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The History of the "Old Scots" Church of Freehold
The Early Days of the Church


Some six miles to the north of the present town of Freehold, on a wooded eminence, overlooking rolling, fertile fields, lies a neglected acre which should be a cherished spot to all Presbyterians of our land, and also to all interested in the beginnings of the colonial history.8 It is the site of the “Old Scots” Church of Freehold, reared b}^ the exiles of 1685 for their worship of God after the simple manner forbidden in their own “native and covenanted land.” The view presented in the accompanying cut shows a portion of this “God’s Acre,” with the church site in the foreground. Of the building itself, no memory, tradition, or trace remains, except the slight depression in the soil, which would indicate the humble dimensions of a structure perhaps some twenty feet square. Close under its eaves were laid the remains of its first minister, Rev. John Boyd. Eight yards to the southwest, under a horizontal stone that is sinking in the turf, lies the body of Rev. John Tennent, who, like Rev. John Boyd, died in his youth after two years of ministry with the church.

Around this central site lie the rude stones of the old Scotch pilgrims and their children, of Archibald Craige, one of Lord Campbell’s company, of John Henderson, son probably of him of the same name who signed the protest on Pitlochie’s ship, of Formans of the generation following John Foreman of the “Henry and Francis,” and others of the names of Clark, Redford, Wall and Ward, belonging to the Covenanter generation, others still of the names of Amy. Crawford, O’Harrah, Pease, Patten, Van Dorn, and Freeiser of the generation of the sons and daughters born in the new world.

The generaly accepted date for the erection of the church building, or the organization of the church society, is the year 1692. The only basis apart from tradition appears to be a Mss. letter from Freehold by Rev. John Woodhull, D. D., dated April 23rd, 1792, which stated that “The Church was formed about an hundred }Tears ago, chiefly by persons from Scotland.” [Hodge’s History, i. 56.]

Taking into consideration the tenacitv of the Covenanters’ religious convictions, and the liberty of worship bought by their exile, it seems improbable that many tears could have passed before they assembled in “conventicles,” unharassed by fear of dragoon or blood hound, sword or gibbet. The strenuous labor of reclaiming the soil to productiveness would not turn those worthies of faith from confessing that they were pilgrims and sojourners seeking the better and heavenly county, and in their assembling themselves together, after the plain customs of the church of Knox, these loyal Scotchmen would find both their clearest duty and their highest joy. It would be at variance with their character and circumstances to suppose a later date than 1692 for the beginning of the little kirk, the appointment of elders or “assistants,” and the rearing of the building, made of logs or rough-hewn timbers. For a period of fourteen years without a settled minister to conduct the services and administer the sacraments, the neighboring Covenanters doubtless gathered upon the Lord’s day, read the Scriptures, sang their metrical versions of David’s Psalms, catechized the children, and joined in prayer led by John Craig or Walter Ker or John Henderson, adoring the God of Deliverance for their escapes from perils and tribulations, and invoking the continuance of his covenant of grace to their children and to generations yet unborn.

The Scotchmen would be joined in these services by some of their fellov’ Presbyterians from Holland and from France, who came to the region in the later years of the century, and formed strong affiliations with the Scotch, uniting in fullest S3mipath3T with their Calvinis-tic doctrines and in fellowship in sufferings. The names of DnBois, La Rue, shortened to Rue, and Perrin, or Perrine, indicate the Huguenot parentage of some of the earty settlers. Concerning the Diitch immigration more will be said in the chapter on Rev. Joseph Morgan, who was pastor of both the Scotch and Dutch churches of Freehold.

The first authentic statement concerning the early history of the church is contained in the early records of the courts of the County of Monmouth.

This is the action taken by four representative Presbyterians in the county who desired the “recording ” of their Meeting-house b3' the court. A facsimile of this request, of the consequent action of the court, and of the application of the Rev. John Bo3Td for leave to “qualify” is given.

The record reads as follows:—At a Court held on Fourth Tnesda3^ of December 1705. John Bowne, President.

Richard Salter, Obadiah Bowne, Anthony Woodward, George Allen, Jeremiah Stillwell, Assistants.

At ye request of John Craig, Walter Ker, William Bennet, Patrick Imly, in behalf of themselves and their breathren, ye protestant desenters of freehold called Presbiterians, that their Publick meeting house may be recorded. Ordered by this Cort, that it be Recorded as followeth. The Meeting House for religious worship,belonging to the Protistant discenters, called ye Presbiterians of ye Town of Freehold, in ye County of Monmouth, in ye Province of New Jersey, is scituate, built, lying and being at and upon a piece of Rising grownd, commonly known and called by the name of free hill in said Town.

Mr. John Boyd, Minnister of the sd Presbiterians of freehold, did also Parsonally appear, and did desire that he might be admitted to qualify himself, as the law directs in that behalf. Ordered that further consideration thereof be referred until the next Court of Quarter Sessions.”

The reason for the “Recording” of the church property may well have been an apprehension of some act of injustice or extortion on the part of Lord Cornbury who was then governor of New Jersey and New York. His administration of affairs in New York was disgraced by a series of illegal acts toward dissenting churches and ministers. In New York City, in Westchester county, and on Long Island, Puritan church buildings were turned over to the established church, and both ministers and congregations were forced to conform or to retire.

Although there was no establishment of the Episcopal church in the Jersies, to give color to any similar


The Earliest Official Record of the “Old Scots” Church and John Boyd. From the Monmouth County Records of the Court Held on the Fourth Tuesday in December, 1705.

action, the cautions Scotchmen wished to avail themselves of every safe-guard.13

The spreading upon the court records of the position of the meeting house, and the acknowledgement by the legal authorities that it was the property of “ye desenters called ye Presbiterians” gave a certain legal security of title, being an endorsement by the constituted authorities of their ownership and their rights to own.

Assuming the church to have been in existence since 1692, a reason why thirteen years elapsed before making the record, may be found in the fact that up to the year 1704 the court of the county had been, almost without interruption, under the power of Lewis Morris, a zealous churchman, who showed his ecclesiastical preferences, however, more in bitter opposition to dissent than in any earnest efforts to propagate Episcopacy. In the year 1704, the county courts fell into the hands of the Patent men of Middletown, many of whom were Baptists. The Presbyterians, therefore, took the earliest occasion practicable to secure from their fellow-dissenters upon the bench the legal recognition of their possessions.

The zeal and success with which George Keith had in the last few years been leading the Quakers of Shrewsbury and Freehold into the communion of the established church, was an added cause for alarm and for energetic action on the part of the Presbyterians, who remembered that Keith had begun his varied ecclesiastical career in the Kirk of Scotland.

The appearance of the young minister, Rev. John Boyd, at the same court sessions was another act of precaution to preserve the person of the preacher from the outrages and tyranny of the Governor. Cornbury’s treatment of Morgan of Eastchester [who was Boyd’s successor at Freehold,] of ^Hubbard of Jamaica, of McKemie and Hampton when preaching at Newton, and even of Episcopalian ministers in New Jersey who fell under his displeasure gave abundant warrant for taking every step to ensure safety from the attacks of the man who, Bancroft says, “joined the worst form of arrogance to intellectual imbecility.” [Hist, of U. S. II. p. 41.]

The court, in December, 1705, deferred action upon Rev. John Boyd’s request until the following May. Inasmuch as they had no action in a similar case to guide them as precedent, and as most of the judges on the bench were unfamiliar with judicial duties, the court probably felt unwilling and unable immediately to decide the rather intricate question of the status of a dissenting minister in the province, without opportunity for consultation, and possibly for reference to authorities in England for advice. .

In May, 1706, Mr. Boyd appearing again before them, he was permitted to “qualify” by subscribing to the provisions of three acts, made in the reigns of Elizabeth, Charles II., and William and Mary, which contained an abjuration of Transubstantiation, an assent to the doctrine of the Trinity as taught in the xxxix Articles and the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy;15 all being contained in the Toleration Act of 1689, which freed dissenting ministers from the obnoxious restrictions of the Five Mile Act and Conventicle Act.


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