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First Universalist Society in Medford.

by Parker R. Litchfield.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, Feb. 18, 1901.]

THE following petition appears to be one of the first movements to organize the ‘First Universalist Society in Medford’:


To Luther S. Cushing, Esquire, one of the Justices of the Peace, within and for the County of Middlesex:
The subscribers, inhabitants of the town of Medford, in said county, being members of a religious society in said town, being duly qualified to vote in town affairs, and being desirous of incorporating ourselves, according to an act of the Legislature, passed February the 10th, A. D. 1824, hereby request you to issue your warrant, directed to some suitable person, whose name is hereunto subscribed, for calling the first meeting of the said religious society, requiring said person to notify and warn the members of the said religious society, qualified by law to vote in town affairs, to meet at some time and place, as shall be appointed in such warrant, to choose all such officers, and transact all such business as parishes are by law authorized to choose, and transact in the months of March and April annually.

Given under our hands this tenth day of March, A. D. 1831.


I have deemed it of sufficient consideration to give this petition in full, together with the names of the petitioners, to show that the society was organized in due form of law, and to make a record of the names of the persons who were the originators and prime movers in the formation of this organization.

Justice Cushing was evidently prompt in business, for on the seventh day after receiving this petition he issued his warrant to Moses Merrill, one of the petitioners, as follows:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Middlesex, ss.

To Moses Merrill of Medford, in said County, Greeting:
Whereas, certain persons, namely [here follow the names of the twenty-five persons already named], inhabitants of said town of Medford, duly qualified to vote in town affairs, and members of a religious society in said town, have requested me to issue a warrant for calling the first meeting of the said religious society, directed to some suitable person, who is a member thereof, requiring him to notify and warn the members of the said religious society, qualified to vote in town affairs, to meet at some time and place, as shall be appointed in such warrant, to choose all such officers, and transact [p. 27] all such business, as parishes are by law authorized to choose and transact, in the months of March and April annually.

Now, therefore, you are hereby directed and required to notify and warn the persons above mentioned, and all others members of the said religious society, duly qualified as aforesaid, by reading this warrant in their presence, and hearing, or leaving a true copy thereof at their last and usual place of abode, seven days at least before the time of meeting, to assemble at Kendall's Hotel, in said Medford, on Tuesday, the twenty-second day of March, instant, at seven of the clock in the afternoon, then and there to act upon the following matters, namely:

‘First. To agree and determine upon a name by which the said religious society shall be organized and known.’

Then follow three other articles of the warrant relating to the choice of the usual officers of the parish.

The warrant was received and served in due form, and in pursuance thereof the members met in Kendall's Hotel, March 22, 1831, and were called to order by Justice Cushing, and the members proceeded to act on the first article, when it was ‘voted that this society shall be organized and known as the First Universalist Society in Medford.’

Ballot was then taken for clerk, and William S. Barker was elected and duly qualified by Justice Cushing.

A prudential committee was elected, consisting of Timothy Cotting, Leonard Bucknam, and George Sawyer.

Miles Sampson, James Ford, and John Wheeler were elected assessors, Timothy Cotting elected treasurer, and William S. Barker elected collector.

We now have the society fully organized and ready to enter upon its important work, that its influence, with the other religious organizations of this town, should [p. 28] make the community of old historic Medford religious, peaceful, and law abiding, and as such it has ever proved.

In 1832 a church was built on Forest street. A few possibly of our old inhabitants may recall the old church building with its flight of steps on the outside leading to the auditorium in the second story. (No record of the dedication can be found.)

In 1850 the church was remodelled and enlarged. The long steps in front were removed, and an entrance made in the first story; fifteen feet eastward was added to its length, and other improvements made for the convenience of the society, which had increased in numbers and usefulness.

In 1886 other alterations and improvements were made. The church building was raised and the vestry brought up with the grade of the land, making it light and cheerful; a pastor's room was arranged with a convenient entrance to the pulpit platform; the organ was moved from the gallery to the east end of the church; new pews and windows replaced the old ones, making the appearance of the auditorium much more pleasant and attractive as well as convenient for its work as a church.


In April, 1831, the Rev. Winslow Wright was installed as the first pastor, and after four years of faithful labor he resigned in April, 1835. Soon after his resignation the Rev. Joseph Banfield was made his successor, and remained as pastor for three years.

The Rev. Dr. Hosea Ballou was made pastor of the society in 1838. There may be members of this society who remember the kind, pleasant manners of this truly Christian man, who always had a pleasant greeting and a kind word for every one.

Dr. Ballou remained as pastor until August, 1853, when he was called to the presidency of Tufts College.

In February, 1854, the Rev. G. V. Maxham accepted [p. 29] an invitation to become the pastor of the parish, and in April was ordained. He continued with the society until May, 1858.

The pulpit was supplied from Sunday to Sunday for one year, when the Rev. C. B. Lombard entered upon the duties of pastor, beginning May 1, 1859. At a parish meeting held Dec. 4, 1860, his letter of resignation was accepted, to take effect Feb. 1, 1861.

Nov. 1, 1861, the Rev. Benjamin H. Davis was engaged to supply the pulpit until October, 1862. At this time he was engaged as pastor, and labored here with success until March, 1867. His earnest and logical treatment of his subjects in the pulpit was fully appreciated by his hearers, and without doubt produced good and lasting effects. He always spoke without manuscript.

For two years our pulpit was supplied by the Rev. T. J. Greenwood and Rev. Eben Francis.

In March, 1869, Rev. R. P. Ambler was engaged, and remained until December, 1873, a faithful, conscientious pastor.

May, 1874, Rev. J. T. Farnsworth became our pastor and resigned in June, 1875. The Rev. T. J. Sawyer, with other clergymen, supplied the pulpit until May, 1876.

The Rev. Mr. Haskell was the next pastor engaged, and remained here nearly two years. At the conclusion of his services the Rev. D. L. R. Libby was installed as pastor and resigned after two years labor.

The semi-centennial anniversary of our church and parish was celebrated Oct. 6, 1881, an occasion that will long be remembered with pleasure by all. Services were held afternoon and evening. In the afternoon the historical address of the society was given by the pastor, Rev. Daniel L. R. Libby; history of the Sundayschool by the superintendent, Parker R. Litchfield; these, with reading of the Scripture, prayer, and music, with an original hymn by Mrs. Libby, made the service [p. 30] very interesting. At the close of the afternoon meeting supper was served in the vestry. Toasts were responded to by the Rev. W. A. Start, Rev. J. M. Usher, Rev. Mr. Potter, Rev. R. Perry Bush, Rev. William H. Rider, Rev. Dr. Emerson, Rev. C. W. Biddle, Rev. Charles Skinner, and Rev. Henry C. De Long, of the Unitarian Church, Rev. G. C. Osgood, of the Methodist Church, and Rev. J. P. Abbott, of the Baptist Church. Addresses and music, and an original hymn by Dr. J. G. Adams, filled the programme for the evening.

Letters were read from some of the ex-pastors unable to be present. Rev. G. V. Maxham, Rev. Richard Eddy, and Rev. Eben Francis were present, and made appropriate remarks.

In the fall of 1882 the Rev. R. P. Ambler was again called to our church, and remained until 1886, when he removed to Florida, where he still lives.

At this time the Rev. J. B. Reardon, attending the Divinity School at Tufts College, was engaged to supply the pulpit, and during this engagement the remodelling of the church was effected as already alluded to.

The alterations having been completed, the church was re-dedicated Feb. 1, 1887, when appropriate services were held afternoon and evening. In the afternoon Rev. Charles W. Biddle, D. D., of North Cambridge, delivered an able address—subject, ‘The Power of Expression in Christian Faith and Fidelity.’ He was followed by Rev. A. A. Miner, D. D., of Boston, and Prof. Charles H. Leonard, of Tufts College, who each delivered able addresses, followed by a general conference.

At 6 o'clock, by invitation of the ladies of the Society, about two hundred and fifty persons partook of a bountiful collation.

In the evening the dedicatory services were held as follows: Invocation by Rev. Henry C. De Long, of Medford; Scripture reading by Rev. F. A. Gray, of Arlington; sermon by Rev. Richard Eddy, of Melrose; [p. 31] dedicatory prayer by President E. H. Capen, of Tufts College; address to the parish by Rev. S. W. Sample, of Chelsea; benediction by the pastor, Rev. J. B. Reardon. Additional interest was added to the ceremonies by excellent music from the choir and congregation both afternoon and evening. It proved a deeply interesting occasion, and the remodelled church was again opened for the worship of God, and to help in the continued building of a Christian community. Mr. Reardon remained here until April, 1887.

Prof. Charles H. Leonard had temporary charge of the pulpit until January, 1889, when it was voted to invite Rev. Warren S. Woodbridge to become our pastor, and he commenced his services in April. He proved a faithful pastor, and was instrumental in establishing the Young People's Christian Union, which has greatly interested our young people. Brother Woodbridge continued with us until December, 1893, when he resigned, and became Professor of Applied Christianity in the Divinity School, Tufts College.

Soon after the resignation of Rev. W. S. Woodbridge, an engagement was made with the Rev. W. H. Dearborn, who for many years was pastor of the Universalist society in Hartford, Conn. We were much favored with the ability of this pastor, who remained with us until October, 1898.

At a parish meeting held in January, 1899, it was voted unanimously to extend a call to the Rev. Clarence L. Eaton, who graduated the previous year from Tufts Divinity School. He immediately commenced his services as pastor, and remains so at this date. On the 16th day of March he was ordained and installed with appropriate ceremonies by the following clergymen:

Invocation, by Charles H. Leonard, D. D.; responsive reading, by Rev. Edson Reissnider and the people; reading of the Scriptures, by Rev. R. Perry Bush; sermon, by Rev. Frederick W. Hamilton; prayer and act of ordination, by Rev. Benjamin F. Eaton; the fellowship [p. 32] of the church, by A. J. Patterson, D. D.; the welcome of the society, by Rosewell B. Lawrence, chairman of the parish committee; the welcome of the Medford churches, by Rev. Henry C. De Long; the charge to the minister, by Charles H. Leonard, D. D.; the charge to the people, by Prof. Warren S. Woodbridge.

The act of ordination was deeply interesting, made so from the fact that a father was ordaining his son to the work of the Christian ministry.

His address was earnest and impressive, making clear the importance of the position this young servant of the Lord was about to assume, and no doubt was fully appreciated by the son.

History of the church of the first Universalist Society, Medford.

There appears on the first page of the Church Record Book this entry:

‘The church connected with the First Universalist Society in Medford was formed on Sunday, Jan. 19, 1834, and organized by choosing Messrs. Timothy Cotting and James O. Curtis deacons.’

It was publicly recognized Wednesday evening, January 29. The Lord's supper was first administered by Winslow W. Wright, pastor, on the last Sunday in February following. The following is the uniting compact:


We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, do unite ourselves together as members of the Christian church connected with the First Universalist Society in Medford.

By so doing we profess:

1st. To believe that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” [p. 33]

2d. To esteem it a duty and a privilege to obey the command of Jesus Christ by celebrating the Lord's supper in remembrance of him.

3d. That we may keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the unanimous consent of the members shall be obtained before any person shall be admitted to this church.

Each one of these articles seems worthy of comment.

With relation to the first: One who is familiar with the language of Universalism to-day will have the thought brought forcibly to mind that the Universalist church in common with all other churches has made a long advance in the better understanding of its own faith since this compact was drawn up, nearly seventy years ago.

The second article is remarkable for what it leaves out rather than for what it puts in. There is no obligation of conduct or character mentioned save this sacred one of observing the Lord's supper.

The third article of the compact is a rule of government rather than a basis of fellowship, but it served its purpose for nearly ten years, for not until Oct. 24, 1843, was this simple compact supplemented by a code of by-laws.

For the first eight years the records relate only to the admission of new members; but from 1842 until the present time there has been an increasing tendency to give full details as to what occurred at each meeting.

In 1850 appears this record showing that a happy relation existed between this society and the First Parish:

‘Our meeting-house and vestry being under repair, and our church and congregation holding public service on Sundays with the First Parish (Rev. Mr. Pierpont) in this town, there were no regular meetings of the church in May and June.’

May 22, 1851, it was voted to receive Bro. Sumner [p. 34] Ellis. This man subsequently won fame as a minister and writer in the Universalist church.

May 4, 1862, this doleful record appears:

... A cloud seems to have settled down upon the church—the awful cloud of war, which has enveloped the whole nation in its blighting, withering grasp; and inasmuch as this church has been accessory or conniving to it (with the majority of other churches throughout the land), so is the curse following us in the loss of the pure, peaceful, quickening spirit of the Prince of Peace.

After we shall have taken for the curing of our sick spirits the bitter medicine of war and its desolating consequences, may God grant unto us a refreshing return of the real spirit of charity and forgiveness, which will enable us to dwell in the realm of Peace forever with Christ our great Head, when our swords will be beaten into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and all souls shall know and praise the Lord.

Oh, when shall Universalists learn to live out the glorious doctrine of forgiveness, which has been vouchsafed to them, instead of endeavoring to practise continually the old and harsher doctrines of justice and punishment. May our eyes be opened to a consciousness of our glaring inconsistency, and as a consequence our souls be humbled to that condition requisite to the reception of the spirit of Christ!

First observance of ordinances, Lord's supper, Feb. 23, 1834.

Baptism (by sprinkling), Catherine Coolidge Brooks, June 26, 1842; (by immersion) Mrs. Catherine M. Hall, June 30, 1844. (This was probably the only case of baptism by immersion in our church and took place at the site of the Mystic ford.)

Children's Sunday and baptism. The first record and probably the first observance was July 2, 1868, when twenty-five children were baptized. This service was instituted in 1858 by Rev. C. H. Leonard, at that [p. 35] time pastor in Chelsea, now dean of Tufts Divinity School.

One of the most delightful occasions in the history of the First Universalist Church was that of Friday evening, Nov. 3, 1899, when the members of the church assembled for their reunion.

The vestry had been beautifully decorated with palms and potted chrysanthemums, loaned by Mr. John M. Leahy. Several members over eighty years of age were present, as well as a number of former members now living in other cities and States. The reception hour afforded pleasant opportunity for renewing old acquaintances.

At a quarter-past seven the company, numbering sixty-five, were assembled about the tables, and joined in singing ‘Blest be the Tie that Binds.’ The divine blessing was invoked by Rev. E. C. Bolles, of Melrose. The company then sat down at the well-filled tables, and an hour only too quickly passed in feasting and sociability.

The pastor, Rev. C. L. Eaton, welcomed the guests of the evening on behalf of the church, and declared that the purpose of the evening was to strengthen and deepen the bonds of Christian friendship. The roll was then called and the hymn, ‘I Love the Church,’ was sung.

The pastor then presented Mr. P. R. Litchfield, senior deacon of the church, as toast-master. The following toasts were given: ‘Our Common Work,’ responded to by Rev. E. C. Bolles, D. D.; ‘A Message from the Watch Tower,’ Rev. C. H. Leonard, D. D.; ‘Our Common Bond,’ Mrs. E. L. Houghton; ‘The Church and the Parish,’ Mr. R. B. Lawrence; ‘The Church and the Individual,’ Rev. E. L. Houghton; ‘Our Problem,’ Prof. W. S. Woodbridge; ‘Our Young People,’ Miss Anna B. Archibald; ‘Our Church,’ Deacon E. F. Roberts; ‘The Future,’ Mr. T. Howard Barnes. Letters from former members and pastors added much to the interest of the occasion. [p. 36]

The exercises closed at a late hour with the singing ‘God be with You till we Meet again,’ and the benediction. Not only was the gathering delightful because of its sociability, but also most helpful because of its inspiring religious spirit.

Universalist Sunday-School.

This school commenced soon after the formation of the parish in 1831, seemingly without special form, but springing up from the weekly gathering of the worshippers of the church; these interested persons looking about to see what good they could do soon formed themselves into a Sunday-school. It was evidently through the missionary spirit of these good people, who could not confine themselves to the work of a church alone, that our school became established.

For a few years the sessions were held some eight months of the year, as some of the teachers and scholars came from Somerville, Arlington, and Winchester, and to travel in the winter time was not quite as convenient as it is now.

The catechism of the day was used in the school.

The vestry not being finished, the sessions were held in the church auditorium.

The school after being fully established numbered about fifty, but in a few years it began to increase.

We are unable to find any records dating back of 1838, but have gathered a few facts from time to time as above.

In May, 1838, the teachers of the Sunday-school held a meeting for the purpose of forming a ‘Sabbath School Teachers' Association, whose object shall be their own mutual improvement, and the good of the school committed to their care.’

At this time a committee was chosen, consisting of George Gay, James O. Curtis, and Mrs. Hepsibah Cotting, to ‘draft a constitution and report at a subsequent meeting.’ [p. 37]

In July this committee made report, and a constitution was adopted to govern the association.

The first article reads as follows: ‘The society shall be called the Universalist Sabbath School Teachers' Association.’ Then follow articles two to ten inclusive, naming the officers to be elected annually, the duties of said officers, and other matters pertaining to the interest and government of the school.

For a number of years the association held its meetings at the residences of the members every two weeks, and according to the records the time was fully occupied, not only in the transaction of business, but in their own mutual improvement, by carefully considering portions of the Scripture, previously decided upon, under the direction and assistance of the pastor.

It is evident that Mr. James O. Curtis was the first superintendent, but there is no record to show how long he held the position. From the formation of the Teachers' Association we have records in full upon that matter.

In after years these names may be of considerable interest to those looking up church history.

Mr. Stetson served as superintendent for one year. In June, 1839, Mr. James O. Curtis was again chosen superintendent, and was elected annually from that time until April, 1857, thus serving eighteen consecutive years. Mrs. Cotting was elected for three consecutive years. Mrs. Lusanna Wellington was elected assistant [p. 38] superintendent in March, 1842, and annually elected to that position for nineteen years. Rev. James M. Usher was elected superintendent, April, 1857, and served until August, 1859, when Elisha Stetson was chosen for the remaining part of the year. In April, 1860, Mr. Parker R. Litchfield was elected superintendent, and served in that office for thirty-five consecutive years. At the annual meeting in April, 1895, Mr. T. Howard Barnes was elected superintendent, and has been elected each year since that time.

For several years previous to 1872 no assistant was elected. In 1873 Mr. M. Warren was elected and served two years. Mr. Moses Mellen was then elected for five consecutive years. Rosewell B. Lawrence was chosen, April, 1879, and has served in that position to the present date, making a continuous service of twenty-one years.

The association was active, continually arranging work to be done for the welfare of the young, occasionally canvassing the town to find children who were not attending any Sunday-school, and is an active association to this time.

The school itself has always been self-supporting, and has contributed money to charitable and other purposes, gave quite a sum towards the cost of altering the church building, and has in many ways made itself useful in missionary and other religious work.

The names of many active workers, not already here recorded, could be mentioned, who, through sunshine and cloud, have faithfully labored in this school for years, and the good thus planted has undoubtedly brought forth good fruit.

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