It all started with a river – a river that was too hazardous to cross in the winter ice following the cold, five-mile trip to its frozen banks. Their attempt to get to the services at the First Church in Ipswich had failed, once again. Thus in 1712, a group of people from the Hamlet, living in the southerly parts of Ipswich, appealed to the First Church for permission to establish a new church due to “the reason of the distance…from the public place of worship.” The next year their request was granted by the Massachusetts General Court, which sympathetically recognized “the limitations of the town road [sic].”
Reflecting their Puritan tradition, the members of the newly-formed Third Church of Ipswich wrote an ecclesiastical covenant to commit themselves voluntarily to each other for the worship of God and for their mutual spiritual benefit. In addition, the Third Church erected a “meeting house” in which worship services were held to recognize the biblical distinction between the “church”, the people of God, and the location in which God’s church then would meet. In 1713, Samuel Wigglesworth “settled” as the first pastor. The Church granted land next to the meeting house to Wigglesworth, on which he built a house and served as their minister (and physician) for fifty-two years. The second pastor, Manasseh Cutler bought the Wigglesworth’s house, added the third floor for the purpose of a school – and among his accomplishments – continued his interest in botany, served as a Revolutionary War chaplain, and helped establish the historic Northwest Ordinances for the Ohio region at the new nation’s frontier. In 1793, the Hamlet separated from Ipswich, creating a new town, Hamilton, and a new church, the First Congregational Church of Hamilton.
In the early nineteenth century, as New England churches faced a theological challenge from the Unitarian movement, Hamilton Congregational Church remained Trinitarian in its doctrine and later, began a Sunday School program to provide Christian education. The present structure of our church building came from a major construction project in 1843; the addition of the organ and stained glass windows reflect changes in turn-of-the century sensibilities. In 1988, after a decade or more of steady growth (with an accompanying need for greater space), the Church was delighted to return to its heritage the Wigglesworth-Cutler House. The First Congregational Church of Hamilton has seen close to three centuries of transitions and changes – and yet, it has continued its commitment to biblical teaching and to its mission to reflect God’s love and redemption which is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus what began from a trip of difficulties, has by God’s grace, endured as a community of believers.
- By Patricia Hill-Zeigler