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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > The Land 1680-1720 > Public Space
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.

Public Space : The Meeting House


Public and religious life in New England during the eighteenth century centered on the meetinghouse. Where people sat during worship depended on their status in town. A committee "seated the meetinghouse" using criteria such as wealth, military rank and age. New England's founders believed that only their church, sometimes referred to as "non-separating congregationalism," was truly orthodox. They therefore did not permit other Protestant groups to use the meetinghouse for their services, nor did they tolerate such groups at all until forced to do so by the Crown.

Meetinghouses also hosted town meetings. Unlike worship services, people sat where they chose. Male landowners voted on town affairs, elected town officials and chose representatives to serve in the Massachusetts General Assembly. The relatively high numbers of male landowners in New England resulted in broad-based and often tempestuous politics.

The earliest meetinghouses were often of the rudest construction and usually did not last long. The town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, had built four meetinghouses by 1729. The town voted to renovate the fourth building in 1768 before replacing it with a fifth and final meetinghouse in 1824. Nathaniel Hitchcock (1812-1900) was eighteen years old when he drew from memory this sketch of the fourth meetinghouse in 1830. His drawing recorded the "improvements" made during the remodeling in 1768. These improvements included a steeple, a clock, and ornamented side doors. The meetinghouse was intentionally among the largest and most imposing in town. Often sited on a hill or rise, meetinghouse steeples made these buildings visible for many miles. As the link between church and town government weakened in the decades following the American Revolution, many New England towns began erecting town houses, or town halls, for town business. The fifth meetinghouse would be the first meetinghouse used "solely for worship." The Congregational Church ceased to be the established church of Massachusetts in 1833.


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Fourth Meeting House (1729-1824)

artist   Nathaniel Hitchcock (1812-1900)
date   c. 1830
location   Deerfield, Massachusetts
process/materials   paper, graphite
item type   Art/Drawing
accession #   #2000.03.500

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See Also...

Clock works

Fourth Meeting House (1729-1824)

American Missionary Association membership of Nathaniel Hitchcock

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