Sunday, March 31, 2013

Provincetown's Early Government was Rather a Theocracy With Officials Overseeing "Both Town and Parish"

Postcard shows the second Provincetown Town Hall, C. 1920s. 

According to a book called History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts, edited by Simeon L. Deyo, Provincetown had no need for any sort of municipal buildings for the first couple of hundred years after people began settling here. Over the years a number of churches, often called meeting houses, were used for Town Meeting, Selectmen's meetings and other functions of the town's government..
Early church meetings had been held in the homes of residents until 1717, when the general court in Boston granted £150 toward the cost of building Cape Cod's first meetinghouse, with the rest of the money to be raised by the people. It was called the Orthodox, erected not far from the site of today's Catholic church on Prince Street, though its exact location is no longer known.
There was apparently no separation of church and state, and no one felt it was needed. For the first 150 years or more, there was, for nearly all intents and purposes, a single religion, adhered to by nearly every resident. Although there were several churches in Provincetown, the parishioners in one or another held pretty much the same beliefs. At one point, a vote of Town Meeting prohibited building a Methodist church here.
According to History of Barnstable County, "The union of parish and town made unnecessary the erection of public buildings for the use of the town until long after 1800, the several church edifices affording the necessary accommodations for the town meetings and the town officers." The book, published in New York in 1890 by H. W. Blake & Company, continues... "Although it is 169 years since Provincetown was incorporated, it has prior to this, built but one hall for the transaction of the town's business. The reason may be found in the circumstance that until within the recollection of persons now living, the town and parish were in their functions and administration nearly identical, so that the meeting house furnished pulpit and forum. The town government, in its earlier days was therefore essentially a theocracy. A majority of its voters and of its officials, were members of the church of the old standing order, the same persons being generally appointed or elected to serve both town and parish."
Our current Town Hall is pictured above in a post card probably dating back to the late 1920s. It is the second Town Hall to have been built in Provincetown, restored in 2008-2010 with close attention to details such as the original colors in which the building had been painted. See my earlier blog post about the original Town House, as it was called at the time, built on High Pole Hill in 1854.
In the post card above, notice the spire of the Congregational Church, one of a number of Congregational churches built over the years. It was also called Church of the Pilgrims, built in 1843 where the restaurant Saki stands today.

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