The following are posts from our church’s facebook group, from David Tedesco, co-chair of our 300th anniversary committee.
This book, digitized by and available on-line from the Maxwell Library at BSU with the permission of First Parish Bridgewater has now been downloaded thirty times by researchers, historians and interested persons. The first instance of the new relationship between the two institutions.
HISTORY DISCOVERED AND AVAILABLE: Our dealings with the Archival Department at Maxwell Library of Bridgewater State University have taken an important and wonderful step forward. I recently found and purchased a soft cover copy of a work called “A Semi-Centennial Discourse before the First Congregational Society in Bridgewater, Delivered on Lord’s Day 17th September 1871″ by the Rev. Richard Manning Hodges. What a mouth full, but the bottom line is that Rev. Hodges, who…
You have heard me say that the first sermon in our church (the 1st building) was given by the Rev. James Keith of what is now West Bridgewater. The date of that we believe was August 14, 1717 as you can see on the image on the right (this is the internal firstpage of the sermon’s publication). However, it you look closely at the left image you will note another date appears on the cover, that date is June 14, 1717. It is difficult to pick out because it is in the day/month/year order and the month is in Roman Numerals. Both these pages are from the same document published in 1717, a rendition of Keith’s sermon published by the Bridgewater Monitor (I assume an old Bridgewater newspaper). I go with the August date, but this just shows how difficult it is to determine historical details, even when using very old sources. Did they ever make mistakes? Sure they did, just like we do. For example, you will note that the cover mentions a second sermon by the Rev. Samuel Danforth of Taunton, but that sermon does not actually appear in the document.
The item is on card stock about 8 1/2 inches X 5 1/2 inches. One side gives a brief history of First Parish Bridgewater and the other side is an Order of Service. Note that the minister’s name is the Rev. Edward A. Robbins. He was our minister from 1968 to 1970. Less than 50 years ago. Take a close look at the Order of Service, rather traditional even for the period.
REVEREND CLAUDIUS BRADFORD
There are many wide holes in the history of First Parish Bridgewater. While I endeavor to fill those in with broad strokes I sometimes come across enough interesting information about something that it is worth writing down that particular story even if it is incomplete. Perhaps the day may come when others will add to my findings. In this example I will relate what I have found out about the Rev. Claudius Bradford, minister at First Parish Bridgewater from 1845 to 1851. Because of space limitations I will mostly limit myself to what I know about Rev. Bradford relative to our congregation.
Rev. Bradford was from Duxbury, Massachusetts. Originally a school teacher of Latin he entered the ministry and was called to Bridgewater in 1845 and appears to have been having a successful ministry; at least I did not find any record of discourse other than what will follow. Rev. Bradford and his wife, Maria Bradford, were Abolitionists of some reputation and were active in Abolitionist organizational circles in the Bridgewater area.
Apparently there was some opposition to the Abolitionist position in the Bridgewater congregation. While many Unitarians were active Abolitionists, it certainly was not as widely held a position in the 1840’s as modern day UU’s often imagine. Actually, this was generally true not just among Unitarians. According to sources at Antioch College in Ohio and at the Duxbury Historical Society the opposition was centered on a single individual who is referred to in a letter as “old Mr. Perkins”.
Things came to a head when Bradford delivered a sermon at First Parish, Bridgewater and again at an Anti-Slavery meeting at the Abington Grove, in the company of William Lloyd Garrison who late joined Bradford for dinner at his house in Bridgewater. It is unclear if Garrison was present at the morning service, but it is known that Perkins walked out in the middle of the sermon. I have yet to figure out where the house was that Garrison ate at but it probably would have been our parsonage. I also will try to figure out exactly who old Mr. Perkins would have been.
The sermon concerned the Fugitive Slave Law which was hotly contested in some quarters in Massachusetts. Bradford’s position was something called “Higher Law” which basically says that we must obey higher law (of God?) over governmental law, a belief that clerics often have invoked in many contexts. Inexplicably, Perkins was somehow instrumental in Bradford finding it impossible to continue his ministry in Bridgewater. I have no idea how he exerted such influence over the congregation, but the Bradford family clearly felt he was the central villain in the matter. How immediate that was I am not sure but it was not too long before the Bradfords left Bridgewater. Rev. Bradford finally ended up teaching at Antioch College in Ohio. He died in 1863.
Truth be told, it appears that Unitarians and Universalists have been into medals, button, and other such material for a long time. Shown in the three pictures below are such items spanning the period from the late 19th century to the current day. If you are a UU of long standing you will probably be able to spot much of our history represented in these. Using your computer’s zoom function will help. These, like the others, are all from my personal collection.
What is history? A lot of things are history. For example, recently I have posted images of the church building from various years. Also, very recently I have posted some images of a few past ministers. And so on . . . Another part of our history is the events that take place in the and around the church. These are usually represented by flyers. However, flyers are ephemeral in nature and often survive by chance if at all. Four examples, are shown here. Two from the 1990’s, one from 2016 (yes, that will be history in less than a week) and one I am not sure of but which some of you could probably easily date because it is related to the “lift”. Unfortunately, we only have these and a few other examples. This is too bad because flyers have probably been done for many generations of the church. Do you have a flyer that you would add to our historical record?
The Rev. John Albert Wilson, minister at First Parish Bridgewater, MA 1882 and 1883. He was ordained in May of 1882 and died in December of 1883, First Parish being the only congregation he served. After his death his friends and parishioners of First Parish published a book containing many of his sermons. It was called Pulpit Utterances. Original copies are rare but one is in the collection at Cornell University. Interestingly the book was in reprint just a few years ago, but none seem to be available on the open market.
Shown here are images of the pages of the program Exercises in Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Organization of the FirstChurch of Bridgewater. (That is us First Parish Bridgewater) Page 1 (the cover page) contains a dark image of the church building, perhaps the image looked better a century ago. Note that the exercise was held on October 7th and 8th of 1916. Behind that is a blank page and then the 2nd printed page which is our covenant as it appeared in 1895. Page 3 is a list of the original members of the church including Rev. Allen. Page 4 is a statement of the Saturday Evening events which take place in the Albert Gardner Boyden Gymnasium (later the library and now the art building). The college and the church have a long history together. Page 5 is about the Sunday morning service. Note the Sermon was given by the Rev. Samuel A Eliot D.D. President of the AUA. Page 6 concerns an afternoon program on Sunday. Page 7 some interesting Historical Notes. Page 8 a list of ministers through 1916. Page 9 names of the church officials and anniversary committees.
Yet another view of our current building. Note the absence of the University Art Building (formerly the Library and before that the Gym) which was built on what used to be our front lawn. Our congregation and the school have a long and close history, we sold them the land for the building. Also note the presence of the college buildings which were later destroyed in a fire. My guess is that the date of the photograph is about 1900 give or take.
This drawing (from the History Room at the BPL but with original source unknown ) is marked “Old Meeting House, Bridgewater. Altered 1810. 1760 to 1845”. This is bit confusing. I take it to mean that the building was the home of First Parish Bridgewater from 1760 to 1845 and that it was altered (enlarged) in 1810. That would make it our second building (after the enlargement) and it is so identified as the second building
There are a couple of things about this drawing that are troubling. First, note that it is far more primitive than the one I previously posted. Certainly done by an amateur but still could have been for some publication. Second, the location in relation to the cemetery is not what I would have expected because I have been told that the second building existed very near where the third (current) building stands, perhaps on the same location. Could that be wrong? Perhaps the artist was just loose in his/her positioning, but this is way off. A mystery yet to be solved I guess.