Lost Treasures of American Presbyterianism

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What light would be thrown upon the dim past if we had to-day the diaries of Francis Makemie, Jedediah Andrews, Francis Doughty, Richard Denton or Matthew Hill. Had we the catechism which Makemie published, but which has absolutely disappeared, we should understand fully his attitude toward the Quakers and why he came into conflict with George Keith. Had we all the discussions and the letters which must have been written about the famous Adopting Act of 1729, how many precious hours of time in later years would have saved, misunderstanding avoided and the Church spared much restlessness and bad feeling. Could we but have the lost minutes of the Presbytery of Philadelphia from 1717 to 1733, the action of that body and the opinion of its members on the Adopting Act and other similar matters, might have proved mouth and wisdom to some of the men of later generations. Would it be more than the mere gratifying of an idle curiosity if we knew the reasons why the Presbyterians did not have a conference with the Baptists after having requested it and with whom they had worshipped in the Barbadoes Store, Philadelphia, from 1695 to 1698? If we could but see the lost page or pages of the first minutes of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, it would settle for the Church the question of time and perhaps the question as to the declaration of doctrine and the attitude of the early fathers to the Confession of Faith. If we could but read 'the loving letters from Domine Frelinghuysen,' it might reveal to us the secret as to the change in the ministry of Gilbert Tennent to a more evangelistic style of preaching. -- William L. Ledwith, "The Record of Fifty Years, 1852-1902: Historical Sketch of the Presbyterian Historical Society" in Journal of Presbyterian History, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 404

The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia was built to preserve the records and artifacts of Presbyterian history, and provides climate-controlled record storage services, along with fire protection, and other document preservation resources.

The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia was built to preserve the records and artifacts of Presbyterian history, and provides climate-controlled record storage services, along with fire protection, and other document preservation resources.

At Log College Press, we delight in bringing old, dusty, classic American Presbyterian works into the light of day again for a new generation to appreciate. But there are some works that are simply lost to history, as painful for we bibliophiles to admit, and as William Ledwith has shown us already (the Presbyterian Historical Society was founded mainly to protect and preserve the treasures of Presbyterian church history). There are works known to exist at one time that have simply disappeared from the stage before the advent of digital imaging. These include diaries, Presbytery minutes, letters, and even entire books.A few examples which pertain to Log College Press authors:

The first two pages of the first Presbytery’s Minute Book, which describe the first meeting, are lost to history. Pictured above is page 3 of the Minute Book, which gives an account of the ordination of John Boyd.

The first two pages of the first Presbytery’s Minute Book, which describe the first meeting, are lost to history. Pictured above is page 3 of the Minute Book, which gives an account of the ordination of John Boyd.

  • Francis Makemie - Besides the aforementioned Catechism, and his personal Diary, which are both gone, Makemie was accused by Lord Cornbury (who had previously tried him for preaching without a dissenters’ license and lost) with authorship of a 1707 New Jersey publication titled Forget and Forgive — of which Makemie denied authorship — for apparently slanderous remarks directed at him contained within. That book, which would certainly shine light on the ongoing dispute between Makemie (even if he was not the author) and Lord Cornbury, is simply nowhere to be found today.

  • Alexander Craighead - The first American Covenanter minister has left us some remarkable writings, but there are some gaps in his bibliography as well. His 1742 Discourse Concerning the Covenant is, strangely, missing eight pages. Moreover, no copy of an anonymous 1743 pamphlet thought to be published by him has survived after it was condemned by the Synod of Philadelphia for seditious principles. Considering his known published views on resistance to British tyranny, and the influence he had posthumously on the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, this missing pamphlet constitutes a rather large gap in our understanding of a fascinating colonial Presbyterian.

  • Titus Basfield - Basfield was a former slave who studied at what is now known as Franklin College, where he was mentored by the college president and Associate Presbyterian pastor John Franklin. John Bingham (later the architect of the 14th Amendment) was a fellow student and close friend of Basfield with whom he carried on a correspondence of 40 years. Bingham's letters to Basfield were destroyed in the 1990s, after John Campbell, a private collector who owned them, died, and his widow threw them away (source: Gerard N. Magliocca, American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment, p. 197).

  • Samuel Davies - At one point during the ministry of Davies in Virginia, a writer who took the pen name “Artemas” attempted to “lampoon” Davies by association with alleged excesses related to the Great Awakening, including “a copious flow of tears” and “fainting and trembling” by some under his ministry. Davies responded with a pamphlet titled A Pill For Artemas, which according to a 19th century anonymous writer (“ A Recovered Tract of President Davies,” The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review (1837), Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 363-364), “evinced the power of his sarcasm.” Davies sought a middle ground between extremes of lukewarmness and frenzied ecstasy in his hearers as the received the word of truth and responded appropriately. In any case, although the anonymous writer above said he had seen Davies’ pamphlet, George H. Bost wrote in 1942 that “Both pamphlets seem to have been lost” (Ph.D. dissertation titled Samuel Davies: Colonial Revivalist and Champion of Religious Toleration, p. 53).

So while we will continue to hunt for the interesting, rare and special works pertaining to American Presbyterianism to make them available at Log College Press, sadly, there are some things that are apparently lost to history. Would it be wonderful though, to find something thought to be lost in a drawer or attic somewhere? A church historian can dream, can’t they?

The Original Seven American Presbyters

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Original Presbytery Roll 1.jpg

The original American Presbytery was established around March 1706* in Philadelphia under the leadership of Francis Makemie, who is often referred to as the “Father of American Presbyterianism.” It included a total of seven members, although one was not actually present at the time (his absence was excused later). One man was further ordained at the first Presbytery meeting. We now have the first eight members of the first American Presbytery on Log College Press.

Original Presbytery Roll 2.jpg
  • Francis Makemie (1658-1708) - Known as “the Father of American Presbyterianism,” the Irish-born Makemie was the organizer and first moderator of the first Presbytery in America. He did much to promote and defend the Presbyterian Church on from Virginia to New York. He is buried on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

  • John Hampton (1675-1721) - Hampton came to the Eastern Shore in 1705 with Francis Makemie and George McNish. In 1707, he spent two months in prison with Makemie under charges of nonconformity.

  • George McNish (1660-1722) - Born in Scotland, McNish is referred to by William B. Sprague as the “father of Presbyterianism” in New York. He arrived in America with Francis Makemie and John Hampton in 1705.

  • Samuel Davis, Sr. (1663-1725) - Born in Ireland, Davis was the first pastor of the Presbyterian church in Lewes, Delaware, and ministered in Snow Hill, Maryland, as well. He was not actually present at the first meeting of Presbytery, and his attendance at Presbytery meetings was a recurring issue. It is thought that he signed (along with William Shankland) an address of loyalty to King William and Queen Mary by the inhabitants of Somerset County, Maryland in 1689.

  • Nathaniel Taylor (?-1710) - He was the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Snow Hill, Maryland.

  • John Wilson (1674-1712) - He was the first pastor of the New Castle Presbyterian Church in New Castle, Delaware. He also ministered to the White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church near Newark, Delaware.

  • Jedediah Andrews (1674-1747) - Born in Massachusetts, he was the first Presbyterian minister to preach in Philadelphia, serving the First Presbyterian Church, or “Old Buttonwood.” He served the Presbytery as clerk, and engaged in many missionary tours.

  • John Boyd (1679-1708) - He was the first Presbyterian minister ordained in America on December 29, 1706. Sadly, his ministry was cut short by death less than two years later.

It is interesting to note that Makemie and Boyd both died in 1708, Taylor in 1710 and Wilson in 1712. But the seeds had been sown for the establishment of Presbyterial work in America. By 1716, there were 17 Presbyterian ministers, and that same year a General Synod was created as the first Presbytery (of Philadelphia) was split into four (Long Island, New Castle, Philadelphia and Snow Hill). To see the growing list of ministers added to the Presbytery of Philadelphia after John Boyd, see Willard M. Rice’s Roll of Ministers and Licentiates (1888).

These names represent the beginnings of organized Presbyterianism in America. They are names worthy of remembrance. Although our information about their lives is limited, and so are their published writings (we have a few now here at Log College Press), their contribution to American Presbyterianism must not be forgotten.

* For a more precise understanding of the dating of this event, see Benjamin L. Agnew, When Was the First Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America Organized?

The Sermon That Landed Francis Makemie in Jail

As Francis Makemie himself wrote on March 3, 1707: “This is the Sermon, for which I am now a prisoner.” He spoke of the sermon he preached in New York City on January 19, 1707 titled “A Good Conversation.” It was based on Psalm 50:23: “To him that ordereth his Conversation aright, will I shew the Salvation of God.” The texts cited on the cover page when it was published were Matthew 5:11 and Acts 5:29, which deal with persecution for the faith, and obedience to God over man. It was the preaching and publishing of this sermon without a license in Anglican New York that led to the imprisonment of the Presbyterian minister Francis Makemie. The case became a major landmark in the history of religious liberty in America.

Also of note is that this sermon is “probably the earliest Presbyterian sermon in America now extant, and was certainly the first preached in the City of New York.” It is certainly the earliest sermon currently available to read at Log College Press.

The “conversation” spoken of by Makemie, who utilized the King James Bible, is an older word for “conduct” or “manner of life.” As Makemie says,

A Conversation agreeable to First Table Commands and Second Table Commands, and to Gospel Precepts, is the only regular Conversation. How much therefore is it the concern of every Soul, to be acquainted with this Law, and to make conscience of conforming their Lives thereunto.

3. A Well-ordered Life and Conversation, consists in being adorned with the shining Grace, and gracious fruits of the Spirit of God; wherein the Gifts and Graces of the Renewing Spirit of God are legible and conspicuous, even in all parts of Conversation. This distinguishes the life of a Christian, from the Conversation of the most refined and polished Moralists in the world, and renders the Conversation of a true sincere Christian, to surpass by far the lives of Pagans.

The sermon is a lengthy treatise (originally designed for two discourses, as the author states) on how to live well for the glory of God and to make one’s calling and election sure. Far from being unorthodox, and far from being seditious, it was a testimony to lawful, submissive Christian living. Yet, without a license to preach, the sermon (especially being preached by an Irish-American) became, in the eyes of Lord Cornbury, the royal governor of New York, an intolerable symbol of resistance to the Crown.

Makemie further wrote about his experience in his “Narrative of the Imprisonment of Two Non-Conformist Ministers” (1707). In his account we learn about the time he spent in prison (two months) on the charge of preaching without a license before being released on bail, and the fact that during his trial he was able to produce the preaching license he was given previously in Barbados, after which he was acquitted and released, at great personal financial cost.

Both the sermon and the narrative are fascinating reads, and they give insight into the situation that Presbyterians in early America under British colonial rule faced. Take time to study these works, for your edification and understanding. They represent a window into a time and a heritage that America should never forget.