The Universalist Register, first published in 1836, was an annual directory of the Universalist denomination. While most early Universalist periodicals were relatively short-lived, the Register lasted over eighty years.
The Register was the brainchild of a minister with ties to the Sheshequin congregation – the Rev. George Sanderson. Sanderson was born into a prominent Boston family in 1810. He entered the Universalist ministry around 1830. By 1834 he was settled in Cortland, N. Y., where he served for three years.
In October, 1834, Sanderson attended the organizational meeting of the new Susquehanna Association in Sheshequin. (Our church building was dedicated during that meeting.) There he met his future wife, Marion Braidfoot Wallace Kingsbury, a daughter of Joseph Kingsbury. They were married a year later.
Like many Universalist ministers of his time, Sanderson believed strongly in the power of the press to advance the cause of Universalism, especially in rural areas and the frontier. He wrote in 1837:
“How many hundreds, aye thousands, there are, that received their first impressions of truth from the reading of our books, and especially our periodicals, and who to this day have never heard one of our preachers. In the absence of stated preaching, the press may be said to make up the loss, and that it is to such places what the ministry is to other places.”
Sanderson wrote for and edited several Universalist periodicals during his brief time in the ministry. In 1835 he and the Rev. Obadiah Whiston conceived of the idea of publishing an annual register of Universalist churches and clergy. The prospectus for the initial volume noted that it would include the following information:
- United States and State Conventions – their relations to the denomination – times of meeting, &c.
- Associations – when organized – boundaries – times of meeting, &c.
- Societies – when formed – number of members – and if supplied with preaching, what proportion of the time.
- Meeting Houses – where located.
- Preachers – when and where fellowshipped and ordained.
- Periodicals – where and by whom published – terms, &c.
Sanderson and Whiston published the Register for three years, then sold it to another publisher. By 1846 it had been renamed the Universalist Companion, but the name Universalist Register was reinstated in 1864. Over the years more details were added, such as the names of each church’s clerk (secretary) and Sunday School Superintendent. The Register ceased publication some time after 1920.
With a few exceptions, all of the volumes of the Register from 1840 to 1920 are available online. They are a valuable resource for historical research, though with limitations. The Register relied on congregations and ministers to provide information annually, and not everyone did. Each year’s volume was compiled in the previous fall, and changes – such as ministers’ locations – often occurred after information was submitted. Nevertheless, a significant amount of useful information can be gleaned from these volumes.
The Rev. George Sanderson left the ministry in 1839. He and his family settled in Towanda, where he practiced law and served in the state legislature. In 1856 he moved to Scranton, where he became a successful banker and was active in the Episcopal Church(!). He died in Scranton in 1886.
Sanderson’s time in the Universalist ministry was short, but he left a lasting legacy in the Universalist Register.