History of the First Unitarian Society in Dunstable, Now Nashua, 1826-1926
by Leonard Freeman Burbank
© 2001 Unitarian-Universalist Church of Nashua
In compiling this history, the Committee having the matter in charge have in nowise endeavored to make a full and complete story of the activities of the church and society. Their aim has been to present in concise form some of the high lights of our existence in such a way that those who are with us today may know something of those who were here yesterday; may know of their aims and struggles, may learn to appreciate what they have done for us, and increase the inheritance which they have left to us as a sacred trust. Theirs was a work nobly conceived and worthily carried out, and if our responsibilities are great in carrying on their work, so our rewards will be equally praiseworthy. If the committee have succeeded in their attempt, their reward will be the appreciation of the Society and its friends.
History of the First Unitarian Society in Nashua
It was inevitable that Calvinism as enforced upon the people of New England, in the days of its early settlement, must, sooner or later, be overthrown. Such an autocracy, such narrowness, such intolerance, could not stand alongside of education and changing conditions. Tradition and power may be hard to subdue but the right to think is impossible to suppress. The change came slowly but in the first part of the last century the smoldering fires burst into flame and the contest for intellectual freedom of the church had to be fought out. This development of liberal Christianity finally became known as Unitarianism. Dunstable was too near Boston, the storm center of the controversy, not to be influenced, and a small number of the most intellectual and influential citizens became interested in the new doctrine.
In 1819 Channing preached, at the ordination of Jared Sparks, what became known as the "Baltimore Sermon": the most widely discussed and celebrated ever delivered from an American pulpit. It told the people where they stood, scattered the mists of uncertainty and gave them a foundation to build upon.
Great changes do not, as a rule, take place suddenly, and arbitrarily taking the foundation of Unitarianism as of 1819, it was several years, years of doubts, deep thinking and perhaps controversy, before anything tangible by way of a society or church, was brought about in Dunstable, now Nashua.
On September 11, 1826, The First Unitarian Congregational Society in Dunstable was formed by eighty-seven men signing a document that is the first evidence of our existence. Many of the signers were among the most prominent men in the village and to them present day Nashua is indebted for much that is worth while in our city, while others, if they occupied less exalted positions, were worthy citizens of the community. This document was probably signed at a meeting held in the Meeting House of the Nashua Manufacturing Company, afterwards known as the Olive Street Church and on the site of the present Pilgrim Church at the intersection of Olive and Temple Streets.
Daniel Abbot was Chairman of this meeting and Benj. F. French, Clerk. Daniel Abbot, Joseph Greeley, C. C. Haven, Jesse Bowers, Francis Winch and Israel Hunt Jr., were chosen the Prudential Committee and Benj. F. French, Clerk of the Society, thus becoming its first officers.
Five days later, September 16, 1826, the church was organized at the house of Daniel Abbot, under the auspices of Rev. Dr. Parker of Portsmouth and Rev. E. Abbot of Windham. At this time a paper was signed by fourteen men and women, who thereby constituted themselves the church. This document, which we may call our foundation stone, now hangs on the wall of the church and is as follows:
"The enjoyment of Religious privilege and the discharge of Christian Duties being among the dearest Blessings which our situation in this life offers, the undersigned, members of the Unitarian Congregational Society in Dunstable being desirous of uniting together in Christian fellowship and love, with the express view of adding to the consolation and happiness of each other, and in order to join communion with all who believe and profess Christianity--do hereby constitute ourselves into a Church of Christ, professing our sincere belief in the religion, which be promulgated and practiced and humbly trusting, with the aid of our Almighty Parent, that we shall faithfully discharge all the duties, which our holy Religion enjoins and hereafter be admitted to the enjoyment of those rewards, which are reserved for the faithful followers of Jesus, in whose mansions of bliss, which he has prepared for all who love Him and keep his commandments.
Andrew E. Thayer, C. C. Haven, Daniel Abbot, Augustus Pierce, Elizabeth Abbot, Nancy Benjamin, Catherine M. Haven, Mary M. Pierce, Mary Thurston, Abagail W. Chase, Elizabeth A. Benjamin, Mary Asher Benjamin, Lucy Thayer, Sarah C. Baldwin.
Dunstable, Sept. 16, 1826."
A short document, simple in its wording and sincere in sentiment. It is certainly of interest to us of today to know something of these men and women of a hundred years ago who were the signers of this, to them and to us, important and precious declaration.
The Rev. Andrew E. Thayer was long a prominent man in the town, at that time a place of a little over a thousand inhabitants. He was born in Hampton in 1783, educated at Exeter and Harvard, and from about 1820 to 1824 supplied the pulpit of the Old South Church. Later he taught school and kept a book store, and we know of him as the first editor of the Constellation, the first newspaper established in the township, which after a few issues became the Constellation and Nashua Gazette, published by Thayer and Wiggin. A Whig in politics, the paper under his editorship was a strong partisan of Whig policies. He continued the publication until 1832, when he sold out his interests and retired from the editorship. His house stood at the South-east corner of what is now Thayer's Court, and was moved to the West end of the Court, where in a much changed condition it is now to be seen. Mr. Thayer died in 1846 from injuries received while trying to stop a runaway horse. He, and Lucy Thayer his wife, also a signer, were the parents of Lucy and Kate Thayer, women of noble lives, long prominent in the church and charitable affairs of the town. Lucy Thayer was one of the promoters of the Nashua Public Library and to her more than to any other one person we owe the founding of that useful institution. She was also a promoter of the Protestant Home for Aged Women and for many years one of its most active officials. To Kate Thayer we are largely indebted for the local branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was also prominent in the Fortnightly Club and the Nashaway Woman's Club in their early days. Every important charity found them interested in its welfare. Lucy Kate Bowers (Mrs. R. T. Blanchard), a great grand-daughter, is now an attendant at the church.
C. C. Haven came from Amherst in 1825 and was one of the promoters and Agent of the Indian Head Co., formed to manufacture woolen cloth. From all that we can learn of him he was a man of energy, ability and shrewdness. If the company which he was largely instrumental in founding was not a success it certainly was not his fault.
Daniel Abbot was at that time and for years after the most prominent man of the town; in fact it may be said without reservation that no man in the history of the place ever occupied the commanding position that was his during his maturity. A leading lawyer, he was connected with and interested in all movements for public and private betterment. Born in Andover, Massachusetts, he graduated from Harvard, studied law, being a fellow student of Daniel Webster and settled in Dunstable in 1802. In an oration which he delivered on the Fourth of July, 1803, he called the settlement Nashua Village. To him is due, in a great measure, the establishment of the Nashua Manufacturing Co. He was its chief promoter, one of the incorporators and its first president; he was first president of the Nashua and Lowell Railroad, first president of the first bank in the town, and held many public offices. One of the chief supporters of this church, he was an active and efficient member as long as he lived. In truth he may be called the "Father of Nashua." In 1804 he moved into the house at the South-east corner of what is now Abbot Street, named for him, which he had just built and here he brought his wife, born Elizabeth Pickman, of Salem, Mass., whose name is also signed to this important document. Upon his death in 1835 the society showed its appreciation of his worth and influence by resolutions which became part of the church records.
Of Augustus Pierce we know but little although he was a signer of the paper forming the society and that forming the church and one of the purchasers of a pew. We find him referred to as Dr. Pierce and in 1829 his pew is advertised for sale for non-payment of the taxes. As his name does not appear again he had probably moved from town, giving no more attention to his property rights in the church. His wife also signed.
While the name of Asher Benjamin does not appear as a signer of this document, he was one of the men who signed the Sept. 11 agreement and also one of the incorporators whose name appears in the notice published in the Amherst Cabinet. The distaff members of the family are however to be noted. Asher Benjamin was an architect of Boston who came to the Nashua Manufacturing Co., and was the first man to whom the title of Agent was given. He laid out the streets of the village and was one of the men, Daniel Abbot being another, who were the committee to see about a school house and a church for the little village.
Of Mary Thurston and Abagail W. Chase we have been unable to gain any information.
Sarah C. Baldwin was the wife of John A. Baldwin, for many years connected with the Nashua Manufacturing Company, and both of them were active and prominent members of the society as long as they lived.
The legal formation of the Society was under the New Hampshire Laws of 1819. In the Amherst Cabinet of November 16, 1826, the following notice was published:
In pursuance of a Statute of the State of New Hampshire, passed the first day of July, 1819, Asher Benjamin, C. C. Haven, Daniel Abbot, Jesse Bowers, Israel Hunt, Jr., Joseph Greeley, Sewall Blodgett, Francis Winch and their associates have formed themselves into a Society under the name of the "First Unitarian Congregational Society of Dunstable.
BENJ. F. FRENCH, Clerk
Dunstable, October 16, 1826."
Under the Laws of 1819 the Society became a Religious Corporation by the publication of this notice.
On the 3rd day of July, 1827, about nine months after the establishment of the Unitarian Society as a Religious Corporation, the Legislature passed an act repealing the 3rd Section of the Law of 1819 under which the Unitarian Society was made a Corporation, but provided that all Religious Societies which may have been formed under the same shall continue to have and enjoy all the corporate power, privileges and immunities, which they could or would have had and enjoyed if they had been formed under this act.
A part of the men who were incorporators of the Society have already been noticed as having signed the document of Sept. 16 but Jesse Bowers, Israel Hunt Jr., Joseph Greeley, Sewall Blodgett and Francis Winch were not of the number.
Jesse Bowers was born in Chelmsford, Mass., in 1785. When he moved to Dunstable he came to live in the Lovewell house at the Harbor, near Salmon Brook, his wife being a Lovewell. He became the owner of nearly all the land now known as Crown Hill and much of the land on the West side of Main Street. Like Daniel Abbot he was interested in all the undertakings of the day. In the early days of railroading the engines were named for prominent people instead of being designated by number as we now have them and the first engine run over the Nashua and Lowell Railroad was called Jesse Bowers. In 1849 he moved from the Harbor to West Pearl Street and died there in 1854. By his second wife, Laura Fletcher, he became the father of Mrs. Clara A. McKean. Mrs. McKean has attended this church longer than any other person now living, while her son, Albert J. McKean, has been connected with the church longer than any other man of the congregation. His children were brought up in this church and when they had children, although living in distant parts of the country, they were brought here to be christened; a record of loyalty to a church not often found in American families.
Israel Hunt, Jr., in later life better known as General Hunt, was owner and editor of the Nashua Gazette and a large land holder. A man of pronounced views and personality, he was for many years one of the most widely known of our citizens. His home was on the West side of Main Street, a little south of Pearl Street. It was a dignified house of two tenements, Israel living in the North tenement and John M. in the South. It was recently torn down to make way for a business block.
Joseph Greeley, or Colonel Joseph, as he was always spoken of, was of Scotch-Irish and Revolutionary descent. His father and grand-father were at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill. He was a prominent merchant of the town, one of the incorporators of the Nashua Manufacturing Company and one of the original proprietors of the Taylor Falls Bridge, also the first president of the Indian Head National Bank. His home was at the corner of Concord and Orange Streets. Dr. James B. Greeley was his son, and Dr. James T. Greeley, who now occupies the homestead, is a grandson.
Sewall Blodgett, although very active in the formation and affairs of the church, was evidently not a man largely interested in the business enterprises of the town for we do not find his name connected with any of these undertakings.
Francis Winch was a wholesale and retail merchant of the town, his store being under the Universalist Church at the corner of Main and High Streets. He was long prominent in the affairs of Nashua and the Unitarian Church. In the charter of the Indian Head National Bank his name appears as one of the grantees. His home was on Franklin Street. His daughter Fanny married judge Aaron Sawyer, whose house was located where the Nelson Block now stands.
Benjamin F. French, the first clerk of our Society, was prominently connected with the Nashua Manufacturing Company until going to Lowell as Agent of the Boott mills.
Such in brief is the story of our formation and the men and women who were chiefly instrumental in bringing it about.
For a time the Society occupied the Nashua Manufacturing Company's Church and were without a settled minister. Notwithstanding its most prominent members and attendants were connected with the mills, it was thought necessary, in order to give permanence and success to the movement, to free themselves from anything that seemed like corporation control. There is nothing to show that any such control was ever attempted, although Ira Gay, an Agent, an ardent liberal, was accused of giving employment to those who were of the same opinion, in order to give strength to the church. This would seem to indicate that their thoughts were with the church rather than with the corporation. Even before the completion of its legal incorporation the Society on October 2, 1826, chose a committee to "present a suitable plan for a Meeting House to be erected for the use of the Society and to report the most eligible place whereon the same should be erected." The committee reported at the next meeting on three lots as being eligible but the one on which the church now stands was chosen by the Society and transferred to them by the Nashua Manufacturing Company under certain restrictions for the consideration of one dollar. These restrictions were long afterwards removed. The dimensions of this lot were 158 feet on Canal Street, 169 feet on the rear line, 355 feet on the East boundary and 300 feet on the West. At this same meeting, a plan for a church was submitted and agreed upon, and a committee chosen to consider the sale of pews and other means of raising funds to pay for the church. At sunrise of a pleasant Spring morning in 1827, the corner stone of what was to be their and our church was laid. The records of the society or the papers of the day do not give any account of this ceremony. No better site could have been obtained in the village as it then was; the slight eminence, the fine oaks (for the oaks which we see today were on the lot a hundred years ago, as in the record it is spoken of as the lot in the oak grove), the gentle slope to the river, made it ideal. At this time the rage for the classic was sweeping the country and as a result of this a design suggestive of Greek architecture was chosen. It is no place here to discuss its merits or demerits but after a hundred years the church stands as one of the most dignified buildings in the city. The great columns which ornament the front are solid, formed from trees felled in a neighboring town. We have no record of who designed this building, but as Asher Benjamin was an architect we presume he had something to do with it; in fact the front is attributed to him as well as the design for the old Olive Street Church and the cupola of the City Hall.
The outside is practically the same as when built but the interior has been changed. Originally the pulpit was placed between the two front doors. Of mahogany, it was monumental in size and rose high above the floor, being reached by a flight of steps on either side. C. C. Haven, who was chairman of the building committee, was also appointed a committee of one to dress the pulpit, furnish the singing seats and provide the pulpit window with curtains. They were of brocade and in after years when they had ceased to be of service as curtains for the pulpit window they were used by the young people of the society as back drop when theatricals were given. At the opposite end of the church from the pulpit was the gallery, while the pews, small pens with doors, fronting the pulpit, obliged those entering to face the early comers, unless they went around the church and in by a small door in the rear, under the gallery. There were four pews at the front of the church on either side of the pulpit at right angles to these in the body of the house and filling the space that would otherwise have been left clear. These were reserved for the colored people, although it is said they were always unoccupied so far as Negroes were concerned. However, for many years one of these pews was very constantly occupied by an old lady who, if not a prominent member of the society, was certainly a conspicuous figure in the church. She always came into the Meeting House with her parasol or umbrella over her right shoulder as if she were carrying a gun. Sitting very erect for the first part of the service she paid strict attention but gradually began to lean sideways and finally disappeared behind the partition which separated the pews. If the minister paused in his sermon up she would bob, only to disappear again as drowsiness got the best of her. The end of the sermon brought a finish to her nap and for the rest of the service she did her duty by paying strict attention. She was probably one of those to whom Mr. Osgood in his final sermon referred, when he said: "The number of sleepers have been few, and I am not able to mention nearly enough to match the seven sleepers of old."
One can quite forgive the poor soul for there was service in the morning, service in the afternoon, and when Mr. Osgood came a third service was added. Evidently he believed in work. The evening service was abandoned and then by a vote of the society in 1864 the afternoon session was given up and only the morning service remained. This one service has continued for many years to satisfy the congregation. Not only have the services been reduced but as in all other churches sermons have been shortened, and vacations have been extended from two weeks to nearly two months. This is a condition which holds in nearly all Protestant churches. The times, conditions and sentiment have brought it about.
At the time of dedication there had been no way provided for heating the building, but early in the Autumn a committee was appointed to procure the necessary apparatus for warming the house. The apparatus chosen was a stove and from that time on numerous committees were chosen to see about the stove and later the furnace. It is interesting to know that the cost of the building, including a few extra charges respecting the pulpit and expenses of ordination, was $4,154.85. This, a little less than the cost of repairs in 1875 and the cost of repairs in 1924, would almost make one think that the original structure cost us nothing. In 1875 the interior was remodeled according to the fashion of the day. The preaching end was changed and placed on the North side, the gallery removed, and the pews, minus the doors, reversed to face the pulpit. A small stand was substituted for the splendid old pulpit and the organ located in an addition behind the pulpit platform. Colored windows were substituted for those of clear glass. In no wise was the change for the better. Slight changes and decorations took place in 1895. Realizing the mistakes made in 1875 the interior was again changed and redecorated in 1924, resulting in the pleasant and dignified auditorium of the present day. At the same time the edifice was moved a few feet to the East to make room for a parish house, should such a structure ever be built.
There were no eight hour days or labor unions a hundred years ago and the builders must have worked with zeal, for on the 27th of June 1827 the church was ready for occupancy.
While the church was building the society were considering who should minister to their spiritual needs as pastor. Their choice was the Rev. Nathaniel Gage.
June 27, 1827 was a red letter day for our society, for on that date our church was dedicated and the first minister of the parish ordained. In the Constellation of Saturday, June 23, 1827, appeared the following:
"The dedication of the Unitarian Church and the Ordination of Mr. Gage, the pastor elect, will take place Wednesday the 27th. Every arrangement is made to render this interesting ceremony gratifying to all who may have the inclination to witness it. The services will be performed by some of the most distinguished clergy in this vicinity and, in addition to the rich entertainment which is promised by the choir, who are to give an oratorio in the evening, the following order of arrangements shows that such attention has been paid to strangers and members of other societies as might be expected from the supporters of a Religion inviting respect from the liberal and scriptural principles upon which it is founded.
ORDER OF ARRANGEMENTS
The church will be open at half past ten, for the admission of Ladies, for whom the wall pews will be reserved.
The Council will assemble at the house of Daniel Abbot, Esq. and at eleven o'clock will move in procession to the church. Members of the Society and those disposed to unite in the celebration with them, are invited to attend in season at the above place. A committee of the Society will assist in the execution of the above arrangement.
The Nashua Unitarian Singing Society will perform a number of Select pieces of Sacred Music, on the evening of the 27th inst. at the new Meeting-House lately erected in this place. The performance will commence at half past 7 o'clock under the lead and direction of Messrs. Moore & Newhall. The following are the pieces selected for the occasion:
O come let us sing unto the Lord.
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord. Kent.
O Lord we trust in Thee alone. Handell.
O sing unto the Lord. Whitfield.
O praise God in His Holiness.
Must I leave thee O Paradise.
Almighty God when round Thy shrine. Mozart.
Welcome, welcome Mighty King. Handell.
Devotional Hymn. Abison.
Holy Lord God of Saboath. Swaffield.
Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Thompson.
Great God what do I see and hear. Martin Luther.
Sound the loud Timbrell. Avison.
Sound the Alarm. Handell.
Give the Lord the Honor. Kent.
Sons of Zion come before Him. Newman.
We praise Thee O Lord. Steibelt.
Star of Bethlehem. Granger.
Strike the Cymball. Picitta.
Sing ye unto the Lord. Stephens.
If e'er when Solemn Stillness.
Hallelujah to the God of Israel. Haydn.
There will be in addition to the Choir a number of fine instrumental performers from Boston and Lowell. The society flatter themselves that with the assistance of Col. Newhall and a celebrated female singer from Boston, they shall be able to entertain a large and respectable audience.
Tickets of admission 25 cents, to be sold at J. & G. Flagg's, S. & T. P. Goodhue's and J. R. Wiggin's Stores.
Dunstable, June 21, 1827."
What a day the 27th of June, 1827 must have been for the little village. A description by an eyewitness might read almost like a page from "Cranford." We can imagine the ladies wending their way to the church, taking their seats in the side or wall pews, considering it a privilege to play a silent part and not a right that they should be heard, this while their husbands gathered in front of Squire Abbot's house to take part in the procession that is to escort the new minister, the assembled clergy, the delegates from the thirteen churches represented, and other dignitaries to the meeting house. The six marshals of the day, John M. Hunt, Jonathan R. Wiggin, Calvin M. Moulton, Sewall Blodgett, Nat'l Cheney and John Flagg are kept busy directing the "etiquette thereof." The procession very solemnly proceeds on its way to the church, fill the vacant center seats and the exercises begin. Again we quote from the Constellation, for in the issue of June 30 we find the following account.
DEDICATION AND ORDINATION
"On Wednesday last the Unitarian Church in Nashua Village was dedicated to the worship of Almighty God, and the Rev. Nathaniel Gage was ordained pastor of the Unitarian Church and Society. The Rev. Mr. Pierpont read select portions of Scripture, and the Introductory Prayer. The Rev. Mr. Allen of Chelmsford made the Dedicatory Prayer. The Rev. Mr. Gannett of Boston preached the Sermon from 1st Timothy, 1st chapter, 15th verse, 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' The Rev. Mr. Allen of Bolton made the Consecrating Prayer. The Rev. Dr. Parker of Portsmouth gave the Charge. The Rev. Mr. Young of Boston expressed the fellowship, of the Churches. The Rev. Mr. Francis of Watertown gave the address to. the Society, and the Rev. Mr. Robinson of Groton made the Concluding Prayer. All the performances were able, solemn and interesting. The sermon by Mr. Gannett was eloquent and impressive.
The musical performance at the Ordination and at the Oratorio, under the direction of Messrs. Moore and Newhall, were greatly admired, and gave universal satisfaction.
The following hymn composed by a member of the society was sung in the course of the service:
O Thou, who reign'st above all height,
Thron'd in unrivalled majesty;
Whose word alone gave birth to light,
And all Heaven's Host ordained to be.
Ancient of days: Eternal One,
Our Fathers' and our Children's God;
We worship Thee and Thee alone;
We own Thy sceptre and Thy rod.
Called by The Spirit to, adore,
Cheered by The Truth with hope divine;
O may this consecrated hour
In spirit and in truth be Thine.
Long as our God is loved and feared,
Here may His saints with joy repair,
This temple, which to Thee is reared,
Establish with Thy sov'reign care.
Here may our vows in truth be paid,
Here may our hearts in love unite,
May all our powers be here displayed
To know Thee better-serve Thee right.
With holy zeal and faith unmoved,
All this world's snares and frowns above,
May we serve Him Whom Thou hast loved,
And honor Him, Thou dost approve.
To Jesus, our triumphant Lord
Fresh honors here be freely shown,
Join all our powers in full accord
To make His grace, and cause our own."
Without doubt any celebration held in Nashua at the present day would not make the impression that this dedication and ordination must have made in the little village of but hardly more than a thousand people.
It would be a satisfaction to know who the builders of the church were for they did their work honestly and well and from the following notice we know that they were well satisfied with their employers:
The undertakers for building the First Unitarian Church return thanks to the Building Committee of the First Unitarian Society for the honorable treatment they have received from them, and for the punctuality with which they on their part have fulfilled their contract."
The choice of their first minister was most fortunate, for not only was he an able preacher but his manly qualities endeared him to those who attended his church and made him highly respected by the citizens generally. Mr. Gage was born in North Andover July 16, 1800, graduated from Harvard in 1822, Harvard Divinity School in 1825. While pastor of this church he married Abbey Richardson Gardner, daughter of General Stephen Partridge Gardner of Boston, and three children were born to them while here. The eldest is buried in the ministers' lot just back of the church. Mr. Gage remained in Nashua until 1835, when he accepted a call to Haverhill, Mass. From Haverhill he went to Petersham and from there to Lancaster, supplying different pulpits for several years. His next parish was at Westboro, where he remained until going to Cambridge to live. His last parish was at Ashby and in that town he died May 7, 1861. Mrs. Gage survived him many years. Many stories are told of his strength and energy and it is said of him that he could swing a scythe or drive a plow as well as preach a sermon. It was much against the wish of the parish that he left, but he felt it his duty to go. The esteem in which he was held was such that when in later years the society needed a minister they called his son. From the beginning it was not the custom to settle our ministers for life as was done in many churches. Mr. Gage was hired for three years, and after that time had expired, from year to year, and this has been the custom ever since. His salary was $600 annually and such further sum, not exceeding $200 annually, as might be raised from the pew rents of the meeting house.
The Rev. Charles Babbidge of Pepperell was invited to become minister after the resignation of Mr. Gage, but he, thinking it his duty to remain with the church in Pepperell, refused the offer and the next choice was Henry Emmons, who accepted at once and was ordained June 10, 1835, Rev. Dr. Peabody preaching the sermon. For some reason, which the record does not state, he seemed to think that he could not give satisfaction to a considerable and respectable part of the society, and sent in his resignation. Although he was urged to remain he insisted on withdrawing, giving his final answer in May 1837.
Samuel Osgood was the next choice of the society. Just from Divinity School, and this being his first parish, he was ordained and installed May 16, 1838. Strange to say, the records of the society give no account of the proceedings of Mr. Osgood's induction, but his own account of his coming here may be of interest. He says in his farewell address:
"My own acquaintance with the society began in June 1837, and an accidental visit to Nashua brought on one of the most important events of my life. Having but recently returned from a year's residence and travel in the West and South, I looked for a home in our own New England, more than ever attached to its people and their ways. The illness of a young friend, who had engaged to supply your pulpit, was the occasion of a visit to Nashua, which was undertaken in kindness to him and with no expectation of remaining with you more than one Sunday. My friend's illness increased so rapidly that he sought relief in a milder climate, and I have remained ever since in the pulpit which it was his earnest desire to, occupy. You were very wary in your proceedings, and first invited me to preach a few months (the committee were empowered to engage him for a term not exceeding a year) then to remain with you a year, and before the year had terminated you requested me to become your permanent pastor."
Professor J. Wesley Churchell, in his historic sketch of the Churches of Dunstable and Nashua, speaks of Mr. Osgood as the most eminent of the clergymen who have been connected with the society. This is probably true, for in after years he made a great name for himself as a preacher and writer. A fine preacher, broad minded and energetic, the people of the church followed his lead with enthusiasm and loyalty, while the community at large soon learned that they had a man of mark among them. So great was his drawing power as a preacher that additional seats had to be provided and even then it was not always easy to provide new applicants with suitable accommodations. A man of ideas, he introduced into Nashua the beautiful custom of decorating the church with evergreens at Christmas time. Until the coming of Mr. Osgood there were two services held on Sundays, morning and afternoon. He inaugurated the Sunday evening service and although some of the people doubted its success it proved to be very popular. Up to this time there were no conveniences for lighting the church but a subscription was started and in October 1837 two pulpit lamps and two chandeliers were purchased. These served their purpose for several years. In 1853 gas was introduced into the village and it must have been used in the church very soon after, for early in the following year we find accounts of money paid to the Gas Company. In October, 1866, Sarah J. Hobson, daughter of Harrison Hobson, was married to William A. Robinson, the ceremony being performed in the evening and in this church. Mr. Hobson, thinking the place not adequately lighted, presented the society with a new chandelier and it was first used during the wedding. It served its purpose until electricity was installed during the repairs of 1924.
Mr. Osgood was an able writer and while here contributed to the Christian Examiner; with C. J. Fox edited the New Hampshire Book and published translations from De Witte and other authors. In 1841 he was invited to settle in Providence and upon his own request received his dismission early the next year. The Church of the Messiah, New York City, was his next charge and from 1849 to 1869 he was the pastor of that well known and powerful church. After his retirement from the Church of the Messiah he affiliated himself with the Episcopal denomination, and while he did good work for the church of his latter day faith he never assumed charge of a parish. He retained interest in this his first charge and in after years we had good cause to be thankful for his friendly offices and ripe judgment.
Upon the retirement of Mr. Osgood the society voted that it was inexpedient to accept a minister from another church that was happily situated with their pastor and that supplies be hired to preach for not more than four Sundays. The Rev. William H. Channing was so hired and from time to time was asked to continue with the society. Up to this time all the business and voting had been done by the men, but at a meeting held in 1842, a notice having been read from the pulpit requesting the male and female members of the society to remain in their seats after service, the chairman, Perley Foster, requested (if no objection was made) that the females vote. There being no objection, they voted; and this we think was the first occasion that they were allowed to express their opinion officially in church affairs. After a time we hear more of Mr. Channing, and the records state that Rev. Frederick A. Eustis was given a call, but on his way to take charge of the parish his father died and he felt that he must give up coming to Nashua. Augustus C. L. Arnold was then invited to become pastor and in September 1843 he accepted and was ordained October 25, 1843, the sermon being preached by Dr. Brazer of Salem. "After the services at the church," according to the record, "about one hundred and forty ladies and gentlemen of the society with the pastors and delegates attended a collation at Mr. Stevens' Temperance House. The entertainment was bountiful, with no other beverage but tea, coffee and cold water. All enjoyed the occasion with great zest." At this time a sum of money was raised as a testimonial of respect and esteem for the purchase of a gown to be presented "to the pastor by and for the use of the First Unitarian Society in Nashua." Its cost was $41.25. This is the first we hear of a gown for the minister and whether the early pastors of the church wore one we do not know, but probably they did as gowns were much in vogue among the ministers of that period. The next we hear of a gown was when the society passed a vote that the President of the Ladies Sewing Circle be authorized to call on Mrs. Baldwin for the Surplice or gown belonging to the society. For some time it was kept at the house of Solomon Spalding and finally was used by the young people when they gave theatrical performances. It was a most elaborate affair of black satin, with a yoke so pleated that it gave the skirt fullness, while the sleeves were large enough to satisfy a bishop. After a time a gown was not worn by the ministers, it being a matter of personal choice with them and never strongly favored by the congregation, and it was only in recent years that it again came into use. Mr. Arnold was with the society only about ten months when certain facts coming to the knowledge of the congregation led him to resign. He asked to use the pulpit for one Sunday. This request was denied, but he was given the use of the church on any day but Sunday, if he desired again to speak to the people.
Rev. R. P. Cutler was the next choice of the people, but he declined their invitation as he did not consider himself qualified by experience to take charge of the parish.
September 17, 1845, Stephen G. Bullfinch became the minister, remaining seven years. Gentle and kindly he was much beloved by his parishioners but for some reason, which after the lapse of years we are not able to ascertain, he seemed to think that a want of cordiality existed towards him and his family on the part of the society and offered his resignation. Upon this the society passed resolutions of a most flattering nature and appointed a committee to confer with him, but he remained firm to withdraw from the church. The matter of salary might have influenced him, for we find a suggestion that his pay be increased. This was not done, as a larger expenditure was deemed inadvisable, and he gave up his charge. He was a writer of note, and his "Evidences of Christianity" held high rank among works of this kind. His novel "Honor" was well spoken of, and his contributions to religious periodicals were always welcomed.
Mr. Bullfinch retired in 1852 and it was not until January, 1854 that Martin W. Willis was settled. During this time there was no permanent minister but various men were hired to preach, none of them being considered for settlement.
Mr. Willis' letter of acceptance is most interesting, for it shows the difference in affairs of this nature from those of today, with its several appeals to Divine guidance, its humility, its reference to the weakness of human nature and its length. It is too long to give in full, but a passage may not be uninteresting. He writes: "I accept your pulpit as a free man. You honor me by imposing no conditions. That confidence shall be sacred. I accept your pulpit, but not as a sectarian, not as a mere theorist, but as a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the word I receive I shall preach kindly but most fearlessly and earnestly. The freedom I claim for myself shall not be closed to others." As an afterthought, for it is under a P. S., he says: "I think you will allow me a vacation of two Sabbaths annually." Mr. Willis' coming was never regretted either by himself or his parishioners. He labored faithfully and well; the church grew in numbers and oftentimes chairs had to be brought in in order to accommodate the people who came to hear him. As long as there remained any one among us who remembered his ministrations, he was spoken of with love and admiration. Late in the following year, owing to ill health, the society voted him a three months' leave of absence. The rest seems to have benefitted him for a time, but in 1858 for the same reason he sent in his resignation. This the society refused to accept and the communications between pastor and flock is evidence of the mutual love and respect that existed. His salary had been increased, and when he was induced to withdraw his resignation he also offered to relinquish a part of his salary. This the society refused to accept. We now reach the period of the great Civil strife, and it seems that Mr. Willis entered the army as a chaplain but without formally resigning his position as minister of the church, for on October 6, 1861, he writes from "In camp near Washington" his formal withdrawal from the church over which he had presided for seven years. This resignation was accepted. Mr. Willis' daughter became the wife of the son of Clarke C. Boutwell, one of the leading men of the church. Not many months after Mr. Willis entered the army, rumors reached Nashua that were very disquieting to his former parishioners. As justice to him, for the good of the church and at his request a committee of investigation was appointed. After a great deal of inquiry it was found that these reports were groundless: the church upheld him, passed a vote exonerating him, sending their findings to him to show in what esteem he was held. He died in 1892. That Mr. Willis was a poet of no mean ability is shown by the following hymn composed for and sung in this church.
The evening shades now fall,
In sacred silence on the day,
And spirit voices seem to call,
Our hearts from things of earth away.
Beneath this roof o'erhung by boughs,
And near the assembly of the dead,
At eventide we pay our vows,
By gentle thoughts and spirits led.
The shadows deepen on the wall;
There seems a holy presence near,
And memories sweet the forms recall
Of loved ones who, once worshipped here.
Those loved ones seem not far away,
But hallow now this place of prayer,
And by the lingering light of day,
They breathe a blessing on the air.
Samuel B. Stewart was the next minister of the church. The choice turned out to be unfortunate, and, reading the record nearly seventy years after it was made, it seems strange that the society should have accepted him after the letter which he wrote. At the very beginning he complains of the smallness of the salary, hopes it will be increased, tells the committee what a favorable call his class mate has had, asks that his coming be postponed for six months, complains of ill health, says that he has had better offers, but finally accepts if his wishes are complied with, and asks an immediate action. We know that he was young, having just graduated from Cambridge Divinity School, and youth and inexperience should be considered with charity, but one cannot help thinking that he thought very much more about himself than of the church to which he was called. However, the society granted his request, and in due time he was installed. He proved to be a brilliant preacher, but was evidently a man of little tact. It was a trying time for everybody in those days of the great struggle of the sixties. In his pulpit utterances he antagonized a large number of his parishioners, for he departed from preaching religion pure and simple and preached upon subjects which in those times, could only lead to a want of unity. He resigned in 1864 and his resignation was accepted. The want of unity which Mr. Stewart's preaching had brought about was not so easy to overcome as it was to create, but in this unpleasantness their old pastor, Mr. Osgood, showed himself a true friend to the church and its people. To him more than to any other we owe a return to friendly feeling and unity. He came and preached to his former parishioners, talked over the differences which had arisen, and later wrote a letter of advice that is a model of good sense, wisdom and Christian spirit. It produced an effect like oil upon troubled waters, and in the way the people received it and acted upon it they showed their manliness and interest in their church. In justice to Mr. Stewart it should be said that becoming the minister of the church in Lynn he served a long and useful pastorate.
On the last day of December 1865 the society made choice of Minot G. Gage as their minister. He was notified of this in January 1866, accepted in February and in March was ordained and settled. Mr. Gage was born in Haverhill, Mass., September 11, 1840, and lived before entering college in Petersham, Lancaster, Westboro and West Newton. He was of the class of 1861, Harvard, and after graduation taught at the academy in Bolton, Mass., for a year, then entering Harvard Divinity School he completed the course in 1865. Nashua was his first parish, as it had been the first parish of his father, our first minister. A brilliant preacher and deep thinker, his terse sermons made a strong impression upon his hearers, while his many fine qualities won for him the same love and respect of the people that his father had so well earned. He married Ellena Boutwell, a daughter of Clarke C. Boutwell, whose son, as we have already noted, married the daughter of one of our ministers. In November 1869, at his own request, he was released from his charge to become the pastor of the First Parish Church in Gloucester, Mass., where he remained nearly eight years and until failing health forced him to relinquish his duties. While in Gloucester he took an active interest in the schools, being for several years a member of the School Board, and he was also chaplain of the 8th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. For a time he preached occasionally but increasing ill health forced him to entirely withdraw from all active life. His winters were passed in the South and his summers in New England, mostly in Nashua, and it was here that his sons Walter and Harry spent a large part of their young life. After a sickness of eighteen years he died in Leominster, Mass., in February 1897. Because of the unpleasantness caused by Mr. Stewart's opinions as expressed in the pulpit, certain resolutions were passed defining religious opinions and placing restrictions upon the speech of the minister before his congregation. Later on, during Mr. Gage's pastorate, resolutions were passed reaffirming that part relating to religion, but deeming it unnecessary that restrictions should be placed on ministerial utterances.
In November, 1870, Clarence Fowler, in a letter dated at Worcester, accepted the pastorate of the church and began his duties the first Sunday in January, 1871, having been installed December 27, 1870. June 1872 he resigned after a pastorate of so short duration that it left but little impression upon the society.
From the time of the resignation of Mr. Fowler until October 1, 1878, there is no mention of any minister except in the Treasurer's report, where we find accounts of money being paid to Thomas L. Gorman. He, however, filled the pulpit most acceptably for several years, serving as acting pastor, and was probably hired by the committee with the tacit assent of the society. He had been pastor of the Universalist Church. After his connection with our own society came to an end, he removed to Columbus, Ohio, at which place he died.
In October, 1878, the committee was instructed to procure the services of Henry C. Parker, and in the following month he accepted the charge and was ordained before the close of the year. Rev. M. J. Savage preached the ordination sermon. Just from Meadville Theological School, although lacking experience, Mr. Parker possessed enthusiasm, and his kindly nature endeared him to the people. His utterances, if sometimes radical, never offended and throughout his stay he gained many supporters and friends. During his ministry, administering the Sacrament at regular periods was done away with and has never been resumed. In this connection we may note that the records have very little to inform us regarding the deacons of the church. John A. Baldwin was a deacon for many years, as was Francis A. Winch. Mr. Winch resigned in 1878 because of failing health, but was induced to withdraw his resignation on condition that he be not required to perform the duties unless convenient for him to do so. J. L. Pierce was also a deacon of the church. The society owns a very beautiful communion service which, owing to the discontinuation of the celebration for which it was intended, is never used. Mr. Parker married Clara Stetson, an attendant at the church, whose family for years had been prominent in its undertakings. In his resignation, dated April 7, 1888, he speaks of his pastorate as being the longest in the history of the church, that only one clergyman then occupying a pulpit was here when he came and that in settlement he is the oldest minister of our faith in the state. He received a call from the Unitarian Church in Woburn, Mass., and with that parish he remained until his death, having in all the years of his ministry served but two societies.
In January 1889 a call was extended to Carey F. Abbot of Revere. He accepted at once and named February 17 as the time on which he was willing to enter upon his duties. During his service he suggested a change in the method of raising money to defray the expenses of the society and the so-called envelope system in place of the old pew rent scheme was adopted. Another innovation which came about in 1890 was the election of women to the Prudential Committee. Women were not so anxious for office then as now and several who were chosen refused to act. Whether the women declined office or a mixed committee did not work with harmony we have no record, but it was not long before the committee was again composed entirely of men. In the spring of 1892 Mr. Abbot resigned. He died at Ashland, Mass., in 1900.
In October, 1892, a call was extended to E. D. Towle, but having already accepted a call to Salem, Mass., he declined the invitation.
The next choice came to Enoch Powell, and in a letter dated at Troy, N. Y., February 1893, he accepted the charge. His ministrations continued until June 1899, when he resigned, but his resignation was not accepted until the following September. While living in Nashua he met with an accident that greatly affected his health, and not long after moving from here he died in New York.
Herbert H. Mott was the choice of the people to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr. Powell and was hired with the understanding that his ministry might be terminated by a notice of three months from either party. He accepted in February 1900 and took charge in March of that year. Early in 1901 the church was redecorated and a beautiful pulpit, the gift of Mrs. Harrison Hobson, took the place of the old reading stand. Mr. Mott was a profound thinker and his sermons and prayers were gems of diction, but at this time the church needed a minister with the qualities of a pastor rather than those of a preacher. Early in 1912 Mr. Mott's connection with the parish came to an end. After leaving Nashua he became associated with the church in Norton, Mass. He is the only one of our former pastors now living.
In July 1912 Manley B. Townsend was chosen minister, in succession to Mr. Mott. He was a New Englander by birth but had been preaching in the West. For many years his affiliations had been with the Universalists and he had been connected with but one Unitarian church before coming to Nashua. A great lover of nature and out-of-door life, he was a close student of the birds and wild creatures and became a well known lecturer upon nature subjects. In June 1919 he resigned to accept a call to Attleboro, Mass. Later he had charge of the combined parishes of Medfield and Sharon, with which churches he was connected at his death early in 1926. During Mr. Townsend's pastorate the budget system for raising funds was adopted. In March 1920 Otto Lyding was chosen pastor and accepted the following month. He is a graduate of Harvard and of the Harvard Divinity School. Before coming to Nashua he was assistant to the pastor at the church in Roxbury and minister of the Third Religious Society at Dorchester. At his installation Rev. Charles E. Park of the First Church in Boston preached the sermon. Mr. Lyding is still pastor of the society and under his leadership the church is in a very prosperous condition.
It will be seen that in the hundred years of our existence we have had nearly a score of ministers either settled or hired. While it may seem that the changes have been frequent, this is in a measure due to the terms on which they were engaged. It has never been the custom of this society to settle a minister for an indefinite period as is done in many churches. They have been hired for a fixed period, the longest contract being for three years, but usually for a year to year tenure. This short term policy is not without its disadvantages, but it also has its advantages. It has enabled us to have young or youngish ministers, fresh from the schools or not long enough away to have lost enthusiasm: it has given us the thoughts of a diversity of minds, keeping us in touch with changing theological opinions better than long service would have done, and as a rule has been satisfactory to all concerned.
It would be a pleasure to speak of the wives of the ministers who have been with us, but the records take no cognizance of them. We however know that they have been of great service to the church; forgotten helpers, whose reward was that which service brings. So far as we know only Mrs. Gage, Mrs. Parker, Mrs. Abbot, Mrs. Townsend and Mrs. Lyding are living.
As has been said the land was obtained from the Nashua Manufacturing Co. Really, it was a gift, subject to restrictions. These restrictions were that it was for building a house of public worship and never to be occupied for any other purpose, the buildings and premises to be under the exclusive control of the proprietors of the church, and the proprietors not to permit it to remain one entire year without appropriating it to public worship. If destroyed, the proprietors were to be allowed three years to rebuild. These restrictions were done away with some years ago, and the society holds the property free and clear from such a cloud. Not only did the Nashua Manufacturing Company give the land on which to build the church, but they also voted the sum of seventy-five dollars for the purpose of preparing and leveling the grounds around the meeting house. To raise funds for the building of the church, pews were to be sold. The pews were appraised, according to a plan, for a sum sufficient in the aggregate to build the church. They were to be disposed of at public auction to such of the society as chose to purchase, subject to such annual tax as should be marked on the pews. If this tax was not paid within six months after becoming due the pew might be sold for the benefit of the society. It will be seen that not only were the pews paid for but they were subject to a tax and the only advantage, other than the help to the church, that it gave one was a voting right, each pew being entitled to representation in all matters pertaining to the property. According to the account of pews sold by the committee, forty-nine were disposed of, varying in price from twenty to one hundred dollars, subject to a yearly tax ranging from four dollars to thirteen dollars. Daniel Abbot was the largest purchaser, buying seven pews. The pews were numbered from 1 to 76 inclusive and lettered A.B.C.D.E.F. Owing to changes made in the original plans some of the seats disposed of had to be omitted, but arrangements were made with purchasers to make an exchange. All the pews not being sold, a sufficient sum was not realized to pay for building the church, but the deficit was taken care of by those who had become proprietors. In 1835 there were twenty-four pew owners and in 1838 there were eleven new proprietors and two pews owned by the society. This does not mean that there were fewer people in the society but that the pews having changed owners were in possession of fewer proprietors. This selling of pews, together with the informality of the by-laws, if such they could be called, led to a great deal of uncertainty as to the rights and privileges of different parties in interest. Originally the proprietors, or those owning seats, were the only ones who could vote on matters pertaining to the building and lands, others hiring a pew or seat were given the right to vote on ministerial matters. As time went on this uncertainty increased and while there was no friction, the legal aspect of affairs was constantly coming to the front. Gradually the matter of pew owners was settled, the society gaining complete control of the pews, thereby doing away with the proprietors and also all doubts as to proprietors' rights. In 1915 the then members of the society voted to accept and ratify all acts of the society from its incorporation, accept the Articles of Faith as adopted September 11, 1826, and adopted a set of by-laws that superseded all by-laws in force up to that time. In this way all doubts as to ownership or legality of acts was removed.
While four wars have been fought by this country since the founding of the society, the church records do not in any way inform us who of our numbers took part in the first three. However, in the war of 1861 our minister, Mr. Willis, served as a Chaplain and among the most notable of those who went from Nashua were John G. Foster and William P. Ainsworth, both attendants at this church. General Foster was the most distingushed soldier that New Hampshire contributed to the forces of the Rebellion. His early home stood on the spot now occupied by the house built by Thomas Pierce in Orange Square and which was later occupied by Frank D. Laton. In Orange Square, or Foster Square, is a monument to his memory, while one of the cannon near the Soldiers' Monument bears his name,. In later years, upon his marriage, he became a Roman Catholic. William P. Ainsworth, although a young man, was very active in the church. During the war he raised a company and became its captain. At the battle of Front Royal, May 30, 1862, he was killed, being then thirty-seven years old. His funeral was held in the City Hall and was one of the most impressive ceremonies ever witnessed in Nashua. These are but two; other men did their duty, and not only the men but the women of the society were active. Mrs. John A. Baldwin was President of the local branch of the Sanitary Commission. The Young Ladies' Soldiers Aid Society did a great work during these dark days and among its officers were Mary A. Baldwin, Secretary and Treasurer, while among its directors were Lucy Thayer, Laura M. Bowers, Lucy J. Beard, Atelia Slader and Julia A. Gilman, all young women of the Unitarian Church. There was no Red Cross in those days, but these organizations, with others of our city, were, it may be said, the Red Cross of 1861.
In the early wars of our country it was not customary to enroll the names of those who went to the front on the records of the church but after the World War of 1917-1918 most of the churches had their Roll of Honor, the Unitarian following the general custom. In this list we find that thirteen men went in some capacity into the army. They were:
Frederick D. Farley, Company H, 23rd U. S. Engineers.
William M. Fassett, Lieut. Colonel, Chief of Staff, 31st Division.
Frederico Glenton, Jr., Capt. 140th Engineers' Regt.
Norton McKean, , 1st Lieut., 302nd Infantry Regt.
Eugene F. McQuesten, Ordinance Sergt., Ordinance Dept.
Philip McQuesten, 1st Lieut., Motor Ambulance Co. 34.
Allyn D. Phelps, Battery E, 8th Field Artillery.
Arthur J. Pierce, Ambulance Hospital Corps.
George R. Pierce, 2nd Lieut., Aviation Construction.
Isaac Blaine Stevens, U. S. Naval Training Station.
Neal L. Williams, Battery E, 303rd Heavy Field Artillery.
Ashley L. Wilson, Aviation.
George P. Laton, 1st Lieut. Medical Corps Co. 17, Bat. 5.
These were the active participants but there was hardly a man or woman amongst us who did not serve on some committee or do what they could for those at the front. Mr. Townsend, like all the ministers of the town, was unsparing of his time in war work and was most helpful in many of its activities. If the mission of the church is a peaceful one, it is never found lagging when duty calls for action.
It is very evident that from the first much attention was paid to the music or such a program as was rendered at the dedication exercises could never have been carried out. Early in the record we find a vote "to furnish the singers of the Society with one dozen Handel & Hayden singingbooks for the use of the singing seats." Later it was voted to sell these books and purchase a collection more up-to-date. Several times since newer hymn books have been adopted and the older ones discarded. The society at the next meeting after the dedication thanked Mr. Moore and the choir of singers, who successfully exerted themselves to afford the audience sacred music on the before named occasion. Soon after moving into the church it was found "expedient for the preservation of harmony in the musical exercises of the Society, that a committee be appointed to take such order respecting the Singing seats and the approval of the Chorister, as may be deemed proper and report their proceedings from time to time to the Prudential Committee." Three men were appointed to this committee and it was soon found advisable to increase the number to five. Evidently an organ was not in use when the church was first built, as for several years thanks were annually voted to Mr. Moore and the singing choir for their services and the hope expressed that they continue their useful services. Not until 1834 is any mention made of an organ and then it is by way of thanks given to those persons who have officiated. A vote is recorded where Mr. Moore is authorized to dispose of the double bass viol and turn the proceeds over to the Prudential Committee. No mention is made of any other musical instrument and if there were others the performers probably furnished their own instruments. Mr. Moore resigned in 1839 after some twelve years of service, saying he believed the committee could find someone who would give better satisfaction to the society. When an organ was acquired it was placed in the gallery opposite the pulpit. It was a small affair, although not considered so when put into the church, and did good service until replaced by the organ now in use. This instrument went into a Roman Catholic Church in New York State and may even now be in use. For many years Miss Mary Baldwin was organist, giving her services because of the interest which she felt in the church in which her father and his family were so prominent. After a time it was voted to give her fifty dollars a year for her services and this was later increased to seventy-five dollars a year. As her salary began in 1855 she must have contributed her services for many years without pay. It does not appear who succeeded her but from the records it would seem that this part of the service was not always satisfactory, for a special meeting in June 1880 was called to consider the subject of improving the music in church and Sunday School.
Another organist with many years of service to his credit was Charles O. Andrews, who was engaged in June 1880, but for no special time, and it was largely to his efforts that the organ now in the church was procured. This organ was placed in the church in 1890 and was dedicated by a recital given by Howard M. Dow of Boston. Since Mr. Andrews' day organists have come and gone.
During most of the time since the church was founded a choir has furnished the music, although there have been periods when congregational singing took its place, but this never continued long as the congregation was not strong on ensemble singing. Who the singers in the choir were, or their number, it would be impossible to say, for on this subject the records are silent for the most part. We find along in the fifties the name of C. B. Hill as having been paid money by the treasurer. He sang in the choir and as no mention is made of a payment for music or to anyone else in any way connected with the choir, it is probable that the fifty dollars paid to him quarterly was distributed among the musicians. In 1856 Albin Beard was chosen director of the singing choir. In 1885-1886 the record shows us that Miss Mattie Wilkins, Miss Gorman, George E. Danforth and F. H. Morrill were members of the choir. In 1895 we had a volunteer choir and among those mentioned in the vote of thanks were Thomas Sands, Mrs. J. F. Stark, Mr. Fassett, Mr. Long, Mrs. Andrews, Miss Wilkins, Miss Powell, Mrs. Prescott, Miss Hall, Miss Harris and Miss McClure. When a quartette was engaged they were hired only from Sunday to Sunday, but after a time this was found to work but poorly as they were constantly leaving to accept more permanent places, so the rule in vogue in other churches was adopted and the singers hired by the year. Elderly people might no doubt tell us of many who have been in the singers' seats, but one stands out more prominently than others, not only because of long and satisfactory service, but also because of long attendance at church and as being the only one of the elder singers that are still with us, Miss Martha A. Wilkins.
In the old days and even at the present time no church organization would be considered complete without its Sunday School and some form of a charitable society. The Sunday School, although an institution of the church, is yet a separate body. The first meetings of the Sunday School began when the society was young, in the days when the elder Mr. Gage was pastor, but it was not formally organized until 1835. In 1865 the members of the Sabbath School formed the Sabbath School Association of the First Unitarian Congregational Church. To John A. Baldwin, for forty-seven years Paymaster of the Nashua Manufacturing Company, more than to anyone else we owe the existence of the school and the success of its early days. As far back as Mr. Osgood's pastorate it numbered nineteen teachers and more than one hundred and thirty scholars. Among its prominent teachers of years ago were Mrs. A. E. Thayer, Mrs. John A. Baldwin, Miss Penhallow and Miss Ingalls. These were the pioneers, but the same spirit of helpfulness and enthusiasm which characterized these early workers among the children is no less in evidence among the teachers of today. Methods have changed, have been made more in accordance with modern ideas, but not the spirit and aim of the teachers. Not hiring our Sunday School Superintendents from year to year as was the case with the ministers, but obtaining their services without reward, we have kept them as long as they would serve, and so, while we have had many pastors, we have had relatively few superintendents, especially during the first part of our organization. For thirty-five years John A. Baldwin was the head of the school, then James L. Pierce served for twelve years, followed by Dr. Eugene McQuesten. Others who have held the position are George R. Pierce, his son, Arthur J. Pierce, John Bussell, L C. B. Burke, Henrietta Prescott, for many years, Anna Stearns, Josephine McQuesten, and at the present time Mr. Lyding is its head. For many years a library of several hundred volumes served its very useful purpose but for some reason it was allowed to fall into disuse until at the present day we are without a library. The Sunday School has always been most successfully carried on and hundreds of men and women throughout the country look back to the days when, gathered in little groups about the church, the teacher in front of them, they received religious instruction. It can truly be said that its influence has been as beneficial and widespread as that of the church, although without the church it would not have been.
Our first charitable society was the Benevolent Circle, founded about 1835 during the pastorate of Mr. Emmons. Its meetings were held every two weeks and while it was really the old fashioned sewing circle, its activities were more extended than those of most sewing circles. In his farewell sermon Mr. Osgood speaks of it most kindly. He says "It has given the ladies, who compose its members, an opportunity to become mutually acquainted, and while it has assisted the needy, it has done much to bind the society together. In sickness and in severe weather, it has been very useful, and in not a few cases the pillow of death has been smoothed by its Christian charities." It is to be regretted that full accounts were not kept in the young days of its founders, its officers and its activities, or if such recordings were made, they have not been preserved to us. We know that Miss Lucy Thayer was President and Miss Mary T. Greeley, Secretary in 1850; that later on Mrs. John A. Baldwin was its head and Miss Mary Winch, daughter of Francis Winch, Secretary and Treasurer. For a long time it was most active in affairs connected with the church, not only working in aid of its charities, but from time to time contributing to its support. In later years the Channing Society was formed. This society was composed of the younger women of the church and its endeavors were along the lines of the older organization. These two societies were finally merged in the Women's Alliance, a national organization composed of women of the Unitarian Churches throughout the country, with local branches wherever there is a Unitarian society. Since the merger of the older organizations into the "Alliance," the activities of the women who compose it have been no less beneficial than in former times but have taken different channels. There is now less need of work among the poor, owing to modern methods of charities, but for social purposes and in work for the upbuilding and support of the church its usefulness is of the highest order.
Some years ago a "Men's Club" was a part of our organization, but this became merged in the Unitarian Laymen's League soon after the founding of the national society. The local chapter is doing good work and through its efforts many speakers of prominence have been heard by the people of the society.
Another organization so closely connected with our Society that it is almost a part of it is the Nashua Cemetery. The original grant of land from the Nashua Manufacturing Company to the First Unitarian Congregational Society was a plot of ground 158 feet on the North side of Canal Street. Its East line was 355 feet, North 169 feet, South to the place of beginning 300 feet. Only a small part of this lot was necessary for the church building and March 19, 1835, the proprietors of the real estate of the society passed a vote appropriating their grounds contiguous to the meeting house for a burial place. An additional lot to the North containing about 8000 feet was purchased of Daniel Abbot and appropriated to the same use. In August, 1835, the area of the cemetery was increased by the purchase of about 35,000 feet, lying to the East, this being bought of Christopher Page. This became known as the Nashua Cemetery Additional. The cemetery has always been under the care of a committee appointed annually by the Unitarian Society. In laying out the original plot five lots were reserved as ministerial lots for the then religious societies in Dunstable. The first was accepted by the First Congregational Society in Dunstable, the second by the First Congregational Society in Nashua, the third by the First Methodist Episcopal Society and the fourth by our own Society. Later the Universalist Society asked for and received a lot. One of the first to be buried in a ministerial lot was the son of Rev. Nathaniel Gage. The first lots were sold by subscription at twenty-five dollars each. The cemetery is laid out in the old-fashioned manner, straight narrow walks and regular lots, but the fine old oaks and its perfect upkeep make it one of the most beautiful burial places in the city. No cemetery in Nashua is so rich in associations, for here are buried Israel Hunt, a soldier of the American Revolution, who fought at Bunker Hill, Captain Thomas Pearsons of the War of 1812, General John G. Foster, Mexican and Civil War Veteran, and Brigadier-Generals Aaron F. Stevens and George P. Estey of the War of 1861. Among those in civil life who rest here we may mention Daniel Abbot, Nashua's most prominent citizen, Charles G. Atherton, United States Senator, George Y. Sawyer, judge of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Alfred Beard, founder of the Nashua Telegraph, Charles J. Fox, Historian of Nashua, General George Stark, John M. and Israel Hunt and many others who were once prominent in the affairs of Nashua. There are many beautiful monuments in the cemetery and several tombs, but it will be noticed that all the tombs are of early date, for in 1860 their erection was prohibited as being objectionable and unhealthy in a location like that of the Nashua Cemetery. In 1863 the Nashua Cemetery Original and the Nashua Cemetery Additional were united and became the Nashua Cemetery.
Like most churches of the early days, ours was started with a good deal of faith, a good deal of hope and without funds. If those who were the founders and attendants were the most prominent and influential men in the place, they were not all generous when it came to the support of religion. Even though expenses were small, for the preacher did not expect a large salary, the music cost little or nothing and incidentals and outside interests were at the minimum, it was not always easy to pay the bills, as the only reliable source of income was from the pew rents. It was customary, in case the pew rents did not amount to a sum sufficient to pay the minister, for those who were willing to enter into a bond with him to make up the deficit, each man binding himself for so many shares. In these bonds Daniel Abbot always subscribed for the largest number. This method continued for some time until conditions made it unnecessary. If at times the financial outlook was dark, as it often was, especially when, owing, to the non success of the Indian Head Mills, expected support could not be given, let the matter be brought before the society and the cloud would be lifted by its loyal supporters. Many times in the records we find that the society is in need of money and just as often at later meetings we find the deficit has been provided for. Debt has seemed to be a thing much abhorred and shunned by our people. Although the treasury was often depleted and we had no permanent fund, the subject of a free church was considered by the society as early as 1848. The matter was discussed pro and con and it was voted to adjourn for one week and invite the ladies to meet with us, that is with the men. At this meeting the ladies reported that they had held a meeting and a majority were in favor of a free church, but recommended that the gentlemen proceed in the matter according to their best judgment, having no reference to their vote. This was in 1848. If it had been in 1924 no such recommendation would have been made. As a result of the discussion it was voted that the sexton or doorkeeper be instructed to show all persons who make their appearance at the door of the church (and are not otherwise provided for) a free seat, until the house is full. While this was a step in the right direction, it did not actually make a free church as those who belonged to the society continued being taxed or paying pew rent. It only made it free to people outside the society. However, in 1916, the budget system was adopted and since then, in fact as well as in name, our society has maintained a free church. The results have been most satisfactory. Not for many years after the church was established did we have any sort of a fund to fall back on in times of dearth. In the matter of a church fund, as in most of our affairs, it was a woman who took the initiative, Mrs. Thomas J. Laton giving us three hundred dollars as the foundation stone on which to build. Then followed Mrs. David N. McClary, Miss Almira Cheever, Solomon Spalding, Anna S. Colburn, Sarah B. Wheeler, Mary A. Baker, Francis P. Whittemore, Norris W. Wetherbee, Mary G. Stark, Mary A. Hunt and her daughter, Mary E. Hunt, David A. Gregg, Albert T. Laton, Clara E. Upton, I. Frank Stevens, Sarah J. Robinson and Harry M. Hobson. In the aggregate these gifts have amounted to considerably more than a hundred thousand dollars and our permanent fund is over eighty thousand dollars. Our people have always been generous to their church. Our first gift was a bible for the use of a pulpit, presented to the society by Mrs. Sarah (John A.) Baldwin. This was in 1827, and when worn by constant use, she and her husband presented another bible for the same purpose. When this second bible had served its purpose and in its turn had become worn, Mrs. Sarah J. Robinson (Hobson) gave a third bible, which is now in use. Mrs. Harrison Hobson presented the present pulpit, and at one time furnished the church with new carpets. I. Frank Stevens was constantly making gifts to the church, and the Benevolent Circle and its successor the "Alliance" have been most generous. No church in town has had more loyal and generous supporters.
Not only have our people been generous to the church of their faith, but their charities have been wide and large. No good cause but what finds some of our people interested in it. Notable was the gift of Charles H. Nutt, which eventually will result in a hospital for Nashua. Moses Hunt founded the Hunt Lecture Fund. David A. Gregg has been most generous to the town of Wilton and to many local charitable institutions, and the gifts and charities of Mary A. and Mary E. Hunt were among the most widespread and largest that have come from New Hampshire citizens. Without mentioning outside charities of these two women, mother and daughter, their benefactions to Nashua have been the greatest ever made, individually or collectively, to the place. The Nashua Public Library building was their gift in memory of their husband and father, John M. Hunt. This was followed by the John M. Hunt Home for aged men and couples, and lastly the Mary E. Hunt Home for aged women. For all time the beneficence of these two kindly, unostentatious women will give comfort, tranquillity and rest to a large number of people in the evening of life. Their lives were quiet and simple; the result of those lives was truly magnificent and grand. No better praise can be given to a church than to say that people of this kind attend its services and support its views. Unitarian young women founded the Good Cheer Society and the first money it received was given by a woman of this church. We are proud of our record and the people who have made it what it is.
In the days when the church was built it was not customary to provide for an elaborate plant such as the present day demands. Vestries were not common and parish houses unheard of. We built only a church and for religious purposes and the activities that go with it that is all we have after a hundred years existence. Today, after this long period of time, we find ourselves the only religious society in the place, owning a church, that has neither vestry or a parish house. As far back as the ministry of Mr. Osgood this need was evident and in his farewell sermon he says that he has felt himself much crippled because the society did not have a vestry for smaller meetings and social gatherings. He further says: "I have repeatedly requested you to take this subject into consideration but for some reasons, doubtless satisfactory to yourselves, you have not attempted to provide a vestry." This was in 1841. This need has always been felt. Nearly every minister since Mr. Osgood has noted this lack in our church equipment and urged us to do something to supply the need. In 1913 the Ladies' Benevolent Circle established the Ladies' Circle Parish House Fund, turning the money over to the Prudential Committee. This was accepted by the society and is still drawing interest. The matter has been discussed at numerous meetings of the society, committees have been appointed to consider the subject, and, to sum it all up, nothing has been done.
At one time a hall in Perham's Block was hired for social gatherings, and later a hall in Bowers' Block on Main Street was leased, and became known as Channing Hall. These places served their purpose but since the giving up of Channing Hall, many years ago, the society has been without a place for social gatherings. There was never a time within the last fifty years when so many young people attended the church as during the period when Perham and Channing Halls were a part of the outfit of the society, for our meetings have been held in private houses, hotels, offices, halls, as well as in the church itself. When the church was repaired in 1924 the building was moved from the original site to a spot some few feet Easterly, in order to provide a location for a parish house. It was felt that this much needed outfit for the work of the church would be a realization. Nothing was however done about it and the parish house is still something not realized but hoped for. Other than the church the parish owns the house given by Mrs. Grace Stark and the fine parsonage on Concord Street.
The relations of this society with other churches, both of our own denomination and those of other churches, have always been of the pleasantest nature. Years back we became affiliated with the American Unitarian Association, and we have belonged to the North Middlesex Conference, most of the churches of which are in Massachusetts, since its foundation. We are also a member of the New Hampshire State Conference. With other Protestant churches of Nashua we have always maintained most pleasant relations. The First Universalist Society in Nashua was formed in 1818, and in 1819 was formally organized, but a few years afterwards became merged with the Unitarian Society. Israel Hunt was the moving spirit in the organization of the Universalist Church, and his son, Israel Hunt, Jr., was the clerk. After uniting with our society at its organization, they and John M. Hunt became prominent members and remained with us as long as they lived. The Hunts in their day were leading citizens of the place. Of Israel, Jr., we have already spoken. Moses Hunt, an original member of our society, although living in another State for many years, remembered the place of his youth in bequeathing to Nashua the Hunt Lecture Fund. John M. Hunt was a leading business man and postmaster of the town for more than twenty years. He was the husband and father of Mrs. and Miss Hunt, from whom we have received some of our largest gifts.
In 1830 the Prudential Committee of the Unitarian Church reported to the society that application had been made to them by the committee of the Universalist Society in this town, setting forth that it would be agreeable to their society to rent pews and seats in our church, with a view of attending our meetings, with a privilege of collecting such rents as may thus accrue and appropriating them by their own committee for employing preachers of their own denomination, for such proportion of time as their funds, thus received, may amount to, it being understood by the committee, that such proportion of time will not exceed six or eight Sabbaths. These terms were agreed to by the Society of the Unitarian Church, with the understanding that the particulars were to be carried out by the Committees of the two societies and Mr. Gage. In 1833 the Universalist Society was reorganized and went to worship in the Old South Church. Some of those who had come to us at the time of the consolidation returned to the reorganized society, while many retained their relationship with this parish. At the same meeting at which the Universalist proposal was voted upon, the Prudential Committee were authorized, upon application of any other Christian Society who may wish to have the privilege of worshipping in our Meeting House, to allow them the use thereof at any time when it may not interrupt our own meetings, provided such arrangements be agreeable to Mr. Gage. We do not know that any society asked the privilege. In 1870, when the First Congregational Church on Main Street was destroyed by fire, the use of our church was offered to them but was declined as the Society had already provided themselves with a place of worship. Of late years, during the Summer vacations, the two Congregational, the Universalist and Unitarian Societies have held union services, each church being used in turn and the ministers exchanging pulpits.
It was long our custom to allow speakers the use of the church when not otherwise in use, provided they received the sanction of the minister, but we find that when the Anti-Slavery Society requested the Meeting House for the Rev. D. I. Robinson to "preach a discourse on Slavery," at a meeting called to vote upon the matter it was decided by a large majority not to grant such request. This was in 1838, at a time when the antislavery movement was not popular even in the North, although it was not then the great question that it became later in the century. The signers of this request for the use of the church were James Osgood, President, Andrew E. Thayer, David Crosby, Alpheus Adams, Eben C. Foster, J. B. Chapman and Edwin Baldwin.
It would be of interest to know the names of all the people who have been to the church since its founding and just where they sat, but that is impossible, for the seats are not in their original position and records are very general at best and deal only with affairs of the parish that have come up in the meetings. Many of the first attendants have already been mentioned. In the early records we find the names of most of the prominent men of the town, among them the Greeleys, Joseph, Alfred and Ezekel, Zebediah Shattuck, Moses Tyler, Charles Gordon Atherton, B. B. and F. P. Whittemore, Reubin Goodrich, R. E. Dewey, William White, J. Thornton Greeley, E. P. Emerson, C. K. Whitney, Albin and Alfred Beard, Josephus Baldwin, William Boardman, Dr. Samuel G. Dearborn, Charles H. Nutt, Isaac P. Whitman, William P. Abbot, Solomon Spalding, Charles Gove, Albert McKean, George W. Howard, Henry J. Chapman, John C. Lund, George Stark, Frank A. McKean, General John G. Foster, Edward and John A. Spalding, John H. Goodale, Thomas J. Laton, Harrison Hobson, James L. Pierce, Charles E. Page, Gilman Scripture, George W. Perham, Francis Coggin, Henry Stearns, Leonard Kidder, Dr. Edward A. Colburn, James F. Wallace, Hiram T. Morrill, Charles Stetson, William Barrett, D. A. G. Warner, C. T. Ridgeway, John Leach, John M. Hopkins, Thomas Sands.
In later times we have David A. Gregg, Dr. Henry Dearborn, George W. Moore, James F. Barnes, W. F. Barnes, Dr. R. B. Prescott, George R. Pierce, Rufus A. Maxwell, W. D. Cadwell, A. M. Norton, Warren G. Howe, George A. Ashley, James U. Tolles, L. E. Burbank, George F. Andrews, Frank A. Andrews, John Frank Stark, Harry M. Hobson, I. Frank Stevens, J. B. Fassett, Albert T. and Frank Laton.
The wives of these men have always carried more than their share of the burden or pleasure of maintaining the church, and besides these such women as Mary and Lucy Baldwin, Lucy and Kate Thayer, Clara Shattuck, Augusta Tyler, Mattie Wilkins, Kate and Eliza Tuttle, Mrs. Knapp, Carrie Livingston, Ella Porter, Anna Stetson, Mary Hunt, Sarah C. Chase, Mrs. Hattie Cram, Mrs. J. J. Crawford, Henrietta Prescott, Clara J. McKean, Clara Upton, Mary Stone, Helen and Fanny Lane, Jennie Thayer, May Wallace. At the same meeting that the Society accepted and ratified all acts of the society from the date of its incorporation, they also voted to accept the Articles of Faith as adopted September 11, 1826. These articles are recorded on the first page of the first volume of our record book and are as follows:
"The enjoyment of Christian privileges, in conformity to. the views in which reason and revelation present them to our understanding and feelings, being among the choicest blessings which Heaven has vouchsafed to man, and a union of kindred minds being the happiest medium through which such enjoyment must flow, the subscribers and those who may hereafter associate with them, unite themselves together into a society to be denominated 'The First Unitarian Congregational Society in Dunstable', meaning and intending to form themselves into a society for the purpose of enjoying the benefits of social Christian worship under the form usually denominated Unitarian. We unite ourselves together as a band of Brethren, interested in the same great and essential objects, desirous to promote each other's happiness, persuing through the same road, with cheerfulness and activity the highest destination of rational beings, virtuous happiness here, to be crowned with immortal felicity hereafter.
In the love of truth and the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we unite for the worship of God and the service of man.
We unite under this express agreement that no tax shall ever be voted or levied by this Society on its members, but that all contributions shall be purely voluntary and that any associate may withdraw at any time when he or she shall think proper to do so."
While the above statement was the one that was signed and later recorded on the opening pages of our society record and reaffirmed by a vote of the society, there was a statement of faith adopted by many of the churches in the early days of New England Unitarianism that is interesting historically, and gives at greater length the belief of the organization.
(Editor's note: The Leonard Freeman Burbank book ends with a lengthy statement of faith which was adopted by some of the early Unitarian churches. We have not included that statement in this reprint of the Burbank book because it deals with early Unitarian theology that was not adopted by all of the original Unitarian societies. The curious reader can find this early statement of faith in the original Leonard Freeman Burbank book, "History of the First Unitarian Society in Dunstable, Now Nashua, 1826-1925," copies of which are available from the church office in Nashua.)