college, of his new views regarding the baptism of children. This led to a bitter controversy, which ended in Dunster's resignation of his office and his removal from Cambridge. But he asked that his burial might be in Cambridge, and so it was. By a singular error, the slab which bears the record of his virtues has been for many years over Mitchel's grave. Another incident in this pastorate was the setting off of the people of Cambridge Village, on the south side of the river, and more than four miles from the meeting-house, that they might have separate services. This was strongly objected to, but at last, in 1664, a new church was organized, and it has had a good history as the First Church in Newton. Rev. Urian Oakes was the minister here from 1671 for ten years, and acting-president and president of the college from 1675 to 1681. Rev. Nathaniel Gookin, son of the famous Major-General Daniel Gookin, assisted Mr. Oakes for two years, and followed him as the pastor of the church from 1682 to 1692. In his time, the people of Cambridge Farms, now Lexington, were begging to be set off as a separate precinct, and this was granted in 1691. In 1696 the church at Lexington was formed. Thus the church here was losing on both sides. Rev. William Brattle, a tutor in the college, became the minister in 1696, and remained till 1717. In that time the third meeting-house was erected where the second had been. Then came the long pastorate of Rev. Nathaniel Appleton, from 1717 to 1784. The fourth meeting-house came in his time, and on the old site. An Episcopal church was opened in 1761. During this time Whitefield was arousing the country by his marvelous preaching. In 1740 he came here, and saw many things which displeased him. The college faculty published a pamphlet in reply to his charges, and he modified some of them. He became a friend of the college, and was of service in procuring books for the library. There was still further attempt to reduce the church. In 1732 Menotomy was made a precinct by itself, and in 1739 a church was formed there. From 1747 to 1749 the people in what is now Brighton were seeking to be made a separate religious precinct. This was stoutly resisted, but in 1779 the separate precinct was incorporated, and authorized to settle a minister of its own, and in 1783 a new church was formed. [237]

But the great event of Dr. Appleton's ministry was the Revolution and the beginning of the republic. Cambridge had a conspicuous share in all this work of patriotism. The church had its part in the town and for the country, as from the beginning. The lands of the church appear frequently in the records of this period. There is a catalogue signed ‘N. A.,’ and entitled, ‘Lands belonging to the Church and Congregation in Cambridge for the Use of the Ministry.’ There are several lots in Menotomy, a lot of twenty acres in Newton, a farm of 500 acres in Lexington. The Newton and Lexington lands were sold in Appleton's time, and the rest later.

The minister was not paid altogether in money. Mr. Brattle wrote in the Church Book: ‘My salary from the town is ninety pounds per annum, and the overplus money.’ Afterwards he had £ 100. There are long lists of donors of wood. The sending of the wood seems to have been discontinued at the time his salary was increased. In 1697 is a long list headed, ‘Sent in since Nov. 3, the day that I was married. From my good neighbors in town.’ Then follows an account of articles for his table, with the names of the donors: ‘Goody Gove, 1 pd. Fresh Butter, 8d.; Doct. Oliver, a line Pork, 2s.; Sarah Ferguson, 1 pig, 1s. 9d.’

Mr. Appleton acknowledges gifts made to him: ‘My good friends and neighbors have for several years past, in the fall of the year, brought me a considerable quantity of wood gratis, some years between thirty and forty loads, sometimes above forty loads.’ Then follow the names of the friends and the quantity of the wood they brought. He needed this. The times were hard. He has left a receipt for £ 3 2s. to complete the payment of his salary in continental bills, ‘although they are exceedingly depreciated.’ His salary had been £ 100, and, while the amount was probably but little changed, he gave receipts in one year for £ 600; and the next year for £ 750; and in 1783 for £ 2000 paper currency and £ 25 silver currency. He lived to be nearly ninety years old. For a few months he had a colleague, the Rev. Timothy Hilliard, who remained the minister of the church till 1790. In January, 1792, Rev. Abiel Holmes became the pastor. He remained the pastor of the church until September, 1831. He died in 1837. Dr. Holmes's pastorate was a period of very great importance. He was well known as a historian, and was active in all public [238] affairs; he was greatly esteemed in the community, and his name and fame went far abroad.

In 1814 a church was formed in the college, with the assistance of the pastor and delegates of the First Church. All was done in friendliness, but it was a serious withdrawal of men of consequence, and the church must have felt it. The services of the University church were discontinued after the resignation of Rev. Dr. A. P. Peabody. But a much sadder experience came fifteen years later, in 1829, when the church separated from the parish and the meeting-house. It was more than forty years after King's Chapel, in Boston, had become a Unitarian church. Other churches had adopted the new views. At last the crisis came here. The majority of the parish dismissed Dr. Holmes, and the church went out with him. Some members remained in the old house, but the church, acting ‘as a church in a religious point of view, having the ordinances administered and other religious offices performed,’ went out with the pastor. There were, then, under the decision of the Supreme Court, the church as a purely religious organization, and that connected with the parish. These have remained distinct, though the relations between them are friendly. They join in the annual Thanksgiving service, and in 1886 united in celebrating the organization of the one church in 1636. The history has been traced to this point with some detail, because it is continuous for two hundred and sixty years, and the church has lived and grown with the village and town and city. The separation of church and parish took place while the meetinghouse of 1756 was the common home. It was a famous building. Of this house President Quincy wrote: ‘In this edifice all the public Commencements and solemn inaugurations, during more than seventy years, were celebrated; and no building in Massachusetts can compare with it in the number of distinguished men who at different times have been assembled within its walls.’ The names of Washington, Lafayette, Everett, and others, readily come to mind. The remainder of this part of the story can be briefly told. The First Church, under Dr. Holmes's ministry, worshiped for a time in the old court-house. In December, 1829, Rev. Nehemiah Adams was settled as Dr. Holmes's colleague, and he remained as pastor after Dr. Holmes's resignation in 1831, and until 1834. Meantime the house on Mount Auburn and Holyoke streets was erected. Rev. John A. [239] Albro had a very useful ministry from April, 1835, to April, 1865. In that formative period he was eminent in wisdom and discretion. The present pastor, Rev. Alexander McKenzie, was installed January 24, 1867. The house which is now the home of the First Church was dedicated in 1872. The Shepard Congregational Society, which took the place of the old parish organization, was formed in 1829. The first parish and the church belonging to it remained in the old meeting-house until 1833, when they removed to the meeting-house in Harvard Square. Rev. William Newell became the minister in 1830, and continued in his office until 1868. During this long pastorate, and after his retirement, he was held in high esteem for his learning and his piety, and his fidelity in the duties of his sacred calling. Rev. Francis G. Peabody was the next minister, and was followed by Rev. Edward H. Hall, both of whom most worthily served the church and the community, and are held in warm regard. Rev. Samuel M. Crothers became the minister in June, 1894, and in his care the church is enjoying an ample prosperity. Whoever inquires concerning the present churches of Cambridge will find these, which honor a common ancestry, and are striving to perfect the work which they have inherited.

But he will find much more than this. The town has advanced with the years, and there are many churches where, for nearly one half of our civil life, there was but one. Of necessity the narrative from this point, embracing many churches in the place of one, must be much briefer and more general. The Protestant Episcopal Church was the second of the churches here. Several worthy gentlemen, members of the Church of England, petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, to appoint a missionary who should perform divine service and administer religious ordinances according to the belief and usage of the English Church. Rev. East Apthorp, a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, England, was proposed, and was appointed in 1759. In 1761 Christ Church was opened for service. In the time of the Revolution service in the church was interrupted, and the house was used for military purposes, though an occasional service was held. In 1790 the house was restored, and it has since been enlarged and adorned. The longest ministry was that of Rev. Nicholas Hoppin, from 1839 to 1874. He stands worthily in this long [240] pastorate with his friends, Dr. Albro and Dr. Newell. The parish of St. Peter's Church was organized in 1842. Its first house of worship was on Prospect Street. In 1867 the new church on Massachusetts Avenue was opened. St. James's Parish, in North Cambridge, was organized in 1866. A mission of the Protestant Episcopal Church had been sustained in that part of the city for eighteen months, under the charge of the Rev. Andrew Croswell. He was followed by Rev. W. H. Fultz and Rev. T. S. Tyng. In 1878 Rev. Edward Abbott took charge of the parish, and has remained its rector. In 1889 a fine stone church was completed. The parish has enjoyed an increasing prosperity in its enlarged work. There are other Episcopal churches in different parts of the city. The Episcopal Theological School was incorporated in 1867. This is described elsewhere. In other parts of the city Episcopal services are sustained. A few years since a Reformed Episcopal Church was established in Cambridgeport.

Following now the chronological order, early in the century, ‘the Port,’ as it was termed, had the promise of large commercial prosperity, and its expansion naturally included churches. That part of the town had been under the parochial care of the First Church and its ministers. Dr. Holmes had visited among the people, distributed hymn-books and catechisms, and tried in all ways to be a pastor to those who had no other. Of course this could not long suffice. A new parish was formed in 1808, and a church in 1809; a meeting-house was opened in 1807. Rev. Thomas Brattle Gannett, who had two good Cambridge names, was the first minister. In the division which came later this church placed itself upon the Unitarian side. The long ministry of Rev. George W. Briggs, D. D., has but just closed, —a man held in reverence by all who knew him. Other Unitarian churches have since been organized in different parts of the city, but only these two are holding services at the present time. The first Methodist Episcopal Society was formed in East Cambridge in 1813, and is doing an important work in that ward, while other Methodist churches are busily engaged in different parts of the city. The Methodists have recently erected a fine stone meeting-house on Massachusetts Avenue. The first Baptist church was formed in 1817, in Cambridgeport, and it is pursuing its work with vigor in Central Square and out from that centre. Every ward of the city has one or more [241] Baptist churches. The first Universalist church was established in Cambridgeport in 1822, though services under that name had been held in a schoolhouse for some years before. The first pastor was the Rev. Thomas Whittemore, who was widely known in connection with his denomination and in other spheres of activity. The honored and now venerable Dr. L. R. Paige was the efficient minister of this church. Two other churches of this order are doing their work in East Cambridge and North Cambridge. Before the separation of the First Church from the First Parish, but while the controversy which resulted in that was becoming very serious, a second Congregational church was formed, the first of this order in Cambridgeport. This was in 1827. A meeting-house was built on Norfolk Street, and in 1852 a more stately house on Prospect Street, where the church now has its seat. Among its ministers have been Rev. William A. Stearns, one of the most honored and useful citizens of the town, and afterwards president of Amherst College; and the Rev. David N. Beach, who after eleven years of vigorous service, in which the interests of the city have known his influence, has just transferred his work to another part of the land. Other churches have been formed, three in Cambridgeport and one in North Cambridge, and there are thus six Congregational churches in the city.

The history of the Roman Catholic churches will be written by another hand. But it is fitting here also to recognize the Catholic clergymen who have been prominent as useful citizens, and especially those who have joined with their Protestant neighbors in the no license movement, which has been so marked a feature of our municipal life.

In 1888 the services of the New Jerusalem Church were established in Cambridge, and not long after the theological school of that church was removed here. The school is well placed upon Quincy Street. In its chapel there are public services on Sunday, in the care of Rev. Theodore F. Wright, Ph. D., professor and dean of the school.

The First United Presbyterian Church holds its services in a chapel in Inman Square, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in a hall on Massachusetts Avenue. The Union Methodist Episcopal Church is also holding its meetings in a hall. The Swedes have services for their own people. There are other religious services, in which the preferences and necessities [242] of good men and women are fully regarded. The colored residents of the city have two Methodist churches and one Baptist church in Cambridgeport, and a mission on Plympton Street, and they are carrying on their useful work with a very generous zeal.

It is not in the province of this article to speak of the various organizations for philanthropic and educational work which may be found in Cambridge. The Social Union, the Prospect Union, the Avon Home, the two Homes for Old Ladies, the Cambridge Hospital, all have their place. The East End Mission, besides its other work, has a flourishing Union Sunday-school. But a more distinct mention should here be made of two institutions whose work is of many kinds, but which give the most prominent place to direct religious service and services. The first is the Young Men's Christian Association, which was organized in 1883, and which has a large and vigorous membership. Its influence will be greatly enlarged when it enters the new building which is at once to be erected. The other is the Young Women's Christian Association, which was formed in 1891. The name indicates its purpose, and its purpose and achievement justify its name. It is doing a broad and much needed work for young women. It has a wide field, and could greatly enlarge its efficiency if it had a building of its own. This is at once its desert and its necessity.

It is evident that any one who wishes to find in Cambridge a place in which he can invest his benevolent energies can readily do so. Any one who seeks here a congenial religious home, a church with whose worship and work he can ally himself, where he can minister and be ministered unto, can without difficulty find it.

It must be remembered by those who would understand our history that Cambridge virtually began as a church. The institutions of religion, at first in simple forms, have been here from the beginning. They have increased with the increase of the town. They have come quietly, as there were those who needed them, and have taken their own place in the life of the community. Indeed, the growth of the town, not merely in numbers but in diversity also, can be very well traced in the successive appearance of the various churches which have arisen. The starting was informal, in a simple Congregational church. When, a century and a quarter later, the Church of England granted the [243] request for a minister, it was clear that a new element had come into the Massachusetts town, and that others besides the Puritans were here. A change in theological thought, at a later day, is disclosed by the presence of a Unitarian church.

The extension of the town away from the centre is made evident by churches remote from the college. They have come up among new homes in a natural way, and as they were required. The present extension of the city means the forming of more churches where new houses are rising along new streets. The fifty years of our life as a city have given us nearly every house of worship that we have, and every minister. The present form of ecclesiastical life, so far as men and buildings are concerned, and even so far as methods of work are concerned, belongs in a large degree within these fifty years. What the future is to bring it were useless to predict. It seems likely to bring expansion rather than change. But there is every reason to expect that the churches will increase with the growth of the city; that, as in the past, they will share the common life; that they will promote intelligence and virtue, and the best citizenship; that churches and ministers will guard the honor of the city, maintain its laws, and in all ways promote its well-being.

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