New Hampshire religion has
long been dominated by Congregationalism. Virtually every
New Hampshire town contained at least one Congregational parish.
Also present, but fewer in number, were the Quakers, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.
After the Revolution the dominance of Congregationalism was
challenged. Meetings in the hill country soon produced new
sects. These grew in numbers and threatened the position
The Freewill Baptists were organized by
Randel at New Durham in 1780; Universalism ; Christian Connection
, in 1803 Elias Smith formed the
first congregation of the at Portsmouth. The Shakers,
gathered substantial numbers of converts to their charismatic
way of thinking. Methodism did not arrive in New
Hampshire until 1790, and grew steadily in the state thereafter.
The largest non-conforming group was The Separate-Baptists
, started in New Hampshire during the Revolution by Chaplain Hezekiah Smith
of Haverhill. By 1800 the
Separate-Baptists had organized several churches in New
Hampshire and approached parity with the Congregationalists in
the hill country.
The availability of church
records will differ from town to town, but some general
1.Considering the Congregationalists were so amassed in
numbers the first records to seek are those. These will likely
be the most extensive records available in the community.
Congregationalist records typically contain several documents:
2.Convenants of the church which will state the beliefs
and practices of the parish. These will usually be signed by all
members in full standing.
3.The vital statistics were kept by the pastor. These
records were kept on the citizens who maintained membership in
4.A membership list. Congregationalist lists often
distinguished between two levels of membership: "full covenant"
and "halfway." The "halfway" were members who had made a public
testimony of their religious experience and were admitted by
vote of the other full convenant members to partake in
communion; the "full" were those who agreed only to abide by the
doctrinal teachings and moral authority of the church, but made
no personal admission of faith.
5.Pew rentals were also an important consideration as
lists of these arrangements provide a picture of economic and
social status in the town: the wealthiest families usually
rented the most prominent and expensive pews. This was of great
consequence as parishes built a new meetinghouse or repaired an
old one, funds were raised either by assessment or by rental of
6.Church records books contain votes of the parish on
significant matters ranging from salary and support arrangements
with ministers. To how the community would chastise members of a
7.Records of the other denominations will also contain
the same kinds of information, but with much less extensiveness.
However, one should try to obtain at least some documentation
from these dissenting communions to realize a sense of religious
division at the local level and its impact the community and
decisions that were made. The particular form of records is less
important than the kind of information one can find in them; but
in any case you may have to clarify the language of the records
in order to use them fully.
8. Each denomination had its own form of record-keeping.
The Presbyterians were governed by a board of Elders, the
Quakers held monthly meetings. However all basically faced the
same sort of decisions as the Congregationalists did, noting
however that the Baptists and Quakers did not pay their
9. Finding these church records is usually a matter of
good detective work, especially if the church is no longer in
existence. First be sure your check the local and county
histories to establish the religious history of the community.
It was quite common for the churches to deposit their early
records with the local or state historical societies. Sometimes these records are mixed in with the town records and
will be found on the microfilms that are available from the
State Libraries or State Archives. In searching for religious
documentations one must resort to outside sources like
denominational libraries, which is considered a standard
procedure. Assume information exists and consult as many sources