top of page

300+ Years in Marblehead

corner stone image1_edited.png

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead began as the Second Congregational Church in 1716.


In 1715 the congregation of the First Parish Church of Marblehead was advised by Reverend Cotton Mather, who was visiting from Boston, to seek a new minister to assist the aging Reverend Cheever. They considered three candidates. The most votes went to John Barnard,


The third place candidate – the minister’s son – withdrew.  A large minority of members liked the third candidate so much that they chose to break off and form a new congregation. Although there was much controversy and antagonism surrounding the move, they prevailed, and the Second Church of Marblehead was founded under the leadership of Reverend Edward Holyoke. A meetinghouse was erected on New Meetinghouse Lane (later renamed Mugford Street in honor of a Marblehead Revolutionary War hero).

Thus, the congregation dates from 1716. This was celebrated in a TriCentennial Celebration in 2016.

After serving for 21 years, Edward Holyoke went on to become President of Harvard College. During his administration, several reforms were undertaken to improve the intellectual climate at the College. The ancient system of each tutor taking a college class through all the subjects in a curriculum was ended, and by 1767 tutors had become specialists instructing students in particular subjects. Moreover, merit replaced birth and social standing as the criteria for entrance to Harvard College, and the custom of flogging students for college offenses was abandoned

In the early 1800s, the congregation chose John Bartlett as its fifth minister. The year before he proposed to establish Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, and brought together the men who made that happen.


The congregation has been meeting on the same property since 1716.  The original building has been replaced two times – once in 1831 by a much larger structure, and again in 1911 due to a fire.

In the 1830s, the congregation adopted the new Unitarian thinking and became the Second Congregational Church (Unitarian). And in the 1960s, with the merger of the two liberal religious organizations, it became the Unitaran Universalist Church of Marblehead.


As was common in the period, a graveyard, the Burying Ground, was established behind the Church. In about 1960, the gravestones and remains were moved to enable expansion of the building. The gravestones that remain are arrayed and incorporated into the Memorial Garden.

Michael Gery writes of this in more detail in his excellent book Transformation Through Time Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead, available on Amazon.

In addition, in 1993, Mike Gery examined the gravestones from the Burying Ground and a compiled a list, available here.

bottom of page