From the Earliest Records of the First Church in Beverly

An Address to the Participants of the Old Planter’s Reunion and Balch Family Meeting, 29 September, 2012 By Charles E Wainwright


We often hear about the great men of our colonial past.  We celebrate the deeds and revere the high ideals and motivations of these persons even though we intellectually know that no one is really that good.  Our fantasies are confirmed because we tend to remember only the good things about our past, particularly where our ancestors are involved.  This morning I would like to share with you stories about some early members of this Church whose less-than-perfect behavior was captured in our early records.

My main source for this information is our first record book, one of the most revered objects in our Church- not because of its age, but because much of it was written in the hand of our first minister, John Hale.  It serves as a permanent connection to our past.  Begun on September 20, 1667 by Reverend John Hale as his journal of the official proceedings of the Church at Bass River Side, The book became the responsibility of the Parish Clerk, the first of whom was Robert Morgan, a member about whom I will say more later.  When Rev. Hale died in 1700, entries in the book were continued by the second minister Reverend Thomas Blowers and the third minister, Reverend Joseph Champney.  When Reverend Champney died in 1772, the book was retired, and a new book started.  In 1905, the book- really just ragged collection of pages by then- was rebound by the Essex Institute under the direction of its President William P. Upham who, by coincidence, was also the Parish Clerk of this Church.  The Essex Institute had been commissioned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to compile all vital records for Eastern Essex County up to the end of the year 1849, and in the process Upham transcribed the records, publishing it as a series of articles in the “Essex Institute Historical Collections”.  Later, he republished these articles as a book “Records of the First Church in Beverly Massachusetts 1667-1772” which is still available today in reprint form.  Upham included annotations of mothers’ maiden names in baptismal records that were researched by friend and fellow Church member Augustus A. Galloupe.  These names are not in the original work and several have since proven to be incorrect.

Now here is a short quiz for you:  Who was the first minister of this Church?  The answer is that there were two:  Joshua and Jeremiah Hubbard   Although the Church was gathered in 1667, the Parish- the geographic region north of the Bass river- was first recognized by the Church in Salem in 1650.  It wasn’t until 1656 though that, according to our record book, “We proceeded to build a meeting house on Bass River Side and we called unto us Mr. Joshua Hubbard, Mr. Jeremiah Hubbard, and Mr. John Hales” Joshua and Jeremiah Hubbard (known as Hobart in all other records outside Beverly) immigrated from Hingham England with their family and settled in Hingham Mass where their father, Rev. Peter Hobart was the first pastor.  Both brothers graduated Harvard College in 1650, though they were certainly still residing there in 1651.  Other than the above entry, there is no further mention of the Hubbard brothers in any of our records.  Joshua went on to become the Minister at Southold Long Island and died there in 1716-17, a well beloved man of God.  His brother Jeremiah, however, led a rather more contentious life.

Jeremiah joined his brother at Bass River Side as a “teacher”, a church position that provided instruction to residents in the Puritan catechism.  The Hubbards were not, in the strict sense, ministers: To participate in Communion and other formal ceremonies residents of Bass River Side still had to attend Church in Salem.  When John Hale came to the Church in 1664, it seems, both the Hubbard brothers were dismissed.  On November 19, 1670, Jeremiah sued the Beverly Selectmen and Reverend John Hale over a house and wages he had been promised for preaching there “diverse times”.  Jeremiah alleged that Rev. Hale was living in the house that had been built for him (that would be the John Hale House just down the street).  The court ordered that Major Hathorne, Assistant to the Court negotiate with the parties to work out a settlement satisfactory to Hobart but it was to no avail.  On June 26, 1672 Jeremiah Hubbard wrote to the court:

These few lines (after due service presented and your favor craved for my boldness in this address) are to declare that all former applications to your worships notwithstanding, I am yet forced to inform you that little or nothing is effected as to payment of my honest dues and debts for my labors in the work of the Lord at Bass River, now Beverly, although I have waited long, yea eight years are almost elapsed.  Those people have had my accounts once & again & a copy of the principal or original rates attested some of them by authority.

My humble request is that however at the long run I may not every way be a loser, but that your worships in your wisdom would please to find out an effectual way that in love and peace I may have my own at least.  I leave the matter to the worshipful court’s judicious consideration & ever desiring the lord to be amongst you. 

I subscribe myself,

Your Humble Servant,

Jeremiah Hubbard.

The petition appears to have gone unanswered.  Between 1664 and 1667, Jeremiah Hubbard served briefly as minister in Lynn, and in Wells Maine where in 1667 he was dismissed after only 5 months as a result of yet another dispute over the terms of his settlement.  On October 2, 1672 he was ordained as minister at Topsfield Massachusetts (about 8 miles west of Beverly), replacing Reverend Thomas Gilbert who had been forced to resign by the Court because of inappropriate behavior.  In 1678 Reverend Hubbard sued a Topsfield parishioner, Thomas Baker, for “unseemly carriage and laughing in time of public worship”.  Apparently, Baker laughed out loud when Hubbard commented during his sermon that good Christians did not desire “lands and great farms” but only “the countenance of God’s favor”.  Simultaneously, Hubbard brought suit against another parishioner, Judith Dorman, who had been heard saying that the Reverend had “kissed her, called her a pretty woman and offered her abuse” while she was attending Hubbard’s sick wife.  In 1679 he again went to court to sue the Town of Topsfield for unpaid salary.  In this effort he was successful and the court awarded him 60 pounds, but when the order was read at the next Topsfield Town Meeting, the following minute was recorded:

Having heard an order read that was made by the County Court at Ipswich concerning our being required to pay a sum of 60 pounds to Mr. Jeremiah Hobart which as the said order seems to express was promised for his encouragement to come to Topsfield, we being in the dark about it and not knowing of any town act that ever past nor any town record that holds forth any such thing, we do conceive it needful to suspend until there be a further opportunity to be better satisfied by making inquiry at the next County Court upon what grounds Mr. Jeremiah Hobart’s petition was made and also how the town comes to be 60 pounds in his debt.

In 1680, the town petitioned the General Court to be allowed to dismiss Jeremiah.  He was fired from his position in Topsfield, and replaced by Reverend Joseph Capen.

Jeremiah Hubbard was next ordained as minister at Hempstead, Long Island in 1683.  In 1686 he petitioned the court yet again to redress issues of his salary.  In 1691 he left Hempstead to become the minister at Haddam, CT where again, in 1698, he was in court fighting for his pay.  Hubbard filed many petitions in the Connecticut courts complaining about his salary and living arrangements but increasingly, he was ignored, He died on Sunday, November 6, 1715 in the middle of a Church service.


If Jeremiah Hubbard was a person not well regarded in Beverly, then Robert Morgan was his opposite; a well-liked and respected citizen of Beverly.  Why then, did his name abruptly disappear from the Church record book?

Robert Morgan’s early life is largely unknown.  It is thought he was a seafaring man who came to Beverly from the eastward.  His name appears in Salem records as early as 1638 and he was active in the civil affairs of Beverly right up until the time of his death.  He was the first Clerk of this Church, taking the role shortly after it was formally gathered.  He is referred to regularly within the first pages of our Book.  But after December 1668, there is no further mention of him.  Morgan died in 1672, but there is no mention of his death in Parish records

Robert Morgan and his wife Margaret (Norman) first appear in Salem Church records on 23 June 1650 with the Baptism of their four children- Joseph, Benjamin, Luke and Samuel.  On 15 December 1650 Robert Jr. was baptized, followed by Bethiah on 29 May 1653.  Robert Sr. owned about 20 acres of land with an orchard at Bass River Side next to Rev. Hale’s farm, approximately between what is now Abbot Street and the ocean.  Robert’s name appears next to Rev. Hale’s on the list of original members of the First Parish Church in Beverly, suggesting the two were friends.  Robert recorded the description of the Ordination proceedings of Rev. Hale in 1667, and signed his name below it.  On 17 November 1667, his wife Margaret was admitted to the Covenant.  On 24 July 1668, his children- Joseph, Benjamin, Robert, Bethiah, and Moses were admitted to the Church.

An entry dated simply [1668] angrily recounts an incident involving Robert Morgan’s son Benjamin.

Benjamin Morgan, son of Brother Morgan, a child of the covenant in this Church, having in partnership with another stole two horses and several oxen & added to his highhanded boldness the heinous sin of lying to cover his sin, was apprehended and convicted thereof in Cambridge Court and the fact being so notorious and evident was sent for by this Church the 16:10:68 [16 December 1668] by two of the brethren to show his repentance for this heinous and publicly scandalous sin but he not then appearing was sent to again to appear 27:10 Mo.[27 December]  But then, he not only refused to come, but spoke very reproachfully of the Church and the public worship of God.  This answer being returned, it was propounded by the Pastor & consented to by the brethren that two other messengers should be sent to him with this message:  that unless the next Lord’s Day he appeared before the Church & manifested something of repentance not only for his former sins of theft and lying, but for his presumptuous contempt of the worship of God & of this Church he would be proceeded with as a Scandalous and Impenitent sinner. 

This was accordingly done, & the next Sabbath viz: ye 3:11:68 [3 January 1668/69] he made his appearance.  But by his irreverent carriage and dumb silence manifested himself to be a lamented spectacle of a stupefied sinner & forsaken of God & no signs of repentance manifested either for his former sins or late presumptuous behavior; he was by the Censure of Excommunication delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the soul might be saved in the day of Christ.


How many of you have seen your own teenager behaving in the same wiseacre way?  The consequences in Puritan Beverly were immediate and severe.  He was damned to hell and shunned by his neighbors.

I wonder how Robert Morgan felt about this?  My guess is that Robert was not happy with the actions the Church took against his son.  He may have himself been ostracized by the Congregation, or he might have decided not to participate as an active member of the Church afterwards.  Because attendance at Church was mandatory and his family could not attend another without written recommendation of good moral character from Rev. Hale, he probably performed only minimum Church service until his death.  It is significant that Rev. Hale did not make note of Robert Morgan’s death in 1673, though he did recognize and mourn many other founding members when they died.

Members of the Morgan family remained in Beverly for generations.  Many of Robert’s children and grandchildren are buried in the First Parish Cemetery.  Robert’s wife Margaret married Samuel Fowler of Salisbury Massachusetts and moved there.  Benjamin survived 8 years after being passed into the hands of Satan.  He inherited, according to his father’s will, the three acres of land nearest Rev. Hale’s farm.  One wonders whether this selection was intentional.  Benjamin Morgan was killed along with his brother Moses during an Indian raid near Cape Porpoise Maine in 1677.

Both Hubbard and Morgan were prominent members of this community.  But scandal is never confined to the upper echelons of society.  Two Beverly women of no particular stature fell from grace for very human reasons.

In January 1668 George Stanley and his wife Bethiah of Beverly were presented to the County Court for fornication before marriage and were fined.  William Dixie and William Rayment of Beverly bore witness against them, testifying that a child was born shortly after the marriage.  The testimony was typical of the longstanding responsibility of Puritans to watch over their neighbors for signs of sinfulness.  Not surprisingly, the incident was reported to this Church, and we find the following entry in the book:

Bethia Stanly (daughter of Sister Lovet) a child of the Covenant having before marriage committed Fornication with him who is since her husband & the fact evident by her having a child soon after marriage & confessed by herself was sent for to speak publicly before the Church to give account to them of her sin & repentance.  When she owned that God had of late made her to see from his word the greatness of her sin against God & desire that God would humble her truly & blessed God for that care the Church took for the good of her soul.

The confession appearing somewhat hopeful yet not so full, nor convincing to the world as was desired in regard of the newness of it etc. she had more time given her for repentance & was with the consent of the brethren laid under a solemn admonition to realize to her own soul the truth of that confession, & to the world by her conversation & to proceed to that further degree & manifestation of humiliation & repentance pressed home by the pastor…

Two things stand out in my mind when I consider this entry.  First, the admonition is to Bethia only.  Nowhere is her husband mentioned even though he was a member of the Church.  Second, imagine a young girl who had indeed committed this sin and was compelled to come to Church to publicly acknowledge and ask forgiveness for her transgression, only to have the quality of her confession questioned by the minister and the congregation.  To our twenty first century eyes it seems like cruel, unusual, and arbitrary punishment.  Yet this was the way of the Puritans.

Bethia’s probation lasted 4 years.  On October 19, 1673 she was officially reconciled to the church “upon her professing repentance for her offence for which she had been under admonition”.  On May 24, 1674 her daughter Bethia was baptized.


In 1689 the Church shed its Puritan label, but the old Puritan ways persisted for many years afterward.  In some practices they actually got better.

In 1798 Sarah Hart of Ipswich married Joseph Balch of Beverly and joined this Church.  In 1711 Joseph died leaving Sarah a young, grieving widow.  On August 8, 1714 is the following entry:

Jabez Baker & Widow Sarah Balch were suspended from communion with us upon a general dissatisfaction respecting them, it being received by the church that they had committed the great sin of uncleanness betwixt themselves.

The great sin had been undoubtedly reported to the minister by a neighbor, who saw it as his duty to save their souls.  Notice that this time at least, both parties were identified.

The scrutiny did not stop there.  On August 19th the church convened a special meeting to investigate further:

The church convened to enquire into the case of Jabez Baker and Sarah Balch after prayers to God the woman acknowledged herself guilty & the man said after a great deal of discourse he desired not to deny it though we could not at the time bring him to fully & freely admit his guilt.

On August 22nd, Sarah was given another opportunity to repent her sins in front of the congregation:

Widow Sarah Balch made a most penitent confession before the congregation which was then accepted, but she was left under suspension till by a chaste & virtuous life the truth of her repentance did appear.

A thoroughly humiliated Sarah Balch, unable to remain in Beverly, left town to live in Scituate.  Four years later, on April 20, 1718 the church received a letter on her behalf that was entered into the record:

Was communicated to the church a letter from the Reverend Mr. Nathaniel Pitcher, pastor of the North Church in Scituate in which Sarah Balch (who was under suspension in the church for uncleanness committed with Jabez Baker) desired to be reconciled & put into a capacity of joining with that church – & in which Mr. Pitcher with his Deacon & 8 or 10 of the principal members of the church signified that they did in charity think she was a true penitent- that her life for some years among them was becoming the Gospel & that they were ready to receive her when restored here &c:  Upon which the church declared their full satisfaction, she having before made her public confession of the fact & been admonished & directed that the same should be communicated to the Pastor of Scituate, which was accordingly done.

This story has a happy ending:  The widow Sarah Balch married William Mellews of Scituate on December 25, 1716, notably she was married two years before the letter from Reverend Pitcher was sent.

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