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The History of the "Old Scots" Church of Freehold
Rev. Joseph Morgan, 1709-1729

The second minister of the Church was the Rev. Joseph Morgan, a man of literary ability and versatile gifts, a ready and prolific writer, whose absorption in mechanical inventions, and in essays on Predestination and Church Unity, followed by periods of spiritual earnestness and fervor, left a mingled and dubious impression upon his strict Scotch congregation. His reputation was lessened by his evident short-comings, and by contrast with the fame of his illustrious successors of the honored name of Tennent.

Rev. Joseph Morgan was born in New London, Conn. November 6, 1674, of stock of which he himself said "that [for Americans] they are a credible family.” He was ordained by the Association of Ministers of Fairfield County, Conn. He was at Greenwich in 1696, Bedford in 1700, Eastchester, and Westchester, where, in 1704, he was dispossessed of his charge by Lord Cornbury, who placed Rev. John Bartow, Missionary of the S. P. G., in his place. Mr. Morgan then retired to New England, probably again to Greenwich.

The statement is made, on high authority, that he was one of the graduates of Yale College in the first class that completed a regular course in that institution, in 1702, two years before the college received its corporate powers. President Woolsey wrote that “some interest is attached to Mr. Morgan from the fact that he was not only one of the members of the first class in Yale College, but also the only one who did not also take his degree at Harvard, that is the only one veritably educated at Yale alone.”

Mr. Morgan came to Freehold in the latter part of the year 1708, or in 1709. He appeared before the court to qualify in September, 1709, and is then termed “Minister of ye Presbiterians in Freehold and Middletown!” Mr. Morgan was "presented by several of said congregation, viz.: Jacob Lane, John Wicof, John Sutfin, William Hendrickson, John Essmith, William Wilkins, and Anri Marbison, in behalf of themselves and the rest of their breathren.” The first three of these names were in the communion of the Dutch Reformed Church of Freehold, the other four are said to represent the Presbyterian church. Between Mr. Morgan’s application to the court and his qualifying, he was installed on October 17, 1709, as first pastor of the Reformed Church, of Freehold and Middletown, a double congregation of Dutch settlers, sometimes called "the congregation of the Navesink,” the second act of installation in the Reformed Church in the Jersies. He was received as a member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, after debate, in September, 1710. At this meeting the following action is taken:

“It being reported that one Walter Kerr defamed the Presbytery, and Mr. Morgan, minister to said Kerr, desiring advice therein how to behave, it was referred to the said Mr Morgan to take cognizance of the offence, and to act either by private or public censure, as the nature of the thing should appear to him, and that report thereof should be made next meeting.”

The differences between Walter Ker and the Presbytery may probably be resolved into differences between Ker and Morgan, for the sturdy consistent old Covenanter, with his strict notions of the Church and zeal for the advancement of his own faith, would probably not relish the union with the Reformed congregation under Morgan’s ministry, nor would his hard Scotch sense appreciate many of the eccentric Dominie’s schemes and dreams.

Although Mr. Morgan’s ecclesiastical connection from this time onward was with the Presbytery and Synod of Philadelphia, he appears to have received more sympathy and more support from the Dutch than from the Scotch congregation. He occupied the parsonage belonging to the Dutch church with a glebe of “one hundred acres of good arable land, as good as any in Freehold, on which a family may subsist comfortably;” and on which the Dominie seems to have lived comfortably indeed, realizing from it thirty pounds a year, “besides his own bread.”

Mr. Morgan appeared at the original Presbytery of Philadelphia only once after his reception in 1710. His continued absences prompt the Presbytery in 1716 to direct Jedediah Andrews to write him a letter “informing him that if he comes not, nor sends sufficient reasons against next year, we shall take it for granted that he has altogether deserted us.” The loss of the Presbytery minutes of the following year do not allow us to know the result of this mild warning.

A11 explanation of his absence from Presbytery during these years appears in the Archives of New Jersey for 1714, [1 series, iv., 190-195]. It is a communication from Mr. Morgan to the Lords of Trade concerning a wondrous scheme for the improvement of navigation by an invention, which will work against wind at sea, will save many a ship from ship-wreck, will shorten voyages by many weeks and months, and be excellent in war. This prophecy of the days of steam, and ocean grey-hounds, consists in a combination of wheels, cranks, booms, and oars, “Found out in ye year 1712 [to 1714] by Joseph Morgan of Freehold in New Jersey in North America.” There follows a description of thirteen modes of applying the invention to ships so that “if any one of these thirteen ways be good my art is good, although twelve of ye ways were good for nothing.” Beside his experiments exhibited before “The Governour and Assembly and City of New York” [on June 17th, 1714,] and his writing to “ye Governour of Boston with ye same desire” his brain was occupied with “another art (hitherto unknown to the world) of far tyea an hundred times) greater consequence and benefit to the world,” an art unfortunately still unrevealed. He published in the same }^ear a treatise 011 Baptism, reviewing the “Portsmouth disputation examined.” If we add his quiet practice of astrology, it is little wonder that, as he confessed to Cotton Mather, a few years later, “ he had no leisure for reading, nor for writing discourses for the church, and often knew not my text before the Sabbath.”

Mr. Morgan published a number of his writings. A sermon preached at his own ordination, and also at the ordination of Jonathan Dickinson, at Elizabethtown, Sept. 29th, 1709, was published in New York in 1712. The next year came his treatise on Baptism; he sent to Mather a treatise against the Deists; then followed “A Remedy for mortal errors, showing the necessity for the Anointing of the Spirit”; in 1724 he published a “Reply to an anoifluous Railer against the doctrine of Election.” He tells Mather he hopes this Book will remove the prejudices “which half the country here away, and almpst the other half too, have against our Confession of faith.” His orthodoxy is unquestioned, for “of all the agencies Satan has formed against our Salvation, the most effectual is Arminiauism.” It is to be feared that in this treatise his statements in regard to the divisive doctrine of Christendom were not couched in such conciliatory mode as in a previous work which he sent in 1718 to the S. P. G., the Missionary Society of the English Established Church, on “The most effectual Way to Propagate the Gospel;” for he declares that in this work his unfolding of the doctrine of Predestination was approved both by keen opponents of the doctrine and by strong Predestinarians, “which is a circumstance to hope that it is a platform [as the author proposes] to reconcile the grievous contentions by which the Church is rent to pieces and laid to the mercy of ye adversary.”

But apparently he received no more commendation from the authorities of the Established Church than he had from his own Presbyterian brethren, who as he naively confesses, told him that his language was too mean for him to be capable to be a writer of books, and also informed him, “which almost broke his heart,” that his hypothesis was not true! His hypothesis being the unity of the church.

This action of his in making overtures of reconciliation to the Episcopal church would probably not endear him to the Scotch, who had been taught by bitterest experience to identify Prelacy with all that was tyrannical and unjust. It would also rouse the ire of the sturdy Dutch Dominies; and Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen of Raritan, the most prominent Reformed minister in the central portion of the State, accordingly denounced Morgan as the “friend and advocate of a lifeless, God-dishonouring formalism.” Possibly the fact that Morgan was willing to baptize the children of disaffected members of Frelinghuyseu’s congregation may have added unction to the good Dutchman’s testimony against formalism as embodied in the person of the visionary minister of Freehold.

In the first constitutional debates in the Synod in 1721, Mr Morgan, along with Jonathan Dickinson,took the position of dissent from Synod’s supremacy and authority In framing acts of discipline and government which should have coercive force upon “subordinate judicatories.”

The following year the dissidents, while acknowledging the power of the keys, and the authority of Symod in matters of appeal, yet hold, with the apparently unanimous endorsement of the Symod, the position that “Synods may compose directories and recommend them to all their members, respecting all the parts of discipline, provided that all subordinate judicatories may decline from such directories when they7 conscientiously think they7 have just cause to do so.” This remarkable compromise was hailed with acclamations of thanksgiving and praise, and was considered the solution of the relation of the Courts of the Church.

In the more important debate of 1729, on the Adoption of the Westminster standards, Mr. Morgan was absent although “timeous notice thereof” was given. The troubles in his own congregation which had culminated in the grave and varied charges brought against him, by some in the congregation led to his separation from the Presbyterian church of Freehold in the year 1729 or 1730.

These charges were before the Synod of 1726, presumably on in appeal from the Presbytery of Philadelphia. They were seven in number. On the first three he is sustained; Synod holding on the third, that “the accusers had 110 just ground for separation on that score.” The fourth accusation is the curious charge of Mr. Morgan’s practice of the art of astrology. The actions complained of had been performed in the earlier part of his ministry at Freehold, in the days of his navigation schemes, for his accusers have “partook with him in sealing ordinances many years after the things were done they complain of.” Nevertheless, Synod finds more in this charge than in the others and “cannot clear Mr. Morgan from imprudence and misconduct in making the two alleged experiments of that kind, if the reports be true, were his ends never so good and laudable.” The “two alleged experiments” are unfortunately mentioned no further.

“As to the fifth article, although the Synod do not approve promiscuous dancing, yet they judge it a clear indication of the captious and querulous spirit of Mr. Morgan’s accusers, that they offer such a complaint against him.” This is taken by many to mean Mr. Morgan’s “countenancing” dancing.

The last charge is the unfortunate one of intemperance, which the Synod holds to be groundless. The Synod three years later, (1731) elected him Moderator, as though to show their confidence in him. Mr. Morgan’s subsequent troubles when connected with the Churches of Hopewell and Maidenhead, have been held by many to have been caused b}^ intemperance also, although there is no mention of the cause in the censure and suspension, for a time, on account of “gross scandals” and “repeated miscarriages.”

Dr. McLean, in his lecture on Joseph Morgan, says that “as there was no hope of his promoting peace and union or of his being farther useful he resigned his charge.” His last connection with the Presbyterians is contained in the records of the Tennent Church.

October 15th, 1730. The Revd. Mr. Joseph Morgan [having made a complaint against this congregation that they owed him above 200 pounds arrears of Salleries met the congregation at the Old Scots meeting House, where accompts were fairly made up, and Mr. Morgan gave the congregation a Discharge in full.”

His last scenes with the Dutch congregation were more agreeable. He remained with them until 1731, preaching his farewell sermon on August 31, when the short period of John Tenuent’s active ministry in the Presbyterian Church was nearly ended.

The Consistory of the Dutch church gave him at his departure a testimony of their appreciation of his services. They declare him to be a man of “acknowledged orthodoxy and exemplary character who, according to his ability, has faithfully and zealously performed the duties of his charge.”

He was far from being inactive as a missionary in the destitute parts of the county. At Allentown he preached, in his earlier ministry with the Freehold church, and wrote to Mather of meeting there with a cold reception. Later, in 1721, he writes more cheerfully of the changed attitude of that community toward Presbyterian ministers. In 1722, a church having been built at Allentown, Morgan was instrumental in securing Rev. Mr. Walton, a Yale graduate, as its minister.

At Middletown, also, Mr. Morgan preached in a building which, even in his day, was dilapidated and left to decay. Its neglected condition annoyed him, and when riding by, if he saw the door or window open, he would stop, and dismounting his horse, reverently close the open door or window before proceeding on his way.

At Shrewsbury also was a Presbyterian house of worship for his services in 1727.

The dissatisfaction with his ministry followed him to his field of Hopewell and Maidenhead, resulting in the further charges already mentioned. The secret of his failure, with its salutary lesson may be learned from his own words “While free from worldly avocations, the work of grace went on abundantly, and people came from every quarter to receive spiritual consolation. It would even melt one’s heart to see the humiliation, selfabasement, and self-loathing, that appeared in them; and then fleeing to the blood of Christ for relief, and to the free grace and good pleasure of God, to draw them to Christ, and to see the change wrought in their lovely souls.” But, he continues, “when from necessity he [the minister] entangles himself in the affairs of this life the scene was mournfully changed.” Poor Morgan with his strange vagaries, and noble ideas, and moments of fervor, and times of temptation and abasement, a sweet but sad character, lovable and pitiable, as well.

Beautiful, and true we trust, is the tradition concerning his later days; that under the fiery impulse of Whitefield’s eloquence, the spirit of Evangelism seized him in the rapture of a noble effort, and he traversed the sea coasts of New Jersey, proclaiming the Gospel in desolate places; and dying in the ardor of his aftermath, rests in an unknown grave.

The “Old Scots” Burying Ground Looking Southwest. The Grave of Rev. John Tennent to the Right of the Background.

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