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The History of the "Old Scots" Church of Freehold
The Removal of the Church


The first motion looking to the removal of the church was the permit from the Crown for the proposed building, obtained in 1727. In 1728, on some unknown charge against Mr. Morgan, Synod finds his accusers have “no just ground for separation.” In 1730, on July 20th,the elders, Walter Ker and John Hutton, with their “helps” who are “to represent the congregation,” Charles Gordon, Timothy Lloyde, Jonithan Forman, Robert Cumming, and John Henderson, met and “agreed to build a meeting-House between Wm, Ker’s Barrs and Rockey Hill Bridge.”

Three reasons for this new building may be deduced from the records. First, there was clearly an apprehension of a division in the congregation, and the consistent, Scotch element in the church, led by Walter Ker, who had always been out of sympathy with Mr. Morgan, wished to prepare for the possible separation, by providing a place for the accomodation of the large portion who were disaffected at the close of Mr. Morgan’s ministry. Second, there appears to have been a change in the location of many of the Presbyterian settlers in the early years of the century. The strongest supporters of the church were on plantations several miles west of


The Tennent Church. Built 1730, Enlarged 1753.

the "Old Church;” the newer Scotch element, coming over in the time of the Jacobite troubles of 1715, found the eastern portion of the county already pre-empted, and went where Proprietor’s land could be obtained; the Dutch had also entrenched themselves gregariously about the former site. Thirdly, the earlier building had evidently been of such a rude and temporary character, that there was need of a new church, on the old site or elsewhere. A fortnight after the above-mentioned meeting of the representatives of the church, they agreed “that the Old or lower meeting-House To be repaired with all Haste that can be.”

Managers, or “undertakers,” in building the new church were appointed in August, 1730, between the call and the ordination of John Tennent. The new church "is to be made Forty feet long and Thirty feet wide, and each of the Elders is to have one seat in it above their common Due.”

The work which was to be pushed “with all the speed possible after this sowing time was over,” was successfully advanced in the winter, and on “April 18th, 1731, was The first Time that there was servise in the new meeting-House on White Hill.” On the same day Margaret, daughter of William Ker was baptized, “the first Baptized in the new Meeting House.”

A tradition has been handed down that it was planned by the “undertakers” to locate the church upon a site lower than its present situation, and that old Janet Rhea, one of the Scotch Covenanters, seized the small corner-stone in her apron, and toiling to the top of the hill, set it upon the summit, saying to the astonished builders, “Wha ever heard o’ ganging doon to the Hoose o’ the Lord, an no o’ ganging oop to the Hoose o’ the Lord?” A fine mixture of aspiration and scripture literalness, characteristic of Covenanter stock. The agreement was made in 1730, "That the services be one Sabbath at the upper Meeting House, and so to continue successively,” which apparentW meant alternate services at the “Scots” church and the “Tennent” church. About the year 1733, under the ministry of Rev. William Tennent, jr., services were held for two Sabbaths in the new church, and one in the old church. In course of time, from the decay of the slight structure reared in the first days of the new settlement, and from the superior accommodations and more convenient situation of the newer church, the “Old Scots Meeting-House,” on Free Hill, crumbled, fell and passed into oblivion so utterly, that no tradition remains of its size, appearance, or appurtenances.

Concerning the famed ministry of Rev. William Tennent, jr., in the church and community that bears his name and cherishes his memory, little may properly be said within the limits of the present subject. His energy and apostolic zeal, his shrewdness, wit, and consecrated sense, his prodigious labors, and the accounts, well-nigh miraculous, of supernatural acts and scenes, are treasured thoughts and household tales in the broad region where he toiled with such success.

His body was buried in the central aisle of the church whose walls rang so often with the ardor of his eloquence. Before his year-old grave, Washington rallied the retreating Continental troops, upon that heated Sabbath day, in June, 1778, when brazen cannon lips thundered from Tennent heights the stern message of Liberty; and the dark menace of invasion rolled back from the little church front, where Strength and Conscience, Valor and Religion joined to repel the foe from Monmouth field.

Rev. John Woodhull, D. D., followed with an illustrious ministry of forty-five years, exerting a wide and benignant influence. Boyd, the Tennents, and Woodhull, four of the first five ministers, died while in their service with the church of Freehold.

Some half a mile eastward of the Tennent church, upon a thickly wooded hill, o’ergrown with tangled briars, that clamber over fallen trunks, on a point that looks out toward the white church he loved and toiled for through long years, lies the body of that man of God, Walter Ker. His tombstone is of firm-grained sandstone, with clear-cut inscription that reads as follows:

Here lies what’s Mortal of Walter Ker
Deceased June 10th 1748 in y 92 year of his age Who long with Patience Bore life’s heavy load Willing to spend and be spent for God the noble Portrait in a line to paint he Breath’d, a Father liv’d,' & Dy’d a saint
Here sleeps in peace the aged sire’s dust
Till the glad Trump arouse the sleeping just.

Beside him lies his wife, who had died fourteen years before. Above the little plot stands a massive oak with wide, strong branches which have resisted many a wintry shock, whose iron strength, deep rooted in the soil beneath, and lofty in its grand, uplifted limbs, seems as a type of that noble Covenanter's soul, who, after suffering imprisonment for conscience sake, banished across the sea, prayed and toiled and sacrificed, through three score years, for the Church of the Eternal Covenant of God. Beside the oak stands a strong and graceful chestnut tree, and the two, with branches intertwined, are symbols of those true and upright lives, rooted in the certainty’ of the promises of God, and sublime in the aspirations for the heavenly life. Down below the eminence where the trees are shading the ancient graves, rolls a fertile field and on its grassy sward, under fruitladen branches, graze flocks of sheep and herds of placid cattle.

From the rugged grandeur of those stern, strong, God-fearing lives of the troublous past, descend to our more peaceful days the inspiration of noble inheritance, and the treasured memories of the lineage of God’s elect.

“Peace to the Church, her peace no foes invade;
Peace to each noble martyr’s noble shade,
They with undaunted courage, truth, and zeal,
Contended for the Church and Country’s weal.
We share the fruits, we drop the grateful tear,
And peaceful altars o’er their ashes rear.”

FINIS.


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