The Congregational Church in Westhampton, Mass., was formally organized on Sept. 1, 1779, with the installation of a young graduate of Yale, Enoch Hale, brother of the patriot Nathan Hale. At the end of Hale's fifty years in the Westhampton pulpit, the church experienced a crisis that resulted in the separation of a portion of the membership as the Union Church, led by the charismatic evangelical preacher John Truair. The churches were reunited in 1850.
The records of the Westhampton Congregational Church document nearly two hundreds of religious life in a rural western Massachusetts community. Beginning with the founding of the church in 1779, the collection include a nearly unbroken record of church activities including thorough records of membership, transfers, marriages, baptisms, deaths, and church discipline, and for the latter century, a complete record of church finances. Of particular note is a volume recording the activities of the secessionist Union Church, 1829-1849.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Westhampton
The Congregational Church in the small western Massachusetts town of Westhampton was formally organized on Sept. 1, 1779, with the assistance of ministers from two adjoining towns. Jonathan Judd of Southampton and Solomon Williams of Northampton. The first pastor chosen for the pulpit at Westhampton was the young Enoch Hale, a 1773 graduate of Yale and brother of the patriot Nathan Hale. Ordained on Sept. 29, 1779, Hale served his community for fifty years, during which time he was an active presence in the religious life of the Commonwealth, serving as Secretary of the General Association of the Congregational Churches and Ministers of Massachusetts (1804-1824) and as Secretary of the Hampshire Missionary Society for many years.
During the summer 1829, with the aging Hale nearing retirement, Westhampton called Horace B. Chapin to settle as colleague pastor. His installation in July initiated a period of sharp crisis. Several members of the church petitioned to form themselves into a Union Society and after being denied, forty-six seceded and called a charismatic evangelical preacher, John Truair, as their pastor. Ordained in Cambridge, Vt., in 1810, Truair had served as pastor in the Oneida, N.Y., on the eastern edge of the Burned Over District, and as corresponding secretary for the American Seamen's Friend Society, before arriving in Westhampton. Truair's role in the controversy precipitated the Hampshire Central Association to withdraw him from fellowship, and the Presbytery of New York deposed him from the ministry two years later, but his evangelical zeal held the secessionists together. After Truair returned to New York State in 1837, however, the "meteoric light began to wane," as Josiah Holland noted, and most of the Union Church membership voted to return into the fold in September 1841, with the remnant formally disbanding in August 1850.
The records of the Congregational Church in Westhampton document nearly two hundreds of religious life in a rural western Massachusetts community. Beginning with the founding of the church in 1779, the collection include a nearly unbroken record of church activities, including thorough records of membership, transfers, marriages, baptisms, deaths, and discipline, and for the latter century, a complete record of church finances. Of particular note is a volume recording the secessionist Union Church, 1829-1849, an evangelical offshoot led by John Truair.
Most of the earliest records of the church were destroyed in a fire at the home of Rev. Hale in 1817, however two volumes in this collection include a painstaking effort to reconstruct the early records of church activity.
Gift of the Westhampton Congregational Church (Westhampton, Mass.) and the Westhampton Historical Society, 2014.
See also the following collections:
Westhampton (Mass. : Town) Records, SCUA, UMass Amherst (MS 799).
Processed by I. Eliot Wentworth, Jan, 2014.
Digitized versions of the images in this collection have been added to SCUA's online repository, Credo.
Cite as: Westhampton Congregational Church (Westhampton, Mass.) Records (MS 806). Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries.