Mr. William Brown, Jr.
Perhaps no other founder so aptly represents the effect of the religious turmoil of 1809 on regular churchgoers than William Brown. He was the editor of the Salem Gazette and used his considerable musical gifts to lead the choir at the Tabernacle Congregational Church in Salem, which was the position he held at our founding.
He was recruited away from the Tabernacle Church choir to lead music at First Congregational Church in Salem, a church that was leaning toward the new Unitarian movement. Mr. Brown indicated to the Tabernacle Church that while he was employed at First Church, he intended to keep his membership at Tabernacle Church, which had been his home for so many years.
Well, soon a notice came from the Tabernacle Church that Mr. Brown had been removed from their rolls on the grounds that he had been seen to attend the theater (an offense that was banned in Boston until 1791) and was known to be “neglecting family prayers.” Thus rebuffed, Mr. Brown applied for membership at First Church. Their board duly sent for a letter of transfer to the Tabernacle Church and was told that Mr. Brown was not a member in good standing at Tabernacle so they could not provide a letter.
First Church then brought Mr. Brown into membership as a professing believer, as if he were coming with no church affiliation. Tabernacle Church hit the roof, believing that Mr. Brown’s activities should be censored by one and all and should prevent him from church membership anywhere.
There ensued a heated debate in letters traded between the two churches over theology, ex-communication, church membership, church doctrine, and the activities of poor Mr. Brown. Those letters were collected and published under the name: Correspondence between the First Church and the Tabernacle Church in Salem. In which the duties of churches are discussed, and the rights of conscience vindicated. [Salem: Press of Foote and Brown, 1832.
A quote appearing on the title page reads: "How vain then are those, that, assuming a liberty to themselves, would yet tie all men to their tenets; conjuring all men to the trace of their steps, when it may be, what is truth to them, is error to another as wise." Felltham's Resolves.
For the record, Mr. Brown remained a member in good standing at First Congregational Church in Salem.