Current Events

South Shore History Symposium
Church & State:
Religion in Architecture and Politics on the South Shore 
Event: Church & State:Religion in Architecture and Politics on the South Shore
Date: Saturday, April 8, 2017
Time: 9 am – 3 pm
Location: Spire Center for the Performing Arts, 25 ½ Court Street, Plymouth, MA
Registration Fee: $15/person
Contact & Tickets: Paula Fisher, Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Contact Phone: 508-747-0100
The Backroads of the South Shore is pleased to present the 2017 South Shore History Symposium: Church & State:Religion in Architecture and Politics on the South Shore.  This annual symposium offers an exciting opportunity for regional historians to present research and projects happening at local museums and historic sites. This year’s presentations will explore the varied and fascinating role of religion in the history of architecture and politics of the South Shore.
Keynote speaker and historian Peg Baker, former executive director of Pilgrim Hall Museum, will discuss The Tangled Web of Church and State  . Other presentations on the day’s agenda will look at the architecture of religion in our communities, with a focus on the historical context of churches and meeting houses. Margaret Bendroth will present on the challenge of balancing the legacy of the Pilgrim forefathers with a changing society. Suzanne Buchanan will discuss two iconic Hingham places of worship. Peter Benes will offer a close look at the architecture of three Plymouth meeting houses.
Symposium Presentations:
Keynote Speaker: Peg Baker, The Tangled Web of Church and State.
Today we all know that separation of church and state is a guiding principle of American life, embedded in our laws and culture from our country’s very first beginnings. Don’t we?  Well … maybe not!  The records of the town of Duxbury paint a very different picture of Massachusetts in the eighteenth century, when the colony had “established” churches that all residents were required, by law, to attend and to financially support. Why and how could this have happened in the land of the Pilgrims, those religious dissidents who had absolutely rejected the established Church of England? And how then did the system of establishment churches come to be abolished, and separation of church and state become law  ?

Peggy Baker, Director Emerita of the Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum, is the Thomas Rogers Family editor for the General Society of Mayflower Descendants’ “Silver Books” project. She is a prolific writer and speaker with some forty articles about Plymouth Colony and New England history to her name.

Margaret Bendroth, Coming to Terms with the Pilgrim Fathers: How Plymouth’s Spiritual Heirs Learned to Love the Past
The Pilgrims have loomed large in American history, lauded by many as the original risk-takers pursuing religious freedom. However, the group facing the most difficult challenge was the Congregational churches, the Pilgrims’ spiritual descendants. While they prized their historic roots, they also wanted to stay current with changes in American society, and to chart an ambitious path to the future. The Congregationalists’ story is unique but also universal. It’s the problem we all face: we want the strength and security of old and time-honored traditions, but we know they’re not enough.
     Ms. Bendroth will explain how Congregationalists wrestled deeply with the power of their past, and how they came up with fascinating solutions-some sophisticated, some odd, and some just plain fun.
Margaret Bendroth is executive director of the Congregational Library & Archives and a historian of American religion. She has written widely on the trials and travails of modern Protestants, from fundamentalists to mainline liberals. Her most recent books include The Spiritual Practice of Remembering (2013) and The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past (2015).
Suzanne Buchanan, Old Ship & New North Church, Hingham
In 1807 Hingham built a new meeting house, a Charles Bulfinch-inspired structure that embodied the Christian rectitude of the New England soul and, it so happened, the tasteful proportions of the fashionable Federal style, especially in its bright copper cupola which gazed serenely over the treetops of Hingham village. The story behind its birth was anything but serene, however. And though it was only a quarter mile from the town’s oldest meeting house, a squat Elizabethan box erected 126 years earlier, it seemed light years distant in sensibility. Indeed, its founding had less to do with worship than politics. New North Church was in fact the closing argument in a bitter local divide that separated Jeffersonians and Federalists–neighbors and friends, brothers and cousins–at a time when American politics may have been even more divisive than in 2017.
Suzanne Buchanan is a consultant in arts and humanities administration. She is the former executive director of the Hingham Historical Society, where she oversaw the planning, fundraising, and construction of the new Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitors Center.
Peter Benes,   Three Plymouth Meetinghouses: A Blend of Architecture, Influence, and Tradition
This presentation opens with a close look at what is known of three successive meetinghouses raised by Plymouth’s First Parish in the years 1637, 1683, and 1744. Drawing on models recently erected in nearby Massachusetts communities (possibly Scituate in 1637, West Bridgewater in 1683, and Boston in 1744), local building committees and housewrights pooled their slender resources to best serve the needs of their congregation. A similar parish-wide process influenced such things as exterior color, architectural finish, and roof and porch designs -along with other church issues-all of which were seen as impacting the “message” sent by the congregation to itself and to others in the New England community. All were addressed by a political spectrum that began in Plymouth as a Separatist enclave, but which gradually assimilated itself into the larger New England-wide Congregational worshipping community.
Peter Benes received his education at Harvard College, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and Boston University’s American and New England Studies Program. He is the cofounder, director, and editor of The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, a continuing series of conferences, exhibitions, and publications exploring America’s past. Mr. Benes’s first book, The Masks of Orthodoxy: Folk Gravestone Art in Plymouth County, received the Chicago Folklore Prize. More recently, his Meetinghouses of Early New England (2012) won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize from the Vernacular Architectural Forum and the Fred B. Kniffen Book Award from the Pioneer America Society. In the summer of 2016 the University of Massachusetts Press issued For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America, a major study of “strolling” performers and artists active in America in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.
For more information about the South Shore History Symposium or to register, please contact Paula Fisher, Director of Marketing and Group Services at the Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau, at (508) 747-0100 or You can also click on the following registration form, for printing and mailing.

Symposium brochure 2017-003

Backroads of the South Shore is a collaboration of non-profit organizations operating  25 historic sites in ten towns along the South Shore of Massachusetts from Weymouth  to Plymouth. The group is dedicated to celebrating the history and spirit of the region.  For more information, please visit our website at


Comments are closed.