The Old Ship Church is one of America’s great religious treasures. Dating from the late 7th century, it is the oldest church in continuous use in the United States, having been used for worship every year for over three hundred and thirty years. It is also the oldest surviving Puritan Meeting House in the United States, and the only remaining church that might have been visited by one of the original pilgrims. Its name comes from the superstructure of the church interior, which bears a slight resemblance to the frame of a ship. The Old Ship Church is currently in use by a Unitarian Universalist congregation.
Hingham, Massachusetts was founded in the 1630s by English settlers. In its early years it was a predominantly Puritan settlement as was prevelant in Massachusetts at the time, and was closely tied to nearby Plymouth. One of the earliest families established there were the Lincolns, ancestors of future president Abraham Lincoln.
Hingham’s first and arguably most famous spiritual leader was Peter Hobart, a Puritan minister educated at Cambridge University. He helped to establish Puritanism in Hingham and served as the town’s minister for the nearly half a century. Towards the end of his life, he helped to lay the groundwork for the construction of a new church, but he died in 1679, two years before construction began.
The Old Ship Meetinghouse was completed in 1681. A major community effort, virtually every resident of the town contributed funds and labor to its construction. At the time of its completion, it was believed to be the most expensive church, and probably the most expensive building, that had as yet been built in New England.
Old Ship was one of the best known Puritan churches throughout the colonial era and remained an important place of worship until well after the American Revolution. Interestingly, it has now run by a Unitarian Universalist congregation, about as far from its extremely conservative Puritan roots as is possible to get.
The Old Ship Church is not only the oldest church in continuous use in the United States, it is also one of the best examples of English gothic architecture in the country. The two-story wood frame structure, which crowns a low hill top, features yellow-beige sideboarding with white framing. The steep pitched roof is topped by a towering belltower and steeple which can be seen and heard from a large distance.
The church interior, simple but elegant, is covered from end to end in sturdy pews and other wooden fixtures that were built to stand the test of time. The most famous feature, and that from which the church gets its name, is the hammerbeam style roof that was probably built by shipwrights. Among the church’s treasures is a 16th century christening bowl that was brought from England with the original settlers. The Old Ship Burial Ground contains a number of historic graves, including several ancestors of Abraham Lincoln.
The Old Ship Church is located on the southeast outskirts of the town of Hingham, approximately ten miles southeast of Boston across Quincy Bay. As of this writing visitor information for the church was not available. Web: http://oldshipchurch.org (official website).
Hingham is just a short distance from a number of other crucial early English settlements in Massachusetts, many of which boast important religious sites. These include the Puritan sites of Plymouth Plantation, and the Old Indian Meeting House in Mashpee.