Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the records of the First Parish Church in Dorchester, a Congregational and later Unitarian church, including general church records, financial and property records, pew records, records relating to church buildings, scrapbooks of church history, and papers kept by church ministers and deacons. Also included are First Parish town records, among them parish tax records.

Historical Sketch

In 1630, the Rev. John White and a group of 140 individuals formed a church in England, calling themselves Puritans. Although they originally established themselves as reformers rather than separatists, increasingly intolerable conditions in England caused them to emigrate. They set sail in the 400-ton ship Mary and John and landed first at Hull, and later at a place called "Mattapan" by the Indians. The Puritans named their new home "Dorchester Plantation."

In 1631, a rude log cabin was built to serve as the first meeting house. The building also served as a fort, storehouse, schoolhouse, and town hall. The second church, originally built on the same site, was moved to Meeting House Hill in 1670. On that site, four more churches were constructed, in 1678, 1743, 1816, and the most recent after a fire in 1896.

For its first five years of existence, the parish had two ministers, John Warham and John Maverick. They were followed by Rev. Richard Mather, who served from 1636-1669. Mather, for whom a room in the Parish Hall is named, is perhaps one of church's most renowned ministers. He is best remembered for helping to produce the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in the colonies.

Other ministers of long-standing tenures included Revs. John Danforth, who served from 1682-1730; Jonathan Bowman, 1729-1773; Thaddeus Mason Harris, 1793-1836; and Nathaniel Hall, 1835-1875. During Harris' tenure, the church evolved from a Trinitarian Congregational church to the Unitarian denomination, although Harris himself never believed in denominational titles. (Harris then proceeded to serve as Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1837-1842.)

Until the 1830s, when a true separation of church and state occurred on the local level, town taxes were used to support the church. As a result, church and civic matters were inextricably linked. The town of Dorchester was annexed by the city of Boston in 1870.

Despite these changes, relationships between the church and the community continued. The Female Benevolent Society, formed in 1842 as a branch of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women, later sewed clothing for soldiers in the Civil War, as well as providing aid to the local destitute.


Historical Guide for the 325th Anniversary of the First Parish Church Established 1630; Foundation Stone of Our Nation, Dorchester, Massachusetts. Dorchester, Mass.: First Parish Church, 1955.

Field, Harold. An Inventory of the Records of the Particular (Congregational) Churches of Massachusetts Gathered 1620-1805. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Collection Description

Records of the First Parish Church in Dorchester, a Congregational and later Unitarian church, include bound and loose general church records (1636-1981); financial and property records, including account books (1807-1962), pew records (1816-1929), and records relating to church buildings; and scrapbooks of church history (1859-1935) collected by Mary Fifield King, the church historian. Also included are papers kept by church ministers and deacons, including Thaddeus M. Harris, Nathaniel Hall, Samuel J. Barrows, James Humphreys, and Ebenezer Clapp, Jr.; records of church clubs and organizations, including the First Parish branch of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women (1844-1916) and church Sunday school records (1853-1917); and records of the Church of the Unity (1859-1920), which was absorbed by the First Parish Church in 1920. In addition to church records, First Parish town records, among them parish tax records (1808-1854), are also included.

Other Formats

On microfilm, P-678, 1 reel. The microfilm contains only bound church records for 1636-1778.

Acquisition Information

The records of the First Parish Church were placed on deposit at the Massachusetts Historical Society by the church in 1992.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Church records, 1636-1981

In addition to this series of loose and bound church records, users should also consult the Series VII. Records of the church historian, which contains scrapbooks of church memorabilia from 1859-1935.

A. Loose records, 1680-1981

This subseries contains miscellaneous loose general church records, including minutes, correspondence, membership records, and reports.

Arranged topically.

General records

Box 1Folder 1-4
Miscellaneous church records, undated, 1680 (photocopies), 1729-1854
Box 1Folder 5
Ad Hoc Committee reports, 1835-1888
Box 1Folder 6
Correspondence and reports submitted to Parish Committee, 1841-1905
Box 1Folder 7
Replies to 250th Anniversary Celebration, 1880
Box 1Folder 8-9
Board of Trustees correspondence, undated, 1897-1930
Box 1Folder 10
Reports submitted to the Board of Trustees, 1924-1929
Box 1Folder 11
Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1919-1924 (synopsis), 1925-1927
Box 1Folder 12
Annual reports, 1927-1931
Box 1Folder 13
Rules and regulations of the Board of Trustees, 1930-1949, [after 1956]
Box 1Folder 14
Miscellaneous correspondence, 1954-1981

Membership records

Box 2Folder 1
Application for dismissal from First Parish Church to form Second Parish Church: membership lists and correspondence, undated, 1807-1827
Box 2Folder 2
Requests for membership, undated, 1819-1854
Box 2Folder 3-5
Requests to withdraw from membership, 1833-1837, 1839-1854, 1858
Box 2Folder 6
Correspondence of Samuel Loud, Clerk of First Parish, and Judge Samuel Leland regarding withdrawal of members, 1838
Box 2Folder 7
Membership lists, 1838-1845
Box 2Folder 8
Report of the Make Inquiries as to who Are Members, 3 Jan. 1864

B. Bound volumes, 1636-1960

This subseries contains the bulk of the general church records, including the first volume of the records (1636-1729) and copy of the same transcribed by Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris. The records include minutes of meetings, as well as lists of members, baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

Arranged chronologically.

Vol. 1
Church records, Book 1, 1636-1729

ACCESS RESTRICTED. Use microfilm or copies in Oversize Vol. 1.

On microfilm, P-678.

OS Vol. 1
Church records transcribed from original records, 1636-1728
Box 3Folder 1
Church records, 1729-1778
Box 3Folder 2
Church records, 1773-1843
Box 3Folder 3
Marriages performed by Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, 1793-1836, 1841
Box 3Folder 4
List of members, 1804-1836
OS Vol. 2
Church records, 1815-1920
Box 4Folder 1
List of members, 1835-1838
Box 4Folder 2
Church records, vol. 2, 1837-1856
Box 4Folder 3
Church records, vol. 3, 1857-1903
Box 5Folder 1
Dedication of the tablet to Nathaniel Hall, 28 May 1898
Box 5Folder 2
Church records, vol. 4, 1904-1960
Box 5Folder 3
Thomas Hibbard's (church secretary), notebook of extracts of church records, etc., undated

II Church financial and property records, 1715-1962

This series separates financial and property records of the church, each in both loose and bound formats.

A. Loose financial records, 1851-1930

Contains reports, statements, and other loose documents related to the financial standing of the church.

Arranged by format and roughly chronological within that.

Box 6Folder 1
Standing Committee financial reports, 1851-1886
Box 6Folder 2
Reports of the Finance Committee, 1924
Box 6Folder 3
Reports and correspondence of the Finance committee, 1924-1926
Box 6Folder 4
Treasurer's statements, 1925-1926
Box 6Folder 5
Treasurer's annual reports, 1926-1927
Box 6Folder 6
Financial reports to the members and friends, 1927-1930
Box 6Folder 7
History of church financial records from 1807-1925, [after 1925]
Box 6Folder 8
Bonds, undated

B. Bound financial records, 1807-1962

Includes treasurer's account books, investment records, check stubs, and other financial information.

Arranged chronologically.

Box 7Folder 1
Memorandum book relating to church finances, 1807-1865
Box 7Folder 2
Treasurer's accounts, 1817-1881
Box 7Folder 3
Treasurer's accounts, 1844-1866
Box 7Folder 4
Treasurer's accounts, 1856-1904
Box 8Folder 1
Treasurer's accounts, 1866-1899
Box 8Folder 2
Treasurer's accounts, 1904-1918
Box 8Folder 3
Securities, 1925-1933Disbound
Box 8Folder 4
Investment record, 1927-1962Disbound

Check stubs

Box 9Folder 1
14 Apr. 1931-23 Feb. 1932
Box 9Folder 2
3 Feb.-31 Dec. 1932
Box 9Folder 3
13 Jan.-8 Nov. 1933
Box 9Folder 4
15 Nov. 1933-25 Sep. 1934
Box 9Folder 5
8 Dec. 1934-23 July 1935
Box 9Folder 6
12 Apr. 1937-5 Feb. 1938
Box 9Folder 7
5 Feb.-22 Nov. 1938
Box 9Folder 8
22 Nov. 1938-15 Aug. 1939

C. Loose property and real estate records, 1715-1950

Contains loose records relating to property owned by the church. Includes deeds, wills, bonds; records related to the construction of a new meetinghouse (1813-17); and other miscellaneous real estate records.

Arranged topically.

Box 10Folder 1
Deeds, wills, bonds, 1715-1804, 1859
Box 10Folder 2
Plans of the meetinghouse, undated, 1743, 1806
Box 10Folder 3
Records pertaining to the building of the meetinghouse, 1813-1817
Box 10Folder 4
Records of a public auction of pews in the new meetinghouse, 1816
Box 10Folder 5
Miscellaneous pew records, 1818-1867
Box 10Folder 6
Ad Hoc Committee reports regarding repairs to the meetinghouse, 1819-1873
Box 10Folder 7
Record of dwellings built within a half-mile of the Dorchester burying place from 1636-1756, [1836]
Box 10Folder 8
Plans of parish lands, 1793-1830
Box 10Folder 9
Notebook regarding sale of wood, 1817
Box 10Folder 10
Division and management of ministerial lands, 1824-1827
Box 10Folder 11
Real estate: miscellaneous reports, correspondence, and records, undated, 1823-1874
OS Box 1Folder 1
Architectural drawings of vestry addition, 1871
Box 10Folder 12
Assessor's reports, 1845-1850
Box 10Folder 13
Deeds to meetinghouse lot, 1912-1923
Box 10Folder 14
Correspondence and records regarding church lands compiled by Thomas Hibbard, undated, 1925-1926
Box 10Folder 15
Address by Thomas Hibbard to Dorchester Historical Society regarding church lands, 1926
Box 10Folder 16
"Lands once owned by First Parish Church in Dorchester," 1932Written by Thomas Hibbard.
Box 10Folder 17
Miscellaneous plans and maps, undated, 1893-1950

D. Bound property and real estate records, 1816-1929

Each of these volumes relates to the ownership and/or rental of pews.

Arranged chronologically.

Box 11Folder 1
Deeds to pews, 1816-1854
Box 11Folder 2
Index to deeds to pews, 1816-1854
Box 11Folder 3
Deeds to pews, 1855-1876
Box 12Folder 1
Records of pew rentals, 1919-1927
Box 12Folder 2
Pew ledger book, 1924-1929Disbound.

III. Ministers' and deacons' papers, 1783-1905

This series contains papers kept by individual ministers and deacons of the church. Although they sometimes pertain to the church, they are primarily personal in nature and not the official records of the church.

Arranged by individual in rough chronological order.

A. Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris papers, 1783-1842

Loose papers kept by Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris who served as the church's minister from 1793-1836. Also, his geometry notebook probably kept as a Harvard student from [1783-1787].

Arranged chronologically.

Box 13Folder 1
Geometry notebook, [1783-1787]
Box 13Folder 2-9
Papers, undated, 1798-1842

B. Rev. Nathaniel Hall papers, 1835-1875

Papers kept by Rev. Nathaniel Hall, who served as minister of the First Parish Church from 1835-1875.

Arranged chronologically.

Box 13Folder 10

C. Rev. Samuel J. Barrows papers, 1876-1906

Papers kept by Rev. Barrows, who served as minister of the First Parish Church from 1876-1880.

Arranged chronologically.

Box 13Folder 11-12

D. Charles Humphreys papers, undated

"Distinctive Doctrine of Unitarianism," a sermon translated into Hebrew, undated.

Box 13Folder 13

E. Anonymous, 1905

One folder of miscellaneous anonymous addresses and sermons. The bulk of the items are undated, although at least one item dates from 1905.

Box 13Folder 14

F. James Humphreys papers, 1799-1853

Extracts of church records from 1829-1853, and the Humphreys family genealogy as copied by James Humphreys, a deacon of the church from 1799.

Arranged chronologically.

Box 14Folder 1
Genealogical materials, copied after 1799

Bound notebooks

Box 14Folder 2
Extracts of church records, 1799
Box 14Folder 3
Genealogy of family of Jonas Humphreys, 1828
Box 14Folder 4
Extracts, 1829-1830
Box 14Folder 5
Extracts, 1835-1853

G. Ebenezer Clapp, Jr. papers, 1857-1861

A notebook of sermons preached in the First Parish Church from 1857-1861, as copied by Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., deacon, and an undated Clapp family genealogy.

Box 14Folder 6
Notebook of sermons preached in First Parish Church, recorded by Deacon Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., 1857-1861
Box 14Folder 7
Clapp family genealogy, undated

IV Records of church clubs and organizations, 1825-1870

Records of First Parish Church organizations, among them the Singing Society, First Parish Guild, Unity Club, and the Forbes Club, and of First Parish branches of national organizations, such as the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian women. This series also contains the records of the parish Sunday School from 1853-1873 and 1911-1917.

Arranged by organization.

A. Singing Society records, 1825-1846

Box 15Folder 1

B. Music Committee records, 1854-1886

Box 15Folder 2

C. National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women records, 1884-1916

Box 15Folder 3
Benevolent Society (a branch of the National Alliance) and National Alliance records, 1884-1916
Box 15Folder 4
First Parish Branch of the National Alliance records, 1908-1916
Box 15Folder 5
Minutes of membership and Executive Board meetings and Executive Committee, 1908-1916

D. True Helpers records, 1890-1893

Box 15Folder 6

E. First Parish Guild records, 1892-1894

Box 15Folder 7

F. Sunday School records, 1853-1917

Box 16Folder 1
Guide to teaching Sunday School, undated

Bound records

Box 16Folder 2
Box 16Folder 3
Box 16Folder 4
Box 16Folder 5
Box 16Folder 6
Church school services, 1911-1913
Box 16Folder 7
Church school services, 1916-1917

G. Unity Club records, 1887-1902

Box 17Folder 1
Box 17Folder 2

H. Forbes Club records, 1912-1940

Box 17Folder 3
Box 17Folder 4

I. Unitarian Laymen's League records, 1945, 1961-1962

Box 17Folder 5

J. Parish Club/Occasional Club records, 1970

Box 17Folder 6

V. Related church records, 1859-1920

Bound records of the Church of the Unity of Dorchester, Mass., kept from 1859-1920. The Church of the Unity was absorbed by the First Parish Church in 1920.

Box 18Folder 1

VI. Dorchester (First Parish) town records, 1803-1853

Box 19Folder 1
List of carriages, 1803
Box 19Folder 2
Taxbook to repair highways, 1803
Box 19Folder 3
Single rate tax lists, 1811
Box 19Folder 4
Record of deaths in three parishes of Dorchester, 1807-1835
Box 19Folder 5
District tax voted by the district, 1809
Box 19Folder 6
Aborted, suspended, and uncollected tax lists, 1808-1823
Box 19Folder 7
New names and places of abode, 1809
Box 19Folder 8
Tax and assessment records, 1810-1822
Box 19Folder 9
Tax and assessment records, 1824-1853

Parish tax books

OS Box 1Folder 2
Box 19Folder 10
1808, 1809, 1820
Box 20Folder 1
Box 20Folder 2
Box 20Folder 3
Box 20Folder 4
Box 20Folder 5

VII. Records of the church historian, 1830-1942

This series is primarily made up of 14 scrapbooks of church memorabilia dating from 1859-1935 which were organized by the church historian Mary Fifield King. The series also contains loose church memorabilia apparently slated for inclusion in the scrapbooks, 1830-1937, and the personal papers of King's mother, Emily Fifield, a prominent church member. Mrs. King also decorated and furnished the Emily Fifield room at the First Parish Church in honor of her mother.

Arranged chronologically within formats.

A. Loose records, 1830-1942

Box 21Folder 1-2
Records and correspondence, 1881-1942
Box 21Folder 3
Loose memorabilia for scrapbooks, 1830-1934
Box 21Folder 4
Loose memorabilia for scrapbooks, 1936
Box 21Folder 5
Loose memorabilia for scrapbooks, 1937

B. Emily Fifield personal papers, undated, 1866-1912

Box 21Folder 6-7

C. Scrapbooks, 1859-1935

Memorabilia of Sixty Years (King)

Vol. 2
Pt. I, 1859-1877
Vol. 3
Pt. II, 1878-1894
Vol. 4
Pt. III, 1895-1907
Vol. 5
Pt. IV, 1908-1916
Vol. 6
Pt. V, 1917, The World War
Vol. 7
Pt. VI, 1917-1918, The World War
Vol. 8
Vol. 9
Vol. 10
Vol. 11
Vol. 12
1930 (includes the Tercentenary Celebration)

Memorabilia (Breed and King)

Vol. 13
Vol. 14
OS Box 1Folder 3
Miscellaneous scrapbook, 1912-1928

Preferred Citation

First Parish Church (Dorchester, 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.


Barrows, Samuel J.
Clapp, Ebenezer, 1809-1881.
Hall, Nathaniel, 1805-1875.
Harris, Thaddeus Mason, 1768-1842.
Humphreys, James.
King, Mary Fifield.


Church of the Unity (Dorchester, Boston, Mass.).
National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. First Parish Church in Dorchester (Boston, Mass.).


Account books--1807-1962.
Church buildings--Massachusetts--Dorchester.
Congregational churches--Clergy.
Congregational churches--Massachusetts--Dorchester.
Dorchester (Boston, Mass.)--Church history.
Dorchester (Boston, Mass.)--History.
Dorchester (Boston, Mass.)--Statistics, Vital.
Sunday schools--Massachusetts--Dorchester.
Unitarian churches--Clergy.
Unitarian churches--Massachusetts--Dorchester.
Unitarianism--Societies, etc.
Women--Societies and clubs.