New England has long been known for its history of religious and personal freedoms rooted in its pilgrim history and the part it played in the Revolutionary War. Today faith-based groups can explore some of the religious and Colonial sites that celebrate New England’s role in our independence and heritage of religious freedom.
Boston is an easy starting point for hub-and-spoke tours around New England with its major airport, extensive lodging options and numerous sites of interest. Groups should look into exploring the Boston Freedom Trail or taking one of the Old Town Trolley Tours around the city to see some of the city’s favorite attractions. Famous religious sites around Beantown include the Old North Church, that signaled Paul Revere’s famous ride; King’s Chapel, the oldest place of worship in Boston; Park Street Church, also known as Brimstone Corner because the area was used for storing gunpowder during the War of 1812; and the Charles Street Meetinghouse, an important abolitionist site used for speeches by Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.
Plimoth Plantation is a living history site where visitors can learn more about the early puritans in New England and their interactions with the nearby Wampanoag tribe whose aid helped the colony survive the harsh New England winters. The site features many outdoor living exhibits where craftspeople recreate 17th-century life at the settlement. Groups can explore the English Village, Wampanoag Homesite, Plymouth Grist Mill and the Mayflower II. You can also enjoy a bite to eat at the Patuxet Cafe that serves a mix of modern and historic food. Groups of 25 or more can enjoy specialty dining experiences such as the New England Clam Bake or a themed dinner with the pilgrims.
Roger Williams National Memorial
Providence, Rhode Island
The 4.5-acre site located on the site of the initial settlement of Providence honors the life of Rhode Island founder, Roger Williams. Williams was a strong advocate of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Williams was also an early advocate for indigenous rights. He questioned the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charters that took land from the local tribes without any form of payment. Because of his dissentious views, he was sentenced to deportation by the colony officials and left to found a new colony, Providence. The urban park and historic site include the Antram-Grey House, which serves as the visitor center and museum, Native American and Colonial kitchen gardens and various memorials to important historical and religious figures.
Canterbury Shaker Village
Canterbury, New Hampshire
This national historic landmark, located a short drive from Boston, is a historic site and museum in Canterbury, New Hampshire. It was one of many shaker communities founded across the country in the 1800s. The 3,000-acre site is one one the most intact communities from the period and features guided tours and demonstrations for period crafts such as broom making, letterpress printing, spinning and woodworking.
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
New Gloucester, Maine
Established in 1783, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community is home to the last active group of Shakers in the world today. The village’s historic structures are interspersed across 1,800 acres of scenic forest and farmland. Today, groups can experience the on-going heritage of the community through the museum, traditional craft workshops, concerts or the unique experience of a Shaker worship service held each Sunday.
The Old First Church
The Old First Church, also known as “Vermont’s Colonial Shrine,” was the first Protestant Church in Vermont. The organizers were influenced by “The Great Awakening” and also founded the town of Bennington. Their first meetinghouse was gathered in 1762 at the heart of the village that is now the green in front of the current church. The current church was completed in 1805 and is the first church in Vermont that represents the separation of church and state, where the state would have no role in the upkeep of the church’s building or its ministry. The poet Robert Frost, is also buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church that is regarded as “Vermont’s Sacred Acre.” For poetry fans, the Robert Frost Stone House Museum is located just outside of Bennington.
Old Ship Church
Hingham, Massachusetts’ Old Ship Church, also known as the Old Ship Meetinghouse, is the only surviving 17th century Puritan Meetinghouse in America. The church, so-named for the way the ceiling inside looked like an inverted ship frame, is also the oldest church building in continuous use in the United States. The nearby Old Ship Burying Ground also features the resting places of many famous historical figures including Thomas Joy, builder of the first statehouse in Boston; Mary Revere Lincoln, the daughter of Paul Revere; Governor John Albion Andrew the Civil War governor of Massachusetts and Secretary of the Navy; and the author and poet, Wilmon Brewer. Visitors may also be interested in exploring the surrounding Lincoln Historic District. This area includes the earliest streets of Hingham laid out at its settlement in 1635. The General Benjamin Lincoln House, another national historic landmark, is also located in the area. To schedule a tour, call the parish office at 781-749-1679.
Fort Saybrook Monument Park
The Saybrook Colony was founded in 1635 by John Winthrop the Younger, son of John Winthrop, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The early puritans settlers were ardent supporters of Oliver Cromwell and democracy. The Saybrook colony later merged with the New Haven Colony and another group of Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers led by Thomas Hooker to form the Connecticut River Colony. Because of its strong religious beliefs, many influential puritans fled England to the area. At one point, it was even rumored that Cromwell would emigrate to the colony. Groups can take a leisurely stroll through the area to explore the many storyboards or enjoy the stunning views at the mouth of the Connecticut River.