The Federated Church of Martha's Vineyard
The ecumenical movement on Martha's Vineyard was advanced in 1925 when the Edgartown Baptist and Congregational churches united as The Federated Church of Edgartown. Both organizing churches have long Vineyard histories.
The Congregational Church dates from 1642, when Thomas Mayhew Jr., although not ordained, began preaching to the English settlers and the Wampanoag Indians. In 1657, he was lost at sea on a voyage to England. Peter Folger, who had worked with Mayhew as a teacher to the Native Americans, became acting minister until he moved to Nantucket in 1663. Thomas Mayhew Sr. then served as the interim lay pastor. The first ordaind minister of the church was the Reverend John Cotton Jr., who came in 1664. He was a nephew of Cotton Mather. The pastor with the longest service was the Reverend Joseph Thaxter Jr. He served as minister from 1780 until 1827. Thaxter had been a chaplain during the American Revolution and was at the battles of Concord and Bunker Hill. In 1825, as the last surviving chaplain of the revolution, he delivered the prayer at the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument.
The Baptist congregation in Edgartown was established in 1823. The first association of Baptists, organized in 1780 in Holmes Hole, had become large enough to expand. In 1839 they built a church, now a private home, on School Street. The designer was Frederick Baylies Jr., who also designed the Congregational Church in 1828.
The 1828 meetinghouse, on the corner of South Summer and Cooke Streets, is the oldest church building still used for worship on the Vineyard. It features box pews, graceful woodwork, a Hook and Hastings organ, a handsome chandelier, which originally burned whale oil, and an 1853 Ingraham clock. The sanctuary seats 400 people within 40 feet of the pulpit.
Thus, the first church on Martha's Vineyard continues to serve the Island community through the Federated Church's ministry, its Christian Education program, and its concern for others.