Peck #5178

Robert Peck (1580-1648)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts in 1638 and returned to England in 1641 and

Anne Lawrence (1582-)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts in 1638 and returned to England in 1641 (or possibly died in England prior to Robert’s migration to Massachusetts).


Peck #5178

Robert Peck’s signature

Rev. Robert Peck was born at Beccles, Suffolk, England, in 1580.  He graduated from Magdalene College, Cambridge, with an A.B. degree in 1599 and received his A. M. in 1603.  He married Anne Lawrence on 21 May 1603 in Hingham, Norfolk, England, and he became rector of St. Andrews Church in Hingham, Norfolk, England on 6 Jan 1605.  He remained in this post until 1638, when he fled to America after the religious crackdown by Archbishop Laud.

Among the parishioners who left England with Peck and Hobart was Samuel Lincoln, ancestor of President Abraham Lincoln. In St. Andrew’s Church in Hingham (Norfolk), there is a bust of Abraham Lincoln on the wall.

Robert Peck was known for what the eminent Norfolk historian Rev. Francis Blomefield called his “violent schismatical spirit.”  For example, he lowered the chancel railing of the church, in accord with Puritan sentiment that the Anglican church of the day was too removed from its parishioners.  He also antagonized ecclesiastical authorities with other forbidden practices.  After fleeing to New England, he was a talented and influential clergyman and was a founder of the town of Hingham.  That town (named for the place of the same name in Norfolk, England) was born of religious dissent when many of the original founders were forced to flee their native Norfolk with both their vicars, Rev. Peter Hobart and Rev. Robert Peck, who had run afoul of the strict doctrines of established Church of England.  Hobart was born in Hingham, Norfolk, in 1604 and, like Robert Peck, he was a graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge, who sought shelter from the prevailing discipline of the high church among his fellow Puritans.

For a time, Robert served alongside Rev. Hobart as a teacher and a minister at Hingham’s First Parish (whose congregation met in the “Old Ship Church” after 1681 – see below).  Rev. Peter Hobart recorded in his diary that Robert Peck was ordained a teacher of the church on 28 Nov 1638, and his name frequently appears upon the records of the town.  In relation to his arrival, the town clerk at Hingham recorded:

Mr. Robert Peck, preacher of the gospel in the Town of Hingham, in the County of Norfolk, old England, with his wife two children, two servants, came over the sea settled in this town of Hingham, he was a Teacher of the Church.

Robert’s son Joseph, daughter Anne and two servants travelled to New England with him in 1638.  In 1641, Rev. Robert Peck returned to his church in Hingham, England.  In 1654, he was appointed to a Parliamentary Commission to “eject the scandalous, ignorant and inefficient minister and schoolmasters of Norfolk and Norwich.”  He died 10 Aug 1658 in Hingham, Norfolk, England and was buried near his wife and his church.

Rev. Robert Peck‘s brother, Joseph Peck, later founded the town of Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Cotton Mather, Puritan minister (about 1700)

Cotton Mather, Puritan minister (about 1700)

Cotton Mather described Rev. Robert Peck as follows:

He was by the good providence of heaven fetched away into New England about the year 1638, when the good people of Hingham did rejoice in the light for a season; but within two or three years, the invitation of his friends of Hingham, England, pursuaded him to return to them, where being though great in person for stature, yet greater for spirit, he was greatly serviccable for the good of the church.

Although Peck returned to England, his daughter Anne remained in New England, having married Major John Mason in July 1640.  Mason was a major figure in the Pequot War and served as a Deputy Governor of the Connecticut Colony.  The children of Anne Peck and John Mason are: Priscilla, Samuel (who married for his second wife, his second cousin Elizabeth Peck daughter of Joseph Peck, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts), John (Jr.), Rachel, Ann, Daniel and Elizabeth.  Their lineage continues under the heading of John Mason (1600-1672).


Robert Peck's headstone - Hingham Cemetery, Hingham, Norfolk, England

Robert Peck’s headstone – Hingham Cemetery, Hingham, Norfolk, England


The Old Ship Church

The Old Ship Church (also known as the Old Ship Meetinghouse) was built in 1681 in Hingham, Massachusetts.  It is the oldest church in continuous ecclesiastical use in the United States, and it is the only remaining 17th century Puritan meetinghouse in America.  On 9 Oct 1960, it was designated a National Historic Landmark and on 15 Nov 1966, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Ship Church, 1681 - the view in early spring (photo credit: Susan Branch)

Old Ship Church, 1681 – the view in early spring (photo credit: Susan Branch)

Old Ship Church is, according to The New York Times, “the oldest continuously worshiped-in church in North America and the only surviving example in this country of the English Gothic style of the 17th century.  The more familiar delicately spired white Colonial churches of New England would not be built for more than half a century.”[1]  Within the church, “the ceiling, made of great oak beams, looks like the inverted frame of a ship,” notes The Washington Post. “Built in 1681, it is the oldest church in continuous use as a house of worship in North America.”[2]  The most distinctive feature of the structure is its Hammerbeam roof, a Gothic open timber construction, the most well-known example that of Westminster Hall.  Some of those working on the soaring structure were no doubt ship carpenters.  Others were East Anglians familiar with the method of constructing a hammerbeam roof.

The first minister of the Hingham congregation who built Old Ship was the Rev. Peter Hobart, who had attended the heavily Puritan Cambridge University.  Natives of Hingham in Norfolk County, East Anglia, Peter Hobart, his father Edmund and his brother Capt. Joshua Hobart were among Hingham’s most prominent early settlers.  Edmund Hobart and his wife Margaret (Dewey), said Cotton Mather, “were eminent for piety and feared God above many.”[3]  Assisting Hobart in the foundation of the congregation was Rev. Robert Peck, Hobart’s senior and formerly rector of St. Andrew’s Church in Hingham, Norfolk, England

Old Ship Church, 1681 - historic marker (photo credit: Susan Branch)

Old Ship Church, 1681 – historic marker (photo credit: Susan Branch)

After 44 years of service, minister Peter Hobart died on 20 Jan 1679, on the eve of the building of the new house of worship.  Hobart’s diary of events in Hingham, begun in the year 1635, was continued on his death by his son David.  By the time Old Ship was built, Harvard-educated Rev. John Norton[4], who had been ordained by Peter Hobart, had assumed Hobart’s ministry.  Old Ship Church deacon John Leavitt, whose son John married Rev. Hobart’s daughter Bathsheba, was deacon when Old Ship was constructed and he argued forcefully for the construction of a new meetinghouse.  The matter of replacing the old thatched log meeting house stirred intense emotion in Hingham, and it took two heated town meetings to settle on a site for the new edifice, which was built on land donated by Capt. Joshua Hobart, brother of Rev. Peter Hobart.  Ultimately, the town appropriated £430 for the new building, said to be the equal of any in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The modern frame edifice, devoid of ornamentation, was raised in 1681 and accommodated its first worship service the following year.

Old Burying Ground of Old Ship Church, Hingham, Massachusetts

As was customary in New England at the time of early settlement, the dead were buried around the meeting house, of which there were two in Hingham.  The first was approximately where Old Derby stands today (34 Main St.), and the second was the Old Ship Church (107 Main St.).  Today, Old Ship Church is surrounded by a large colonial graveyard amidst gently undulating hills.  The property behind the meeting houses was privately-owned farmland and changed hands prior to incorporation of the cemetery in 1838, but tradition holds that burials continued “among the grazing farm animals.”  The graveyard is sometimes called the “First Settlers” cemetery, and it now comprises about 13 acres and is the largest and oldest cemetery in Hingham.  Buried within its precincts are many of Hingham’s earliest settlers and their descendants.

The site chosen for the “First Settlers” monument was that of a small stockade (fort) that guarded the harbor during King Philip’s War. Over the burial mound was placed Hingham’s first town monument, an impressive obelisk of Quincy granite.

The oldest burials date from about 1672, before the building of the current meeting house.  The work of at least four colonial headstone stone carvers of note has been identified in the Colonial section.  Local slate came from the Boston area (grey slate) and the Abington/Randolph area (purple or “red” slate.)  In 1994 an extensive inventory of the cemetery’s colonial headstones was completed with the publication of three volumes of photos and descriptions of the collection.  The Cemetery owns one set, and the other is held at the Hingham Historical Commission office.  The “First Settlers” monument in Old Ship burying ground marks the place where the remains of Hingham’s earliest settlers were moved after their initial burying place, along modern-day Main Street in front of Old Ship Church, was excavated for the passage of horse-drawn trolleys during the 1830s.

The program celebrating the 275th anniversary of the raising of the Old Ship Church in July 1956 described the raising of the meetinghouse:

 “It was a hot day, the 26th of July 1681, when the townspeople gathered on the wooden knoll bordering on Bachelor’s Row (now Main Street), Hingham, Mass, to take part in what the Selectmen’s record described as the ‘raising of the frame of the new Meeting House.’  It was a community undertaking and every freeman in the town had been assessed for the cost of the structure according to his worth, in amounts ranging from one pound to fifteen pounds.  There were all there, regardless of the heat, including Deacon John Leavitt, well over seventy years old, who had led the successful fight to have the new Meeting House erected approximately on the site of the old.”

Town seal of Hingham, Massachusetts

Both the “First Settlers” monument and the Old Ship Church are incorporated in the design of the official Town seal of Hingham, Massachusetts, which is still used today.  The Old Ship Church currently serves members of the Unitarian Universalist faith.  Some of the meetinghouse furnishings still in use date to its founding: Old Ship’s christening bowl, for instance, was made before 1600 and was likely brought to the Massachusetts Bay Colony by emigrants from Hingham, England.  The current minister (2012), Kenneth Read-Brown, has led the congregation since 1987 and is a descendant of Rev. Peter Hobart.


[1] “The Perfect New England Village”, Fox Butterfield, The New York Times, 14 May 1989.

[2] “Hingham, Classic New England: Five for the Road”, Lawrence Lindner, The Washington Post, 22 Apr 2007.

[3] Mather, Cotton.  Magnalia Christi Americana: Or, the Ecclesiastical History of New England (Hartford, Connecticut) 1853.

[4] Rev. John Norton was the great-grandfather of Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts.


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