Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of records kept by Reverends William Smith, Jacob Norton, and to a lesser degree Josiah Bent and John C. Phillips, pastors of the First Church of Weymouth, Mass.

Historical Background

The First Church in Weymouth, Mass. (United Church of Christ) was first gathered in 1623. In that year, a band of settlers arrived accompanied by Rev. William Morrell, a rector of the Church of England, who remained for just over a year. Rev. Mr. Barnard took over from 1624 until 1635. The church existed in only a provisional way from 1635-1639, during which time a great deal of religious dissension took place. The people of Weymouth joined in covenant on 30 Jan. 1639. Peace and unity was finally achieved in 1644 with the arrival of Rev. Thomas Thacher. From then until the establishment of the South Precinct or Parish in 1723, the town was all one precinct. Town and church business was transacted in town meetings. The establishment of the South Precinct in 1723 meant the withdrawal of several church members.

In 1734, the pastoral call was extended to Rev. William Smith of Charlestown. The son of a wealthy mariner and merchant, Smith was born in 1707 and graduated from Harvard College in 1725. He accepted the position as pastor in 1734 at a salary of 160 and 300 settlement and was ordained at Weymouth later that year. During his tenure, the meetinghouse was repaired (1735) and more repairs and the addition of a steeple were planned in 1751 when the meetinghouse was completely destroyed by fire. Pews were sold to finance the construction of a new one at the same location and extra pews were built and sold for the addition of a belfry. Smith also found himself embroiled in controversy with the South Precinct over parish lands.

Smith married Elizabeth Quincy in 1740 and had four children, including Abigail, later Mrs. John Adams, and Mary, later Mrs. Richard Cranch. Rev. Smith died in 1783 after 49 years as minister of the First Church.

During the next four years, no permanent pastor could be found. Several men served temporarily, but none would accept the permanent position until 1787 when Rev. Jacob Norton accepted the job. Norton was born in Abington, Mass. in 1767, graduated from Harvard College in 1786, and was ordained at Weymouth in October of 1787. In 1789, he married Elizabeth Cranch, the daughter of Richard and Mary Smith Cranch and granddaughter of Rev. William Smith. She died in 1811, and in 1813, he was married again, this time to Hannah Bowers. He would serve until 1824, during which time his theological beliefs are said to have changed and caused great controversy in the church, the church's first Sunday School was begun, and the meetinghouse was enlarged. A significant portion of the congregation withdrew from the church, which kept its ties to the more traditional Congregationalism, to join the Union Church (Union Religious Society) of Weymouth and Braintree (est. 1804) and the Methodist Society in East Weymouth (est. 1822). His tenure was punctuated by religious tension, finally resulting in his dismissal in 1824.

Following his dismissal, Norton moved to Billerica where he became first a Unitarian and later a Universalist. Weymouth was his only pastorate. He died on 17 Jan. 1858 at the age of 93.

Norton was replaced by Rev. Josiah Bent, Jr. (d. 1839) of Milton who remained until 1833, when he resigned over Free Masonry. He graduated from Harvard in 1822 and was ordained at Weymouth. During his tenure, a new meetinghouse was erected.

Rev. John C. Phillips (1807-1878), an 1826 graduate of Harvard and in 1832 of the Andover Theological seminary, succeeded Bent, serving from 1833-1837.

The church is presently located at 17 Church St., Weymouth Heights, Mass.

Collection Description

The First Church (Weymouth, Mass.) records consist of records kept by Reverends William Smith, Jacob Norton, and to a lesser degree Josiah Bent and John C. Phillips, pastors of the First Church of Weymouth, Mass. The records include two record books containing minutes of First (North) Precinct meetings and committee reports (1724-1839) and two volumes containing lists of births, marriages, members, and deaths (1734-1837) under all four ministers.

The loose papers of Smith and Norton contain warrants for precinct meetings to discuss town and church affairs, including the dispute between the North and South Precincts, papers related to the meetinghouse and the ministers' salaries, letters from other local churches noting appointments and other news, and papers related to Norton's dismissal as pastor in 1824 amidst religious controversy.

The collection also includes notes from and lists of members who withdrew from the church to join other area churches, in particular the Union Religious Association of Weymouth and Braintree (later the Old South Union Church of Weymouth).

Other Formats

On microfilm, P-375, 2 reels. The microfilm does not include the printed materials.

Acquisition Information

The records were deposited by the First Church of Weymouth in August 1990.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. William Smith papers, 1734-1783

Papers related to Smith's service as pastor of the First Church of Weymouth from 1734-1783. Included are warrants calling for Weymouth precinct meetings regarding town and church affairs, various committee reports including those to assess the treasurer's records, items related to the repair of the meeting house and the addition of a steeple and belfry, a copy of the original agreement appointing Smith as pastor, and papers related to his salary. Other related items include letters to Smith from other local area churches announcing appointments and other news, and records of local church councils, among them the Council of Six Churches, which met at Duxbury.

Box 1Reel 1
Approximately 75 items.

II. Jacob Norton papers, 1784-1824

Papers related to Norton's service as Smith's successor (after a gap of 4 years) as pastor of the First Church from 1787 until his dismissal in 1824. This series also includes a small amount of material dating from 1784-1787 prior to Norton's appointment and including warrants for precinct meetings where among the other topics discussed was the need to secure a permanent pastor for the church. Norton's papers begin with his acceptance of the position in 1787. His letters to the church continue throughout his tenure and relate to his salary, his need for increases, and the controversy in the church just prior to his dismissal for his controversial religious views. Warrants for precinct meetings continue throughout his tenure and topics to be brought to a vote include the dispute between the First and Second Precincts in Weymouth, the possibility of incorporating the precinct as a township, Norton's salary and housing, and singing in the church. Also included are various committee reports, including those to assess the records of treasurer; an anonymously written record of Norton's sermons preached from 1814-1815 with brief notes of their contents; letters to Norton from other area churches regarding appointments, church controversies, and other church business; and notes from former church members stating their plans for withdrawal from the First Church to other local churches and especially to the Union Religious Association of Weymouth and Braintree.

Papers surrounding Norton's eventual dismissal include committee reports and several letters from Norton to the church explaining his religious views.

Box 1Reel 1
Approximately 230 items.

III. Bound church records, 1724-1839

A. Record book, 1724-1797

Includes minutes of the meetings of the North (First) Precinct of Weymouth and reports of committees. Includes records under Rev. William Smith (1734-1783) and Rev. Jacob Norton (1787-1797).

Box 2Reel 2
Approximately 275 pages.

B. Record book, 1798-1839

Continues 1724-1797 record book with minutes of meetings and committee reports from 1798-1824 under Rev. Jacob Norton. Also includes lists of persons who have withdrawn from the church to join other churches or religious societies, including the Union Religious Society of Weymouth and Braintree, from 1812-1839.

Box 2Reel 2
Approximately 340 pages.

C. "Church book," 1734-1837

Includes lists of baptisms, persons admitted to the church, marriages, and deaths under Rev. William Smith (1734-1783), Rev. Josiah Bent (1824-1833), and Rev. John C. Phillips (1834-1837). See Jacob Norton's separate record book for lists of the same for the years 1784-1824. Also included are a few minutes of church meetings in 1740, 1770, 1784-1787, and 1826-1835.

Box 2Reel 2
Approximately 145 pages.

D. Rev. Jacob Norton's record book, 1788-1833

Contains lists of baptisms, lists of persons admitted, marriages, and deaths; and minutes of precinct meetings and committee reports (1795-1820) dating from the tenure of Rev. Jacob Norton as pastor (1784-1824). Also included are the record of the ordination of Josiah Bent and the minutes of a meeting in November of 1833 to invite John C. Phillips to take pastoral charge.

Box 2Reel 2
Approximately 125 pages.

IV. Printed materials, 1813-1973


These materials have been individually cataloged in the MHS printed catalog.

Box 3
First Church in Weymouth (United Church of Christ). Three Hundred and Fifty Years. Weymouth Heights, Mass: First Church, [1973?].
Box 3
Lathrop, John. A Sermon Preached at the First Church in Weymouth, October 29, 1814, at the Interment of Miss Mary P. Bicknell.... Boston: J. Belcher, 1814.
Box 3
Norton, Jacob. A Sermon Delivered Before the Massachusetts Missionary Society, at their Eleventh Annual Meeting, in Boston, May 29, 1810. Boston: Lincoln and Edmands, 1810.
Box 3
Norton, Jacob. "The Awakener": A Sermon, Delivered Before the First Religious Society in Weymouth. Boston: Parmenter and Balch, n.d.
Box 3
Panoplist and Missionary Magazine. Vol. XII, No. 1, January 1816.
Box 3
Phillopaideos. A New Catechism: In Which the Duties of Piety Towards God, Justice, Righteousness and Charity Towards Man Are Displayed in a Familiar Manner. For the Use of Young Children. Boston: Lincoln and Edmands, 1813.
Box 3
Ware, Henry. A Sermon Delivered January 1, 1817, at the Ordination of the Reverend Henry Ware, to the Pastoral Care of the Second Church in Boston. Boston: J. W. Burditt, 1917.

Preferred Citation

First Church (Weymouth, Mass.) records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Bent, Josiah, d. 1839.
Norton, Jacob, 1764-1858.
Phillips, John Charles, 1807-1878.
Smith, William, 1706-1783.


Old South Union Church (Weymouth, Mass.).
Weymouth (Mass.). First Precinct.


Church buildings--Massachusetts--Weymouth.
Church controversies.
Congregational churches--Clergy.
Weymouth (Mass.)--History.