First Church or First Parish Church

Postcard. Caption on front: First Parish Church, Meeting House Hill, Dorchester. Postally unused. On verso: No. 295 Pub. by Boston Post-Card Co., 12 Pearl St.

The First Parish Church (Unitarian), Meeting-House Hill, Dorchester district, is the oldest religious society in Boston. It was organized in Plymouth, England, March 20, 1630, the eve before the embarkation of the first settlers of Dorchester in the Mary and John.

The Rev. John White of Dorchester, England, was the chief advocate of a settlement in Massachusetts to find a new home in which greater freedom could be secured for worship and the exercise of religion within the Established Church of England. The ship Mary and John carried with the colonists, John Maverick and John Warham as pastors of their church, which was transferred to America through the sailing of all its members.

The “trading men” settled at Rock Hill (Savin Hill) on which they built a fort. The farmers settled on Allens Plain near the intersection of Pond, Cottage and Pleasant Streets and built their first meeting house, about twelve feet high, constructed of logs with a thatched roof, surrounded with palisades (at approximately the location of Town Meeting Square). Military stores were deposited in it and guns mounted on it from fear of the Indians. The same building was used as a town house and school house. In the early years, the business affairs of the town were largely in the hands of the ministers. The meeting house was the place of public assembly.

Part of the Church membership moved to Windsor, Conn., in 1635 with the Rev. John Warham. John Maverick died in 1636 and was succeeded by Rev. Richard Mather.

The first building was replaced by a new one in 1645 at the same location. This meeting house was moved by oxen to Meeting-House Hill, on the east side of Winter Street, in 1670. In 1669 the town had voted to build a house for the ministry of the Church “to be such a house as James Blaks house is, namely, 38 foote in length and 20 foote wid and 14 foote betweene joynts gert worke.” The James Blake house still exists but the parsonage has been lost to history. In 1678 a new larger meeting house was built on the northwest corner of Church and Winter Streets. It was square in shape, two stories high, with a tower in the center containing a bell.

In 1743 a new meeting-house was built on what is now the Town Common. The eastern entrance was about where the Soldiers Monument now stands. The building was 68 feet long, 46 feet wide, 104 feet to the top of the weathervane.

2542 First Church 1745-1816

Dea. Edward Pierce was the contractor for enlarging the meeting-house of the First Parish, on Meeting-house Hill, in 1795. He was to divide the building along the ridge-pole, move one half of it fourteen feet and the tower and steeple seven feet, and unite the two halves by new material, thereby making thirty new pews inside, which he was to have the disposal of in payment for the work. This was accomplished to the satisfaction of the parish, and he himself was so well remunerated that he voluntarily put on two coats of paint, outside, in addition to what was required of him by the contract. A new house was built in 1816.

713  Photograph of the First Church, Dorchester, Mass. published in A Memorial of the Rev. Nathaniel Hall … Boston, 1876.

9859 Stereoview card of First Church

10403  First Parish Church and Soldiers’ Monument from The American Architect and Building News, Feb. 26, 1887.

7181  Scan of illustration of First Church appearing in church calendar, 1895

The church burned in 1896.

14437 Fire at First Church 1896

A new church was built in 1897, the one that still exists in 2002. It was designed by Cabot, Everett and Mead with references to Colonial models. It is one of the finest eamples of the Christopher Wren type in this country. This latest building is the one on the map labeled First Unitarian Church.

The pastors of the First Church and their periods of tenure were (fro m Historical Sketch of The Norfolk Conference by George M. Bodge. 1900):

John Maverick, born in England about 1575; came to America 1630; settled at Dorchester 1630; died Feb. 3, 1836.

John Warham, 1630-1635, born in England; settled at Dorchester as colleague with Mr. Maverick, in 1630; removed with a large part of the Dorchester Church to Windsor, Conn., and died April 1, 1670.

Richard Mather, 1636-1669 , born in Lowton, Lancashire, Eng., 1596; Oxford Univ.; settled at Dorchester, Aug. 23, 1636; died April 22, 1669.

Josiah Flint, 1671-1680 , born in Braintree, Aug. 24, 1645; H.C., 1664; ordained Dec 27, 1671; died Sept. 16, 1680.

John Danforth, 1682-1730 , born in Roxbury, Nov. 8, 1660; H.C. 1677; ordained June 28, 1682; died May 26, 1730.

Jonathan Bowman, 1729-1773 , born in Lexington. Feb 23, 1704; H.C., 1724; ordained as colleague with Mr. Danforth Nov. 5, 1729-Dec. 14,  1773; died March 30, 1775.

Moses Everett, 1774-1793, born in Dedham, July 15, 1750; H.C., 1771; ordained Sept. 28, 1774 -Jan.14, 1793; died March 25, 1813.

Thaddeus M. Harris, 1793-1836, born in Charlestown, July 7, 1768; H.C., 1787; ordained Oct. 23, 1793-Oct. 28, 1836; died April 3, 1842.

Nathaniel Hall, Jr., 1835-1875, born in Medford, Aug. 13, 1805 Harv. Div Sch., 1834; ordained July 16, 1835, as colleague with Mr. Harris; died Oct. 21, 1875.

Samuel J. Barrows, 1876-1881, born in New York City; Harv. Div. Sch., 1874,; ordained Nov. 2,1876-Dec. 31, 1881.

Christopher R. Eliot, 1882-1893, born in St. ouis, Mo.; Harv. Div. Sch., 1881; ordained Feb. 2, 1882-April 6, 1893.

Eugene R. Shippen, 1894-1907, born in Worcester; Harv. Div. Sch., 1890; ordained Dec. 6, 1894.

Roger S. Forbes, 1908-1916

Adelbert Lathrop Hudson

James K. Allen, 1954-1991

As part of its restoration project, the First Parish Church is repairing the leaning steeple with the help of a grant from the Steeples Program of Historic Boston, Inc. The top two sections of the steeple were removed from the tower on November 24, 2006.

Picture 8501

For more information, consult:

Chaffee, John R. The History of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Dorchester, Massachusetts. Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1917. See p. 10-12 for material on the First Church.

The Clapp Memorial. Boston, 1876.

Kings Hand-Book of Boston. Boston: Moses King Corporation, 1889. 9th ed.

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908.

Stark, James H., comp. Places in Dorchester to visit during Old-Home Week, July 28 to August 3, 1907. Dorchester, The Dorchester Historical Society, 1907.

Religious Properties Preservation: A Boston Casebook. Boston: Historic Boston Incorporated, 1991.


Readers’ Comments

Comment from John Doyle December 24, 2005

I grew up in the area of the church on DeWolfe Street and went to St. Peters many years ago, class of ’56. I played football in the side of Reverend Allen’s white house [the parsonage of the First Parish Church] on High Street with a couple of his sons, one was Herbie. Reverend Allen was a very gentle man who at other times never had us kicked out of the Mather Schoolyard after hitting softballs over the black metal fence and through the church windows often.


other illustrations

293  First Parish Church and Lyceum Hall

1488  First Parish from HABS, 1941

3906  First Church interior

13773 First Church bell

16456  Clock at First Church given by Ebenezer Clapp

6977  Dorchester from Mt. Bowdoin showing First Church

7239 First Church sketch by William E. Barry

12003 First Church Palladian window from Andrew Saxe ca 2010









Posted on

December 9, 2021

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