The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.
The Rich History of Quincy's Unitarian Church.

[Chalice] A Perspective from the Archives; [Chalice]
How this church functioned in early times.

Presented Sunday January 18, 2004, by Frieda V. Marshall

After the organ prelude, as a young person lights the chalice, the congregation recites the affirmation in unison:

Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law.
United in the free quest of high values in religion and life,
We covenant with one another:
To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

Opening words:

During the 165-year life of this Unitarian Church, the governing covenant has been altered, clarified and brought up to date many times. The original covenant, covering many hand-written pages, had a distinctive Christian flavor. A charge to the applicant included this phrasing:

"My friend and brother (or sister), you present yourself here, wishing to profess your faith in Christ and unite with this Christian Church. I ask you, therefore, do you repent of your sins and determine to forsake them" . . . and so on "Then we receive you gladly into our number. We welcome you to the communion of Christian hearts, we solemnly promise and engage to sympathize with you, watch over you and support you in the trials of life and the work of duty "

The covenant covered many pages of finely written script.

James Vila Blake, minister in the Quincy church from 1877 to 1883, stated the covenant beliefs at length, concluding with:

"We believe that we ought to welcome to our fellowship all who are of earnest and sincere spirit and humble lovers of the truth; that we should set the bond of Human Brotherhood high above that of creed or church, and that we ought not to hold theological beliefs as conditions of our membership."

He further summed up the covenant with a short poem:

Love is the spirit of this church And service is its law.
This is our great covenant
to dwell together in peace,
to seek the truth in love,
and to help one another."

This statement, with slight variations, is used today in many Unitarian churches.


A memorial service was held in the Second Congregational (Unitarian) Church on September 25, 1881. This honored James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States. In 1881 he was inaugurated on March 4, shot by an assassin on July 2 and died of the injury two months later. He had been a teacher, college president, and a member of Congress. A good speaker and a man of great charm.

From the church archives:

"On Sunday, September 25, 1881, was held in the church in the morning a service of memory of the honored, beloved and lamented James A. Garfield, President of the United States. The desk was removed and the pulpit platform. Choir and organ were draped with black and with national flags. On the west side of the pulpit platform and over it was an eagle with mourning ribbons in its beak. On the left side of the platform was a large and beautiful bouquet of flowers."

There was also a service held in the Opera House in Quincy, Illinois, on September 26, 1881. Various local clergy participated.


From the 100th Anniversary Booklet

Here is a quick reminder of how this church came to be. William Greenleaf Eliot, pastor in the St. Louis church, came up the river to Quincy and preached several sermons in April 1839. He made a fine impression on the few gathered to hear him at the meeting held in the Court House. Although only 28 years old, he was a zealous missionary in starting other liberal movements, that of Quincy included. Mr. Eliot was later founder of Washington University in St. Louis and its leading progressive citizen. His ministry at the St. Louis church extended from 1834 to 1872 - a period of 38 years.

The early founders of this church were young - only 25 to 40 years old - and they were striving to establish the church and to establish themselves and their families. Their names are recorded: Robert S. Benneson, Electa Ann Benneson, Gen. J. D. Morgan, Edward Wells, William Gage and Edward Everett. The first minister they called was the Rev. George Moore, who served from 1840 until his death in 1847. A history of Quincy relates, "He was the first of our preachers who habitually visited the prisoners in jail. Those who knew him well did not soon forget him, though his remains have slept in Woodland cemetery for over thirty-five years."

The Talk:

You have been considering the original covenant and the more recent affirmation. There will be further mention of the covenant process, but first I'll tell you how it has come about that I'm speaking today. In 1993 a survey was received in the church from the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society, 25 Beacon Street, Boston. It included these questions:

The minister replied in the affirmative regarding the printed history, reflecting the 20-page 100th Anniversary booklet of 1939, and in the affirmative regarding annual reports and minutes, etc. There was a concern, however, about the control of historical papers "in a major state of disarray" or "in chaos - boxes piled in the outer office." Yes, the portraits were stored in boxes. There had been several efforts to bring order into saving the materials. The Women's Alliance and a more recently appointed committee had concentrated on such a project. Notable progress had been made.

The minister had stated a need for a fire-proof file cabinet. For several months I had been sorting and consolidating church papers. My efforts benefited greatly from work done earlier by others. When space requirements were clearly understood, I recommended purchasing a four-drawer, fire-proof file cabinet for archival storage. The board approved this action, and memorial funds were used for the purchase.

Out of this research came the compilation of the 200-page church history book, "Beyond the Centennial Year" made available to the congregation in May, 1996. A ten-year sequel followed, bringing recorded condensed history of the church to the year 1999.

Recently, there were questions regarding Ralph Waldo Emerson's delivering a lecture in Quincy. Also the reference librarian asked for details pertaining to the Benneson family. Robert S. Benneson was one of the founders and a strong supporter of the Quincy church. The generations of the Benneson family, Janes family, McMahon family, and Cora Schlagenhauf are forebears of our beloved, late Caroline Sexauer.

Searching the files and reading through old records gave me more material than the details being requested. This abundance of historical background became the inspiration for today's presentation. Reading through old records was such a delight! One must admire the language, the penmanship and the details.

Consider, for instance, a minister's acceptance letter.

The young church was served by two notable ministers in succession. The first was the Rev. Frederick L. Hosmer (1872-1877) whom the notation in our minister's gallery describes as "active not only as an organizer and director of the activities of our young people, but as a power in liberalizing the thought of the community. A hymn writer most favored by the Unitarian Church.

His beautiful poems were set to music. those in the present hymnal are: Forward Through the Ages, From Age to Age, I Walk the Unfrequented Road and O Day of Light and Gladness.

Mr. Hosmer's acceptance letter:

Northborough, Mass. August 10, 1872

Messrs. R. S. Benneson, D. E. Lynds & George Wells,
Trustees of the Second Congregational Society,
Quincy, Illinois:

Your letter of June 22nd, the receipt of which was duly acknowledged, now lies before me awaiting definite answer.

In accordance with the instruction of a meeting of your society held on June 13th, you therein invite me to become your Pastor, beginning with the first Sunday in September. You assure me that this invitation is unanimous on the part of the members of your society. You express also your own cordial feelings and the hope that in coming among you, I shall "find a pleasant home, faithful friends and a ready cooperation" on the part of those to whom I minister. This hope comes to me like an assurance on your part and is particularly pleasant to one who looks to a distant and untried field.

I have considered your letter long and carefully and I now accept the call you extended to me as specified in your letter. I come with the hope and the will to do my best in the office to which I am called. I come, too, trusting in the hearty cooperation of my people, that together we may have a living church that shall be a hope to all our lives.

I am released from my society here with the close of the present month, but the need of a rest and other duties will not enable me to begin my labors among you before the beginning of October. Meanwhile, I wait to hear from you.

I am, gentlemen, yours very truly,
(signed) L. Hosmer

Among the activities for the young people was the formation of "The Eclectic Club" which proved not only valuable in keeping the young people interested, but cultivated much talent in histrionics. During its more than ten years of active life, there were many meetings and numerous entertainments. (Definitions may be helpful: eclectic - gathered from many sources. histrionics - pertaining to actors or acting.)

Eclectic Club Minutes, February 28, 1872:

After the reading of the minutes and listing of those attending (seven ladies and five men), the following names were proposed for membership: (three women and one man). At the next meeting these were unanimously received into the Eclectic Club.

The program began with the playing by Miss Ella Wells of "The Witches' Dance" which, as someone remarked, was -- bewitching. Lina Benneson read a selection, "Green Apples" by Trowbridge and there were other entertainments, including a play "Wanted: a Male Cook," which was presented in a highly satisfactory manner.

At another meeting the conversation centered on "Who will be the most successful in life: a self-made man or one who has had all the advantages of education?" this was entered into with much spirit. The question having been presented in several different lights, a vote was called for. It resulted in eight voices for the educated man and two for the self-made man.

You would be impressed with the flowing script writing of those who served as secretary - both the men and the women - in the days before fountain pens or, of course, ball-point pens. Some produced shaded lettering and occasionally lavendar or brown ink was used. But some of the writing is now faded and faint upon the pages of the books.

The club was important in the city as shown by minutes during 1874:

Mr. Brooker stated that the Mozart Club had invited the Eclectic Club to assist in giving an entertainment for the benefit of the poor. It was moved and seconded that they take part and the motion carried. Miss Ella Wells moved that a drama be given for our part of the entertainment with the Mozart Club furnishing most of the music.


On motion of Mr. J. W. Fillebrown, (the club) voted to accept an invitation from the Quincy Library Association to assist in giving a dramatic and musical entertainment for its benefit.

The church also received an appeal for support of Blessing Hospital. A letter, addressed to protestant churches and signed by Sarah Denman, asked that a Sunday in November be set as "Hospital Sunday." Statistics were given" number of patients - 70, number of charitable patients - 50, money expended - $2,230.40. The church records name collections on "Hospital Sunday" during 1880-1883 with an average of over thirty dollars.

Even today activities scheduled for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day often attract a small attendance. The minutes of December 29, 1875, may reflect this pattern.

On the last regular meeting of the year, the president being absent, the vice-president called the meeting to order. The regular program began with a reading, followed by a declamation, "The One-Hoss Shay." Mr. Frank Wells being absent, the song assigned to him was omitted. Miss Follette was not prepared, so Miss Berrian played a piece to finish the program which was very short owing to the absence of so many who were appointed to provide the evenings's entertainment. Mr. Brooker said some remedy for this defect ought to be devised and suggested the idea of fineing. The minister, Mr. Hosmer, thought that all not prepared on the appointed night should be called upon at the next meeting. It was put to a vote and carried.

(The programs regularly had seven to twelve selections - musical or literary. One statement claimed that on one evening "The program, though short was very entertaining.)

The Eclectic Club continued under the ministry of James Vila Blake (whose words we speak on our affirmation). His portrait is among those in the ministers' gallery in the upper landing area of the church - a project of recent years. Let's go back to the covenant and the Rev. James Vila Blake.


James Vila Blake, Pastor

After the Anniversary of the Sunday School, April 1st, 1883, the adjourned meeting to consider the new covenant was held. The meeting was Large. I opened it with a long and full history of the Church covenants, reading the previous ones; then I explained the one under discussion.

This was followed by a long and very earnest discussion, opened by Dr. Robbins. General Morgan, Messrs. Wm McFaddon, Edward Wells, J. N. Spring, Robert Montgomery, Jonathan Parkhurst, Jos. F. Turner, Mrs. Anna McMahan, Dr. McMahan, Mrs. Lynds, Miss Bass spoke; and some spoke at much length. Some of the speeches were ringing, and all were earnest, brave and high. Mr. Parkhurst made a very earnest appeal for the foundation of religion on "Christ and him crucified," which was all the braver because he must have known how little sympathy he could expect. The spirit and feeling shown throughout was quiet, deep, solemn. It was an outpouring of the spirit! A great day in the history of the church. Finally the covenant was adopted without change by a vote of 43 to 2, two or three not voting at all.

On Sunday, April 8, after service, the Society held a short meeting at which it was voted to add the word "Love" to the covenant. On Sunday, April 15, after sermon, was the Covenant Service. The people joined in it tenderly and sincerely. Fifty-eight names were signed. On Sunday, April 22, seven more people came forward and joined their names to the church covenant.

Weather conditions were sometimes mentioned:
Eclectic Club Minutes - May 16, 1877

The members of the Club assembled at the usual place in the midst of rain and a storm. After being called to order, all united in singing the opening hymn. The minutes of the last two meetings were read and approved. Those whose names appeared on the programme not being present, intermission was taken.

It was suggested by someone that we have a spelling match and as it met the approval of all, Mr. Fillebrown and Mr. Marsh were chosen captains. We were now in a dilemma as to who should give out the words and what book used, there being no dictionary or spelling book at hand. It was finally decided that each person should give out a word for the opposite side to spell. Words were selected from the constitution of the Electic Club and the singing book.

The spelling proceeded with great interest and the most difficult words were mastered, showing that many of the club were proficient in orthography. Our memory has failed so that we are unable to tell which side gained victory.

M. Alicia Potter, Secretary

Eclectic Club minutes - May 31, 1879

In the midst of the rain and the storm came the members to the last club meeting held at Mr. John Berts. The meeting was called to order and "The Last Rose of Summer" was sung and so well enjoyed that a motion was made to have it repeated. But unfortunately this was not carried.

Eclectic Club minutes - November 19, 1879

The Eclectic Club -- that is to say, that portion of the club who were neither unfortunate enough to be in the cast for the drama or too timid to face gentle zephyrs, which were sweetly howling around the corners of the streets, -- met at the church parlors on Wednesday evening, November 19, 1879. After rallying around the stove for a while to keep up its courage -- the club's courage, not the stove's -- the club was called to order by the president who announced the opening hymn "America" which was sung with a sweetness and tranquility that was only rivaled by the gale without.

A programme ended with the minister, Mr. Blake's, reading a rare poem of Old England by Sir Walter Raleigh. In conclusion the evening was a most enjoyable one, notwithstanding the small number present and the cold, blustering weather which latter only made the members present huddle closely together around the comfortable fire and chat and be sociable and merry as only Eclectics can when the wind howls and blows great guns.

Lew J. Duncan, Secretary by proxy.

Eclectic Club minutes - January 1876

Mr. Brooker thought it was about time the Club gave something towards what they had promised to pay to the church. Miss Abbie Simmons moved that the treasurer pay to the trustees thirty dollars as our first installment toward the $200 promised. Her motion was seconded and carried.

Eclectic Club minutes - May 30, 1877

Mr. Miller made a motion which was seconded that the treasurer be instructed to pay over to the trustees of the Unitarian Church the sum of fifty dollars ($50). Mr. Smyth offered as an amendment that the sum be thirty dollars ($30) which was accepted. The motion, as amended, carried.

Eclectic Club minutes - September 19, 1877

Miss Nora Simpson then moved that the treasurer be instructed to pay thirty dollars to the church. Miss Powers offered an amendment that the amount be twenty dollars. Both the motion and the amendment lost.

Programs of the Eclectic Club were varied. There could be in one evening songs, declamations, impromptu charades, instrumental offerings and so on. At one meeting a debate occurred with the topic, "that the mind of woman is inferior to that of man." Following the debate votes were taken, first on the merits of the question and then upon the merits of the debate. Both were decided in favor of negative. (The mind of woman is not inferior to that of man.)

Responsibilities were given to committees: The dramatic committee, the scientific committee and the social committee. At one point a statement was made that every committee should have a lady representative. Soon I noticed that committees were regularly composed of two ladies and one gentleman.

On a more serious note there was a complete record kept by the minister, Mr. Blake, of the ministerial duties and the activities of the congregation. For instance, a listing of funerals attended in February and March, 1883:

Only a half year before this, Alice Blake, two years old, daughter of James Vila Blake and Frances Hovey Blake, had died: born in Quincy, died in Boston. Mr. Blake was absent in Boston and the church did not open on the first week of September.

After six years in Quincy, James Vila Blake resigned this ministry in April of 1883 when he accepted a call from the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago. A reception was given in the church parlors to say farewell. He included in his journal, "Nearly all the people attended, and the kind words and spirit were very cheering to me and a precious memory."

So in studying church archives, you read of funerals, budgets, activites and so on. One wedding in particular took my attention. In 1908 "D. L." Musselman, Jr. was married to Harriet Evans Wells. His father, DeLafayette Musselman, Sr., established Gem City Business College in 1870. The son, whose wedding I mention, succeeded his father as college president and was a mentor for my husband, guiding him in a way to become the first non-Musselman family member to become college president. The bride, Harriet Evans Wells, was an aunt of Harriet Eldred, who established the first endowment of record for the church. The wedding took place in the home of the bride's parents, 1450 Vermont. This home at 1450 Vermont, previous residence of George Wells and family, is now the residence of the present minister of the Quincy Unitarian Church.

Last year Unitarians across the country observed the 200th birthday of Ralph Waldo Emerson, according to the UU World, "the most recognized and revered figure in the movement." In 1895 a Unity Club of the Unitarian Church in Quincy scheduled monthly topics about Emerson from November to February. The minister, Mr. Bradley, considered Emerson "one of the great spiritual leaders of the world, standing shoulder to shoulder with Luther and Jesus, and other great seers and prophets." A morning service in our church last spring concentrated on "The Life and Work of Ralph Waldo Emerson." Research of church archives yielded only one sentence, not verified, in a capsule history written by one of our members in 1974. "Ralph Waldo Emerson lectured in our church in 1871 for the Quincy Library Fund."

Minutes of the Board of Trustees, March 5, 2000, stated a recommendation for naming a member to the position of historian. Historical material of our church is carefully filed and available for a responsible person to continue and elaborate on the church history for presentation to the congregation. It seems important to be aware of the past life of the church and to recognize the significance of this particular year.

In 2004 the Quincy Unitarian Church celebrates its 165 years of existence. In 2004 the church building at 16th and Hampshire will have served this congregation for 90 years. What shall we do about it? How shall we celebrate?

©2004 Frieda V. Marshall

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Marshall, Frieda V. 2004. A Perspective from the Archives of the 1880's, /talks/20040118.shtml (accessed September 18, 2020).

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.
The Rich History of Quincy's Unitarian Church.