"De Regimine ecclesise.”
Concerning the government of the church—with these striking and
characteristic words, in the midst of a broken sentence, the history of the
Presbyterian church in America begins. This incomplete phrase ushers us into
the midst of an interesting scene. The place is the “Old Scots” church of
Freehold, or some spot near it, the day is Friday, December 27th, 1706. The
revered Francis McKemie, “Father of the American Presbyterian Church,” is
occupying with appropriateness the Moderator’s chair, the other ministers
present are Jedediah Andrews of Philadelphia, and John Hampton of Maryland,
and the Presbyterial action is the examination of Rev. John Boyd, with a
view to his ordination to the gospel ministry and his connection with the
A reproduction of this first page of the minutes of the Presbytery of
Philadelphia is given herewith.
“1706. De Regimine ecclesise, which being heard was approved of and
sustained. He gave in also his thesis to be considered of against next
Sederunt 2d, lobris, 27.
Post preces sederunt, Mr. Francis McKemie, Moderator, Messrs. Jedidiah
Andrews and John Hampton, Ministers.
Mr. John Boyd performed the other parts of his tryals, viz. preached a
popular sermon on John i. 12; defended his thesis; gave satisfaction as to
his skill in the Languages, and answered to extemporary questions; all which
were approved of and sustained.
Appointed his ordination to be on ye next Lord’s day, ye 29th inst., which
was accordingly performed in the publick meeting house of this place, before
a numerous assembly; and the next day he had ye Certificat of his
This memorable scene is the beginning of organic Presbyterian history in the
new world. This is the first known Presbytery meeting, and the first known
Presbyterian ordination. There may have been Presbytery meetings and
ordinations prior to this. There probably were ordinations before this, and
ordinations presuppose a Presbytery to ordain. Yet in tracing back to its
sources the wondrous course of the development of the church, history stops
at John Boyd, and the “Old Scots” meeting house of Freehold. Back of this
point lie the uncertainties of tradition or conjecture. Onward from this,
all is clear, cogent and connected. From the threshold of the little meeting
house on Free Hill began the tiny current of the stream, which, as in the
prophet’s vision, has spread through distant deserts, deepening in its
progress, watering thirsty places, and bringing its nourishment to the trees
All of the men appearing in this scene are
well-known. Francis McKemie, the apostle of Presbyterianism, founder of half
a dozen churches in Maryland, energetic, practical, determined, devotit, the
embodiment of the Scotch-Irish character, presides with fitness over the
gathering, for no other man had been more active or successful in fostering
the nascent Presbyterianism scattered throughout the land. He was at this
time on a trip eastward and three weeks later, after preaching in New York
and Newtown, together with Hampton, was arrested by Governor Cornbury on the
frivolous charge of preaching without the Governor’s license. After
imprisonment, he was released on bail, and although subsequently acquitted,
was unjustly compelled to pay heavy costs. The indignation aroused by this
outrage throughout the colonies and in England was one of the many causes
determining Cornbury’s recall the following year. McKemie died in 1708, “a
venerable and imposing character, distinguished for piety, learning, and
much steady resolution and perseverance." [Hodge’s History, i. 76.]
Jedediah Andrews was the first pastor of the first Presbyterian church of
Philadelphia. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1695. He came to
Philadelphia in 1698 and took charge of the Presbyterian congregation who
had previously worshipped with the Baptists in the “store house on Barbadoes
lot.” Mr. Andrews attended every recorded meeting of Presbytery and Synod,
from this first meeting at Freehold until his death, forty years afterward.
He was thrice moderator of the Presbytery and of the Synod of Philadelphia.
He was a peace maker in the constitutional debates of 1721 and 1729, a
moderate man who neither protested nor signed counter-protests.
John Hampton, the third presbyter present, had come from Ireland in 1705,
under McKemie’s charge, and supported by the London ministers. He was pastor
of the lately organized church at Snowhill, Maryland. It is worthy of notice
that McKemie, Hampton and Boyd had all been students at Glasgow University;
McKemie in 1675, Hampton in 1696, and Boyd in 1701.
Dr. Hodge, in his History of the Presbyterian Church, [i. 95] notes the fact
that this first Presbytery meeting at Freehold is the only one in the
records at which no elders sat as members of the body. The lack of a
representative of the church with which they were meeting is the more
remarkable on account of the excellent and godly men, such as Walter Ker and
others, who were in the direction of the spiritual matters of the church.
Upon the following Sabbath, was performed the solemn act of dedicating the
life of the young minister to the service of the Church of God. Upon his
brow in this symbolic ritual descended the ordination touch of the old world
ministry. The new order of the American presbytery was born that day. The
difficult question of validity of ordination which brought dissension into
other churches, such as the Dutch Presbyterian church of America, was solved
in the act. John Boyd heads the long list of Presbyters in the ordination
roll of the American Presbyterian Churches.
By the actions on these two days, the Freehold Church became the first
recognized Presbyterian Church in New Jersey. “In Jersey, the Church in
Freehold was the only one at first belonging to the Presbytery,” [Hodge, i.
75.] Abraham Pierson, who was at Newark in 1667, Jeremiah Peck, at
Elizabethtown in 166S, Benjamin Salsbury, at Woodbridge in 1674, and Thomas
Bridge, at Cohanzy in 1692, all ministered to apparently Independent
congregations. The churches at Woodbridge and Cohanzy came into connection
with the Presbytery two years later, in 1708, the churches of Maidenhead and
Hopewell followed in 1709.
On that last Sabbath day of the year 1706, the Covenanters gathered with
gladness, at the sound of the conch shell, or the rolling drum, in their
house of religious assembly. One whose services had been approved by over a
year of trial, the man of their choice, and of their nation, was to be
empowered to exercise his full ministry, and to administer to them the
precious sacraments of the Church of Christ. For the first time in the lives
of most of them, the exiles of 1685 would now enjoy the full privileges of
the church which they had loved and suffered for; privileges which they had
been denied by tyrannous intolerance in their native land, and by the
undeveloped character of their church life in their new home.
The throngs that would assemble, drawn by deep and prayerful interest in the
events, or by the curiosity excited by the wide reputation of Francis
McKemie, might not be contained within the narrow walls; and some of those
outside the building would pass above the spot where less than two years
later rested the ashes of the young Presbyter, who this day was consecrating
the ardor of his youth to the service of the Church of Christ.