Rev. Charles Morgridge, a not-quite-Unitarian

Charles Morgridge was born in Litchfield, Maine, ion August 28, 1791. He attended Bowdoin College, from about 1817 to about 1820. (1) I have been able to find out nothing about his early life.

He entered Bowdoin College as a sophomore when he was 26 (i.e., probably in 1817), and probably was graduated in 1820 or 1821. At some point, he decided to become a minister in the Christian Connection (or Christian Connexion) denomination. He was ordained as a Christian Connection minister in Fairhaven on September 14, 1821; (2) and thereafter he led a peripatetic life, moving frequently from church to church.

While at Fairhaven, his salary as a minister was inadequate, so he also taught in the Fairhaven high school. After spending a year or two at the Fairhaven church, he went to serve for a year as a minister in Portsmouth, N. H., then perhaps two years as a minister in Eastport, Maine, and then he served at the Christian Connection Church on Summer Street in Boston. He left Boston and was settled at the North Christian Church (later called First Christian Church) in New Bedford from 1827. He left New Bedford in 1831 to become the minister of the Christian Connection church in Portland, Maine, at that time the largest church in that denomination, and stayed there until 1834. He returned to New Bedford to serve North Christian Church in New Bedford from 1834 to 1841. (3) Here’s a first-hand account by one Eleazar Sherman of what North Christian Church was like in 1834:

“This house will seat about fifteen hundred people. — In the time of the great reformation in 1834, this house was opened every day for more than three months, day and night; scores of weeping souls came out of their pews for prayer, and bowed before the Lord and the gazing multitude; and the prayers of God’s people prevailed; the angel of the everlasting covenant presented the humble prayer of the penitent before his Father; the angel of mercy descended and pat the cup of salvation to the lips of the dying sinner, and bade him drink the wine of the kingdom and live forever. Oh, what shouts of praise flowed from young converts, whose hearts were filled with hearenly love at this day of God’s power.

“Elder Charles Morgridge was their preacher at this time. He is a man of superior talents as a steward for God; much is under his care in God’s vineyard, and much will be required at his hands. I hope he may continue to be faithful, and always ready for every good work. While on this visit, I met with him at the water; he baptized nineteen happy converts at one time; the most of this number were young men. He continued to baptize converts for a number of weeks in succession from this time; and a very large addition was made to his church at this time, of the out-pouring of God’s spirit. I preached that Sabbath for brother Morgridge, and had great freedom in delivering God’s message to the people.” (4)

While Morgridge was at North Christian Church from 1834-1841, he showed some affinity for unitarian theology and those who called themselves Unitarians. In 1835, he gave the introductory prayer at the ordination of Angier, the new minister of First Congregational Society (Unitarian). (5) And in 1836, Morgridge engaged in a debate on the trinity in the local newspapers; (6) in 1837 he published a book of unitarian theology titled The True Believer’s Defence, against Charges preferred by Trinitarians, for not believing in the Divinity of Christ, the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, &fc., published first in New Bedford by Benjamin Lindsey, who happened to be a member of the Unitarian church, and later reprinted in Boston. The Christian Examiner and General Review, a periodical affiliated with the Unitarian denomination, reviewed the book in their May, 1837, issue. The anonymous reviewer said in part:

“The author of this little book is an active and intelligent minister of the Christian denomination. The nature of the subject, the leading object of the writer, and the circumstances under which he prepared the copy for the press were such as to preclude, for the most part, any attempt at originality, either of investigation or argument. Still the various reading, sound sense, and logical acumen evinced in the work, as well as the excellent spirit pervading it, abundantly vindicate his claim to the high rank he holds among his brethren.” (7)

The Unitarians of the day may have approved of Morgridge’s theology. But it seems very unlikely that the Unitarians would have felt comfortable with the ecstatic forms of worship prevalent at Morgridge’s church, as recorded by Eleazar Sherman.

When the Christian Connection denomination opened Starkey Seminary in 1842, Morgridge was invited to be the first principal, or president. He was invited to do so because he was “the most available man at that time in the Christian Connection who could teach Latin and Greek, and all the other branches usually taught in colleges.” After a successful eighteen month tenure at the seminary, Morgridge returned to New Bedford in 1844. Once in New Bedford, Morgridge began preaching in Mechanics’ Hall. (8) Soon he had gathered a congregation, and Centre Church was formed. (9)

However, when it came time to formally open the church, the local Christian Connection clergy refused to participate in the dedication services. Thus, the church asked Unitarian ministers to participate in leading the dedication services on February 12, 1845. This dedication was reported on by The Monthly Religious Magazine, a Unitarian periodical edited by Frederic Dan Huntington. The Rev. Ephraim Peabody, formerly minister of the New Bedford church, but then minister of King’s Chapel (Unitarian) in Boston, preached at the evening services which formally organized the church; Peabody spoke on “the constitution, powers, and objects of the Church.” The Rev. Mr. Hall of the Providence Unitarian church preached at the morning services, for the dedication of the building; he spoke on about how “Christ is the foundation of the Christian Church.” The Monthly Religious Magazine went on to say this:

“The whole occasion was one of interest, and somewhat new and peculiar, as occurring within the Christian connexion, yet chiefly conducted by Unitarian clergymen. The circumstances, as we understood them, are briefly these. Mr. Morgridge was formerly pastor, for many years, of one of the largest and most thriving societies in the Christian denomination, the first of that kind, we believe, in New Bedford, where now there are several. In consequence of some disaffection which at last appeared in the Society, Mr. Morgridge took a dismission a few years ago, and went to the west. He has lately returned, and some of his old friends, joined by others, have asked him to preach to them, and erected this house. For reasons which we are not competent to state or judge of, the other ministers of the Christian denomination there, with a portion of their people, stand aloof from Mr. Morgridge and his new church, and refused to take part in the services of dedication, though particularly invited. This alone made it necessary, had they not wished it on any other account, for the new society to look to other clergymen; and they turned to Unitarians, as nearest them in doctrine and sympathy, though we are not aware that the minister or members of this particular church are any nearer the Unitarian faith, than most of the Christian name; it being well known that all of that name are anti-Trinitarian at least.” (10)

It is easy to imagine why the existing Christian Connection ministers and churches “stood aloof” from Morgridge’s new church; they may well have been afraid that he would draw too many of their existing members away from them.

But in the event, Morgridge lasted less than two months as the minister of Centre Church. He apparently stayed in New Bedford for a time, but by 1847, he was the minister of First Christian Church in Fall River. (11) After that, he spent nine years in Barnstable, Mass., and then returned to Maine. He was living in 1869, but I have been unable to determine when he died. (12)

Part two continues the story of the ministers of Centre Church.

I would love to know more about Charles Morgridge. I have identified one additional source to consult, a 56 page book titled Facts and Documents in the case of Rev. Charles Morgridge; with the Report of his Committee, written by Rodney French of New Bedford, and published at Fall River in 1848. Any of my readers who might have more information about Morgridge, please let me know!


(1) History of the churches of New Bedford: to which are added notices of various other moral and religious organizations, by Jesse Fillmore Kelley, Adam Mackie, New Bedford: E. Anthony & Sons, Printers, 1869, p. 49.

(2) A Sketch of Elder Daniel Hix: With the History of the First Christian Church in Dartmouth, Mass., by Stephen M. Andrews, New Bedford: E. Anthony & sons, 1880, p. 203.

(3) Kelley and Mackie, pp. 49-50.

(4) The Narrative of Eleazer Sherman: Giving an Account of His Life, Experience, Call to the Ministry of the Gospel, and Travels as Such to the Present Time, by Eleazer Sherman, Providence: H. H. Brown, 1835, p. 30.

(5) Kelley and Mackie, p. 20.

(6) Ibid., p. 84.

(7) Christian Examiner and General Review, Boston: James Munroe, volume 4, 1837, May, 1837, p. 268.

(8) Kelley and Mackie, p. 50.

(9) Kelley and Mackie, p. 20.

(10) The Monthly Religious Magazine, ed. Frederic Dan Huntington, Boston: L. C. Bowles., 1845, vol. II, no. 4, April, 1845, pp. 140-141.

(11) A centennial history of Fall River, Mass, by Henry Hilliard Earl, New York: Atlantic Pub. and Engraving Co., 1877, p. 155.

(12) Kelley and Mackie, p. 20.