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Lowell History: John Street Congregational Church

St. John's Congregational Church of Lowell

Known by some Lowell residents as the "Anti-Slavery Church," the John Street Congregational Church was erected in 1839-40. " Among the records on the Treasurer’s books may still be seen the entry of a charge of $2.70 'for relieving fugitive slaves,' good evidence that the famous underground railroad ran through the John Street Church." 1. Despite its long term reputation, the church’s first pastor, Reverend Stedman Hanks (1811-1889), although associated with the anti-slavery movement, strongly opposed Garrisonian-abolitionism. In fact, Hanks's perspective was widely shared among clergy in Lowell and other New England cities and towns for Garrison had relatively few supporters in the region or elsewhere in the United States. Garrison’s limited following was overlooked by many slave-holding Southerners and anti-abolitionist Northerners who chose instead to stress the threat Garrisonian abolitionists posed to the union.
Eden B. Foster (1813-1882), the second pastor, although not allied with Garrison, emerged in the 1850s as one of the city’s leading anti-slavery clergymen. It was during Foster’s early tenure that the John Street Church solidified its reputation as the "Anti-Slavery Church". Foster’s sermons "The Rights of the Pulpit" and "The Perils of Freedom," delivered in the summer of 1854, shortly after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, called upon religious leaders to exercise their “right” and obligation to preach against the extension of slavery in the territories and on behalf of civil liberties for all. 
Foster continued to call for the abolition of slavery in the territories, though he sought conciliation with Southern brethren, fearing civil war. In 1861, suffering from fatigue and ill-health, Foster resigned as pastor. He returned in 1868, however, and led the church for several years. Foster finally retired in 1878. Attendance at the John Street Church steeply declined in the 1890s and it closed in 1902. Soon after the building was demolished and by 1905 a large brick building housing the Young Women’s Christian Association was erected. The YWCA was subsequently razed and a parking lot currently occupies the site.