First Congregational Church of Braintree
United Church of Christ
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Office Hours: Monday - Friday, 9:00am ~ 1:00pm
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History and Text of
The Braintree Instructions
Site of the General Court, Boston
On September 24, 1765, Town Meeting of Braintree held at Middle Parish Meeting House on this Elm Street site, responded to a motion by young lawyer and Town Meeting representative, John Adams, to appoint a committee of five to draft an official protest to the invasive Stamp Act tax imposed by Britain in March, 1765. The protest was called The Braintree Instructions.
This group of Braintree Patriots: Rep. Ebenezer Thayer, Judge Samuel Niles, Captain John Hayward, Ensign James Penniman, and Norton Quincy, led by one great Patriot, John Adams, took the necessary steps to organize the first response against the tyranny of British taxation that would lead to the American Revolution.
It was here in Braintree, ten years before shots were fired in Lexington and Concord, that these Patriots raised the first voices of Freedom in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and led to the first united call for Liberty in the American colonies!
The First Voice of Freedom in Massachusetts
In 1763 Lord George Grenville became Prime Minister and First Lord of the British Treasury, with the tremendous task of recovering the millions of British pounds spent on the French and Indian War which ended in 1763 after seven years of conflict. Grenville was also faced with supporting the 10,000 British troops then stationed in North America.
One action that Grenville took was the Stamp Act, passed in Parliament in March 1765. The Stamp Act required attached paper stamps or pressed seals, purchased from government “Stamp Masters”, to be placed on most printed materials, including newspapers, pamphlets, posters, wills, mortgages, deeds, contracts, licenses, and even diplomas, dice, and playing cards. While Britain had already placed taxes on trade, this was the first direct tax Britain had placed on the colonists of North America. The Stamp Act was set to take effect on November 1, 1765. As word of the Stamp Act spread through the colonies in the Spring of 1765, a huge protest began as editorials, pamphlets, speeches and resolutions, and even mob violence against the tax flooded the colonies.
The Braintree Instructions was Read at Braintree Town Meeting
The Braintree Instructions was read on September 24, 1765 at Braintree Town Meeting, held at the Middle Parish Church on Elm Street, by John Adams, and was approved without dissent. The Braintree Instructions was published in newspapers throughout the Commonwealth and was endorsed by over forty cities and towns in petitions to the General Court of Boston.
As a result, the Massachusetts Legislature called for the first general inter-colonial conference in America. In October, 1765 representatives from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina colonies met in New York for what became known as the Stamp Act Congress. Using the Braintree Instructions and similar resolves from other colonies, Pennsylvanian lawyer John Dickinson drafted the Declaration of Rights and Grievances to be sent to King George III: “…that it is inseparably essential to the Freedom of a People, and the undoubted Right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own Consent, given personally, or by their representatives.”
In March, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.
John Adams Drafted The Braintree Instructions
John Adams drafted The Braintree Instructions at his home in the North Precinct (now Quincy), then presented the document to Judge Samuel Niles and the committee. It was unanimously approved. It was agreed that Adams would present the document at the next Town Meeting on September 24th, 1765. After it was approved by Town Meeting, it was sent to Braintree’s Representative to the General Court (colonial legislature) in Boston, the Hon. Ebenezer Thayer, Jr.
The Instructions Committee
Judge Samuel Niles, Chairman, aged 54. He was a lawyer, Deacon of Middle Parish church, former Selectman, former Colonial Representative to the General Court, former Town Moderator from 1754-1764, Justice of the Peace for Norfolk County and Chief Magistrate of Braintree for the last twenty years.
Norton Quincy, aged 49. Selectman and Braintree Town Meeting Moderator in 1765.
James Penniman, aged 57. Former Selectman, Deacon, land-owner, and Ensign in the Braintree Militia.
Captain John Hayward, aged 52. Former Selectman, Deacon of Middle Parish church, land-owner, and Captain of the Braintree Militia.
John Adams, aged 29. Just seven years after passing the legal bar, and recently married to Abigail Smith of Weymouth, a minister’s daughter, he was an ambitious, rising young lawyer who in 1764 successfully defended millionaire shipping magnate and local celebrity John Hancock on molasses smuggling charges in violation of Britain’s Sugar Act of 1764.
Hon. Ebenezer Thayer, Jr., aged 44, had been Braintree’s representative to the General Court (or colonial legislature) in Boston since 1760, and would serve ten more years. He was a lawyer, judge, land-owner, tavern keeper, Selectman, political leader, Captain in the Braintree Militia since 1742, and had been Town Moderator the previous year, 1764.
History of the building
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH OF BRAINTREE
In the more than 310 years since our Church was first gathered in 1707, it has taken on five incarnations, just as the town of Braintree itself has changed over the years. From the beginning Braintree was a wide-spread community, eventually being settled around three villages or Parishes. The first Parish to be settled in 1634 was known at “Mount Wollaston” named after the founder of a trading post in 1624. The Parish Meeting House of Mount Wollaston was founded in 1639 straddling the Boston to Plymouth highway, and by its incorporation in 1640 the town’s name was changed to “Braintree”. These were located in present Quincy Square, and the First Parish Meeting House has come down to us as the First Congregational Church, Christ Church, and the Church of the Presidents.
Starting in 1640, settlers began moving south and settled around the Massachusetts Indian village of Monatiquot, home of Chief Wompatuck. In 1644 an iron forge was built on the Monatiquot River by the Plymouth Road (currently Middle, Adams and Commercial Streets) to which a grist mill was added in 1651. A third Parish to the south, called Cochato (present Randolph and Holbrook), also began being settled at this time.
By 1706, 71 families living in Monatiquot decided it was too far to travel to Mount Wollaston for church and Town Meeting and to form their own Parish Meeting House. A site was chosen on what was known as “Thayer’s Corner” near the home of settler Thomas Thayer on a high grassy knoll at the intersection of the County Highway (present Washington Street) and the Iron Forge Road (present Elm and Middle Streets). On September 10th, 1707 the Second Parish Church of Braintree, also known as the Middle Parish Meeting House was founded.
While the exact size is unknown early map diagrams indicate it was a rude structure about 30 feet long by 30 feet wide of rough-hewn boards, two stories high with galleries (the second-floor gallery was finished in 1713) and glass windows on both levels. The front of the Meeting House faced west onto the County Highway and a side entrance opened on the Iron Forge Road to the south. Outbuildings and stalls for carriages would be built behind the Meeting House to the north. By 1713 the Meeting House had a bell and a bell steeple was built in 1723. The Meeting House sides were finished with clapboards in 1740.
The Middle Parish Meeting House was not only the house of worship for the villagers of Monatiquot but also the seat of their government. All village meetings were held at the Meeting House from 1707 to 1830, and the building alternated with Mount Wollaston Meeting House for Braintree-wide town meetings from 1707 until 1754, when the Middle Parish became the permanent home of Town Meeting for all three Parishes until 1792. Mount Wollaston became the town of Quincy in 1792 and Cochato became the town of Randolph in 1793. From 1746 the Meeting House also housed the Braintree community stores of gunpowder.
By 1757 the community had outgrown its Meeting House and it was decided to tear it down and rebuild a larger structure on the same site. Construction began in May 1758 of a structure 55 feet long and 45 feet wide, two stories high with a bell tower, the front again facing west onto the County Highway. There were 37 square pews on the main floor with a wide aisle down the center 5 feet wide. The Meeting House opened June 28th, 1759.
In 1765 Britain passed the Stamp Act, forcing colonists to pay taxes on documents, newspapers and other items. A committee of five from Braintree with Deacon Samuel Niles, son of Rev. Samuel Niles, as chairman, was enlisted to draft instructions for the townspeople to react to this tyranny. The committee commissioned a young 30-year old lawyer from North Parish, John Adams, to draft the documents recounting the freedoms expected by American colonists. On September 24, 1765, Adams delivered those instructions from the pulpit of Middle Parish Meeting House, coining the phrase “no taxation without representation” for the very first time. In the coming months, 40 other Massachusetts towns endorsed the Braintree Instructions as the first unified response to British tyranny and it was a precursor of the American Revolution. In the spring of 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed. An informational kiosk stands today on the southwestern corner of the Church property commemorating this event.
By 1829 several changes had occurred in town. North Parish was incorporated as Quincy in 1792. South Parish was incorporated as Randolph in 1793. Middle Parish had become Braintree in 1792 and Middle Parish Meeting House was renamed First Congregational Church or Rev. Dr. Storr’s Meeting House. Braintree Town Meeting was moved to a building on the northeastern corner of Washington and Union Streets near the home and office of Town Clerk and Town Treasurer Asa French. Lyceum Hall was built by church member Elisha Thayer adjacent to the Church facing Elm Street (where several stores presently stand). Lyceum Hall was used by the Church and community, housing a library on the first floor and a large meeting room upstairs. First Church had suffered defections of members, first in 1811 when the Union Religious Society formed to serve the shipwrights and their families of the Weymouth and Braintree Landing shipyards, and again in 1829 when seventeen members left to found South Congregational Church on the corner of Pond and Washington Streets.
The 1759 Meeting House had by 1829 fallen into severe disrepair and was in danger of falling down, so it was decided to tear it down and rebuild a new Meeting House. Membership had declined to just 53 families. The new Meeting House faced south for the first time onto Elm Street (replacing the Iron Forge Road in 1760 and 20 feet north) and next to Lyceum Hall. It was set further back from the street and further north. It was a two-story building, 70 feet long, 46 feet wide and 24 feet high made of clapboards and shingles. The original bell was saved and remounted in the new steeple. Carriage houses and barns lined the eastern side of the Church (near present auto repair shop) and along the western side between the Church and Lyceum Hall. The new Meeting House was dedicated on December 29, 1830.
Under Dr. Storr’s leadership, Church membership grew steadily and was too confined by the old building. In 1857 it was decided to tear down the Meeting House and rebuild. The new building was set still further east and north on Thayer property (where the auto repair now stands), 110 feet long and 52 feet wide, built of wood in the Gothic style with a high steeple that dominated the square. The main floor of the sanctuary held 650 seats, with another 250 seats in the second-floor gallery and there was a basement meeting room that could seat 600 for dinner and a Sunday School. The new building was dedicated on June 3, 1857. In the fall of 1869 Braintree was struck by “The Great Autumn Blow”, a massive hurricane that blew the Church steeple, clock, and belfry to the ground. It was replaced by a stouter, shorter steeple with four minarets. A large chapel, kitchen, parlor and classrooms were added in 1891 projecting west and running north another 88 feet.
Tragedy struck at 3:15 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, January 10, 1912. With the temperature around zero and gale force winds blowing from the west, fire broke out in the old Lyceum Hall. By 3:30 a.m. the whole building was ablaze and firefighters from Quincy, Weymouth, Holbrook, and Randolph were summoned for help. For two hours they fought to save First Church but were overcome by frozen hydrants and frozen hoses with no water pressure. By 5:30 a.m. the fire spread to the steeple and an hour later the Church itself was engulfed.
For the next 18 months, First Church held its services in the old Delta Lodge Masonic Temple on Washington Street, while a new building, our fifth, was erected. The current building was set closer to Elm Street, and further west than its predecessor. This building was built with Weymouth seam granite and cut stone in an English country church style. A Parish house adjoined the church to the west. The sanctuary seated 306 with a gallery seating 57. The Christian Education building was added in 1957.
On December 21, 1961 at 4:30 a.m. fire broke out in the sanctuary of First Church gutting the sanctuary, destroying the new organ, and burning through the roof and into the Parish house. During the reconstruction, the sanctuary was enlarged by 48 seats, the gallery by 20 seats and the narthex was added, as well as the vestry rooms below. A Time Capsule was placed in the cornerstone at the southeast corner of the narthex in October 1962. The new Thayer-Haskell-Treat organ was dedicated in November 1962 and the sanctuary rededicated in April 1963.
The next major change to our Church came in the fall of 1996. The many years of ringing in the Tower by our Church bells, especially the great Van Duzen bell, caused the foundations of the Tower to deteriorate to such an extent that severe water damage was occurring in the balcony and narthex during each major rainfall and storm. Extensive and costly repairs were attempted over the years with unsuccessful results. In September 1996 the painful decision was made to tear down the Tower and reseal the roof against the elements. By December 1996 the Tower was taken down, the bells were sold, and the great Van Duzen bell was relocated on the front lawn where it stands today.
Gathered in 1707 by Ruth Shuster, Clerk, First Congregational Church, Smith Print Co., Weymouth, 1957.
Another Decade by Ruth Shuster, Clerk, First Congregational Church, 1967.
Braintree Massachusetts, Its History edited by H. Hobart Holly, Braintree Historical Society, 1985.
Annual Reports, First Congregational Church, 1996 and 1997.