These meeting minutes from the First Parish church in Gloucester shows a list of individuals refusing to attend church and support the Congregational minister. The parishioners left the church, because rather than pay their taxes to a church of the official state religion, they sought to pay their taxes instead to a Universalist church. The doctrine of universal salvation had been influenced by Rev. John Murray, one of the founders of Universalism, and led to the establishment of the Independent Christian Church in Gloucester. This act would also later initiate a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case that established a legal precedent for separation of church and state.
For further reading about this history, see the Sargent House Museum website (home of John Murray’s wife, Judith Sargent Murray).
Related documents to the separation of church and state in Gloucester:
Town Meeting Minutes, Gloucester 1777
Partial List of Subscribers of the Independent Christian Church, Gloucester c. 1790s
Act of Incorporation of the Independent Christian Church, Gloucester, 1792
Meeting Minutes of the Independent Christian Church, Gloucester 1795
February 19, 1777 Met by adjournment and received a paper delivered by Ebenezer Parsons which was an answer to the Letter, written (to) the objecting members1 on the 11th Instant – and which was as follows;
We have considered the Instance of your note and not being fond of contention2 lest anything should pass tending them. We think it best thus to inform you, that our reasons for our absenting ourselves from your society are purely of a religious nature which is wholly between God and our own souls. We trust we have a good conscience and are happy in our consideration that Jesus only is appointed our Judge –
Feby 19, 1777
To the Chhh3 Epes Sergeant, Catherine Sergeant, Winthrop Sergeant, Jud(ith) Sergeant, Ebenr Parsons, Phebee Parsons, David Pierce, Hanh Jacker, Rebecca Smith, Lydia Prentise, Judith Stevens,4 Jemima Cook, Anne Bapson, Jemima Parsons, Nancy Saunders—-
Which paper was read and duly considered and noted. That it was by no means satisfactory to the Chh, or as containing any reasons at all why the above named absent themselves from the worship and ordinances of God5.
1 Objecting members = people who didn’t want to support the Congregational church
2 Not being fond of contention = not wanting to upset you
3 Chhh = church
4 Judith Stevens = Judith Sargent Murray, before she married her 2nd husband
5 Worship and ordinances of God = from going to church services and supporting the minister
Meeting Minutes (February 19, 1777), Records of the First Parish Society. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA
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