Published: September 5, 2000
Rare Communion and Baptismal Pieces on View at Historic Deerfield
DEERFIELD, MASS. – The First Churches of Northampton have placed on loan at Historic Deerfield 12 pieces of communion and baptismal silver that have been in the possession of the Northampton church since the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.
Ten silver canns for communion, a pedestal basin for baptism, and a silver spoon that may have been used in either the communion or the baptismal service are on view in the Henry Needham Flynt Silver and Metalware Collection for a two-year period. Many bear the names of prominent early Northampton residents who were leaders of the church and the community – Deacon Ebenezer Hunt, Dr Ebenezer Hunt, Daniel and Clarissa Stebbins, Joseph Burt, Major Aaron Cook, Mrs Theodah Lyman.
The Northampton church silver is being shown with silver from the First Church of Deerfield and the First Congregational Church of Sunderland. The three churches demonstrate the development of ecclesiastical silver and of New England Puritan worship. Commenting on the Northampton church silver, Donald R. Friary, executive director of Historic Deerfield, said “We are delighted to be able to show to the public the early silver of the First Churches of Northampton. The quality of craftsmanship and the story that this silver tells about the Northampton church and community add significantly to Historic Deerfield’s presentation of early American life. We are grateful to the members of the First Churches of Northampton for making this possible.”
Although the First Church of Northampton was established when the town was founded in 1654, the earliest silver in the church’s possession is from 1769. Church records indicate that several pieces of silver had been given to the Northampton church long before, but they appear to have been melted down to create more appropriate modern silver in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
The ten silver canns, or pear-shaped mugs, were made between 1769 and 1820. Although they do not match exactly, they appear to have been made to form a matching group that could be shown and used on the communion table. That was a period in which the New England churches were departing from their earlier iconoclasm in worship and seeking to bring a new order and refinement to their service.
Many churches melted down the small cups and beakers that had been used in the Seventeenth Century, replacing them with sets of tankards and canns. On display at Historic Deerfield, the Deerfield church silver shows the early practice of using household silver in the communion service, the Northampton church silver shows the late Eighteenth Century change to increasing order and refinement, and the Sunderland church silver shows the early Nineteenth Century resolution in a communion set of two large flagon to pour wine and four uniform beakers to drink it.
Paul Revere made one silver cann for the Northampton church. His contemporary, the silversmith Zechariah Brigden, made another. The Boston firm, Davis, Palmer & Co, made a pair of canns in 1820. The other six canns bear no maker’s marks. Perhaps someone in the Northampton church thought it inappropriate for silversmiths to advertise their work by labeling a communion vessel with a maker’s mark.
The baptismal basin in the Northampton church silver was made in 1816, from the bequest of Dr Ebenezer Hunt. By that time New England Puritans had settled on the small silver basin as the appropriate form for baptism. It had replaced the stone font used in Catholic and Anglican worship. Puritans de-emphasized the sacraments and made the font portable. Some of the early baptismal basins were of glass, ceramic, or pewter. Silver baptismal basins became widely used by the end of the Eighteenth Century.
The silver tablespoon from the Northampton church bears the inscription, “The property of the Church in Northampton.” Spoons are occasionally found among church silver. They may have been used in baptism for sprinkling water on the forehead of an infant or an adult. They may have been used in the communion service to add small amounts of water to the wine. The Northampton example was made by Ebenezer Phelps, a local silversmith who was a member of the church.
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