A Resolve of the Honorable His Majesty’s Council of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, relating to the Disorders on the Days of Ordination of Ministers;—- with the Proceedings of the Convention of Ministers thereupon—. [caption title]
Godliness and solemnity vs. alcohol and frivolity —or, “Too many and gross to escape Observation…”
One of four known copies. A rare 1759 circular encompassing the “unseemly” behaviors of mixing wine, food, and song with religious ceremony in Colonial America. The text prints a resolution of the Council of Massachusetts Bay and a Declaration of the Ministers of the Province. Both are in response to “Revelling and Riot” on the days of ordination services and other “Irregularities, which have so much stain’d and dishonour’d such public Solemnities.”
In eighteenth-century century Massachusetts, days of ordination often included the brewing of special beers, elaborate feasts, suppers and balls, and large sums spent on more potent alcoholic drink. Alice Morse Earle in her book The Sabbath in Puritan New England (7th ed., 1891) cites a diarist who attended “a jolly ordination,” adding “We lost sight of decorum.” She also notes that “portable bars were sometimes established at the church-door, and strong drinks were distributed free of charge to the entire assemblage.” Such worldly celebrations contrasted with the religious solemnity. Eventually, they came to the attention of the Council of the Province Massachusetts Bay.
In this circular, Thomas Hutchinson, lieutenant governor of the province, reports the Council’s recommendation that the ministers of Massachusetts Bay convene in Boston “to consult and agree upon some proper Measures for preventing all such Disorders, and to use their Influence with the People of their respective Churches and Congregations to join with them in so desirable a Reformation.” (p)
Meeting on May 31, 1759, the ministers themselves had to confess that the ordination revelries were “too many and gross to escape Observation” and were “an Offence to good Men, and a Scandal to our holy Profession.” (p2) At convention, the ministers’ Declaration (pp3-4) called for “Gravity and Sobriety” in place of “Feasting and civil Mirth.” The Declaration is signed in print by convention moderator, Rev. Joseph Sewall.
Amusingly, two years later in 1761, at Alexander Cummings’ ordination in Rev. Sewall’s Old South church, there was such feasting and indulgence as to attract a critical letter to the Boston Gazette. Alice Morse Earle points out the irony: “As Dr. Sewall had been moderator of the meeting of ministers held only two years previously with the hope, and for the purpose of abolishing ordination revelries, it is not strange that the circumstances of the feast being given in his house should cause public comment and criticism.”
A presentation inscription at the top of p1: “For The Rev’d Mr. Wigglesworth” is likely theologian and Harvard professor of divinity Edward Michael Wigglesworth (1693–1765) or his son, Edward Wigglesworth (1732–1794). The elder Wigglesworth taught at Harvard College from 1721 until his death, the first commissioned professor of divinity in the American colonies; he was succeeded by his son.
Description: A Resolve of the Honorable His Majesty’s Council of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, relating to the Disorders on the Days of Ordination of Ministers;—- with the Proceedings of the Convention of Ministers thereupon—. [caption title]
[Boston: John Draper, 1759]. 4pp. 2° Light toning and creasing; very good.
Evans 8414 and OCLC 1256588548 (LOC only). ESTC W15379 (MHS, LOC). Ford 1169 (Essex. Institute). Refs. Wigglesworth lands Harvard’s divinity chair [Christian History Institute] accessed online. Bradford, Biographical Notices of Distinguished Men in New England (Boston, 1842) pp366–376.