Sources on general history of Universalism in New Bedford

Sources on Universalist lay people in New Bedford
Sources for Universalist preachers and ministers in New Bedford

History of the Churches of New Bedford, New Bedford: E. Anthony & Sons, Printers, 1869, pp. 113-115.

“Rev. Hosea Ballou preached the first Universalist sermon in this place more than forty years ago [i.e., before 1829], in a carpenter shop owned by Dudley Davenport, which stood on the site now occupied by the Trinitarian Church. Subsequently occasional services were held, but very irregularly, and no permanent organization was attempted until April 19, 1835, when a meeting was held at the Town Hall, at which a committee was appointed to procure a site for a church. It purchased a lot on the corner of School and Fifth streets, and a church was built by Dudley Davenport, at a cost of $6,500.

“Jonathan Smith, Wm. Gates, Asa Peirce, Nathan Burgess, Lothrop Foster, Jr., Slocum Allen, Seth McFarlin, Reed Haskins, Bartlett Allen, James Mills, Caleb Thaxter, Wm. Bates, Stephen Spooner, Otis Manchester, Wright Brownell, Daniel Wadsworth, James Foster, Isaiah D. Foster, Sylvanus Churchill, and Dudley Davenport, were among the original members.

“Previous to the completion of this edifice, Rev. John M. Spear was engaged temporarily to preach in the Town Hall, and permanently installed as pastor, April, 1836. In September following the house was dedicated, Rev. Hosea Ballou preaching the sermon. Mr. Spear retained his post until September, 1841. He was succeeded by Rev. L. S. Sadler, who preached for the society only six months; and was followed by Rev. Mr. Farnsworth, who continued his ministry until October, 1846; after which the Rev. Silas S. Fletcher officiated as pastor to the satisfaction of the society, until 1849, when Rev. Mr. Waldo assumed the pastoral charge. In Spring of 1849, owing to the removal of a number its members, and some embarrassment in its financial affairs, it became necessary to sell the church edifice, and the society lost its existence.

“During the Summer of 1851, an effort was made to reorganize the church, and inn the Fall of the same year, Rev. H. Van Campen was invited to preach permanently. On the 15th of November, a legal meeting was convened in Sears Hall, and a new society, numbering 24 members, was formed.

“During the second year of Mr. Van Campen’s pastorate, he gave notice of his resignation to take effect at the close of that year. His services were however, continued until the commencement of 1854, when Rev. Mr. Stevenson, of Chelsea, became pastor. He remained three years. During the second year, the church on William street was erected. Services were held in the vestry, June 3d, but the building was not finished until some two months later; it was dedicated August 15th, 1855, sermon by the pastor. The whole cost was $10,000, it was all paid for at that time, and has ever been free from debt. Mr. Stevenson’s ministry was prosperous, and closed with the regrets of the parish.

“The next pastor was the Rev. J. J. Twiss, who commenced his ministry Dec. 20th, 1857, and continued until September, 1859. His ministry was eminently successful; the society was reorganized, and large accessions were made to the membership. Mr. Twiss removed to Lowell, where he continues to reside.

“Rev. T. E. St. John, formerly professor of anatomy and physiology in the Eclectic Medical College, Cincinnati, was the next settled pastor. His ministry began Oct. 23, 1859, and continued about three years. After leaving this city, he went to Worcester; in 1866, he took charge of the Church of the Redeemer, Chicago, but after a short time returned to Worcester. His superior qualifications for the pulpit have abundantly proved the wisdom of his changing from the medical to the clerical profession.

“Jan 11, 1863, Rev. S. L. Roripaugh accepted the pastorship. He was a sound and faithful Christian minister, but in this climate was so affected with asthma as to labor with great suffering. He closed his ministry beloved by all and having the earnest sympathy of the parish.

“His successor was Rev. George W. Skinner, who entered upon his duties Jan. 1, 1865. He was not so successful as to meet the expectations of the parish, and near the close of the year he withdrew.

“His successor, supplying from the second sabbath in January, 1866, to April 1st, when his settled ministry began, was the present incumbent, Rev. I. C. Knowlton. He was born in Liberty, Waldo county, Maine, Sept. 6, 1819. He first commenced preaching in Albion, Maine, and in 1845 was settled at Durham, in that state. He remained five years, and then went to Lewiston Falls, where he was one year; then to Hampden, three years; then seven years at Old Town, above Bangor; from there to Keene, N. H., two years; then at the Broadway Church, South Boston, whence he came to New Bedford.

“Mr. Knowlton is a man of excellent judgment and good practical sense. He will be very long remembered in this city for the active part he took in originating the Sunday evening free meetings at Liberty Hall. The church has prospered greatly during his pastorship, and was never in so flourishing a condition. The Sunday school numbers 150; B. F. Brownell is the superintendent. Among others who have had charge of the the school are Messrs. T. J. Eagleton, Wm. Gates, A. Marsh, D. Sylvester, H. Van Campen, Wm. Hall, J. Forbes, and Paul Sherman.

“Those who have officiated as clerks of the society are Asa Peirce, James Hammet, Elisha G. Burgess, Harrison G. Lowell, and H. Van Campen.”


History of Bristol County, Massachusetts: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, by Duane Hamilton Hurd, J. W. Lewis & Co., 1883, pp.

“The Universalist Church. [footnote: Contributed by Hon. E. L. Barney.”] –The present house of worship on William Street is the second house that has been built in New Bedford. The first house was erected in 1836, and stands on the southeast corner of Fifth and School Streets. In this house the Universalists held public worship for about twelve years, and had for regular pastors John M. Spear, G. T. [sic] Farnsworth, and S. S. Fletcher, who were very good preachers. In 1840 the society, having become much involved in debt, sold their house to the Catholics, since which it has been known as the St. Mary’s Church.

“In 1851 some of the Universalists of the old church, with others who had come to New Bedford within a few years, who felt the need of worshiping God and promulgating the doctrines of Unirersalism, came together and secured the services of the then Rev. Hiram Van Campen, and held religious worship each Sabbath-day in a small hall (Sears’ Hall it was called) on Cheapside, nearly opposite and in front of the City Hall. Here Mr. Van Campen preached for several years, and the congregation grew and increased. In 1854 the Rev. Mr. Stevenson was employed, and under his ministry, with the good seed sown by Mr. Van Campen, the people resolved to have a house of worship, and in August, 1855, the present house was completed and dedicated, and since which time public worship has been regularly held, with a few slight intermissions in the change of pastors. The pastors have been the Revs. B. V. Stevenson, J. J. Twiss, T. G. [sic] St. John, S. L. Rosepaugh, [sic] George W. Skinner, I. C. Knowlton, C. B. Lombard, J. H. Farnesworth [sic], William C. Stiles, and G. F. Flanders, D.D.; the last named is the present pastor. Mr. Flanders is a very able, learned, and eloquent preacher, and under his ministry the society is in an excellent condition.

“John P. Knowles, G. L. Barney, Benjamin Alsey, Mr. Van Campen, John M. Foster, Benjamin F. Brownell, and others now dead have been the most prominent citizens and supporters of this church in the past, and still live and are interested in the society. New members have joined, such as John P. Knowles, Jr., H. M. Knowlton, A. G. Walker, and others, with many excellent ladies, and these all are the friends and supporters of the society. It is but simple justice to say that during all the past this church has maintained the doctrines of the early founders of Universalism in America, and fervently adhere to the fundamental doctrines of the Universalist denomination.

“It has always aided in the works of charity, love, and temperance in this community, and sought to elevate man. It practices the exact fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, upon which basis alone comes all the workings of the true good spirit in man.”

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