The Universalist church in Assinippi

White clapboard church building with steeple

I stopped by the First Universalist Church of Assinippi; Assinippi is a village in Norwell, Mass. It is beautifully sited on a small rise just a few feet from the boundary between Norwell and Hanover. The congregation dates back to 1766, when people living in the area petitioned to be set off as a separate congregation. At that time, this was a part of the town of Scituate, and the people who lived here had to travel several miles to get to church. Their petition was denied, although they kept petitioning to become a separate congregation.

Over the next couple of decades, they built a spare meetinghouse. They also became convinced of the truth of universal salvation; both John Murray and Hosea Ballou were said to preach to the congregation, probably beginning in the late 18th century. Finally in 1812, Massachusetts allowed them to formally organize as a Universalist congregation.

In recent years, their numbers have declined. The latest UUA Directory places their membership at 8. But they have a long and proud history as a center for Universalism in southeastern Massachusetts.

I’ll include excerpts from some local histories below the fold that give more details about the congregation.

Samuel Deane, History of Scituate, Massachusetts: From Its First Settlement to 1831 (J. Loring, 1831), pp. 43-45


The people in the westerly section of the south parish began to be desirous of forming a Society within their own vicinity, as early as 1766; and in that year petitioned to the south parish to be set off by mutual consent.

March 3, 1767, we find the following record in the south parish: “It was put to vote whether the precinct would grant the request of a number of inhabitants in the westerly part of s precinct, in order for their being a precinct by themselves, viz. all the land to the westward of the following bounds, beginning at the brook by Margaret Prouty’s, southward with the brook to Hanover line—northward with the brook to Joseph Benson’s land—then north by west between Lazarus Bowker’s and John Bowker’s, to Taunton Dean brook or bridge, and so northward with s brook to the patent line: and passed in the negative.” The same was repeated in 1770, and negatived: at the same meeting “it was put to vote whether the Rev. Mr Barnes should preach in the Meeting-house near Joshua Jacob’s, while our new house is building, and passed in the negative.”

October 1771, Joshua Jacob and others petitioned to General Court that they might be set off by their act. The south precinct appointed Nathaniel Clap, Esq. Nathan Cushing, Esq. and John Palmer, to meet the Court’s committee on the premises, and make a representation of the case. The committee reported against the separation.

March 1792, “The south precinct voted that Charles Turner, jr., Esq. and Capt. Enoch Collamore be a committee to wait on the Rev. Mr Barnes, and enquire whether he is willing to preach in the west Meeting-house a part of the year.” The committee reported that Mr Barnes replied, “he should wish to gratify the precinct.” It was then voted “that he should preach in the west Meeting-house” the second Sabbath in each month, from the first of April to the first of December. The next year, 1793, the same question was taken in the precinct and passed in the negative. Some attempts, subsequently, were made to raise money to assist the people in the westerly section in defraying the expense of worship by themselves, but always negatived.

In 1797, David Jacob and others petitioned to the General Court to be set off as a separate Society, and to be allowed to receive their ratable proportion of the south parish funds. This was opposed successfully by the agents of the second or south parish, viz. Elijah Turner, and Charles Turner, jr. Esquires. The parish had given them instructions to urge several reasons, the most weighty of which seem to be the following, viz. “that the limits proposed for their new parish would include many families which desired still to belong to the south parish; and as to the fund, it was given by the Town for the special purpose of supporting the ministry in the second Congregational Society in Scituate; and therefore no part of it could be legally alienated to a third Society.”

In 1812, several inhabitants of the same district petitioned to the General Court for an Act of Incorporation as “a Universalist Society.” The south precinct voted not to oppose, and they were accordingly incorporated. The above records, we believe, as we have extracted, contain the essential parts of the history of this Society. We may add, that since their incorporation, they have uniformly procured the service of a minister, and hired him from year to year. The ministers who have officiated for the longest terms have been Rev. Joshua Flagg, Rev. Benjamin Whittemore, and Rev. Mr Kilham. Their Meeting-house that was erected in 1769, was repaired and plaistered in 1814.

Line drawing of an old meetinghouse
Illustration from John Stetson Barry, Historical Sketch of Hanover, 1953

John Stetson Barry, A Historical Sketch of the Town of Hanover, Mass., with Family Genealogies (published by the author, 1853)


There is no Universalist Society properly within the limits of Hanover, although one has existed, for many years, in the westerly part of Scituate, whose house of Worship stands within less than three rods of the boundary line of Hanover.

This parish was commenced as early as 1766, and is referred to, not only on the records of Scituate, of that date, but also of Hanover; and many items relating to its history, are found on the books of the latter town. Besides, as quite a number of our citizens are connected with the Universalist Society, and as three of its pastors have resided in Hanover, -two of the number being

near Barstow’s hill, just on the line between South Scituate and Hanover, the Church itself being in South Scituate.

The old meeting house, which stood on the same site as the present house, was two stories high; the roof pitching East and West; with a porch on the East, extending from the ground to the eaves, having doors, in front, and on each side of the same, with stairways within, leading to the galleries. There were doors on the North and South ends of the house, about the centre of the same; and two rows of windows, the lower row lighting the body of the house, and the upper the galleries. There were pews in the floor, but the galleries were furnished with long seats, or benches, es was the custom in those days. The house had neither steeple nor bell, was unplastered for a long time; nor had it a chimney, until after the commencement of the present century. It was a venerable structure, and beneath its roof, the members of the Society enjoyed, for many years, the ministrations of the gospel, according to their own views of its teachings, though at first the parish was in a measure an off-shoot from the older parishes, in Scituate and Hanover.

The names of those who have preached to the Society, from time to time, are, David Pickering; Samuel Baker; Elias Smith; Joshua Flagg; Benjamin Whittemore; Robert L. Killam, from 1829 to 1838; H. W. Morse, 1838; John F. Dyer, 1839; J. E. Burnham, 1840; John S. Barry, 1841-1844; M. E. Hawes, 1844 & 5; Horace P. Stevens, 1846 & 7; and Robinson Breare, the present pastor, settled in 1849.

The names of the original members of the Society, appended to the Act of Incorporation, granted June 18, 1812, are, *Enoch Collamore, Loring Jacobs, Ichabod R. Jacobs, John Jones, Jr., Calvin Wilder, *James H. Jacobs, *Charles Totman, Charles Jones, (in Illinois, ) Isaac N. Damon, Joshua Bowker, James Jacobs, Abel Silvester, *Charles Simmons, William Hyland, *David Turner, *Samuel Randall, Jr., *Samuel Randall, Joshua Damon, Ebenezer Totman, Jonathan Turner, *Enoch Collamore, Jr., “Benjamin Bowker, John Gross, *Josiah Witherell, *Samuel Simmons, John Jones, Peleg Simmons, Jr., *Seth Stoddard, *George Litchfield, Elisha Gross, Reuben Sutton, Theophilus Cortherell, Edward F. Jacobs, *Elisha Barrell, Elisha Barrell, Jr., Stephen Jacobs, and Edward Curtis.

Those to whose names an asterisk is prefixed, have since deceased; some have removed; and of the original number, but ten. remain, all of whom still “hold fast to the profession of their faith without wavering.”

This Society is in a prosperous condition, and free from debt; and though many of its older members have deceased within a few years, whose familiar faces are seen no more, yet those who remain can be relied upon, we think, for its future and permanent support.

Line drawing of a nineteenth century New England church
Illustration from John Stetson Barry, Historical Sketch of Hanover, 1953

Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, Part 1 (J.W. Lewis & Company, 1884), pp. 378-379

Universalist Society [in the chapter titled “History of Hanover”] — The church of the Universalist society is situated about two rods northerly of the northerly line of the town in Assinippi village. While this edifice is outside the town limits, so many of the society reside in Hanover that it is thought best to insert some history of this church here.

Its present, is its second church building upon this spot. It has been built a little more than half a century. During that time its interior has been remodeled. The pulpit was lowered, and a more modern one substituted. Its singers’ seats also were lowered, and a fine organ added. Its pews were newly painted, and the entire interior handsomely frescoed. It stands upon an eminence, back some distance from Washington Street. Here stood also the old church. It had no steeple, and no plastering. Its interior was not warmed by a stove for many years. A gallery surrounded three sides of it, and its pulpit was large and lofty. The seats in the gallery were mere benches, while pews filled the floor. The roof pitched east and The front porch extended from the ground to the roof. Midway on each side of the building was a doorway. Here were often heard the voices of the old apostles of Universalism, Hosea Ballou and John Murray.

This society, one of the first of this denomination to be established in the county, did not enter upon its existence without a struggle. Its first petition to be set off as a separate parish came from the inhabitants of the northerly part of Hanover. This petition was renewed in 1767, and the town of Scituate opposed it by a committee especially chosen for the purpose. The petition was again presented unsuccessfully in 1771 and 1796, and it was not until 1812 that it was granted. The act of incorporation is dated June 18, 1812, and the members of the society whose names appear therein are Enoch Collamore, Peleg Simmons, Jr., Josiah Witherell, Seth Stoddard, Samuel Simmons, George Litchfield, John Jones, Elisha Gross, Reuben Sutton, Theophilus Corthell, Edward F. Jacobs, Elisha Barrell, Loring Jacobs, Elisha Barrell, Jr., Ichabod R. Jacobs, John Jones, Jr., Calvin Wilder, James H. Jacobs, Charles Totman, Charles Jones, Isaac N. Damon, Joshua Bowker, James Ja

cobs, Abel Sylvester, Stephen Jacobs, Charles Simmons, William Hyland, David Turner, Samuel Randall, Jr., Joshua Damon, Samuel Randall, Ebenezer Totman, Jonathan Turner, Enoch Collamore, Jr., Benjamin Bowker, John Gross, Edward Curtis.

Its ministers have been David Pickering, Samuel Baker, Abner Kneeland, Elias Smith, Joshua Flagg, Benjamin Whittemore, Robert L. Killam, 1829-38; H. W. Morse, 1838; John F. Dyer, 1839; J. E. Burnham, 1840; John S. Barry, 1841-44; M. E. Hawes, 1844-45; Horace P. Stevens, 1846-47; Robinson Breare, 1849-52.

Lewis L. Record, Henry E. Vose, 1856; Edward A. Perry, 1867; James B. Tabor, Augustus P. Rein, Jacob Baker, B. F. Eaton.

Old Scituate (Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution, Chief Justice Cushing chapter, Scituate [Mass.], 1921)

The Universalist Church, Assinippi

UNWILLING to contribute to the support of two churches, and believing in the new doctrine of universal salvation, the people began a movement in Scituate, in 1756, to form a Universalist Society. The first petition was made by the inhabitants of the northerly part of Hanover to be set off as a new parish. This part of Hanover had been carved out of the old territory of Scituate in 1732. The petitioners were refused the prayer of their petition; but in the following year they took the matter before the Legislature. Again they were unsuccessful. They failed once more, in 1771, but later they began upon a new church building which was completed by, if not before, 1792, for in that year the town of Hanover voted to permit Mr. Mellen to preach a few Sundays in this new church. This vote contains more or less sarcasm, for Mr. Mellen was an Orthodox minister. These people were, however, successful in 1812, when the Legislature incorporated them as a Universalist Society.

Thus, if not the first church of this faith, it was one of the first churches to be established in this county. It has numbered among its members residents of Scituate, Norwell, Hanover, Hingham, Duxbury, Plymouth, Halifax, Hanson, and other towns. The new parish was a Poll Parish. The corporators and their estates were taxed for church purposes in the new parish so long as they annually employed a minister. All other members of the parish were taxed in the old parish, as before. In order to escape taxes in the old parish, the new member must be formally admitted to the new parish, receiving a certificate of membership. When that certificate was filed with the clerk of the old parish, the holder of the certificate was released from taxation in the old parish.

This society may well claim to be the parent of most of the Universalist churches in neighboring towns. The persistency of the New England blood is shown by the fact that from two to five generations of the descendants of the original incorporators still continue to attend this church.

The only known picture of the first church building is that in Barry’s “History of Hanover.” The drawing from which this was made was from descriptions only of the old building. It was a barn-like structure without steeple or bell, unplastered, with no paint, inside or out, without a stove, and with no organ or other musical instrument. Its double rows of windows were without either blinds or shades, and no colored glass aided to keep out the rays of sunshine. The roof pitched east and west, and in front a two-story porch extended from the ground to the eaves, with doors in front and on each side. There were doors also on the north and south. A gallery ran around three sides of the interior, which for seats was provided with benches only. The pulpit, on the west side, was built high aloft, and opposite it was the choir gallery. It had no cellar, and its foundation was of stones taken from the near-by hillsides. Its timbers were hewn from the neighboring woods or sawed in the Jacobs Mill. Every nail and spike in its construction was forged by hand. All the ornamental work, the doors and the window sashes, were made on the spot by neighborhood carpenters. The glass in the windows. was the only part of the structure which could not be contributed by some member of the parish from his own farm or workshop.

In 1832, the second church of this society was erected upon the site of the old one. Its architecture was colonial, and, the worshipers were accustomed to believe, unusually beautiful. In the spire the first bell owned by the church was hung, and for more than sixty years it called the people to worship, pealing patriotically on the Fourth of July, alarming the countryside when conflagration threatened, and in sweet solemnity tolling the requiem for the dead. The building faced the east, and before its destruction by fire, in 1893, a church clock had been placed in its spire.

As it was originally built, one entered by three front. doors an entry-way reaching across the entire structure. From the middle of the ceiling of this entry hung the big bell rope. On either side opened the doors into the body of the church. There was no center aisle, but the

side aisles led between pews unpainted and mahogany capped, to a massive mahogany pulpit rounded and polished standing on a platform as high as the pews. The uniformity of the wall in the rear of the pulpit was broken by a large crimson curtain hung and draped from a rounded top. From the center of the ceiling hung by a large chain a chandelier, in which was a shining brass hemisphere supporting glass arms twisted and shaped like a recumbent S. The “singing seats” filled the rear of the church, perched high in the gallery, and a small organ accompanied the singing.

During the sixties the interior was remodeled. The pulpit was lowered and became a reading desk. The drapery behind it was removed and frescoing substituted. The galleries were lowered and a church organ was installed. The whole interior was frescoed and the pews were painted. The chandelier was taken away, and so were the pew doors.

June 21, 1893, during the progress of still further repairs, the edifice was burned.

In the early days to which this record is principally devoted, the clergymen officiating here were men of strong characteristics. John Murray and Hosea Ballou have occupied the pulpit. Dr. A. A. Miner, for many years the leader of Universalism, has preached here.

Mrs. Hannaford and Mary A. Livermore have spoken from this pulpit, and in more recent years, Prof. Shipman and Dr. Emerson have officiated at its desk. John S. Barry, the historian of Hanover and Massachusetts, was also its pastor.

The Rev. Robert L. Killam, known for many years as “Father” Killam, was a beloved pastor. He preached the last sermon in the old church and the dedicatory discourse in the new. On this occasion the Rev. Hosea Ballou was the speaker of the afternoon.

After the fire, in 1893, the society showed its recuperative power by dedicating its new church (the present one) in a year almost to a day from the burning of the old one.

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