The General Presbytery
At a meeting of the Presbytery of Lagan, in the north of Ireland, held in December, 1680, a commu nication was received from ” Colonel Stevens, in Mary land, beside Virginia,” asking for a minister for that region. In the preceding January the Rev. T. Drummond had introduced to the Presbytery Mr. Francis Makemie, of the neighborhood of Ramelton, in Done gal, as a candidate for the ministry. He was probably now a graduate of Glasgow University. “Franciscus Makemius, Scoto-Hybernus,” was enrolled a student therein in 1675. He was licensed by the Presbytery in 1681, and subsequently ordained, says Reid, “on the call of Colonel Stevens.” The date of his ordination is unknown, as the records of the Presbytery are a blank for several years after his licensure. That was the darkest hour in the history of the martyr Church of Scotland. When Makemie entered the university of Glasgow in 1675, Lauderdale and Sharpe were busy devising and executing those atrocious measures against the Church which even Sir Walter Scott asserts might have been suggested by Satan himself, and which pressed more and more heavily in the following years. In 1678 the “Highland Host” was brought down upon the people, and its atrocities may have been witnessed by Makemie himself, as they passed through Glasgow. Grahame of Claverhouse began his bloody career the next year, and when Makemie was licensed, in 1681, the Duke of York, afterward King James, was him self in Scotland superintending and stimulating the zeal of the persecutors, and feasting his own eyes with the personal inspection of the agonies of his victims under the tortures of the boot.
Ireland was at this time comparatively at rest. But the Presbytery of Lagan having, in 1681, appointed a fast, no doubt with reference to the state of public affairs, they were harassed with prosecutions, fines and imprisonments, and in consequence there remain for several years no records of their proceedings. During this interval Makemie was ordained, and from the mode in which in a passage presently to be cited he refers to that service as performed by “godly, learned and judicious discerning men,” without speaking of the Presby tery distinctively, it seems probable that the meeting was not a regular session of that. body, but a private assembly of such of the members as were able to convene.
Of the ordination services the only information we have is contained in his own “Answer to George Keith’s Libel on a Catechism published by F. Makemie.” In this publication he says: “I am constrained to justify my office from these uncharitable calumnies, and, that grace might be magnified, by giving this relation, in the sight of an all-seeing and all-present God; that, ere I received the imposition of hands, in that scriptural and orderly way of separation unto my holy and ministerial calling, I gave requiring satisfaction, to godly, learned and judicious discerning men, of a work of grace and conversion wrought in my heart, by the Holy Spirit, in my fourteenth year, by and from the pains of a godly schoolmaster, who used no small dili gence in gaining tender souls to God’s service and fear; since which time, to the glory of God’s free grace be it spoke, I have had the sure experiences of God’s deal ings with me, according to his infinite and unerring wisdom, for my unspeakable comfort.”
Thus early grounded in the faith by a personal experience of its power, educated amid the scenes of a bitter persecution, trained and brought forward by a pastor, Mr. Drummond who had lain in prison six years for the testimony of the Gospel; ordained to the work of missions upon a call to go to the far‑off wilds of the new world, Makemie went forth at the voice of God, not knowing whither he went, but strong in faith, and bearing aloft the banner of the cross, inscribed with that noble legend most fitting to become the motto of the Church which his labors founded: Preces et lachrymae arma sunt ecclesiae: “Prayers and tears are the arms of the Church.”
In this, his early history we have the secret of the de votion to the doctrines of our standards which inspired Makemie’s noble testimony in the presence of Corn bury: “As to our doctrines, my lord, we have our Confession of Faith, which is known to the Christian world, and I challenge all the clergy of York to show :us any false or pernicious doctrines therein.” Here, too, is the source of that lofty and magnanimous spirit which dictated his memorable reply to the demands of the petty tyrant, that he and Hampton should give bond and security for their good behavior, and “also bond and security to preach no more in my govern ment.” “As to our behavior,” said Makemie, “though we have no way broke it, endeavoring always so to live ‘as to keep a conscience void of offence toward God and man,’ yet, if your lordship requires it, we would give security for our behavior; but to give bond and security to preach no more in your Excellency’s govern ment, if invited and desired by any people, we neither can nor dare do.” Noble words! Worthy of record beside those of the great Reformer at Worms! Such was the man who laid the foundations of our Church. May she ever be tree to his devoted spirit!
Makemie’s ordination and removal to America pro bably occurred in 1682, or early in 1683, as it took place in response to the application of Colonel Stevens, which was received in December, 1680. On the 2d of April, 1682, he preached for the Rev. William Hampton, of Burt, in Donegal, and on the 22d of July, 1684, writes a letter from Elizabeth River, Va., to the Rev. Increase Mather, of Boston, from the tenor of which it is evident that. he had been already some time in America.
Colonel William Stevens, at whose invitation Make mie came, was a resident of Rehoboth, Md., a judge of the county court, deputy-lieutenant of the province, and one of the lord proprietary’s council. The lower part of the eastern shore of Maryland was early settled by refugees from the persecutions in Scotland. It was on their behalf that Stevens’ letter was written, and probably among them Makemie’s first labors were employed. “There is record evidence of the fact that there were five church edifices and as many organ ized Presbyterian. congregations in Somerset county on the 13th day of May, 1705”—those of Snow Hill, Pitt’s Creek, Wicomico, Monokin and Rehoboth—gathered, without doubt, by the labors of Makemie, as there is no evidence of any other minister preceding him there. In Virginia his stated ministrations extended to Accomac county, on the eastern shore, and to Lynnhaven, on Elizabeth River in Princess Ann county. Here was a church organized some years before Makemie’s coining. Its nameless Irish pastor died in August, 1683, and Makemie being providentially driven into that port on a voyage of exploration from Maryland to Ashley river, in South Carolina, he was induced “to stay that season.” He was still there in the summer of 1685, and at his death had property in the place.
Abundant thus in his ministerial labors Makemie “supported himself by commerce, in which he seems to have been extensively engaged. In fact, if we may believe Cornbury, his employments were even still more various. “He is a Jack-of-all-trades. He is a preacher, a doctor of physic, a merchant, an attorney, a counsellor-at-law, and, which is worst of all, a dis turber of governments.” “You, sir; know law?” de manded Cornbury of him, in surprise at the clearness of his defence when impeached of preaching contrary to law. “I do not, my lord, pretend to know law; but I pretend to know this particular law, having had sun dry disputes thereon.” He needed to know the law, for “it is a matter of tradition that he suffered often under the laws of Virginia. ‘He durst not deny preaching, and hoped he never should, while it was wanting and desired.’” Thus he became “a disturber of governments,” a true follower of Him who “came not to send peace on the earth, but a sword.”
One of the earliest of Makemie’s fellow‑laborers was Nathaniel Taylor, of Upper Marlborough, Maryland. Colonel Ninian Beall had fled from persecution in Scotland and found a refuge in Maryland. As early as 1689 he was already a prominent man in the colony. “Some years after his arrival lie made a purchase of several large tracts of land from the tribe of Piscata way Indians. On one of these tracts he laid out the town of Upper Marlborough, and there fixed his resi dence. Remembering that he had a large number of relations at home subjected to the same sufferings from which he had escaped, he wrote to his. friends to come over to Maryland and participate in his happiness, urg ing it upon them, at the same time, to bring with them a faithful minister of the Gospel. They arrived some months afterward, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Taylor, their pastor.” The date of his arrival is unknown. All the circumstances would indicate it to have been some time before the beginning of the seventeenth century. His church was known on the records indiffer ently as Marlborough and Patuxent.
In Virginia toleration was allowed to Dissenters only where the sterile soil refused a sufficient crop of tobacco to stimulate the cupidity of the parsons of the Estab lishment. “‘Tis observed,” says Beverly, writing in 1705, “that those counties where the Presbyterian meetings are produce very mean tobacco, and for that reason can’t get an orthodox minister to stay among them.” In Maryland religious liberty, secured by a charter from a Protestant king to a Catholic proprie tary, invited extensive immigration from Ireland and Scotland. In Pennsylvania, too, and the Jerseys relig ious liberty, a fertile soil and a salubrious climate attracted the steps of many of the exiles of persecution.
At New Castle, Delaware, which was then attached to Pennsylvania, was a congregation of which the Rev. John Wilson was the pastor. His coming must have been at an early date, as already, in 1686, William Huston had by will left to Wilson and his successors a tract of land of three hundred acres on Christiana Creek, four or five miles from New Castle.
About 1702, having some cause of dissatisfaction, he withdrew from the church at New Castle; but, in 1703 returned. His Scotch origin is indicated by his being appointed by the Presbytery in 1707 to corres pond with Scotland for the purpose of securing a min ister for Lewes, Delaware. He and Mr. Makemie were appointed to write to Scotland to Mr. Alexander Col din, minister of Oxam, of the Presbytery of _______, to signify the earnest desires of the people in and about Lewestown for his coming over to be their minister. “The Presbytery appoints Mr. John Wilson to write to the Presbytery of to the effect aforesaid, and make a report of his care herein against the next Presbytery.”
Mr. Makemie may have been personally acquainted with Mr. Coldin, who was reported to the Scotch As sembly, in 1689, as a minister in regular standing in the Irish Church; and enumerated with others who were then supposed to be in Scotland.
Again, when, in 1710, the General Presbytery opened correspondence with the Presbytery of Dublin and the Synod of Glasgow, the Rev. John Henry, who had been received, the previous year, from Dublin Presbytery, was appointed to write to that body; and Mr. Wilson and Mr. James Anderson were the committee to correspond with the latter.” Mr. Anderson had been ordained and sent out, as a missionary to Amer ica, by the Presbytery of Irvine, in the Synod of Glasgow.
It is impossible to account for the prominent position given to Wilson in this Scotch correspondence, preferred to all the other members of the Presbytery, and placed in marked precedence over Makemie and Anderson, unless we suppose him to have been from Scotland.
Samuel Davis was another Presbyterian minister, residing in Delaware, at the close of the seventeenth century. He was, however, so absorbed in trade as to prevent his fulfilling the duties of a pastor. He preached occasionally at Lewes, and was present at the organization of the Presbytery; which, however, he attended but once afterward. Of his origin and history but little further is known.
Philadelphia was visited by Makemie, in 1692, but no marked results seem to have followed. It was not until the summer of 1698, that Mr. Andrews removed to that place and commenced his labors. He was from Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard, in 1695. He was probably ordained by an occasional Presbytery, in the fall or winter of 1701. His Record of Baptisms and Marriages, begins, 1701, tenth month, fourteenth day. Says Talbot, the Church missionary at Burling ton, writing April 24, 1702,–” The Presbyterians, here, come a great way, to lay hands on one another…In Philadelphia one pretends to be a Presbyterian, and has congregation to which he preaches.” In 1703, Keith writes from Philadelphia, ” They have here a Presby terian meeting and minister,–one called Andrews, but they are not likely to increase here.” It thus appears, that, although Andrews was from New England, he and his people were avowed Presbyterians some years before the organization of the Presbytery.
Two other names make up the list of those who were connected with the Presbytery in its origin. In the summer of 1704, Makemie sailed for Great Britain, from whence he returned the next year, bringing with dim John Hampton and George Macnish. Mr. Hamp ton may have been a relative of the Rev. William Hampton, of Burt, before mentioned. Macnish is stated by Reid to have been from Ulster, a represen tion which is perfectly consistent with the unquestionable evidence that he was a native of Scotland. So intimate was the relation between the churches in the two countries, that such translations were of constant occurrence.
Probably, the return of Makemie from this voyage was the occasion for the organization of the Presbytery. He had brought with him a considerable reinforcement to the ministry in the field, including, it is believed, not only Messrs. Hampton and Macnish, but Mr. John Boyd, a licentiate, who was soon after ordained. He had secured the promise of the London ministers, “to undertake the support of two itinerants, for the space of two years, and, after that, to send two more, on the same conditions, allowing the former, after that time to settle.” These were considerations which could not but stimulate the scattered Presbyterians to new interest and encouragement in their labors, and suggest to them the importance of organization, in order to avail themselves efficiently of the advantages thus presented, and to exercise a judicious supervision over the itinerant labors about to be bestowed upon the field.
The first leaf of the records of the Presbytery is lost, so that we are uninformed as to the time and place of the first meeting, and the members then present. As it appears in the defective record, the body, in 1706, consisted of Messrs. Francis. Makemie, Moderator, Jedidiah Andrews, John Hampton, John Wilson, Nathaniel Taylor, George Macnish, and Samuel Davis. The first remaining minutes are occupied with the trials and ordination of Mr. John Boyd, which took place in December, 1706. He was a native of Scotland, and labored at Freehold and Middletown, New .Jersey, where he died, in 1708.
About fifteen congregations were, at first, connected the Presbytery; of which two were in Virginia, six in Maryland, five in Pennsylvania and Delaware, and two in New Jersey. With one exception, these all seem to have been composed of Scotch and Irish emigrants. Mr. Andrews’ church was “made up of diverse nations.”
It has been common to represent the Presbytery as originally organized, by a compromise between Presbyterians and Congregationalists. But, there is not a trace of evidence that any member of the body was a Congregationalist, or, that any one of them, except Andrews, was from New England; and he was an Old-Side Presbyterian.
Of any defined principles or terms of union, or formal constitution, adopted by the Presbytery, we have no oration. Certainly, there was no act or record formally adopting the Westminster Standards. “As far as I know,” said the Rev. John Thomson, we have any particular system of doctrines, composed by ourselves or others, which we, by any judicial act of our Church, have adopted to be the articles or confession of faith, etc. Now, a church without a confession, what is it like? It is true, as I take it, we all generally acknowledge and look upon the Westminster Confession and Catechisms to be our confession, or what we for such; but the most that can be said is, that the Westminster Confession of Faith is the confession of the faith of the generality of our member, ministers and people; but, that it is our confession as we are a united body politic, I cannot see, unless it bath been received by a conjunct act of the representatives of the Church.”
In fact, the transaction in which our Church organi zation, on this continent, originated, seems to have been of the simplest and most unpretending nature. Cer tain brethren, who knew each other, as Presbyterians of the Westminster Confession, and who had been accus tomed to meet and consult together, occasionally and in formally as on occasion of Andrews’ ordination, now found the interests of the cause of Christ to demand more formal and stated deliberations, and, therefore, determined to meet annually, for the transaction of business, without alluding to the circumstance—or, perhaps, even in their own minds adverting to it—that they were, in fact, marking the lines of a new and distinct division of the camps of Israel. They knew and mutually recognized each other, as men sworn and faithful to the truth, as set forth in the Westminster symbols. And the very unquestioned familiarity of the fact precluded the sug gestion of its being formally placed upon record, until the circumstances of the growing Church, and dangers threatening from without, called attention to the necessity. They regarded themselves, in fact, as only a branch of the Church of Scotland, subject to its con stitution, and dependent upon its patronage, and there fore did not need to adopt a constitution for themselves.
Whilst the records are silent on this point, there is another on which they are explicit. The distinct de sign of the fathers of our Church, in organizing them selves into a Presbytery, was the erection of an evangelic society—an executive organ for the propagation of the Gospel. In a letter, addressed to Sir Edmund Harrison, of London, in May, 1709, they set forth the deplorable condition, spiritually, of the colonies; and urged the Christian people of London to come to their help. “The negotiation begun and encouraged by a fund, in the time when our worthy friend, Mr. Makemie, now deceased, was with you, for evangelizing these colonies, was a business exceeding acceptable to a multitude of people, and was likely to have been of great service, if continued; which makes us much grieved that so valuable a design was so soon after its begin ning, laid aside. The necessity of carrying on the same affair being as great, if not greater, now, than it was then, we hope that our patrons in London will revive good and important a work, and not let it lie buried under the ashes…That our evangelical affairs may be the better managed, we have formed ourselves into a Presbytery, annually to be convened at this city; at which times, it is a sore distress and trouble unto us, that we are not able to comply with the desires of sundry places, crying unto us for ministers, to deal forth the word of life unto them. Therefore, we must earnestly beseech you, in the bowels of our Lord, to intercede with the ministers of London, and other well‑affected gentlemen, to extend their charity and pity to us, and to carry on so necessary and glorious a work.”
Let it never be forgotten that our Church was destined, in its very origin, and erected, to be an evangelical society, to conduct under its own supervision, the business of giving the Gospel to the world. In this capacity, and with this intent, not only were the labors of these men of God multiplied and untiring, but their applications for ministers and the means of their sup port, until settled here, were assiduous and importu nate, to the London ministers, and to the Presbytery of Dublin, and the Synod of Glasgow; to the former of whom, they through Sir Edmund Harrison of London first wrote in 1709, and to the .latter, in 1710; and repeatedly afterward.