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Guide to the Plymouth Church publications and ephemera 1986.019

128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11201
718-222-4111
library@brooklynhistory.org


Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Nicholas Pavlik

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 21, 2011
English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

 
Creator: Abbott, Lyman, 1835-1922
Creator: Church of the Pilgrims (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
Creator: Clinton Avenue Congregational Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
Creator: Plymouth Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
Creator: Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
Title: Plymouth Church publications and ephemera
Dates [inclusive]: 1850-1963
Abstract: Brooklyn's Plymouth Church was founded in the Congregational tradition in 1847 in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. Its first pastor, the charismatic orator Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), quickly catapulted the Church to a position of national prominence, where it remained throughout the 19th century. Plymouth Church united with the Church of the Pilgrims in 1934 to form the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. The Plymouth Church publications and ephemera span the period 1850 to 1963 and document the Church's administration and activities before and after its consolidation with the Church of the Pilgrims. Items include annual reports, manuals, membership lists, pamphlets, periodicals, minutes, programs, brochures, circulars, and clippings.
Quantity: 1.06 Linear feet in three manuscript boxes and one oversize folder.
Text [Box]: 1986.019 2 of 3
Text [Box]: 1986.019 1 of 3
Text [Oversize]: Vertical File Oversize Box
Text [Box]: 1986.019 3 of 3
Call Phrase: 1986.019
Sponsor: This collection was processed and described as part of the project, "Uncovering the Secrets of Brooklyn's 19th Century Past: Creation to Consolidation," funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with additional support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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Historical Note

Brooklyn's Plymouth Church was founded in the Congregationalist tradition in 1847 in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. Its first building was erected on Cranberry Street between Hicks and Henry Streets in that same year. The Church's first pastor, the charismatic orator Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), quickly catapulted the church to a position of national prominence and regularly filled the pews to overflowing. When the church's building was destroyed by fire in 1849, a new red brick building, known as the Sanctuary, was quickly constructed directly behind the church's original site, facing Orange Street, and opened for worship in 1850. Designed by English architect J.C. Wells, the Sanctuary was built to seat 2,800 parishioners and was distinctive for its open design, cast iron columns, and balconies, providing the feel of an auditorium more than a traditional church. The church's original building on Cranberry Street was rebuilt in 1862 to house offices, parlors, and Sunday school rooms.

During the mid-19th century, Plymouth Church was famous not only for Beecher's magnetic oratorical style and widely published sermons, but also for its role as a vehicle for the anti-slavery movement. Beecher held mock slave auctions at the Church through which parishioners could actually purchase the freedom of slaves, and invited some of the most distinguished abolitionists of the period, including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Sojourner Truth, to speak at the Church. Documentary evidence suggests that the Church was also a major site of activity for the Underground Railroad, the abolitionist network that secretly transported slaves to freedom in the North and Canada. In the early 1870s, Plymouth Church's prestige was briefly shattered when Beecher was accused of adultery, a charge that led to what would become the most widely publicized court trial in 19th-century America. Beecher was eventually acquitted in 1875, and despite the damage done to his reputation, he was able to overcome the scandal and continued to lead Plymouth Church until his death in 1887. He was succeeded by former lawyer Lyman Abbott, who resigned as pastor in 1899.

Plymouth Church continued to merit distinction throughout the 20th century as well. In 1934, it united with the neighboring Church of the Pilgrims (the former congregation of famed pastor Richard Salter Storrs) and was known afterwards as the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. During the 1950s, when Congregational churches across America were compelled to join either one of two national denominations, the liberal United Church of Christ or the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims decided to remain independent. It then aligned itself with the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, an organization comprised of autonomous Congregational churches. In 1961, the National Register of Historic Places deemed Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its significant place in American history. As of 2010, Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims continues to serve the Brooklyn community, and its campus has grown to include five buildings: Hillis Hall (occupying the site of the Church's original edifice), the Sanctuary, a Church House, a Gymnasium, and an Arcade.

Sources:

  1. Kenny, Kevin. "Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims," in The Encyclopedia of New York City, ed. Kenneth T. Jackson. New Haven: Yale University Press; New York: New-York Historical Society, 1995, 908.
  2. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. "Architecture and Art." Accessed November 9, 2010. http://www.plymouthchurch.org/our_history_architechture.php
  3. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. "Our History." Accessed November 9, 2010. http://www.plymouthchurch.org/our_history.php

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Scope and Contents

The Plymouth Church publications and ephemera span the period 1850 to 1963 and document Plymouth Church's administration and activities before and after its unification with the Church of the Pilgrims. Items include annual reports, manuals, membership lists, pamphlets, periodicals, and additional ephemeral literature.

Annual reports and manuals feature extensive summary information on the Church, such as historical sketches, doctrines, guidelines for admission, listings of church officers, and additional administrative information. Membership lists include dates of members' admittance and death/dismissal.

Pamphlets date from 1873 and 1874 and contain statements written by and distributed among representatives of Plymouth Church, the Clinton Avenue Congregational Church, and the Church of the Pilgrims. The statements concern Plymouth Church's controversial refusal of a possible unification of the three churches as a council, a prospect very likely spurred by the surfacing of the Henry Ward Beecher adultery scandal. An additional pamphlet contains the constitution of the Plymouth League, a social prayer group comprised of members of Plymouth Church.

Periodicals are comprised of issues of several Plymouth Church publications, including The Pilgrim, dating from 1894 to 1901;  Plymouth Chimes, dating from 1896 to 1900; and  Plymouth News, dating from 1943 to 1953. Also included are three copies of the March 1879 issue of  Plymouth Triangle, which are housed separately from the rest of the collection in an oversize box.

Additional ephemeral items include programs, brochures, circulars, and clippings relating to worship and memorial services, ceremonies, festivals, concerts, theatrical performances, and additional events throughout the period 1850 to 1963. A small amount of programs pertaining to the Church of the Pilgrims during the years 1933 and 1934, shortly before its unification with Plymouth Church, are also included.

Finally, the collection includes a small number of items focusing on Plymouth Church pastor Lyman Abbott. These include an 1890 pamphlet containing the minutes of the council overseeing the installation of Abbott as pastor, and one issue of the religious weekly periodical, The Outlook, circa 1900, containing an article by Abbott in which he reflects upon his years at Plymouth Church.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Abbott, Lyman, 1835-1922
  • Beecher, Henry Ward, 1813-1887

Document Type

  • Annual reports
  • Church records
  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Membership lists
  • Newsletters
  • Printed ephemera
  • Programs (documents)
  • Volumes (documents by form)

Subject Organizations

  • Church of the Pilgrims (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
  • Clinton Avenue Congregational Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
  • Plymouth Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
  • Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).

Subject Topics

  • Church controversies -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Church management -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Church membership -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Congregational churches -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Congregational churches -- New York (State) -- Kings County -x Clergy
  • Congregational churches -- New York (State) -- Kings County -x Doctrines
  • Congregational churches -- New York (State) -- Kings County -x Government
  • Congregationalists -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Church history
  • Brooklyn Heights (New York, N.Y.)

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Plymouth Church publications and ephemera, 1986.019, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Related Materials

The main collection of the Othmer Library at the Brooklyn Historical Society holds several titles related to Plymouth Church and Henry Ward Beecher. Bibliographic records for these titles can be accessed through the main page of the library's online catalog.

Related archival collections at the Brooklyn Historical Society include:

  1. 1985.002, Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims and Henry Ward Beecher collection, 1819-1980. This collection chiefly relates to Beecher's pastorate and sheds light on both his public and private lives. Other materials concern the church's other pastors, the history of the Church itself, and the congregation's various activities.
  2. 1986.018, Church of the Pilgrims collection, 1846-1904. This collection documents the activities of the the Church of the Pilgrims before its 1934 consolidation with Plymouth Church. Items include membership lists, manuals, directories, yearbooks, and programs.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Portions of this collection were the gifts of Henry G. Story, 1943, and H.W.B. Howard, J.E. Kunhast, F.C. Manvel, Royal Paine, Plymouth Church, and Helen Robinson, dates unknown. Sources and dates of acquisition for remaining items in the collection are unknown. The collection was formally accessioned in 1986.

Processing Information note

Mimally processed to the collection level.

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