Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Boston Lecture—Its Origin and Evolution

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Boston Lecture—Its Origin and Evolution

By Samuel Gardner Drake (1798–1875)

[Born in Pittsfield, N. H., 1798. Died in Boston, Mass., 1875. The History and Antiquities of Boston. 1856.]

THE THURSDAY Lecture, which had its beginning in Boston, soon after the arrival of Mr. Cotton, has, with some intermissions, been kept up until the present generation. It was an excellent institution, and early exercised a good influence. Many of the discourses at this lecture were printed during the last century, and constitute a valuable portion of its literary history. At these lectures subjects were sometimes discussed which were of too secular a nature, as was then thought, for the pulpit on Sundays. Thus, Mr. Cotton took occasion at one of these early lectures to discuss the propriety of women’s wearing veils. Mr. Endicott being present, he spoke in opposition to Mr. Cotton’s views; and, “after some debate, the Governor, perceiving it to grow to some earnestness, interposed, and so it brake off.” What effect, if any, the lecture had to bring the veil into disuse here at that time, no mention is made. But about this time, whether before or after, is not quite certain, but probably before, Mr. Cotton lectured at Salem on the same grave question, with great effect. His arguments against veils were so conclusive to the females of the congregation, that, though they all wore them in the forenoon, in the afternoon they all came without them. This may have taken Governor Endicott by surprise, and he may have come up to Boston to counteract this wholesale, and, as he believed, unscriptural denunciation of a necessary appendage to the attire of all modest women, especially, as Mr. Williams and Mr. Skelton had proved conclusively from Scripture, that it ought to be worn in public assemblies. For females to wear veils, they maintained, was no badge of superstition, while the Cross in the King’s colors was evidently of that character; or so Mr. Endicott considered it, and he forthwith proceeded to cut it out. Roger Williams is accused of agitating this matter, and therefore accountable for the trouble that it occasioned; and as it was done in accordance with his views, it was of course condemned by all those who had denounced him as promulgating heretical doctrines. Upon this Mr. Hubbard sarcastically adds, “What that good man would have done with the Cross upon his coin, if he had any left that bore that sign of superstition, is uncertain.” Mr. Endicott cut out the red Cross from an entire conscientious conviction, that it was idolatrous to let it remain; arguing, and truly, that it had been given to the King of England by the Pope; and that it was a relic of Antichrist. Mr. Richard Browne, Ruling Elder of the church of Watertown, complained of the act to the Court of Assistants, as a high-handed proceeding, which might be construed, in England, into one of rebellion. To conclude the account of this matter by anticipating the order of events, it may be briefly stated, that the Court issued an attachment against Ensign Richard Davenport, then the ensign-bearer of Salem, whose Colors had been mutilated, to appear at the next Court. When that Court came together, which was a year after the Cross was cut out, “Endicott was judged to be guilty of a great offence;” inasmuch as he had, “with rash indiscretion, and by his sole authority,” committed an act, “thereby giving occasion to the Court of England to think ill of them;” that, therefore, “he was worthy of admonition, and should be disabled from bearing any public office for one year.”

This affair of the Cross would hardly have been noticed, probably, but for the opportunity it afforded the people of Boston to punish those of Salem for their adherence to Roger Williams. And thus early is seen that spirit of dictation, which has ever since been conspicuous in this metropolis; and though it has, in a measure, made it what it is, it also shows that, what Boston undertakes, Boston will do.