At the Feet of Christ and His Church

In an earlier blog post, James Madison McDonald's histories of the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, Long Island, New York were highlighted. That church was founded in 1662, and was represented as the first Presbyterian Church in America. The story of that church is a fascinating one, well worth reading, but further digging has identified (what is not news to scholars, but may be of interest to amateur church historians such as this writer) an additional eight Presbyterian congregations in America, which preceded the 1662 Jamaica congregation. 

The earlier Presbyterian congregations, almost all of which were planted on Long Island, include those founded in Southampton (1640); Southold (1640); Hempstead (1643); East Hampton (1648); New Castle, Delaware (1651); Newtown (1652); Huntington (1658); and Setauket (1660).

Interestingly, in the early days of these Long Island congregations, the first pastors and members were of British, not Scotch-Irish, heritage. In the case of Southampton, it was a Puritan group of settlers who left Lynn, Massachusetts in the spring of 1640 to settle Long Island. Before their departure, colonists prepared a "Declaration of the Company" (a little-known document, which merits comparison with the Mayflower Compact) in which the signers stated that "Our true interest and meaning is that when our Plantation is laid out by those appointed that there shall be a Church gathered and constituted according to the mind of Christ, that there we do freely lay down our power of ordering and disposing of the Plantation and of receiving inhabitants thereof or any other thing that may tend to the good and welfare of the inhabitants at the feet of Christ and His Church."

After the Dutch pushed this group out of the west side of the island, they landed at Conscience Point, on the east side, where they founded the first English settlement in the state of New York, in June 1640. Although the founding of the church dates to that event, its first pastor, Abraham Pierson, Sr. (c. 1611-1678), did not arrive until November 1640. The story of this church is told by Randall Lee Saxon, At the Ffeete of Christe and His Church: An Historical Sketch of the First Presbyterian Church in America.

Meanwhile, Founders Landing in Southold commemorates the October 1640 landing of a group of Puritans from New Haven, Connecticut, led by the British-born Rev. John Youngs. The timing of these two events has led to a dispute over which church is properly considered to be "the first Presbyterian church in America." 

Regardless, the Puritan origins of Long Island Presbyterianism (the first American presbytery was the Presbytery of Philadelphia, but the Long Island Presbytery was constituted as part of the Synod of Philadelphia by 1717) is an important aspect of early American Presbyterianism that is worthy of our study.