Holy Ghosts

Former First Church of Christ Scientist, Hingham.  From the collection of the Hingham Historical Society

First Church of Christ Scientist, Hingham. Collection of the Hingham Historical Society

The recent sale of the First Church of Christ, Scientist building on Main Street and its conversion to a secular use is nothing Hingham hasn’t seen before.  Other former Hingham houses of worship remain in our midst, repurposed as private homes and office buildings. The First Universalist Church and Society, the Free Christian Mission, and the United Social Society of South Hingham have all, over the years, slipped from our consciousness, but their architectural ghosts remain on North Street, High Street, and Gardner Street.

First Universalist Church and Society.  From the collection of the Hingham Historical Society

First Universalist Church and Society in Hingham.  Collection of the Hingham Historical Society

In 1829, the First Universalist Church and Society of Hingham erected a meetinghouse on North Street. Universalists were liberal Protestants whose name reflected a central tenet of their faith:  unlike their Puritan forefathers, they believed that God granted salvation to all human beings.  (In 1961, the Universalist Church of America merged with the American Unitarian Association, forming the Unitarian Universalist (“UU”) Assocation, to which Hingham’s Old Ship Church belongs.)

The history of Hingham’s Universalist Church and Society is linked with the 19th century women’s movement. In 1868, Phebe A. Hanaford, its pastor, became the third woman to be ordained to the ministry in the United States—in the Universalist church on North Street. The ordination was performed by the Rev. Olympia Brown, the first woman in the United States to be ordained to the ministry and the pastor of the First Universalist Society of Weymouth.

Ordination of the Rev. Phebe A. Hanaford.  Collection of the Hingham Historical Society.

Ordination of the Rev. Phebe A. Hanaford. Collection of the Hingham Historical Society.

When Hanaford left the Hingham church to accept the Universalist pulpit in New Haven (and increase her abolitionist and suffragist activity), she was succeeded by the Rev. Daniel Livermore.  Livermore’s wife was the prominent abolitionist, suffragist, and reformer Mary Ashton Livermore.  Although the couple resided in Melrose, Mary Livermore, a sought-after speaker once dubbed “The Queen of the American Platform,” spoke from the Universalists’ North Street pulpit and elsewhere in Hingham in support of women’s rights and temperance.

Hingham’s Universalist Church disbanded in 1929.  After several commercial uses in the early and mid-20th century, the building still stands as a private residence.

Illustration from Bouve, et al., History of the Town of Hingham (1893)

Illustration from Bouve, et al., History of the Town of Hingham (1893)

In 1872, the Town of Hingham voted to allow the Free Christian Mission to build a chapel at the corner of High Street and Ward Street. The Free Christian Mission was a religious society formed by families of color who lived in and near what was often referred to as the village of “Tuttleville.”  After meeting in private homes  for a year, John Tuttle and others petitioned the Town of Hingham to allow them to build a chapel on vacant, town-owned land on the corner of High Street and Ward Street.  In 1872, a special Town Committee recommended that the Town allow the petition, in words with a ring of paternalism:

The advantages which follow an attendance upon public worship are apparent to nearly every candid and thinking person. A community is not only improved in intelligence, virtue, and happiness thereby, but with those characteristics come a more earnest recognition and maintenance of law and order, as well as an increased interest in the prosperity and general welfare of society. . . .

At the present time a number of our fellow citizens desire to establish another church. With their associates they number about one hundred persons, the majority of whom reside on Ward and High Streets, or in the vicinity. They have held meetings during the past year at their residences, and these meetings have been very well-attended . . ..

Photograph of the Free Christian Mission.  From the collection of the Hingham Historical Society

Undated photograph of the Free Christian Mission. From the collection of the Hingham Historical Society

The Free Christian Mission, at some points also called Mt. Zion Chapel, embraced the covenant of the “Second Advent” or imminent second coming of Christ. Adventism, an evangelical branch of Protestantism, grew in popularity after the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s.

The Free Christian Mission disbanded in the early 20th century.  As with the Universalist Church, the building was put to  a succession of secular uses.  It was for some time an antiques store and is currently a dentist’s office.

While “Liberty Plain” and the South Hingham neighborhoods along Gardner, Whiting, and Derby Streets were formally part of Hingham’s Second Parish, it was a long trip up Main Street for services.  In 1891, two sisters, Sara Chubbuck and Anna Belcher, were instrumental in the formation of the United Social Society of South Hingham, which ran a Sunday School and offered worship services to families in this southernmost part of Hingham.  After the Society spent a year in an unheated woodenware factory on Gardner Street, it erected a chapel at the corner of Gardner and Derby Streets for Sunday School and worship services.  This building, too, survived its congregation; it is now a private residence on lower Gardner Street near Farm Hill Lane, not far from its original location.

Powerful Words in the Name of Freedom

Every day Hingham residents drive or walk past the entrance to a small park lying between Central and Hersey Streets. Now known as Burns Memorial Park, it was once home to Tranquility Grove, an outdoor space used for meeting and rallies—including in particular abolitionist rallies.

Hingham was home to an active group of abolitionists. Led in large part by local women who were considered extremists by many, Hingham’s abolitionists worked for freedom through petitions, speeches, meetings, and protests. High-profile abolitionists visited Hingham regularly during this period, including Frederick Douglass (who came more than once), William Lloyd Garrison, an aging John Quincy Adams, and the Grimke sisters.

On August 1, 1844, the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society hosted a large regional rally to mark the tenth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. The rally featured a speech by Frederick Douglass at the First Baptist Church and a procession down Hingham’s Elm Street to Tranquility Grove. As the abolitionists entered the Grove, they were greeted by large white banners hung from the surrounding fir trees. In bold black letters, the banners spelled out anti-slavery slogans:

20141011_110642They are slaves that fail to speak/ for the fallen and the weak

20141011_110456True freedom is to be earnest to make OTHERS free

20141011_110507God made us free! Then fetter not a brother’s limbs!

20141011_110636Welcome All to Freedom’s Altar!

Fragile and creased with age, the banners from the 1844 Tranquility Grove meeting are preserved in our archives. One of them makes direct reference to Tranquility Grove, greeting supporters entering the rally with a verse:

Hail! Friend of Truth, thou enterest here
The grove long named TRANQUILITY.
O let thy soul then breathe sweet peace,
Pure love and TRUE HUMILITY.

P1060107The efforts of the Hingham abolitionists contributed to the larger national abolition movement which would continue to gain traction across the country until the Emancipation Proclamation brought their hard work to fruition. The banners remain an evocative reminder of Hingham’s participation in that important work, and their powerful statements still right true to this day.

Clubs and Societies in 19th c. Hingham

“It would be impossible,” Francis H. Lincoln remarked in the 1893 History of Hingham, Massachusetts, “to give a complete list of all the social organizations which have existed in Hingham.”

Francis H. Lincoln (

Francis H. Lincoln

Lincoln knew whereof he spoke: he was known for his active engagement in his community’s civic, religious, and charitable organizations. Three of the nine paragraphs in his eulogy were devoted exclusively to his membership in various societies and organizations, of which 21 are expressly named. This does not include his service on Hingham’s School Committee for nine years starting in 1879 and as treasurer of the American Unitarian Association.

Although certainly more engaged than most, Francis Lincoln was not the only one in town to show such a diversity of involvement. Each of the two 19th-century histories of Hingham devotes an entire chapter to the discussion of Hingham’s various “Lodges and Societies,” patriotic and political associations, charitable organizations, and recreational clubs. At one point, just in the arena of music, Hingham boasted both a brass and a cornet band, two choral societies (in addition to the church choirs), and a Philharmonic (formerly the more humbly named Amateur) Orchestra. Two social libraries were formed early on, in 1771 and 1773, and lasted until Hingham’s public library was founded close to a hundred years later. Early in the 20th century, the Hingham Historical Society was formed by townspeople interested in Hingham’s venerable history.

The Hingham National Brass Band

The Hingham National Brass Band

Each generation reorganized the societies to its liking: the Jefferson Debating Society of the early 19th century gave way in the 1840’s to the competition-based Hingham Debating Society, which in turn morphed thirty years later into the Monday Night Club, a more informal discussion group. (Despite this “informality,” when it was Francis Lincoln’s turn to address the club on the topic of “The Systems of Taxation In Massachusetts” in April 1878, he went armed with 26 pages of notes—preserved in our archives.) One organization, founded midcentury as the “G. I. A. of Scribes and Pharisees,” hosted socials, parades, fancy-dress balls and other diversions for decades, but changed its name and officers so often that it reportedly became known as the “Phoenix Club” for its constant re-emergences.

Political societies became popular with several abolition societies in the mid-19th century. After the Civil War, they switched their focus to temperance (with differing approaches, from religious to scientific) and then women’s rights. The Hingham Women’s Alliance boasted men as well as women amongst its members, and the local branch of the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association met at Loring Hall, receiving support from Hingham resident and then-governor of Massachusetts John Davis Long.

The Hingham Gun Club

The Hingham Gun Club

The community sustaining these myriad organizations was thus also sustained by them. In the early 1800s, facing a growth in population density that made both fire and thieves more common, townspeople founded the Society of Mutual Aid for Detecting Thieves and the Hingham Mutual Fire Society, both of which lasted through the century, promising to lend a hand when their neighbors’ belongings went missing or their buildings burst into flame.

The Hingham Croquet Club

The Hingham Croquet Club

The social engagement and civic responsibility displayed in the Town’s profusion of associations and causes runs through its history, but the 19th century surely marked a high point in the number and strength of Hingham’s social organizations. Hingham was nothing less than a working example of what Alexis de Tocqueville saw as an explanation for the success of American democracy: our social engagement and investment in community created the interdependence that allowed our political processes (the process of voting and representation and compromise) to work. Or, as Francis Lincoln, club member extraordinaire, remarked in an essay written as a 15-year old student: “all the institutions of the land . . . are nurseries of learning, truth, and freedom.”

The Songs of the Abolitionists

Jairus Lincoln of Hingham published his song book “Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom” for the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society in 1843.  Music was an important part of abolitionist meetings and rallies. In the foreword to his anthology, Lincoln noted the success that the temperance movement had enjoyed incorporating music into its message and urged the anti-slavery movement to follow the example: “[t]here are many who have not the gift of speech-making, but who can, by song-singing, make strong appeals, in behalf of the slave, to every community and every heart.”

Lincoln included the words and music to 57 anti-slavery songs, some original, some “standards” in the movement, and some taken from a previous anthology, “The Anti-Slavery Pick-nick.”  Many of the melodies are based on hymns that would have been very familiar to the audience, with lyrics based on anti-slavery poetry by John Pierpont, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others. (To our 21st century sensibilities, the absence of any music influenced by the rich music–spirituals and field tunes–of the enslaved peoples themselves is striking.)

A few songs stand out.  Lincoln included a sharp parody of a familiar patriotic hymn:

My country! ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside,
Thy deeds shall ring.

My native country! thee,
Where all men are born free,
If white their skin:
I love thy hills and dales,
Thy mounts and pleasant vales,
But hate thy negro sales,
As foulest sin. . . .

One well-known anti-slavery anthem, “The Song of the Abolitionist,” was written by William Lloyd Garrison, to be sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”:

I am an Abolitionist! I glory in the name;
Though now by slavery’s minions hissed, And covered o’er with shame;
It is a spell of light and power, The watch-word of the free;
Who spurns it in the trial-hour, A craven soul is he.

I am an Abolitionist! Then urge me not to pause,
For joyfully do I enlist In Freedom’s sacred cause;
A nobler strife the world ne’er saw, Th’ enslaved to disenthral;
I am a soldier for the war, Whatever may befall. . . .

Words and music to "Song of the Abolitionist," from Lincoln's Anti-Slavery Songbook

Words and music to “Song of the Abolitionist,” from Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Songbook

In From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century, Professor John Cumbler writes that “[t]he social world of abolitionism also had its lighter side.”  The two examples with which he supports his assertion are close to home:  an 1844 meeting in Hingham, where New England abolitionists enjoyed a boat trip from Boston, the seaside, and the country air, and a “fishing party” to Cohasset during those same years. Perhaps after enjoying sunshine and a good meal, the abolitionists pulled out their copies of Lincoln’s “Anti-Slavery Melodies”–perhaps even the copy that is now in our archives.

A few years ago, a choral ensemble from Arizona State University recorded a number of the songs from Lincoln’s “Anti-Slavery Melodies.” Click here and scoll down the page to listen.