The history of First Parish is intertwined with the story of the town of Cohasset and the evolution of religious thought and practice over the course of three centuries in New England.
What was to eventually become the town of Cohasset was first settled in the early 1600’s by residents of the existing town of Hingham. The area was a precinct of Hingham and would not gain independence for over a century until it was granted its autonomy in 1770.
The Meeting House in the colonial period was not just a place of religious worship. It was publicly owned and served as a place for public gathering, civic meetings, and other governmental functions. Roads were primitive and travel was often on foot and always difficult, particularly for the residents of the Cohasset district, who had far to travel to reach the Hingham Meeting House. Finally, in 1721 a separate Meeting House was approved and constructed to serve the residents of Cohasset, close to the location of the current structure.
In 1747 the old Meeting House no longer met the needs of a growing community and construction began on the building we use today. The original structure was more modest than the building that currently sits on Cohasset Common, without the vestibule or steeple that adorn the current building. Those features, as well as the current ornate pulpit, the organ and other modern amenities such as indoor plumbing and central heating were added over the years. (link for to be added description of building, possibly memo circulated)
By the late 1700’s communities were starting to be split between Unitarian and Trinitarian traditions. To perhaps oversimplify, Trinitarian doctrine was based on the concept of the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost, while Unitarianism embraced the doctrine of one God. Harvard College, the training ground for many New England clergy, was Unitarian and its graduates had a great deal of influence in the region. The result of the division of religious thought was that a single church could no longer serve the entire community. In 1820 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stepped back from its role as arbiter of religion and collector of taxes to support the churches, and in 1824 orthodox Trinitarians split off from the congregation and established the Second Congregational Society and erected the Congregational Church just a few dozen yards from Meeting House.
Long before the Civil War, many Unitarians, impelled by their drive for social justice, became vocal in the abolitionist movement. The Unitarian essayists and philosophers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson condemned slavery as inconsistent with a moral imperative. In our own Meeting House the abolitionist sermons of the Reverend Joseph Osgood influenced an entire region.
In 1961 the Unitarians merged with the Universalists to form the current organization and group of churches.
The First Parish Meeting House has been host to many interesting and distinguished visitors over the years, but one visitor clearly stands out as the oddest. In 1986 the movie Witches of Eastwick was filmed in Cohasset and in one scene the actor Jack Nicholson, playing the devil himself, walked down our center aisle spewing cherry pits on the startled extras, who included many of our congregation. All ended well, and a generous donation from the production company endowed our Community Outreach Fund.