Scotch-Irish Educational Institutions

Henry Jones Ford

The fact that originally Presbyterianism was the product of historical research naturally set up standards of scholarship for its ministry. The grounds upon which rested the doctrine of the parity of ministerial orders in the primitive Church were not to be discerned by inward light nor apprehended by emotional fervor. It was a matter calling for historical knowledge, involving familiarity with the languages in which the records of the primitive Church were preserved. Presbyterian ministry thus implied educated ministry from its very nature.

Institutions of learning were therefore a necessary accompaniment of the Presbyterian Church. In Ulster it was the regular thing for a candidate for the ministry to go to Scotland to get a classical education as the foundation of his theological studies. This insistence upon scholarship as a ministerial qualification was sharpened by sectarian tendencies in favor of substituting zeal for knowledge and private inspiration for historical evidence. To fortify the ministry against such tendencies particular attention was paid to education from the earliest times. The records of the Ulster Synod show that the educational qualifications of the ministry received steady care. Conditions in the New World put fresh stress upon the need of an educated ministry. The very freedom found there admitted of vagaries that were repugnant to the orderly instincts of historical Presbyterianism. Zealots appeared who claimed prophetic authority so that they assumed the right to examine ministers as to their opinions and behavior and pass judgment upon their spiritual state. An enthusiast who once had a large following required his followers to give a practical exhibition of their renunciation of idolatry by casting into the flames some ornament or finery in which they had taken pride. A fire was actually kindled for the purpose, and his followers each took off some article of dress or some ornament and tossed it into the flames. A number of religious books which he adjudged heretical were also cast into the fire. Among them was one by the noted Puritan divine Dr. Increase Mather. Dr. Hodge remarks of this period that an "enthusiastical and fanatical spirit . . . swept over the New England churches."

Gilbert Tennent, who himself gave countenance to the movement in its early stages, in a letter dated February 12, 1742, remarked that "experience had given him a clear view of the danger of every thing which tends to enthusiasm and divisions in the visible Church." He added: "The sending out of unlearned men to teach others, upon the supposition of their piety, in ordinary cases, seems to bring the ministry into contempt; to cherish enthusiasm, and to bring all into confusion. Whatever fair face it may have, it is a most perverse practice." This conclusion was not reached until after controversies engendered by the situation had disrupted the Church, but in the end the effect was to impress anew the need of an educated ministry and to incite special exertions to supply the means.

As has been set forth in preceding chapters, an educated ministry accompanied the Scotch-Irish settlements in America. But Ireland was so far away and communications were so hard and so slow that America could not depend upon Ulster as a source in the way that Ulster so long depended upon Scotland. It was a comparatively brief and easy matter for a student to go and come between Ulster and Scotland by the short sea-ferry; but if there was to be in America a native born educated ministry, institutions of learning had to be set up. Considerations of this nature had impelled the New England Puritans to found Harvard and Yale. Similar educational activity was evinced by the Ulster Presbyterians when they settled in Pennsylvania. In 1726 William Tennent, an Ulster clergyman for some years resident in America, became pastor of the church at Neshaminy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1728 James Logan gave Tennent fifty acres of land on Neshaminy Creek "to encourage him to prosecute his views, and make his residence near us permanent." On this tract Tennent put up a school house and as it was built of logs, it was familiarly known as the Log College. But humble as was the building the scholarship it sheltered was sound in quality and ample for the times. No vestige of the building remains but its work goes on.

This foundation, since so famous, passed almost unnoticed at the time. The only contemporary reference appears to be that contained in the journal of George Whitefield, the evangelist, who visited the region during his preaching tours. He made the following quaint entry in his journal for 1739:

"The place wherein the young men study now is, in contempt, called The College. It is a log house, about twenty feet long, and near as many broad, and to me, it seemed to resemble the school of the old prophets, for their habitations were mean; and that they sought not great things for themselves is plain from those passages of Scripture wherein we are told that each of them took a beam to build them a house; and that at the feast of the sons of the prophets, one of them put on the pot, whilst the others went to fetch some herbs out of the field. All that we can say of most of our universities is they are glorious without. From this despised place seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth, more are almost ready to be sent, and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others."

Tennent carried on this school almost single-handed. It was said of him that Latin was as familiar as his mother tongue. According to a biographical notice published in 1805, "his attainments in science are not so well known, but there is reason to believe that they were not so great as his skill in language." As a teacher he was singularly successful. He educated for the ministry his four sons who added to the reputation of the family name. Among his pupils were such distinguished men as Samuel Blair, John Rowland, James McCrea, William Robinson, John Blair, Samuel Finley, John Roan, Charles Beatty, Daniel Lawrence and William Dean. Probably no other school ever produced so many eminent men in proportion to the number of its pupils. It was in this way the Log College became progenitor of numerous institutions of learning, and not through any corporate connection. It was the expression of the powers of one individual and did not survive him.

The Log College was only one of a number of schools that were precursors of the Princeton foundation. There was not until 1746, in all the region between Connecticut and Virginia, any institution authorized to confer degrees. But the influx of Ulster clergymen led to the establishing of schools that did valuable work. Samuel Blair, born in Ireland, June 14, 1712, studied for the ministry at the Log College. He was installed pastor of a congregation at Fagg's Manor, Pa., in 1740, where he established a school which produced such men as Samuel Davies, John Rodgers, Alexander Cumming, James Finley, Robert Smith and Hugh Henry. He died in July 5, 1751.

Francis Alison, born in Ireland in 1705 and educated at the University of Glasgow, came to America in 1734 or 1735. On the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin he was employed by John Dickinson of Delaware as tutor for his son, with permission to take other pupils. He is said to have had an academy at Thunder Hill, Md. He was ordained pastor of New London, Chester County, Pa., by New Castle Presbytery in 1737, and in 1743 he started a school there, which the Synod took under its patronage. In 1749 he was invited to Philadelphia to take charge of a school there, which had been founded through subscriptions obtained by Benjamin Franklin. This institution was the germ of the University of Pennsylvania. Among his pupils were Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas McKean, George Read and James Smith.

Samuel Finley, born in County Armagh, Ireland, in 1715, arrived in Philadelphia, September 28, 1734. He completed his studies at the Log College. In 1741 he was appointed to the care of several congregations, one of which was at Nottingham, Md., where he established a school that became famous. Among his pupils were Governor Martin of North Carolina, Ebenezer Hazard of Philadelphia, Benjamin Rush and Judge Jacob Rush, Dr. McWhorter of Newark, Dr. Tennent of Abingdon and the famous James Waddel, the blind preacher of Virginia. John H. Finley, Commissioner of Education of the State of New York, is a descendant of the Rev. James Finley, brother of Samuel Finley.

When the movement known as Methodism stirred the Church, chiefly through the preaching of George Whitefield, the controversies engendered by practices attending this movement incidentally put new emphasis upon education as a qualification for the ministry. At the meeting of the Synod of Philadelphia in 1738 the following proposal from the Presbytery of Lewes was adopted by a large majority:

"That every student who has not studied with approbation, passing the usual course in some of the New England or European Colleges, approved by public authority, shall, before he be encouraged by any Presbytery for the sacred work of the ministry, apply himself to this Synod, and that they appoint a committee of their members yearly, whom they know to be well skilled in the several branches of philosophy and divinity, and the languages, to examine such students in this place, and finding them well accomplished in those several parts of learning shall allow them a public testimonial from the Synod, which till better provision be made, will in some measure answer the design of taking a degree in the College."

In 1739 the order was revised so as to provide that the candidate for the ministry "shall be examined by the whole Synod, or its commission as to those preparatory studies, which we generally pass through at the College, and if they find him qualified, they shall give him a certificate, which shall be received by our respective Presbyteries as equivalent to a diploma or certificate from the College." This action of the Synod was objected to by the Tennents and other adherents of Log College, as it seemed to ignore that institution and to erect a Synodical College. Trouble soon broke out. The New Brunswick Presbytery disregarded the Synod's rule and licensed John Rowland, a Log College graduate. The Synod declared this proceeding disorderly, admonished the Presbytery and ruled that Rowland was not to be admitted as a preacher until he submitted to the Synodical examination. The Synod at the same time appointed its commission to meet at Philadelphia and "prosecute the design of erecting a school or seminary of learning." Ebenezer Pemberton, Jonathan Dickinson, John Cross and James Anderson were nominated, two of whom were to go to Europe to solicit aid. This design was not carried out at the time, but it traced the lines on which eventually the College of New Jersey was planned.

Underlying the dispute about ministerial qualifications were differences as to church standards and discipline, stirred up by the Methodist movement and particularly by the preaching of George Whitefield. President Ashbel Green, in a historical sketch published in 1822, traced the origin of the College of New Jersey to the rupture of 1741, by which the Synod of Philadelphia was divided and the Synod of New York was organized as a rival body. President Green says:

"Both Synods, from the time of their separation, made strenuous exertions to educate youth for the Gospel ministry; not only from the laudable desire of extending the blessings of the Gospel to those who, in every direction, were then destitute of them, but also from the less commendable motive of strengthening and extending each its own party. Thus circumstanced and disposed, it was to be expected that the members of the Synod of New York would endeavor to organize their plans of education, in a province where their peculiar views were prevalent and popular. New Jersey was their undisputed territory; and here if anywhere, they might hope to found an institution in which all their wishes might be realized. It happened also that in this Province the ablest champions of their cause, and the man of their Synod who, in all respects, was the best qualified to superintend and conduct the education of youth, had his residence. This was the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, of Elizabeth Town."

With the probable view of putting Dickinson at the head of such an institution as could graduate recruits to the learned profession, a charter was obtained from the Province of New Jersey, the official attestation under the Great Seal being made by Acting Governor John Hamilton, of His Majesty's Council, October 22, 1746. This charter was not recorded but its substance is given in an advertisement which appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette of August 13, 1747, concluding with the announcement that the

"trustees have chosen the Rev. Mr. Jonathan Dickinson president, whose superior Abilities are well known; and Mr. Caleb Smith, tutor of the said college; and that the college is now actually opened, to be kept at Elizabeth Town, till a building can be erected in a more central place of the said Province for the residence of the Students; that all who are qualified for it, may be immediately admitted to an academick education, and to such class and station in the college, as they are found upon examination to deserve; and that the charge of the college to each student, will be Four Pound a year New Jersey money, at Eight Shillings per ounce, and no more."

It appears that the opening of the college thus referred to took place in the fourth week of May, preceding the announcement. Hatfield in his History of Elizabeth states that "the first term of the College of New Jersey, was opened at Mr. Dickinson's house, on the south side of the old Rahway road directly west of Race Street." President Dickinson's term of administration was brief, beginning in April, 1747, and closing with his death on October 7, 1747. His educational labors appear however to have been much more extensive than his brief presidency might indicate, as he had previously taken private pupils. It is also certain that his pupils had made very considerable progress, for less than a year after his decease six persons received their Bachelor's degree. In addition to his activities as minister and teacher Dickinson was also a practising physician, in which profession he had considerable reputation.