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COLLECTION Identifier: bMS 13

First Parish (Cambridge, Mass.). Records, 1834-1912.


Records of the First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, including financial records, membership, funeral, wedding, and christening records, annual reports, and committee records. The records span 1834-1912.


  • Creation: 1834-1912.


There are no restrictions on access to this collection. Literary rights, except for brief passages for publication, retained by the First Parish.


4 boxes

The collection includes church and parish records; financial records; membership, funeral, wedding, and christening records; annual reports and parish/church papers; General Committee of Twelve; Standing Committee; Evening Alliance; Women's Alliance; Sunday School records; Crothers Club; Young People's Groups; Eliot Club; Young Married Group; Men's Club; and miscellaneous records.

Biographical / Historical

The first Meeting House was built in 1632 and Thomas Hooker became the first minister in 1633. A new church, the First Church in Cambridge, was gathered on February 1, 1636, under the Rev. Thomas Shepard, a significant leader of the great Puritan migration to New England in the 1630s. For a century, the doctrine preached by Shepard and his successors was Calvinistic. In the eighteenth century, a tendency toward a more liberal theology developed. The division between Calvinists and Arminians, which appeared in many churches of the Standing Order in the eighteenth century, reached a time of crisis and controversy in the period from 1805 to 1830. The minister of the Cambridge church at that time was the Rev. Abiel Holmes, 1792-1829, father of Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1826 he decided to break off relations with the liberals, and specifically to stop pulpit exchanges with the liberal or Unitarian ministers. The Parish voted to dismiss him as its public teacher of religion and morality and by 1829 most of the Parish had become Unitarian. Dr. Holmes and the more conservative members of his flock departed and founded the Shepard Congregational Society. In 1899, it was agreed that the church associated with that society should be called the First Church in Cambridge (Congregational), now part of the United Church of Christ, and this church, the First Church in Cambridge (Unitarian). The Rev. William Newell was the first avowedly Unitarian minister, from 1830 to 1868.

The fifth and current Meeting House was built in 1833, and Harvard College commencements were held in it until 1873. Here Presidents Everett, Sparks, Walker, Felton, Hill, and Eliot were inaugurated, and in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his Phi Beta Kappa oration "The American Scholar." The Parish House was built in 1902, and the interior of the Meeting House remodeled in 1914. The Crothers Chapel (named after the Rev. Samuel Crothers, pastor from 1894 to 1927) was dedicated in 1941.

Ministers of First Parish in Cambridge:

  1. Thomas Hooker, 1633-1636;
  2. Samuel Stone, 1633-1636;
  3. Thomas Shepard, 1636-1649;
  4. Jonathan Mitchel, 1650-1668;
  5. Urian Oakes, 1671-1681;
  6. Nathaniel Gookin, 1682-1692;
  7. William Brattle, 1696-1717;
  8. Nathaniel Appleton, 1717-1784;
  9. Timothy Hilliard, 1783-1790;
  10. Abiel Holmes, 1792-1829;
  11. William Newell, 1830-1868;
  12. Francis G. Peabody, 1874-1879;
  13. Edward H. Hall, 1882-1893;
  14. Samuel McChord Crothers, 1894-1927;
  15. Ralph E. Bailey, 1928-1934;
  16. Leslie T. Pennington, 1935-1944;
  17. Wilburn B. Miller, 1945-1958;
  18. Ralph N. Helverson, 1959-1977;
  19. Edwin A. Lane, 1978-1987;
  20. Thomas J. S. Mikelson, 1989-2006;
  21. Jory Agate, 1997-2007.
  22. Frederick Emerson Small, 2008-
  23. Lilia Cuervo, 2010-

Acquisition Information

Gift of the First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Related Materials

For related collections, please see bMS 300 and bMS 604. For related ministers' collections, please see bMS 113, bMS 125, bMS 127, and bMS 377.

First Parish (Cambridge, Mass.). Records, 1834-1912: A Finding Aid.
Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Divinity School Library, Harvard University Repository

Special Collections at Harvard Divinity School Library preserves and makes accessible primary source materials documenting the history of religion and theology, with particular historical emphasis on American liberal religious traditions. Though the historical strengths of the collections have been in the field of Christianity, other religious traditions are increasingly reflected, in step with Harvard Divinity School's evolving focus on global religious studies. Known as Andover-Harvard Theological Library since 1911, it was renamed the Harvard Divinity School Library in 2021.

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