Foreign Ministers of the Presbyterian Church in America, 1681-1758 (2)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER X.concluded

Samuel Blair, 1733, accepted a call to Middleton, New Jersey, where he remained until 1739, and then removed to Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania. Here he established a celebrated classical school. He was distinguished as a preacher for solemnity and impressiveness. President Davies refers to him “as the incomparable Blair,” and stated that in his travels in England he had not heard his superior. His published writings were seven sermons, three of them on Justification, a Vindication of the Excluded Brethren, an answer to John Thomson on the Government of the Church, and to Alexander Craighead’s Reasons for Forsaking our Church, also a Treatise on Predestination.

Alexander Craighead, 1734, pastor of Middle Octorara, from whence he removed to Virginia, 1749, and then to North Carolina, where he passed the remainder of his days in the active duties of the ministry; was an earnest, fervid preacher and a zealous promoter of revivals. His ardent love of personal liberty, and his advanced views on civil government and religious liberty, made him obnoxious to the civil governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and led to his removal to North Carolina, where he became an “apostle of liberty,”[3] to whom “the people of Mecklenburg county are indebted for that training which placed them in the forefront of American patriots and heroes.”

Francis Alison, 1735, was pastor of New London, Pennsylvania, for fifteen years, where he established a classical school, which in 1744 was taken under the care of synod. He removed to Philadelphia in 1752, where he took charge of an academy, which in 1755 was erected into a college, of which he was vice-provost and professor of moral philosophy. He had the reputation of being the best scholar then in America; acted at the same time as assistant pastor of the First church, and had great influence in all the judicatories of the Presbyterian Church. John Elder, 1736, was installed pastor of Paxton and Derry churches, Pennsylvania, 1738, where he continued for more than half a century, sharing with his people the hardships and exposures of their frontier-life. He superintended the military discipline of his people, and acted as their captain in their warfare with surrounding savage foes. His ability and experience in this frontier warfare led to his receiving a commission as colonel in the colonial service, and to his being placed in command of the blockhouses and stockades from the Susquehanna to Easton; he was respected and beloved by his congregations, and very useful as a minister.

John Craig, 1737, labored first in Maryland, and then in Western Virginia. He was installed pastor of the congregations of Augusta and Tinkling Spring, and was the first Presbyterian minister settled in Virginia. His congregations extended over a territory thirty miles long by nearly twenty broad, and suffered greatly in the French-and-Indian war. By precept and example he encouraged his people to resist their enemies, which they did successfully, and from these congregations went forth many hardy soldiers to fight in the various Indian wars and in that of the Revolution. His memory is held in the highest veneration by the descendants of those to whom he preached for thirty-four years.

Charles Beatty came to this country in 1729, and was installed, 1743, pastor at Neshaminy, as successor of Mr. Tennent, where his entire ministry was spent. His services as a missionary to visit the frontier settlements and to ascertain the condition of the Indian tribes, and also in connection with the fund for the relief of destitute ministers, were of the most important character. He was an active patriot, and served as chaplain of the provincial forces raised to defend the frontier.

John Blair, brother of Samuel Blair, was settled, 1742-1748, as pastor in Pennsylvania, during which period he made two visits to Virginia, preaching with great power in various places and organizing several churches. His next pastorate was Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania, from whence he was called to the professorship of divinity at Nassau Hall, in connection with the duties of vice-president of the college, and served as president until Dr. Witherspoon’s arrival. His last pastoral charge was at Walkill, New York. He was a judicious and persuasive preacher, and eminently successful in the conversion of the impenitent. He published several works.

Samuel Finley, D. D., was pastor of the church at Nottingham, Maryland, for seventeen years, where he founded an academy to prepare young men for the ministry, which acquired a great reputation. He was an accomplished scholar and teacher. At the death of President Davies, of Nassau Hall, he was chosen his successor, and his administration proved of great advantage to the college. He was a distinguished pulpit orator. His learning was extensive, every branch of study taught in the college being familiar to him. The degree of doctor of divinity was conferred on him by the University of Glasgow. John Roan was licensed, 1744, and sent on a missionary-tour to Virginia, where great numbers were converted under his preaching. Returning to Pennsylvania in 1745, he was settled over the united congregations of Paxton, Derry and Mount Joy, where he remained until his death, 1775, proving an able, courageous and faithful minister of the gospel.

Robert Smith, D. D., was licensed, 1749, and settled over the churches in Pequa and Leacock, Pennsylvania. Here he opened a classical school, which was attended by a large number of young men, many of whom became distinguished in the ministry and in the professions; he was moderator of the Assembly, and highly esteemed as an able, faithful pastor. Three of his sons entered the ministry: Dr. Samuel Stanhope Smith, President of Nassau Hall; Dr. John Blair Smith, president of Hampden-Sidney, and afterward of Union, College; and Dr. William Ramsey Smith, pastor of the Second Presbyterian church, Wilmington, Delaware.

Other ministers who came from abroad and aided in establishing Presbyterianism in this country, to whose labors we cannot refer, were: Robert Orr, 1715; Henry Hook and Samuel Young, 1718; Archibald McCook and Hugh Stevenson, 1726; John Williamson, William Orr and David Sankey, 1730; William Bertram, 1732; Benjamin Campbell, 1733; Samuel Hemphill, James Martin and Robert Jamison, 1734; Hugh Carlisle and Samuel Black, 1735; John Paul, 1736; Charles Tennent, 1737; David Alexander, 1738; Samuel Caven, David Megregor and Francis McHenry, 1739; Alexander McDowell and James McCrea, 1741; John Steel, 1744; Andrew Bay, 1747; Samson Smith and Samuel Kennedy, 1750: Robert Smith, 1751; James Finley, 1752; John Kinkead and James Brown, 1753; Hugh Knox, 1755; and Henry Patillo, 1757, an author, and a patriarch in the churches of North Carolina.

In the above enumeration we have confined ourselves to those clergymen from Scotland and Ireland who entered the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in this country previous to the union of the synods in 1758. This was the period when the largest emigration took place, and the formative period of Presbyterianism in America. If we would give proper weight to this influence, we must bear in mind that at the union of the two synods of New York and Philadelphia, in 1758, there were but ninety-four ministers connected with the Presbyterian Church in this country, and of this number forty had come either from Ireland or Scotland. From the origin of the Church, at least ninety ministers of foreign birth had helped to plant Presbyterianism in the New World and aided in its subsequent growth. At the union of the synods more than half of these clergymen had ceased from their labors, their places, however, being largely supplied by their sons, who had been trained for the ministry in the humble yet efficient educational institutions of the Church. The indebtedness of the Presbyterian Church in America, therefore, to the churches of Ireland and Scotland can scarcely be overestimated; and this is as true of the membership of the Church as of the clergymen who ministered to them.

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[3] Rev Dr. Miller of Charlotte.