Table of Contents
The First Unitarian Church of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was initially established in 1708 as a congregational church in what was then Dartmouth, Mass. In 1795, a new meeting house for the church was erected at the corner of Purchase and William Streets, and in 1824 the name of this organization was legally changed to the First Congregational Society of New Bedford. A new church for the Society, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, was completed in 1838 by the Ingalls brothers, with Russell Warren acting as building supervisor. Both the facilities and the congregation of the church continued to grow over the following century. In 1868, a chapel was attached to the church building to house a Sunday School and to provide a meeting place for the many church-related clubs and societies which were formed between ca. 1866-1923. A center for church and social work, which became known as Unity Home, was established in the north end of the city in the 1890s. This became known as the North Unitarian Church and continued to maintain ties to the main church until 1951 when it became independent. It later rejoined the First Unitarian Church due to financial problems and eventually dissolved in the early 1970s. In about 1956, the First Congregational Society adopted new by-laws which reorganized the church and changed its name to the First Unitarian Church of New Bedford.
Represented by materials in this collection are the First Unitarian Church of New Bedford as well as three organizations associated with this church: the North Unitarian Church of New Bedford, the First Congregational Society in Acushnet, Mass., and the First Universalist Society of New Bedford. Most of these records concern the First Unitarian Church from 1730-1977. These documents have been organized in Sub-group 1 and arranged into thirteen Series: Administrative Records, 1730-1975 (Series A); Financial Records, 1808-1968 (Series B); Membership Records, 1731-1962 (Series C); Pew Records, 1813-1923 (Series D); Standing Committee Records, 1811-ca. 1950 (Series E); Clubs' Records, 1866-1966 (Series F); Building Records, 1833-1967 (Series G); Pastors' Records, 1730-1977 (Series H); General Correspondence, ca. 1740-1937 (Series I); Anniversary Records, 1895-1958 (Series J); Church Histories, ca. 1860, ca. 1910-1965 (Series K); Programs, 1862-1966 (Series L); and Guestbooks, Scrapbooks, Clippings and Miscellany, 1920-1972 (Series M).
Of particular importance are administrative records, 1730-1975, which include minutes of meetings, annual reports, by-laws, lists of officers and committee members, warrants, ballots and similar documents. These items are complemented by records of the church treasurers and assessors, subscriptions for fund raising, and bills and receipts which relate to general financial affairs of the church from 1808-1968.
One of the most significant series of records in this collection in terms of their research value are those concerning the construction, renovations and furnishings of the First Unitarian Church building constructed at New Bedford in the 1830s. These materials consist of minutes of meetings; financial records; correspondence; specifications; articles of agreement; and architectural blueprints and sketches dating from 1833-1967. Included among these materials are correspondence from Peabody & Stearns, Boston architects, and one letter apiece from architect Russell Warren and an artist, Edward Simmons, as well as plans and related documents prepared by Charles Brigham, George Hunt Ingraham and Nathaniel C. Smith.
The most extensive range of records in this collection concern the activities of church-related committees and clubs from 1811-1966. Most notable among these documents are administrative, financial and membership records of the numerous charitable, religious, and social clubs -- chiefly composed of women members -- which the church has supported since the 1860s. Included in these materials are records of the New Bedford Branch of the Women's Alliance; a missionary society active from 1895-1950, and those of a sewing circle, 1866-1966, which distributed clothing to New Bedford's poor and made surgical dressing for local hospitals.
Another sizeable quantity of records in this collection relate to the members and ministers of the First Unitarian Church throughout most of its existence. Membership-related records encompass deeds, bills, receipts, lists, and plans concerning the purchase, rental, sale and taxation of church pews from 1813-1923, as well as records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths of church members between 1731-1962. Pastors' records consist of reports, correspondence, sermons, installation programs, and clippings relating to church ministers active between 1730-1977, including William J. Potter, Paul Revere Frothingham, William Bernard Geoghegan, and Edwin Stanton Hodgins. The collection also includes general correspondence dating from about 1740-1937; reports, correspondence, programs and clippings relating to various church anniversary celebrations held between 1908-1958; and a variety of sketches, programs, registers, clippings and similiar materials concerning the history and activities of the First Unitarian Church, ca. 1838-1966.
In addition, this collection contains records of three other churches or religious organizations which were at one time connected to or associated with New Bedford's First Unitarian Church. Records for the North Unitarian Church in Sub-group 2, encompass administrative records, 1909-1937 -- including minutes of meetings and committee and ministers' reports; financial records, 1898-1923; membership records, 1924; correspondence, 1905-1937; clubs' and Sunday school records, 1916-1937; building records, 1898-1916 and programs and clippings, 1922, 1944. Records of the First Congregational Society "at the head of Acushnet River" in Sub-group 3 consist of vital records of members, 1830-1833; transcripts of administrative records of 1829-1887, completed in about 1930; and an ordination program, 1879. First Universalist Society records in Sub-group 4 include an agreement, 1840-1842, and minutes of meetings from 1920-1930.
Researchers should note that the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford has retained ownership of numerous records relating to that organization, particularly documents created after 1936. Printed sources which may serve as guides to the history of the church are available in Series K of this collection.
Arrangement of Collection
Access to the Collection
Unrestricted. Consult librarian for an appointment.
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 42 [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Removed to Photographs Collection
- Photograph of Rev. John Weiss, ca. 1852.
- Photographs of William B. Geoghegan -- group shots, parish members, his civic activities, ca. 1945-1960. 33 items.
- Photographs of First Unitarian Church, Berkley, CA., ca. 1960. 14 items.
- Photograph of bronze tablet on Grinnell organ, ca. 1907.
- Photograph of honorem tablet, General Alliance of Unitarian and other Liberal Christian Women, ca. 1931.
- Photograph of Unity Home, North Unitarian Church, ca. 1950.
- Photographs of Senexet House, Woodstock, Ct., ca. 1960. 12 items.
- Print of "Tiffany Mosaic," ca. 1910. 2 copies.
Removed to Printed Collection
- Anniversary programs, 1908, 1958. 17 items.
- "Annual meeting of . . . Official Ballot," 1924, 1932-1937.
- By-laws of the First Congregational Church, (New Bedford, Mass.) 1924, 1943, 1954.
- By-laws of the First Unitarian Church, (New Bedford, Mass.), 1956.
- "Centenary of the First Congregational Society" (New Bedford, Mass.) 1908. 2 copies.
- Delano, Sarah S.B. Our Chapel, Old and New, (New Bedford, Mass.), 1933.
- Emery, William M. One Hundred Years of the Church, (New Bedford, Mass.) 1938.
- "The First Congregational Society - Officers and Committees," 1914, 1920-1923, 1926, 1930-1937.
- Frothingham, Paul Revere. "Things New and Old," (New Bedford, Mass.), 1889.
- "Graduation Service of Senior Class of New Bedford High School," (New Bedford, Mass.), 1898.
- Hodgin, Edwin Stanton. The Faith of the Reformers, (New Bedford, Mass.) 1935.
- Hodgin, Edwin Stanton. " A Savings Account for the Religious Man," 1931.
- Installation programs of ministers 1902, 1946-1975. 11 items.
- "Memorials and gifts," (New Bedford, Mass.), 1949.
- "100th Anniversary of the Meeting House" (New Bedford, Mass.), 1938
- "The Old Indian Church," souvenir card, n. d.
- Potter, William J. The First Congregational Society . . . Its History. . ., (New Bedford, Mass.), 1889.
- Prescott, Bryant. "History," ca. 1962.
- A Short History of the First Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Mass. 1708-1958. (New Bedford, Mass.), 1958.
- "The Unitarian Church of New Bedford, Mass.," ca. 1915. 2 copies.
- Vespers, (New York, N.Y.), 1860.
- Vespers programs -- "Organ recitals," 1880-1939. 185 items.
The major portion of this collection was donated to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society by the First Unitarian Church on 5 February 1982. Several volumes in the collection were originally received as loans from the church on 3 January 1980 and 20 July 1981. An additional volume which is now part of this collection was given to the Society by Alice Bushnell on 1 February 1934.
Processed by: Judith Downey, with assistance from Henry Sherman, ca. 1982
Encoded by: Kermit Dewey, 25 November 2011
Funds for processing this collection were provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Please Consult Research Library for Detailed Description of Collection
Account books--New Bedford, Mass.--1838-1966
Angier, Joseph, 1808-1871
Architects--Mass.--Boston--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Architects--N.Y.--New York City--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Architecture--Mass.--Fairhaven--Designs and plans
Art criticism--N.Y.--New York City
Artists--N.Y.--New York City--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Baker, George T.,1787-1862
Brigham, Charles, 1841-1925
Brigham, Coveney & Bisbee, Boston, Mass.
Buildings--Mass.--New Bedford--Repair and reconstruction
Channing Club, New Bedford, Mass.
Chapel Club, New Bedford, Mass.
Charities--Mass.--New Bedford--Societies, etc.
Cheever, Israel, 1722-1811
Christian art and symbolism
Christian education--Mass.--New Bedford
Church architecture--Mass.--New Bedford
Church architecture--Mass.--New Bedford--Designs and plans
Church charities--Mass.--New Bedford
Church dedication--Mass.--New Bedford
Church finance--Mass.--New Bedford
Church furniture--Mass.--New Bedford
Church group work
Church growth--Mass.--New Bedford
Church property--Mass.--New Bedford
Church records and registers--Mass.--New Bedford
Church work with women--Mass.--New Bedford
Clergy--Mass.--New Bedford--Appointment, call and election
Clergy--Mass.--New Bedford--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Congregational churches in Massachusetts
Davis, Alexander Jackson, 1803-1892
Dewey, Orville, 1794-1882
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882
Fireside Club, New Bedford, Mass.
First Congregational Society, Acushnet, Mass.
First Unitarian Church Records
First Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Mass.
First Universalist Society, New Bedford, Mass.
Frothingham, Paul Revere, 1864-1926
Geoghegan, William Bernard, 1865-1962
Girls Social Union, New Bedford, Mass.
Girls--Societies and clubs--Mass.--New Bedford
Hodgin, Edwin Stanton, 1868-1956
Ingalls, Seth H., 1806-1884
Ingalls, William, 1807-1888
Ingraham, George Hunt, 1870-1950
Jones, Amelia Hickling,1849-1935
Lend-A-Hand Club, New Bedford, Mass.
Literary societies--Mass.--New Bedford
Morison, John Hopkin, fl. 1808-1888
New Bedford Branch of the Women's Alliance, New Bedford, Mass.
New Bedford, Mass.--Charities
New Bedford, Mass.--Clubs
New Bedford, Mass.--Societies
New Bedford. Mass.--Benevolent and moral institutions and societies
North Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Mass.
Parish Club, New Bedford, Mass.
Parish elections--Mass.--New Bedford
Peabody & Stearns, Boston, Mass.
Peabody, Ephraim, 1807-1856
Pews and pew rights
Pierce, Richard, 1700-1749
Potter, William James, 1829-1893
Recreation in church work
Registers of births, etc.--Mass.--New Bedford
Religious education of children
Sewing Circle, New Bedford, Mass.
Smith & Howland, New Bedford, Mass.
Smith, Nathaniel C., 1866-1943
Unitarian churches in Massachusetts
Unity Club, New Bedford, Mass.
Unity Home, New Bedford, Mass.
Weiss, John, 1818-1879
West, Samuel, 1730-1807
Whitaker, Jonathan, fl. 1823
Women in charitable work
Women in church work--Mass.--New Bedford
Women's Alliance of the North Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Mass.
Women--Mass.--New Bedford--Societies and clubs
- The Grand Panorama
- Herman Melville
- Captain Paul Cuffe
- Joshua Slocum
- Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the SouthCoast