Saturday, October 11, 2008

the "First" Universalist Church

In my next post (already half written) I talk about what some on the internet call the "First" Universalist Church in the United States. And yes, since this is a southern history blog, it is of course here in the South. But I thought I would need to go ahead and talk first about "first' and why it's so hard to pinpoint what we mean by that.

For the first Universalist Church, do we mean the First Church to have Universalism as an important cornerstone of the doctrine? Do we mean the First Church to call itself Universalist? Or do we mean the first Imortant Church to call itself Universalist, or do we mean the first Church to call itself Universalist that joined the Universalist General Convention?

As far as I know the first Church that called itself sorta by that name was "The Society of Universal Baptists" in Philadphia in 1784. It suspossibly became the "first Independent Church of Church, Commonaly known as Universalists" in 1790. John Murray's Church was 1779, but was not titled an Universalist Church. Can anyone add or change, confirm, etc what was the first church with the name Universalist?

As for the doctrine - it's fairly well known that there were many Universalist preachers at the same time as Murray - up and down the coast - the whole setting of the Murray Miracle story was that he was put ashore at a church which was waiting for an Universalist minister.
The Conneticut River valley was full of Universalist Churches that were either informal enough or didnt care about reporting to the Goverment that we don't know much about them. If you didnt leave written reocrds - then 200 years later, you're not remembered. This is the same problem we have in the Middle Atlantic states, where we know that universalist met - but they either didnt keep records - or, in a few cases, they wrote them in German - and are as yet untranslated. The same is true in the south, almost no records exist - and we base some of our knowledge on what other non-sympathetic folks said in their records.

it's fairly safe to say that the Murray Church is the oldest surviving Universalist Church in the United States. Its over 200 years do count for something, and it was universalist in theology from the start and stayed universalist. As for the finner points of "First". that's up to hairsplitters of all kinds and internet bloggers


Michael said...

Interesting. There are lots of ways to slice that, especially with the merger of the two UUs in the 60s. A UU church now that was a Unitarian church before the merger certainly wouldn't count in what you are looking for. Our church here in Charleston, SC, while certainly UU and a member of the UUA, still carries the name Unitarian Church in Charleston. No mention of Universalism. That is really an historical matter though - no one in this historic city would dream of changing the official name of an over 200 year old church!

SC Universalist said...

Thanks, Michael.
We do know that the Universalists in Charleston joined the Unitarian Church after the War Between the States... or at least (per Miller) that they got left over money from the old Universalist Church there.
i deliberately left out Charleston's more famous small u universalist minister, who was the Episcopalian minister in the 1700s.
I'll let someone else argue first Unitarian Church, but I will mention that there were other small U unitarian Churches in SC in the late 1700s - lots of possibilities for researchers there. Even without hair splitting, Charleston was Unitarian before there was an Unitarian denomination (or association).

Wallace Watson said...

I'm a Pennsylvanian, former South Carolinian, engaged with other family members in looking into the early history of our Steedman/Steadman family in South Carolina. According to a story in the October 16, 2008 Batesburg-Leesville TWIN CITY NEWS, our forebear George Steedman settled near what is now the village of Steadman (aka Steedman) in Lexington County in 1786 and between 1820 and 1830 built a large house known to many as "Steadman's Folly." Elsewhere I have read that he came there from Charleston. The newspaper reports that he "was a member of a society calling themselves Universalist and the church was organized in his home. Later they built a church hear his home." The burned ruins of the "Folly" have recently been identified by some family members. We are investigating the site with the help of anthropologist and archaeologists at U.S.C. Since virtually all the Steadmans have been Methodists, I found this information about his Universalism particularly interesting. Moreover, I am one of the few Steadmans I know who left the Methodist Church--to become a Quaker--and I am married to a U-U.)Does anyone have any knowledge about this matter, or ideas about where to look further? Perhaps George Steedman had been a member of the Universalist group in Charleston. Does anyone know the SC Universalists' position on slavery during the mid-19th century? George Steedman was a slave-holder.

Wallace Watson

SC Universalist said...

Welcome Walace!
I should out this in it's on posting (and I may) - as you may have noted that in 1832, the SC Universalists had their convention in Steadman's house (and went to church the next Sunday at the Republican Meeting House.
there was an Universalist minister living in the town of Steadman during the 1840s-1850s - and he remained in the area until after the civil war.
there is still a small u Universalist church in the area -
- so where exactly was Steadman's folly?

Anonymous said...

hi merry xmas to all of you - matty mays