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Guide to the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn records ARC.109

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Craig P. Savino

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 17, 2018
Finding aid written in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents

The First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn records contain the records created and collected by the First Church over the course of its work and operations. This includes the basic functions of the church as a religious congregation and also the work of the members of its congregation, through various clubs, committees and organizations, contributing to service locally, nationally, and abroad.

The contents of the collection span from 1790 to 1972 though the bulk of the materials begins from the point of the First Church's organization in 1833 and extends to the late 1960's. The organizational records of the First Church are well represented including meeting minutes and resolutions of the Trustees and the Society, by-laws, calendars, directories, registers, and reports of the ministers and various clubs and committees. Documents related to the First Church's founding and its early operation were kept in "History" files among its Subject Files. Subject Files also include information on bequests to the church, church memorials, and church celebrations.

Financial records include various reports and ledgers related to the First Church's endowment, income, expenses, fund raising, and budgets. This also includes subscriber and pew rental information and information on the First Church's properties including mortgages and leases. Other documents on the First Church's properties and buildings include blueprints, deeds, alterations and repairs, and information on stained glass windows and other decorations.

The work of the First Church's ministers is collected here through sermons, correspondence, and collected articles and items in reference to them. The files of Minister John H. Lathrop contain not only a variety of sermons and orders of service, but also records on his work for the community and in international matters. Lathrop headed or worked closely with groups like the Brooklyn Urban League and the National Peace Conference and his files hold correspondence, meeting minutes, and other materials related to these groups. Lathrop was heavily involved in international relief and aid and in addition to correspondence and other documents regarding organizations of this nature, Lathrop's personal work with international aid and Unitarianism, particularly in Transylvania and Czechoslovakia, is among his files here. The Lathrop papers also contain many articles, pamphlets, and other materials related to his areas of interest including marriage, peace, labor and unemployment, religious freedom, and liberal Christianity. The records of the First Church and its ministers also provide some insight into the evolution of Unitarianism in Brooklyn, America, and other parts of the world, particularly through the American Unitarian Association and its departments of outreach, publicity, and social-service. Many sermons and articles by the ministers, particularly John White Chadwick, John Lathrop, and Samuel Longfellow, discuss theology and the development of liberal Christianity as it pertains to Unitarianism.

The First Church's settlement and community work is represented through Sunday School records, club work, charity records, and files on outside community organizations like the Boys' Club and the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities. Much of the settlement and community work of the church was carried out through the Furman Street Mission, Willow Place Chapel, and Columbia House.

The collection also contains photographs of church buildings and functions, and a collection of scrapbooks with clippings related to the First Church's history, particularly some of its ministers.

The collection holds similar records of ecumenical, organizational and community work as they pertain to Second and Third Unitarian Congregational Societies of Brooklyn as well. The correspondence of ministers and trustees, reports, and other documents regarding the creation of these two congregations and their eventual re-unification with the First Church are among the records of all three congregations.


The First Unitarian Congregational Society records were found roughly organized with some preliminary work done by an unknown archivist. Some documents within the collection hinted at an original order similar to the arrangement that the collection was found in and the arrangement of the collection is relatively faithful to this original order.

The files within most series are arranged alphabetically according to description with some exceptions such as the Ministers series, arranged chronologically by tenure of ministers and the  Photographs series, arranged according to a BHS-assigned identification number, or "V #"

Users of the collection should be aware that it is likely that documents on some matters will be found in various series, and in various folders within series. For example, while registers of church deaths, marriages, and christenings should be primarily located in the Registers series, more lists of this nature can be seen in the  Trustee Records or the files on different ministers. Similarly, the work of the Sunday School can be found in the  Sunday School Books series, but also in the  Subject Files and  Willow Place Chapel and Columbia House series.

Folders labeled with a date range might also include undated documents. Also, the date range was determined by the archivist based on a broad survey of folder contents and not on an item level review; accordingly, there may be items in the folders that fall outside the indicated range. Users of the collection should also be aware that some oversized items have been moved to four oversize containers. Notes have been made in these instances both in the folders from which the material was removed and in the container list in this finding aid.

The collection is organized into the following fifteen series:

Missing Title

  1. - Trustee Records, 1833-1951.
  2. - Subject Files, 1790-1980.
  3. - Ministers, 1834-1967.
  4. - John H. Lathrop Files, 1849-1960.
  5. - Unitarian Movement Files, 1850-1975.
  6. - Sunday School Books, 1842-1906.
  7. - Calendars, 1910-1952.
  8. - Registers, 1841-1930.
  9. - Buildings and Construction, 1833-1956.
  10. - Willow Place Chapel and Columbia House, 1865-1972.
  11. - Financial Records, 1833-1956.
  12. - Scrapbooks, circa 1860-1945.
  13. - Photographs, circa 1870-1958.
  14. - Second Unitarian Congregation Records, 1837-1967.
  15. - Third Unitarian Congregation Records, 1867-1958.