Tag Archives: Moses George Thomas

Moses George Thomas, minister-at-large

This is the second in a two-part series on the ministers of Centre Church, New Bedford. Part One.

Rev. Jonathan Brown, of Naples, N.Y., was the second minister of Centre Church, from 1845-1848. Following his unsuccessful ministry, the congregation “voted not to employ any but Unitarian ministers.” (13) They then called Rev. Moses George Thomas as their next minister.

Moses George Thomas was born on January 19, 1805, in Sterling, Mass. He was graduated from Brown University in 1825, and from there went directly to the divinity school at Harvard. (14) While he was still a student at Harvard Divinity School, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) hired him to travel through the Western frontier, to find out where the AUA might fruitful ground in which to plant new Unitarian churches. From 1826-1827, Thomas traveled some 4,000 miles on horseback, through Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, going as far west as St. Louis. (15)

Following his graduation from divinity school in 1828, Thomas served as minister of the Unitarian church in Concord, N.H., from 1829 to 1844. He was ordained there, and he was the first Unitarian minister settled in that city. He laid the cornerstone of the first Unitarian church building, and gave the sermon at the dedication of that building. In his early years at Concord, N.H., he became good friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had supplied the pulpit there before Thomas arrived. (16) While serving in Concord, N.H., Thomas officiated at Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first marriage, to Ellen Tucker. (17) The next year, 1830, Thomas himself was married, to Mary Jane Kent. Thomas’s time in Concord was later reported to be perhaps the happiest time of his life. (18)

Thomas was settled at the Broadway Church in South Boston in 1845, soon after the church was organized; here again, Thomas was the founding minister of the church. This congregation never owned its own building, but met in rented space; it seems to have dissolved by about 1853. (19)

After leaving the Broadway Church, Thomas came to New Bedford and was installed as the minister of Centre Church in 1848. Continue reading

An extinct Unitarian church of New Bedford

Extinct churches fascinate me that way some people are fascinated by ghost towns. Today I discovered that there was a second Unitarian church here in New Bedford for a short time in the mid-19th C. This account of the church comes from History of Bristol County, Massachusetts: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men [Duane Hamilton Hurd (J. W. Lewis & Co., 1883), p. 94]:

“THE CENTRE CHURCH was organized Feb. 12, 1845. The following were some of the original members: James H. Collins, William H. Stowell, Isaac Bly, David Ilsley, Prentiss W. Cobb, Benjamin G. Wilson, Robert Luscomb, William Bly, Rutli Bly, Deborah Simmons, and Eliza Tubbs. It was at first attempted to form a church of the Christian denomination, but the clergymen invited to do this declining, invitations were extended to Rev. Messrs. Ephraim Peabody, Davis, and E. B. Hall, of Providence, by whom the society was organized. Rev. Charles Morgridge was the first pastor; he preached until March, 1845. The next was Rev. Jonathan Brown, of Naples, N. Y., who officiated about three years without much success. The church then voted not to employ any but Unitarian ministers. In October, 1848, Rev. Moses G. Thomas was installed. His pastorship continued until 1854, when the financial affairs of the church became so full of embarrassment that it was voted to disband.”

Notice how the author makes the distinction between a “church of the Christian denomination,” and Unitarianism. Also notice that the congregation invited Ephraim Peabody, formerly minister at First Unitarian, then minister of King’s Chapel, to help them organize their new congregation.

After the dissolution of Centre Church, Thomas became a minister-at-large under the auspices of First Unitarian Church in New Bedford (note that what we now call First Unitarian Church of New Bedford was then called First Congregational Society). Here’s a brief account of the first community ministry here in New Bedford, from The First Congregational Society in New Bedford, Massachusetts: Its History as Illustrative of Ecclesiastical Evolution [William J. Potter (First Congregational Society, 1889), p. 150]:

“It is proper too, to recall that, within the time of Mr. [John] Weiss’s pastorate, a ministry-at-large was sustained for several years for service among the poor, Rev. Moses G. Thomas being the minister. After the severance of his relationship to the Society, he was continued for many years by the beneficence of those honored members, James and Sarah Rotch Arnold, of whose charities he became to a large degree the trusted bearer.”

Moses Thomas sounded like a fascinating person in his own right, so with the help of Google Books, I did a little more research on him…. Continue reading