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The History of the "Old Scots" Church of Freehold
The Scotch Immigration of 1655


At no time since the days of Calvin and of Knox was the outlook for the Reformed faith darker in Great Britain and France than in the year 1685. In that year Louis xiv. was persuaded to revoke the Edict of Nantes, which for over eighty years had been the shield of toleration for the Protestantism of France. Six hundred thousand Huguenots sought exile, fleeing from the persecutions of the “dragonuades,” and enriched Holland, England and America with the industry, character, and faith which a century later proved to be the sorest needs of the land from which they had been so ruthlessly expelled.

Early in the year, on the death of his brother Charles, James II. ascended the throne of Great Britain, and in defiance of the past opposition to his succession on account of his Romanist views, openly avowed himself a Catholic. The ritual of the Roman church was celebrated at Westminster in Holy Week, the court soon assumed a papist complexion, the Capital silently acquiesced, but in the West of England and in Scotland discontent ripened in a few weeks into revolt. Had leaders appeared with characters and reputations that would have fairly represented the Protestant sentiment of the land, the revolution might well have been anticipated, which three years later brought William of Orange to the English throne. But Duke Monmouth, the vain, luxurious, natural son of Charles II., strove in vain to rally the pure, stern piety of England and of Scotland to the blue banner of his Protestant uprising in the West, and died as a traitor to the King’s person and the “King’s religion,’' which gained a passing strength by the failure of this so-called “Protestant rebellion.”

The Scottish contingent of Monmouth’s revolt was led by the Earl of Argyle. Landing his forces in May on the coast of Cantyre, he endeavored to win to the venturous cause the persecuted Presbyterian element of Western Scotland. The cautious Scotchmen doubted the right of Monmouth’s claims to the throne, the}7 disliked his volatile character, and they had not forgotten his part in the slaughter of their brethren at Bothwell Bridge. They remembered also Argyle’s u moderate ” policy in the past, and his vote in Council, which but four years before sealed the fate of the martyred Cargill.

The cross of blazing yew, quenched in goat’s blood, sent as the ancient war-summons through the glens of Argyleshire, was obeyed by only a portion of the great clan of the Campbells.

The harryings and slaughters of the long cruel years of Charles II. had broken the strength of Scotland’s Covenant; the noblest of her leaders were imprisoned, exiled, or preparing to fly to the colonies, and the heads of this movement, Monmouth and Argyle, brought no assurance of help to the Covenant. The faint-hearted band of insurgents dispersed at the first opposition, and Argyle was beheaded in Edinburgh in June, two weeks before Monmouth’s death in the Tower.

That summer of 1685 witnessed the “bloody circuit” in West England, when the ferocious Jeffreys hung or exiled a thousand for participating in Monmouth’s cause. In Scotland, Claverhouse raided the districts of Dumfries and Galloway, making the abjuration of the Covenant the alternative to imprisonment or death. In the month of May, Margaret Wilson and Margaret Mc-Laughlan were drowned in the tidewaters of Blednock, singing their psalms of praise until the waters sealed their lips. Burnt Island prison and Dunnottar Castle heard the piteous prayers of hundreds ol suffering Presbyterians, who refused to renounce their allegiance to Christ as the Head of His people.

Macaulay [History, I., 504, 5] says that “Through many years the autumn of 1685 was remembered as a time of misery and terror.” “Never, not even under the tyranny of Laud, had the condition of the Puritans been more deplorable than at that time.”

Out from this blackness of darkness that enveloped Scotland, the Covenanters looked westward for deliverance and light. Tidings of the free life of some of the colonies where toleration of religion was observed came to them as a bright vision to those that dream. The chartered provisions for religious freedom in the colony of East Jersey attracted them especially to that portion of the new continent. The interest in the proprietory rights of the colony held by many prominent and excellent Scotchmen gave added inducements for emigration thither. The harbor of Leith was alive with the parties of Quakers and Covenanters who turned their stern, saddened faces westward in faith and hope and prayer.

After Argyle’s death many of the clan of the Campbells were hung or sentenced to be deported to the colonies. Hearing the threats of the Council to exterminate the clan, Lord Neil Campbell, brother of the unfortunate earl, purchased a proprietory right in the colony of East Jersey, and in the autumn of the year fled to America, leading over several scores of adherents of his brother’s cause and of the persecuted faith. He was received with marks of distinction by the East Jersey proprietors upon the field, and in the following year was appointed Deputy Governor of the province. In the quaint chirograph}7 of James Ellott, of Amboy, clerk of the province, is the list of Campbell’s emigrants of 1685, and among their number we may find names of those who, a few years after, reared the Church of their Covenanted faith on “Free hill ” in the county of Monmouth.

Toward the close of the year there arrived at Perth Amboy the “Henry and Francis,”a vessel“ of 350 tun and 20 great guns,” the pest ship containing the stricken remnant of the sad expedition organized by George Scot, laird of Pitlochie. Few pages of history are fuller of mingled misery, horror and moral grandeur, than the records of these persecuted followers of Pitlochie. Sentenced to death for attending conventicles and refusing allegiance to the Papist James, they were lying in the summer of 1685, tortured and mutilated, in the prisons of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling and Leith. Pitlochie, who had been fined enormous sums and thrice imprisoned for his Presbyterian principles, obtained for them a commutation of sentence to banishment for life. Collecting from the stifling dungeons this wretched crowd of men and women, with ears cropped, and noses slit, and cheeks branded, he embarked with them in September only to lose his life upon the passage, his wife and some seventy of his fellow-sufferers also perishing from the pestilent ship-fever. On this voyage of horrors, with the memory of persecution and tyranny behind them, with the plague carrying away three and four from their number daily, with the hardships of the untried wilderness before them, their indomitable spirits rose above all these miseries that encompassed them and they sent back to Scotland the protest against the injustice that banished them from their “own native and covenanted land, by an unjust sentence, for owning truth, and holding by duty, and studying to keep by their covenanted engagements and baptismal vows, whereby they stand obliged to resist, and testify against all that is contrary to the word of God and their covenants.” Concerning their attitude toward King James they say “their sentence of banishment ran chiefly because they refused the oath of allegiance, which in conscience they could not take, because in so doing, they thought they utterly declined the Lord Jesus Christ from having any power in his own house, and practically would by taking it, say he was not King and head of his church and over their consciences; and on the contrary, this was to take and put in his room a man whose breath is in his nostrils, yea, a man that is a sworn enemy to religion, an avowed papist, whom by our covenant we are bound to withstand and disown.” [Wodrow, History, iv., pp. 331, 332.] This declaration of allegiance to the supremacy of spiritual truth over all earthly powers, rings in our ears like the challenge of a trumpet peal; clear, strident, and inspiring.

Their sufferings were intensified by the inhuman treatment received upon the voyage. “When they who were under deck attempted to worship God by themselves the captain would throw down great planks in order to disturb them.” The captain also proposed taking the wretched cargo to Virginia or Jamaica and offered to dispose of them “in bulk.”

Wodrow states that the emigrants found but inhospitable treatment from “the people who lived on the coast side” but received many acts of kindness from the inhabitants of a town “a little way up the country.” This place of their first sojourn was probably Woodbridge, where the sufferers found a Puritan settlement of New Englanders. Many of them came over to Monmouth county, after litigation with John Johnstone, Pitlochie’s son-in-law, on whom the command of the expedition devolved at the leader’s death. Mr. Johnstone, according to Wodrow’s account, sued many of them as “Redemptioners” for four years service, according to the agreement in Scot’s “Model” for those who went over without remuneration. As seventy-two of the passengers were said to be “presents to the Tail'd” being “prisoners banished to the plantations ” the demand does not seem an unjust one. Johnstone obtained a plantation in Monmouth named “Scotschesterbnrg,” and rose to prominence as a political leader of the “Scotch” party in the colony.

Although these two expeditions of 1685 were the most notable of those days they were not the first or only organized parties of Scotch immigrants. In the year 1682, the twenty-four proprietors, a number of whom were Scotchmen, on coming into possession of the soil of East Jersey, offered many inducements to settle in the new colony. Among those who came over in this first year of general immigration, we find the names of William and Margaret Redford, born in the years 1642 and 1645, who lie buried in the “Old Scots” graveyard,


The Tombstone of the Oldest Covenanters Buried In the "Old Scots" Ground, who came in the First Year of .Scotch Immigration.

under a double stone, reproduced in the accompanying cut. The }^ears of their respective births are the oldest recorded in the graveyard.

In 1684, Scot of Pitlochie published his “ Model of the Government of East Jersey in America,” showing its advantages as a “ retreat where, by law, a toleration is allowed * * * * no where else to be found in his majesty’s dominions.” Barclay of Ury, the grand old Quaker Governor of the colony, together with Lawrie and Drummond, his Deputies on the field, with motives of mingled compassion and business interest, organized many parties of harassed Scotch Quakers and Covenanters, who 011 their arrival at Perth Amboy, the port of the colony, soon found their way to the broad plains of Middlesex and Monmouth counties.

The famous emigrant ship, the “Caledonia,” is supposed to have made her first voyages at this early period, and other well-known Covenanters, such as Walter Ker, pillar of the Freehold Church for half a century, are known to have come in the year 1685.

On entering Monmouth county, the Presbyterian Immigrants found the neighborhood of the Navesink neck already in the possession of the Monmouth patent men, among whom at first the Baptist element predominated. The Shrewsbury settlement was largely of Quakers, many of whom were brought to the established church through the agency of the persuasive and energetic George Keith. The Covenanters would naturalty seek a locality where they might form a community of their own and might dwell together in fellowship. Some of them settled near the present town of Matawan, where before the year 1690 was a hamlet known as New Aberdeen. The larger portion of them advanced somewhat farther into the interior and in the large district known then as Freehold found peace and plenteousness after their sufferings and wanderings. Freehold obtained its first character as a community from the Covenanter immigrants of 1682-1685.

“This is the era at which Hast Jersey, till now chiefly colonized from New England, became the asylum of Scottish Presbyterians,” says Bancroft, [Colonial History, chap. xvii.] “Is it strange,” he continues, “that Scottish Presbyterians of virtue, education and courage, blending a love of popular liberty with religious enthusiasm, hurried to Hast Jersey in such numbers as to give to the rising commonwealth a character which a century and a half has not effaced.” “Thus the mixed character of New Jersey springs from the different sources of its people. Puritans, Covenanters, and Quakers met on her soil; and their faith, institutions, and preferences, having life in the common mind, survive the Stuarts.”


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