, Newburyport, MA

Local News

July 14, 2014

A community of churches

In Port, houses of worship have flourished

Editor’s Note: As Newburyport celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, The Daily News is publishing a series of articles that looks back on the city’s history. Today we focus on houses of religious worship, and their years of origin.

The skyline of Newburyport is characterized by majestic steeples, and churches have always played a role in the spiritual life of this community.

But historians say that because of the lively marine commerce that took its leading citizens all over the globe, the community may not have been as dedicated as some Essex County towns who were distant from the port.

“Newburyport was not established with religious principles at its core,” said local historian Lindsay H. Cavanagh, in her 2006 study, “Newburyport Churches.” “Despite state regulations, the port and its adjacent town developed a secular outlook.”

Her study says that the flourishing fishing and maritime industries created “a bustling, shifting and opportunistic waterfront population, temperamentally quite unlike the more isolated and traditional farmers living and working inland.”

If Newburyport (founded in 1764) had a mix of secular and religious citizens, it nevertheless was a community of its time because residents did establish houses of worship.

One religious influence on all local communities in the early 19th century was the fact that Massachusetts had an an official church (Congregational) until 1833. Numerous Congregational churches developed in the city.

Local historian Ghlee Woodworth notes that there were times when disgruntled members of one congregation would leave the church, and start their own house of worship.

Clergymen themselves appear to have been unique in their approach over the years.

A story in the Newburyport Herald in 1884, which looked back on the early days of the community, stated, “President John Adams once said when solicited for a subscription to foreign missions, ‘I will give you $10 if you will go to Newburyport and Christianize the ministers there, for there are three or four of them who are not on speaking terms.’”

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