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The History of the "Old Scots" Church of Freehold
Rev John Boyd, 1706-1708


Concerning the history of the first minister of Freehold, but little is known before his appearance at the County court in 1705. A John Boyd appears on the list of Lord Neil Campbell’s expedition of 1685, a time when Boyd of Freehold, from the dates upon his tombstone, was five or six years of age. On March 11, 1701, the name John Boyd is enrolled in the fourth class in Glasgow University, with signs that he was a native of Scotland. The general belief was that the Freehold minister came from Scotland. Webster, [History, p. 90] considers it not unlikely that he came over with McKemie, McNish and Hampton in the autumn of 1705.

Since the Monmouth Court, in December, 1705, termed Boyd “Minnister of ye said Presbiterians,” a whole year before he had received ordination at the hands of the Presbytery, and also “qualified” him before he had gained full ecclesiastical standing as a minister, it may be assumed that Mr. Boyd, in proper and orderly manner, had been exercising his function as a licensed preacher, for at least a year in Freehold before the Presbytery meeting of 1706.

Mr. John Boyd’s examination for ordination before Presbytery on December 27th, 1706, which included "skill in the laguages,” a thesis to be defended, a Latin essay "De Regimine ecclesiae,” and a popular sermon, indicate an academic and university training, corroborating the view that he had been a student at Glasgow University. The chosen text for his sermon was John 1: 12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” This is one of those texts that Luther aptly names "little Bibles,” and in it the young preacher, before his stern but kindly critics, could manifest his ability to expound, defend and apply the great doctrines of Election, Adoption, Faith and Conversion.

His ordination, on the following Lord’s day, did not lead to his installation as pastor of the Freehold church. There is also no record of the installation of his successor in the ministry at Freehold, and that the act of installation was not then universally observed is seen in the fact that William Tennent, Sr., in 1736, is found in the minutes of Synod not to have been installed over the Neshaminy church, with whom he had lived for ten years; the Synod declaring that “he is still to be esteemed as the pastor of that people, notwithstanding the want of a formal installment among them.”

Mr. Boyd became an active and efficient member of the Presbytery, for the following year, 1707, in the meeting at Philadelphia, although his name is omitted from the list of those present, he is appointed, with Rev. Jedediah Andrews, to “prepare some overtures to be considered by the Presb}rtery, for propagating religion in their respective congregations.” On the next day the overtures are presented and agreed upon. They are as follows:

“First: That every minister in their respective congregations, read and comment upon a chapter of the Bible every Lord’s Day, as discretion and circumstances of time, place, etc., will admit.”

The hand of Mr. Boyd may be seen in this first overture for the reason that in the following year, Mr. Andrews is mentioned by name as not having complied with the provisions.

“Second over: That it be recommended to every minister of the Presbytery to set on foot and encourage private Christian societies.”

The bearing and significance of this injunction is not clear. It would appear as prophetic of the multitudes of Leagues, and Young People’s Societies, and Mission organizations and Bands, Brotherhoods and Clubs, which are buzzing so actively in the machinery of the modern church, the "Wheels within wheels With living creatures wedded.”

The third overture relates to the aggressive work of Home Mission Synodical or local.

"Third over: That every minister of the Presbytery supply neighbouring desolate places where a minister is wanting, and opportunity of doing good offers.”

The spirit of John Boyd is in this recommendation also, for along with his Presbyterial appointment at Cohanzy, in West Jersey, participating in an ordination service, he was also directed, with the consent of his Freehold congregation, to proceed every third week to Woodbridge, where the Scottish portion of the congregation, apparently in antagonism with the older New England settlers, might profit by his sympathy and advice.

Like his successor, Morgan, Mr. Boyd probably preached in various parts of Alonmouth county, besides the meeting house upon Free Hill. At Aliddletown and Shrewsbury, in the neighborhood of the present Temient church, and in the regions of Allentown, or Crosswicks, he found opportunity to proclaim the faithful message of his Master, sowing the first seeds of the Gospel upon soil that still bears fruit of his ardent and unrecorded labors.

The twenty short months of his ministry were contemporaneous with the most brilliant portions of the reign of “Good Queen Anne,” and Marlborough’s successes at Ramillies and Oudenarde were celebrated in the Jersey colonies with loyalty and enthusiasm. The Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united in 1707, and the intensity of feeling between patriots of the two British nationalities, which had been manifested in bitter party spirit in East Jersey was mitigated and in time removed.

A letter presented by the Freehold people to Presbytery, in 1708, “about the settlement of Mr. Boyd is referred to the next meeting.” His premature and apparently sudden death in the summer of that year ends the matter; or, as quaintly expressed in the Presbytery minutes of 1709, “The Rev. Mr. John Boyd being dead, what relates to him ceases.”

The tombstone of Mr. Boyd stands in a conspicuous spot in the center of the church grounds, close to the site of the building. It is of brown sandstone, some four feet in height. The stone faces the east, and as the rays of the sun at noon-tide strike across the worn and weather-beaten front, the long Latin inscription, covering the stone to the edges, stands out with characters that are decipherable through most of the sixteen lines.

“The ashes of the very plots Rev. John Boyd Pastor of this church of Calvin, are here buried, whose labour, although expended on a sterile soil, was not lost.

They who knew him well also proved his worth as (?) in virtues.

Reader, persevere in his footsteps, and I hope in that time (?)

He died on the thirtieth day of August, one thousand, seven hundred and eight, in the twenty-ninth year of his age.”

What relic of the primitive Presbyterianism of the land should be more prized, more jealously guarded, and more reverently preserved than this memorial of the first born of American Presbyterian ministers, who was the first also to fall from the ranks of the ministry, and find burial in the new continent?

In some place of protection from the storms that for well nigh one hundred and ninety years have been striving to efface its significance, in a spot where will be the recognition of its value as a historical and ecclesiastical monument, this weather-beaten, but time-honored stone should rest, and in its place, should stand a replica of the original, joined with a suitable and stately memorial of the “First Presbytery Meeting,” when the Presbyterianism of the continent first woke to conscious life.


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