Signs of “nature’s god” at the Ebenezer Gay house

When a local developer purchased the Rev. Ebenezer Gay (1696-1787) house at 89 North Street, local historian John P. Richardson participated in some pre-construction historical investigations.  These painted panels from the Gay house, later installed in the 1690 Old Fort House which Mr. Richardson owned and occupied, are now part of the John P. Richardson Collection at the Hingham Historical Society.

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Wall Fragment from the Ebenezer Gay House.   John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society.

The first wall fragment is made of a plaster and lath surface attached to heavy vertical boards, which are in turn attached to two more modern boards horizontally laid.  The decorative side is painted a dirty off-white base with a meandering vine ad flower motif that originates out of a basket or planter decorated in a cross hatch pattern with dots in each diamond of the crosshatch.  The basket rests on a hilly green stylized landscape. The vine bears large, stylized acanthus-type leaves and flowers of varying shapes in red and blue. Five hand-cut nails protrude from the wall—two at the far left, one at the top center, one at the upper right, one at mid-right.

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Wall Fragment from the Ebenezer Gay House. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society.

The second decoratively painted wall fragment consists of two layers of plaster and lath encasing two heavy vertical boards. The plaster side is painted with at least 2 layers of paint, the topmost having been added by a 20th century Gay family member seeking to restore the design.  The original background was green, while the background of the current surface layer is a dirty tan color.

A meandering vine motif climbs the panel, with the vine bearing red tulip-shaped blue lily-shaped flowers.  At right is a narrow border set off by a dark brown line.  Within the border the flower and vine motif repeats in a narrower scale. To the right of the border is an unfinished area of white plaster with two maroon colored squares of paint laid out in a windowpane pattern.

In his book, The Benevolent Deity: Ebenezer Gay and the Rise of Rational Religion in New England, author Robert J. Wilson III described the Gay house at it looked during the years that Ebenezer lived there with his wife, Jerusha (Bradford) Gay and their ten children:

The house was a 2-1/2 story, rectangular, pitched-roof affair, somewhat large for the period, but not ostentatiously so.  Though it was painted a rather austere blue-gray on the outside, the interior was lively and colorful.  Someone (Jerusha?) adorned the cream colored walls of the family sitting room with a free hand vine design, very like eighteenth-century crewelwork.  The woodwork, fireplace wall, and the wainscott (added later) were all painted a light green.  The whole effect suggested that nature’s god in all his vibrancy was very much alive in the Gay house.

 

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.

A 19th Century Thanksgiving

In 1857, eleven year-old Francis Lincoln of Hingham described his Thanksgiving in a school essay. He writes of roast turkey, a large family gathering, and giving thanks to God, as we would today:

Thanksgiving was the day set apart from work by our forefathers to worship God, after they had gathered in their harvest, and it has been celebrated ever since their time. It is the occasion when Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Brothers and Sisters gather together and have a good dinner of Roast Turkey and Plum-Pudding. I have generally dined at my Grandfather’s, but since he has been unwell and rather old, I have remained at home. I will give you an account of my last Thanksgiving Day. In the morning, I attended church and heard the Rev. Calvin Lincoln preach an excellent sermon. In the afternoon my Father, two brothers and I started on a walk to World’s End, which is more than two miles from our house, but we went to the point which made the walk about one half a mile longer. Solomon then loaded his gun and fired at a target, he also let Arthur fire at an old stump. We got home at about five and a half o’clock having been gone three hours. I therefore spent a very pleasant Thanksgiving.

From our 21st century perspective, two things are missing from Lincoln’s essay. Football, of course, which did not yet exist in its modern form (see our prior post “A Schoolboy Fan of the Boston Game”), and any mention of the 1621 harvest dinner attended by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

The Puritan settlers of New England had a tradition of “providential” holidays: days of fasting called during difficult times for the community and days of thanksgiving called to celebrate times of plenty or deliverance from strife. In the years following the Revolution, the national government adopted this practice and held periodic thanksgiving holidays. The practice gradually became institutionalized, and in 1816 Massachusetts and New Hampshire were the first two states to establish late fall state holidays of Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims were not particularly identified with Thanksgiving until the late 19th century, as explained in Plimoth Plantation’s on-line “History of Thanksgiving”:

With the publication of Longfellow’s best-selling poem The Courtship of Miles Standish (1848) and the recovery of Governor Bradford’s lost manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation (1855), public interest in the Pilgrims and Wampanoag grew just as Thanksgiving became nationally important. Until the third quarter of the 19th century, music, literature and popular art concentrated on the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock and their first encounters with Native People on Cape Cod. . . . .

The Pilgrims were not ignored in 18th and early 19th century America; we just did not always think of them and turkey dinners at the same time.  In Plymouth, Boston, and other Massachusetts towns, dinners, speeches, parades, and other celebrations were held on December 22, the anniversary of the date in 1620 when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth (having already spent several months on Cape Cod). Our archives include numerous copies of the speeches and sermons given, on what came to be called Forefathers’ Day, by South Shore ministers and politicians, as well as the occasional national luminary, such as John Quincy Adams (1802), Daniel Webster (1820), Edward Everett (1824), and Lyman Beecher (1827).

"The Landing of the Pilgrims" (1877) by Henry A. Bacon

“The Landing of the Pilgrims” (1877) by Henry A. Bacon

Only after the Civil War and in the later years of the 19th century, did representations of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag become focused on the “first Thanksgiving,” i.e., the 1621 harvest celebration. The story of the first Thanksgiving resonated in a country working to restore national unity and reacting to the increasing diversity of its population.

Our Religious Pamphlets Collection

Up in the archives, we have been busy indexing a collection of over 300 different religious pamphlets from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Most of these soft-cover, professionally printed booklets contain a single sermon given in a Hingham or South Shore church, although there are also religious tracts, catechisms, devotional literature, and Sunday School texts.  There is even a pamphlet of marital advice to husbands and wives.

Pulpit in Old Ship Church (1941 photograph from Branzetti, Historic American Buildings Survey)

Pulpit in Old Ship Church (1941 photograph from Branzetti, Historic American Buildings Survey)

Our religious pamphlet collection provides a useful complement to the Hingham church records preserved both in our archives and at other institutions.  They tell an important story of the development of Protestant Christianity in this small corner of the country from the Great Awakening to the rise of liberal Christianity and Unitarianism to the evangelical reaction of the Second Great Awakening.  As the 19th century progressed, social issues such as abolition, temperance, and social inequality increasingly became the subject of sermons in Hingham and South Shore pulpits.

Joseph Richardson's "A Sermon in Two Parts," delivered Sunday, June 28, 1856

Joseph Richardson’s “A Sermon in Two Parts,” delivered Sunday, June 28, 1856

Preaching—whether written or delivered from the pulpit—was popular in 19th century Hingham, as the many multiple copies in our collection of certain “favorites” by local preachers Joseph Richardson (Pastor of First Parish or “Old Ship” Church from 1805to 1868) and Oliver Stearns (Pastor of Third Parish or “New North” Church from 1839 to 1856) attest.  Many of our copies of the sermons of Ebenezer Gay (Pastor of First Parish from 1718 to 1787) are reprints, demonstrating that he retained an audience for his sermons 50 years after his death.

Even in the mid-19th century, attending Sunday church services in Hingham was an all-day affair, and preaching was a central part of the services in our Protestant churches.  (The pulpit of Old Ship Church in the photo at the top of this post attests to this.) These sermons are long by contemporary standards, most of them 25-30 pages long.  A number of the sermons are in two parts:  one for the morning service and one for the afternoon. They are dense and closely-argued, raising the unhappy suspicion that our ancestors’ attention spans, or at least their listening skills, were better developed than our own.

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Sunday, June 28, 1858. The morning’s sermon . . .

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. . . and the afternoon’s sermon

Battling “that Old Deluder, Satan” with a School

On April 6, 1714, a grand jury in Boston presented a series of charges against a number of individuals and entities.  Many of the offenses were exactly what we would expect from a group of 17th century Puritans:  “Richard Hancock of Boston for Selling Drink without license sundry times since last Session,” “Seth Smith of Boston for allowing unlawfull gaming,” “Nathaniel Ford of Weymouth for nott attending the publick worship of God,” and—a hat tip to Nathaniel Hawthorne—“Hannah Hall of Boston for fornication.”

MLD001One of the charges explains why this single-page manuscript came to Hingham, to be preserved in our archives:  “the Town of Hingham for not keeping a school according to law.”  This offense, as it turns out, is as characteristic of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans as the others charged on that day.

33447_2Education was very important to the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The first public school in this country, Boston Latin School, was established in Boston in 1635, and the nation’s first university, Harvard College, was founded in Cambridge the next year.  In 1642, Massachusetts passed a law requiring parents to ensure that their children could read English or face a fine.

This concern with education grew from the very roots of Protestant theology:  the belief that Christian laity had the right–and a duty–to read the Bible in the vernacular and participate directly in the affairs of the church.  These fundamental goals are explained explicitly in the preamble to Massachusetts’ 1647 statute, sometimes called “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” that shifted the responsibility of education onto the growing towns:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these later times by perswading from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the Originall might be clowded by false glosses of Saint-seeming deceivers; and that Learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our indeavors: it is therefore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That every Township in this Jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty Housholders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the Parents or Masters of such children, or by the Inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the Town shall appoint. . . .

And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred Families or Housholders, they shall set up a Grammar-School, the Masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the Universitie. . . .

Hingham town records reference schoolteachers and a school building as early as the mid-1600s.  According to Francis Lincoln’s chapter on education in the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, the increasing size of the town led to disagreements as early as 1708 and 1709 over where the school should be held.  Second Precinct—later Cohasset—wanted a rotation, so that school would sometimes meet in its area, as did “Great Plain”—South Hingham.  But there is no suggestion that HIngham’s school was ever closed.  Indeed, in a comprehensive list of the schoolmasters in Hingham from 1670 on, Lincoln reports that Jonathan Cushing was the schoolmaster from 1712-1713, after which the 1712 Harvard College graduate became the minister in Dover, New Hampshire.  Twenty-year old Job Cushing, Harvard College Class of 1714 succeeded him, remaining four year before becoming the first minister of the Shrewsbury church.

Bottom of documentPerhaps there was a lapse while the Town waited for Job Cushing to graduate.  There may have been complaints.  17th century grand juries could “present” charges based on their own knowledge and did not, as today, have to wait to be asked to hand down an indictment.  Was a disgruntled Hingham parent on that grand jury?  Perhaps we will learn more as we continue to dig through the archives.

The Rev. Phebe Hanaford

March is Women’s History Month and an appropriate time to remember Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford—a remarkable woman whose Hingham connection is not generally remembered.

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Meeting House of the First Universalist Society, North Street, Hingham

This photograph from our archives is of the Meeting House of the First Universalist Society in Hingham.  The building remains standing as a private home on North Street—albeit without the wonderful “crown.”  It was built in 1829 by a group of Hingham adherents of Universalism, a liberal Protestant Christian faith which, like Unitarianism, developed in New England as a reaction to the strict Puritanism of the area’s early settlers.  Universalists believed in universal salvation:  that all human souls—not just the Elect—achieve salvation through Christ.  Their liberal theology was matched with liberal social views, and in the mid-19th century, the Universalists were one of the few Protestant denominations to ordain women to the ministry.

Phebe Hanaford, born Phebe Ann Coffin on Nantucket, was the third woman ordained to the ministry of any Christian denomination in the United States—and the first in Massachusetts.  That signal event occurred on February 19, 1868 at the Universalist Meeting House pictured above in Hingham, after she had served as that church’s pastor for around 18 months.  Sermons were preached by the Rev. Olympia Brown, the first woman minister in the United States and at that time pastor of the Universalist church in Weymouth, and John Greenleaf Adams who preached on the text, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bound nor free, there is neither male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Hanaford was popular as the part-time pastor in Hingham.  The Star in the West, a monthly Universalist publication, wrote at the time of her ordination:

Educated in the good old fashioned way, she had the bible from Genesis to Revelation at her tongue’s end; having common sense and a good heart she understood our faith. And when the question about pastoral labor was put [in the examination for ordination], the chairman of the committee of the Hingham society, where she has been preaching for a year, stated she had done it more effectually than any man they had had for the last twenty years!

She stayed in Hingham (while also preaching at the Universalist Church in Waltham) until 1870, commuting by horse and buggy from the Reading home she shared with her husband and two children.  In 1870, she accepted a call to the First Universalist Church and Society at New Haven, taking her children with her but leaving her husband behind.  From 1870 on, in parishes in New Haven and  Jersey City, New Jersey, she shared her home with a woman named Ellen Miles.

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Phebe Hannaford

Hanaford had been active in the abolition movement in the 1860s and after the Civil War became an increasingly well-know activist in the women’s suffrage movement.  She lost her pulpit in Jersey City in a controversy that stemmed partially from her outspoken involvement in the suffrage movement but also partially from her then-unorthodox domestic arrangements (contemporary newspaper articles referred to Miles as “the minister’s wife”).  She did not have a parish of her own again, but she wrote and spoke and remained active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.  (We also have in our archives two letters that she wrote after the turn of the 20th century as President of the Women’s Press Club in New York.)  In the public sphere, she presided at the funerals of both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  Closer to home, she had the opportunity, unprecedented for a woman of her time, to give the blessing at her son’s ordination to the Congregational ministry and to perform her daughter’s marriage.

From Witch Trials to Praying Indians to Old Ship Church

“To All Christian People to whome this present instrument shall come Greeting,” this deed in our archives opens magisterially.  The date at the bottom is equally impressive:   July 4, 1690, “Anno Regni & Regina Guilielmi & Maria Secundi” (in the second year of the reign of King William and Queen Mary).  The deed is executed by William Stoughton, “of Dorchester in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England,” and conveys several parcels of land in the vicinity of Broad Cove to Thomas Thaxter “of Hingham in the Colony aforesaid, yeoman.”  Stoughton is acting on behalf of “the Governor and Company established & residing in the Kingdome of England for the propagation of the Gospel to the Indians in New England &c.”

William Stoughton

William Stoughton

In addition to his service as a judge during the Salem witch trials (see our prior post about this document, “William Stoughton’s Seal”), and later service as first Chief Justice of Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, Stoughton was Lieutenant Governor of the Colony in the 1680’s and early 1690’s.  Among his many other public positions was Commissioner, and later Treasurer to the Commissioners, of the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel to the Indians in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America, a company chartered by Parliament in 1649 to support the conversion of New England’s native people.  The Company originally made investments in England and sent the income to the colonies, to be used to support conversion efforts, including John Eliot’s 1663 translation of the Old Testament into the Massachusett language, the creation of settlements for the so-called “Praying Indians” (including present-day Stoughton, Mass.), and other missionary activities such as the creation of a short-lived “Indian College” at Harvard College.  (These efforts may be familiar to readers of the recent historical novel Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks.)

Eliot_BiblePoor returns on investments in England (including losses owing to the Great Fire in London) led the New England Company to start to send capital for investment in the colonies.  The task of finding suitable investments fell to Stoughton.  Two such investments, made in 1683, were loans of £50 each to Simon and Joshua Hobart of Hingham, sons of Captain Joshua Hobart, nephews of the Rev. Peter Hobart, and both identified as “mariners.”  The loans were secured by real estate in Hingham and, according to the legal structure of the day, evidenced by deeds conveying the parcels to Stoughton, upon the condition that if the greater sum of £66 was repaid four years hence, in 1687, the sale would be null and void.

It is not clear what happened to the younger Joshua Hobart’s land but, on July 4, 1690, Stoughton sold the land he had “purchased” from Simon Hobart to Thomas Thaxter, for the inappropriately small sum of £4.  In all likelihood, this sale to Thaxter was part of some larger transaction, of which we know nothing.

N__367777355How did Stoughton come to loan the New England Company’s funds to the Hobart brothers?  Stoughton had reason to be familiar with Hingham real estate in the early 1680’s.  In 1681, Hingham needed a new church, but a dispute arose about where to locate it.  The decision where to build what would become Old Ship Church was elevated to the General Court, which appointed an oversight committee, on which Stoughton served.  The Committee determined that the Church would be located on property purchased from Captain Joshua Hobart, adjacent to the parcels involved in the New England Company financing two years later.

From the Salem witch trials to the Praying Indians and back to Old Ship Church, this one old deed shows just what a small world 17th century Massachusetts Bay was.