The first worship service was held under a tree on Gale’s Point in 1630, when the first settlers landed in Manchester in 1630. From 1635 to 1716 they worshipped with the Salem and then with the Beverly churches. Our church was founded on November 7, 1716 with a membership of nine men and ten women. The church grew rapidly in the 1700’s.
Our present building is the fourth in a series of meeting houses. It was completed in 1809 at a total cost of $8500. The townspeople rallied around to help build it in the fashion of an old barn-raising. The building was then jointly owned by the proprietors and the town. In 1844, members of the parish scraped together $3000 and purchased the building. It was refurbished in 1846, and again in 1890. The latest renovation was in 1975.
The church school of the First Parish Church was started one day in June 1810, when four young women of Manchester, Abigail Hooper, Eliza Tuck, Martha Lee, and Mary Bingham gathered under the inspiration of Ann Haseltine and Harriet Atwood in an upper room in a selling house near the site of the G.A. Priest School. Harriet Atwood married Samuel Newhall, a classmate and friend of Adoniram Judson to whom Nancy Hasseltine was married. The marriages preceded the ordination of both Samuel and Adoniram at the Tabernacle Church in Salem on February 6, 1812 and their commissioning as two of the original five missionaries to leave America aboard the ship Gillespie for the Orient. Harriet Newhall gave birth to a baby girl during the voyage but, both mother and daughter died shortly afterward. Harriet and her daughter were buried in Port Louis, Isle of France. She was considered the first American Christian martyr in the foreign missions field. Nancy and Adoniram Judson spent their mission career in Burma securing their first convert, Maung Nau, six years after their arrival.
In 1857 about two-thirds of the church members seceded and held services in what is now our chapel. They settled their differences and reunited twelve years later. Since then the church members have worshipped together in harmony with few setbacks.
Since the 1950’s, a steeple lighting fund has supplied the money to keep the steeple lit at night. In 1983, the steeple began to tilt dangerously, so it was removed and repaired. At the same time, the rooster weathercock was re-gilded and returned to its roost atop the steeple spire where it has been since 1809. Read more about our Steeple here.