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The Church in Harvard Square: Move Toward Independence

Move Toward Independence

The Fourth Meeting House (1756-1833), viewed from the Common. It was used for worship, town meetings and college ceremonies.

The Fourth Meeting House (1756-1833), viewed from the Common. It was used for worship, town meetings and college ceremonies.

The Fourth Meeting House was erected in 1756 on land now part of the College Yard, where Lehman Hall stands. The pulpit was in the middle of the long north wall, and most of the floor was divided into box pews. The main entrance was opposite the pulpit, not under the tower at the west end. Seats in the front gallery were set aside for students in the college. The building was used on many public occasions, including college commencements and the inauguration of college presidents.

Harvard College in 1767  from Views of Harvard, Harvard University Press.

Harvard College in 1767
from Views of Harvard, Harvard University Press.

The first sessions of the convention that framed the present Constitution of the Commonwealth met here in 1779. In 1833, the property was transferred to Harvard College and the building torn down; the Parish receive, in exchange, the land on which it constructed the Fifth Meeting House, the college contributing to the cost.

As shown in the original documents below, the American Revolution is reflected in successive warrants for meetings of the First Parish. In 1775, the inhabitants are greeted “in his majesties Name”. The following year, the title “his majesty” disappears and the warrant is issued “in the Name of the Government of this Colony and of the People” (below left). In 1781, after the adoption of the Massachusetts Constitution, the wording is: “In the Name of the Government and People of the Common Wealth of Massachusetts” (below right). The warrants are a reminder that while the church was a select covenanted body of communicants, public worship was the common concern of all the inhabitants of the territorial parish.

From the Archives of the First Parish in Cambridge.

The coming of the Revolution is signalized in two warrants for parish meetings (above left). In the first, shortly before the battles of Lexington and Concord, the warrant is issued “in his Majesties Name.” In the second, a year later but before July 4, 1776, the warrant is issued “in the Name of the Government of this Colony and of the People.” From the First Parish in Cambridge Archives. (Transcription)


Back ^ Two warrants for parish meetings

Middlesex SS
Cambridge, March 8th 1775

To Mr. William How Collector Within and for the First Parish in Cambridge in said County Greeting —

You are hereby Required in his Majesties Name to notify and Warn the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of said Parish qualifyed by Law to Vote in Parish affaris that they assemble at the Court House in said Town on Monday the twentieth Day of March Instant at two of the Clock afternoon for the Purpose

Middlesex SS
Cambridge May 8th 1776

To Mr William How Collector for the First Parish in Cambridge in sd County Greeting —

You are Hereby Required in the Name of the Government of this Colony and of the People to Notify and warn the Freeholders and other Inhabitants in said Parish qualifyed by Law to Vote in Parish Affairs that the assemble at the Court House in said Town on Monday the thirteenth Day of May Instant at five of the Clock afternoon for the Purposes Following—

Viz 1 To take such order Relative to Giving the Revd Doct Appleton assistance in supplying Preaching in said Parish as they may then think Proper.

Here of Fail Not and make Due Return of this Warrant and of your Doings thereon at or before the time above mentioned for said meeting

Dated at Cambridge aforsd the Day and year first above.

Written, By order of the Parish Committee—

Abram Watson Parh Clerk

Series Navigation<< The Church in Harvard Square: The Eighteenth CenturyThe Church in Harvard Square: The Reverend Mr. Holmes >>

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