History of First Parish

Early Origins of First Parish

First Parish, Scituate is over 375 years old. A group of Nonconformists started meeting in London in 1616, led by the Rev. Henry Jacob. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Lothrop, a former rector in the Church of England, in 1624. Discovered worshipping clandestinely in 1632, 42 members of the congregation were arrested and jailed.

After two years in jail, Rev. Lothrop was released from jail with the proviso that he leave England forever. With a majority of the members of his congregation, he sailed for New England and arrived in Scituate in September, 1634. A few months later, Rev. Lothrop and about a dozen people gathered together and made a covenant with each other, forming what is now known as the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Scituate.

A small log cabin on Meeting House Lane served as the first church. The site is marked today by a monument that lists the early members of the parish, "The Men of Kent," and by gravestones from the 17th century.

Growth, Schisms, and Daughter Churches


Over a span of some 60 years and the succession of six ministers, First Parish was the scene of considerable theological dissention. The principle points were, first, baptism and later, the Unitarian/Trinitarian schism.

These disagreements led to the separation, at three times, of a major portion of First Parish's members to form new churches.

Early on, dissention over baptism divided the parish and in 1639 Rev. Lothrop led an exodus of a majority of the congregation to Barnstable on Cape Cod.

His successor, Charles Chauncy, another Anglican minister, was described as a spirited, impatient man. His staunch support for baptism by immersion provoked another defection which led to the founding of a church in South Scituate, now known as Norwell. Rev. Chauncy served until 1654, when he became the second president of Harvard University; he held this post until his death in 1672.

The first president of America's first univerity, Henry Dunster, succeeded Rev. Chauncy as the third pastor of First Parish, Scituate. Rev. Dunster was succeeded by Nicholas Baker, who in turn, was followed by Jeremiah Cushing of Hingham, the first pastor of the parish who was born in America. Rev. Baker was the first of many ministers in the parish who were trained at Harvard University (including our previous minister, Richard Stower).
Conflicts between orthodox and liberal factions became intense in the late 18th century, culminating in the third removal of one-half of the congregation. This time the departing members of the congregation stayed close at hand, removing themselves around the corner to establish the First Trinitarian Church of Scituate in 1825. As one wag has put it, "the Trinitarians kept the faith, while the Unitarians kept the furniture."

A notable visitor to First Parish, Scituate in the 19th century was Henry David Thoreau who courted Ellen Sewall, the daughter of the church's 12th minister, Edmund Sewall. She eventually rejected his marriage proposal; he later retreated to the woods of Concord.