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The History of the "Old Scots" Church of Freehold
The First Presbytery Meeting

"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 Freehold church.

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.

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 ordination.”

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 of life.

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.

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