Old Tennent Presbyterian Church
 
 

As a result of the restoration of the Stuart kings to the English throne, British Calvinists came under varying degrees of persecution in the 1670's and 80's. Perhaps the most severe persecution was reserved for the Scottish Presbyterians (Calvinists) who would not recant their faith and embrace the state church. These hardy souls were a direct threat to the throne's plans for remaking Scottish culture over into a more compatible British model. The Covenanters, as they became known, often signed pledges in their own blood to mark their allegiance to their form of Christianity.

A little band of these believers was exiled from the south of Scotland and sold into indentured servanthood to this part of Monmouth County in 1685. More than likely they were either branded on their face with a 'T' for traitor or had their ears "cropped" and disfigured as a permanent sign of their rebellion). As they began to work free from their short term slavery, they purchased an acre of ground at "Free Hill" about five miles from the present sanctuary and built a tiny log church there. Tradition places this purchase at 1692.

 

Under the leadership of Elder Walter Ker, by 1705 the congregation was aligned with the newly formed Philadelphia Presbytery and  sufficiently established to call a permanent pastor, John Boyd.  As a result, the first recorded Presbytery meeting in North America (The Presbytery of Philadelphia) and the first ordination of a Presbyterian minister in North America took place at Free Hill.  Elder Ker was later instrumental  in calling both John and William Tennent, Jr. as Pastors.

Under William Tennent, Jr. (John had died after one year of service) the small congregation grew and became a leader in the "Great Awakening."  In 1731 the group purchased its first acre of ground on the current property known as "White Oak Hill" and erected a sanctuary.  The growth was so dramatic that, by 1750, the congregation had outgrown the original church built on this site (Old Scots cabin-church on Free Hill having long since ceased to function as a church). The current Georgian structure was completed in 1751 incorporating a gallery and much of the older house's '"fancy work."  Such notables as George Whitefield, Jacobus Frelinghusen,  Gilbert Tennent and Jonathan Edwards have preached from this hill.   David Brainerd administered the Sacrament to his Indian converts here.

 

The church (partially restored between 1985-88) is an outstanding example of native materials and craftsmanship, uniquely oriented to Reformed (Calvinist) worship. Note the simple barn-like dimensions of the framing; the central location of the pulpit with crown shaped sounding board; the wavy sand cast glass panes; the Jersey bog iron fixtures; the original cedar siding; the boxpews rented by a particular family; the absolute lack of ornamentation (too distracting for worshippers!).

Old Tennent Presbyterian Church continues to function as the worship place of the Tennent congregation, affiliated with the  Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  It also maintains an active Sunday School (over 160 years old) and youth programs.  The building, which was used temporarily as a field hospital after the Battle of Monmouth, is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.  During the battle, the Church edifice was pierced by balls, the marks of which were allowed to remain for patriotic reasons, until it became necessary to repair the damage in order to preserve the building.  As late as 1916, four cannon balls were dug up in the church ground during some grading operations.  The pews are still scarred by the surgeon's saw and blood of patriot soldiers, many of whom lie buried in this church yard.

 

 

Interesting Stories of Old Tennent Church
 

 

 

 

For information on purchasing Hamilton Stillwell’s HISTORY OF OLD TENNENT CHURCH, 1890-1980 please refer to the page Gifts and Memorabilia.

 



 

Old Scots Burying Ground

For several years we have been concerned about the permanent protection of Old Scots Burying Ground from encroachment by developments and Marlboro Township in respect to the proposed reconfiguration of Gordons Corner Road. The services of Gerald Scharfenberger, a Ph.D. candidate, students from Monmouth University, and the BRAVO group offered help to prepare applications to the State and Federal governments for Historic Register status. The BRAVO group used metal detectors and ground penetrating radar, and Mr.  Scharfenberger, an historian, works for a firm that specializes in architectural preservation.

The first hurdle was cleared successfully on April 4, 2001 in Trenton at the open hearing of the New Jersey Historic Preservation commission. The Old Scots Burying Ground application received a unanimous vote of recommendation to be placed on the New Jersey Historic Register. In addition, we had at the hearing the moral support of Nance Williams, chair, and several members of the Marlboro Historic Preservation commission.

A lot of hard work went into the collection of information supporting the application. We have property deeds in our files covering the original transfer of land from the East Jersey Proprietors in 1692. The site was under private ownership until 1727, when the transfer took place to Walter Ker and his group, then Trustees of what would become Old Tennent Presbyterian church.

The location of the original meeting house has been in question until the present foundation excavations. Pictures of the digs can be viewed in the church office. Artifacts uncovered indicate an Indian presence long before the arrival of Europeans. The materials that are part of the excavation process will come to us after the application procedures have been finished. Interestingly, the New Jersey Historic Preservation Commission members were amazed at the good condition of the grave markers. One design in particular, a double red sandstone stone for husband and wife, was unique to anything they had ever seen. We now know there are in excess of 140 unmarked graves at Old Scots, in addition to 122 marked graves.

We have a unique piece of New Jersey and Presbyterian church history in our custody in which we can take pride. We must sustain the effort to preserve our heritage.