The Early History of the Presbyterian Church, of Chester. Delivered at Chester, Tuesday, June 7th, 1898, by James Whitfeld Wood Esq., of Easton, Pa. One of the most, interesting addresses delivered June 7th, 1898 at the recent centennial celebration of the Presbyterian church, was that given by James Whitfeld Wood, Esq., of Easton, Pa. He is the son of Rev. Jas. W. Wood, D. D. former pastor of Chester Presbyterian church. So many request were made by the people to see it in print that Mr . Wood has kindly furnished us his manuscript. The address which was started last week is herewith concluded. This description was modernized by my father that year as follows: "The first house mentioned is now occupied by Mr. Whitney. The new house built by Joseph Durland is now in possession of Dr. Edmundson in the village. The house built by Mr. Jones is the one occupied in 1848 by Mr. Samuel Durland." My father added this thought: "Mr. Jones is the only minister who held a house and land in his own name in this place." I add the thought: That statement may have been in the line of a prophesy. Mr. Jones remained in Chester until the spring of 1805. The Rev. Simeon R. Jones was born in Essex county, New Jersey, in 1773, and pursued his literary studies in the old town of Orange. After several years labor in Chester he went to Elmira. In 1812 he was appointed chaplain in the army and served throughout the war. Subsequently he preached in Wyalusing, Pa., Ithaca, Tioga Point, Troy, Lawrenceville, Big Flat, and Chemung. He finally settled on a government grant of land, near Seely Creek, Chemung county, New York, where he died, Friday,March 12th 1857; aged 84 years. Rev. Daniel Crane was installed as pastor ,shortly following Mr. Jones' retirement. Mr. Crane had been ordained Oct. 27th 1803 and was a member of of that dual headed organization "The Morris County & Westchester Associate Presbytery." Mr. Crane became tired of his ecclesiastical connection, and early as Dec. 16th 1806 he left the Presbyterin-Congregational combination and united with the Presbytery of New York of the Presbyterian Church, but the Chester Congregation did not follow. In 1809 Mr. Crane retired and established a home in Canterbury. I recently applied to one of the standard bearers of Presbyterianism in New Jersey for for some information and data concerning the records and history "The Morris County & Westchester Associate Presbytery." He said he never heard of it. My statements were a revelation to him, and he promised he would look up the matter. The best I can do is to copy from a sermon my father once preached. He said: "The union of the Presbyterian and Congregational forms worked badly. There was really no responsible head to the body by which order and discipline could be exercised. The pastors found their usefulness greatly obstructed by the state of things. It is proper to remark that "The Morris County & Westchester Associate Presbytery" dissolved after after an existence of about 25 years. Its records are not known to be in existence. The principles of its organization were so indefinite and irresponsible that it exercised no control over its ministers and churches, and could furnish no aid such as new and feeble churches, needed. Besides its plan of amalgamating two different forms of church polity only created indefiniteness and perplexity, and was often the soil in which roots of bitterness grew up whereby many were defiled." The church in Chester shared in these disadvantages and the question began to be agitated whether there was not a better way. But the congregation were not unanimous in becoming Presbyterians and application was made to be taken under the care of the Presbytery, reserving the right to manage all local interests. The plan was tried and this church became a sort of a Congregational church in regard to itself, and Presbyterian in its relation to other churches. For two years, from 1809 to 1811, the congregation had no pastor. On Friday, April 12th, 1811, a call was extended to Rev. Noah Coe. He began his work, May 18th, 1811. Mr. Coe was a staunch Presbyterian, and his influence largely aided the congregation in fully accepting the doctrines and rules of Government of the Presbyterian Church. Two months after his settlement he caused the Presbytery to meet in Chester and he was formally installed a pastor. This occasion records the first meeting of the Presbytery in the Chester Church. Mr. Coe regarded the mongrel condition of the church in its ecclesiastical relations, as a hinderance to the work which ought to be accomplished, and he devoted his time and strength in unifying and solidifying different elements in the community that in time the united,energy of the church might be turned in some more . promising channels. In two years time his harvest came. On ,Friday April 8th 1813 the congregation unanimously determined to accept the mode of government of the Presbyterian Church and in consequence the following week the first board of Elders were chosen. Mr. Coe resigned in the spring of 1814, and accepted a call to one of the churches in New York-city. ï During Mr. Coe's pastorate he introduced the good Presbyterian requirement of keeping full records and minutes of all church proceedings. Therefore in the balance of this story I must evade those items which may be regarded as documentary, and which most probably, can be found in complete form in the minutes of the session. Rev. James H. Thomas became the successor. He continued a pastor for thirteen years. The installation occurred Thursday, October, 12th 1814. Though his average salary was only $833.34 per annum he did a great work in increasing the number of communicants and attendants. His heroic method of treatment of such congregational ills he found are interesting. He said when he began work in Chester there were only six or eight male members and thirty or forty lady communicants. There had never been a revival, there was no Sunday school, and . not even a prayer meeting. The meeting house was warped out of shape, and unhabitable during nearly half the year. At times he was discouraged. No one in the congregation would attempt a prayer, or read a chapter, or sing a hymn unless the minister led. On one Sunday Mr. Thomas says he was absent by appointment of the Presbytery. The congregation assembled at the church, talked over secular matters an hour or so, and then jumped on their horses and rode home. Mr. Thomas determined a prayer meeting should be established. The men of the congregation could not be persuaded to attend, and in his extreme anxiety he applied from his pulpit to the ladies. At the different homes an average of 30 attended. Mr. Thomas has placed the statement in writing that the ladies prayer meeting became "his Aaron and Hur," and that "it was the salt that, instrumentally, saved the church." After such a success Mr. Thomas turned his influence towards the men a second time. He says "I invited the brethren in Brother Satterley's upper room, and when assembled, I. told them I had called them together to pray. One present was given to stuttering. He was the first asked to pray. He declined. Mr. Thomas insisted, and assured the man if his physical ailment appeared he would be excused; otherwise not. He commenced the prayer. The rough tongue was smooth, and the heart warmed as his words glided out as if by inspiration. Next, a member of the sessions was asked to pray. His reply was he dreaded the thought of praying in public and begged that a special meeting of the Session be called and turn him out of office. Mr. Thomas said no, and he writes of it, "but the meeting in that upper room effectually cured that Deacon." Mr. Thomas wanted a Sunday school. The effect was actively opposed by some. It seemed difficult to enlist anyone in the work. But Dominie Thomas was not to be downed. "One Elder said it would be a violation of the Holy Sabbath, and another thought it a good thing, but he would not take hold of it, least it should fail, and he should fall under its ruins." But a good old Deacon from a neighboring congregation said "it was right to do good on the Sabbath day," and under the influence of this bold position the school was organized and it continues an effective assistant to the church. When the Centennial of the Sabbath school of this church reaches you as it will in 1920 the children and teachers should fully honor Rev. James H. Thomas and "the good old Deacon from the neighboring congregation." His name should be unearthed and made familiar to every friend of this church, and to the community. By these means the conditions which had greatly discouraged Mr. Thomas vanished. within six months after these levers for church work had been made active and church workers showed a willingness to agonize a little, about 190 made a public profession, and united with the church. That revival stands in the record among the greatest in the history of the church. After twenty years of toil the heavy harvest came like a deluge, and Jones and Crane, and Coe shall divid the honors with Thomas when the final distribution of ??? are given. After thirteen years hard and faithful work Mr. Thomas left Chester in May, 1827 and settled in Patchogue, Long Island, N. Y. Mr. Thomas was born at Parsippany, New Jersey, Sept. 12th 1788. He graduated from Princeton College 1809, and studied Divinity with Rev. Seth Williston. He died at the residence of his son in Jersey city, Sunday, Sept. 3rd 1854. By a formal call Rev. Daniel Crane was recalled to the church. During Mr. Crane's second term a new church building was erected. In the summer of 1828 an effort was made to raise the means. This failed. The following winter the effort was renewed, and it was determined to erect a new house on another location. The ext??? of ground owned by the congregation, where the first church stood, was not sufficient for the accommodation of the people, besides there was at that time a business idea with remarkable prospect the village would extend southward. That second church site and building were at the forks of the Oxford and Sugar Loaf roads. The house was erected during the summer and fall of 1829. Mr. John Wells was the carpenter. An account, of the cost and items were kept by Elanthan Satterly, and including the purchase of the ground, the fences, the entire finishing of the building. The sum amounted to two thousand dollars. The house was dedicated Dec. 25th 1820. Mr. Crane's health failed, and he left in the fall of 1830. A vacancy for nearly two years followed, then Rev. John B. Fish preached for three years. To this time the meeting house had not been furnished, with any means of warming it in the winter,. Mr. Fish urged the purchase of stoves. Stoves in a church were something new, and the conservative element naturally opposed the scheme, But the stove party had the majority of votes and so fires for warming the building were provided. The principal defection from the doctrines of the Bible, as held by Presbyterians, that ever occurred in the church was during Mr. Fish's term. It appears that Nathaniel H. Gale, an elder had changed his views and embrace those of a Socinian and Arminian type. He appears to have been candid. He frankly avowed his change of views yet the session appears to have been reluctant to try his case, as the rules direct. A motion to suspend him was lost. Complaint was made to Presbytery when that body decided against him. Circumstances connected with some of the neighboring churches added to this congregation and in 1835 an addition was made to the house by which twenty additional seats were obtained. The sale of seats met the expense of the enlargement. Next Rev. Isaac Beach who settled here Nov. 17th 1836 remained eight years. Perhaps some of the older members of this church can recall Mr. Beach. He was fully prepared by education and piety for the work in the ministry, and he faithfully labored as the pastor of this church. During the years he served there were two revivals. The one in the winter of 1841-1842 has often been referred to as the beginning of a new life. Two evangelists names Lester and Wile assisted Mr. Beach. As a result of overwork that winter Rev. Lester was taken sick, and died at the house of Jesse Roe, April 5th 1842. In 1845 Mr. Beach accepted a call to Newburgh, and afterwards moved to Illinois, and located 30 miles south of Chicago. Rev. James Washington Wood was installed as pastor Nov. 9th, 1845. I will leave his record for others to write. My Friends: For ail the facts in this little history of your church and town, the pastors and the people I am wholly indebted to my father. His practice and care in gathering and keeping the records of the various incidents in life which excited his interest at the time, served me when I looked for some data of interest in connection with this event. Without his preparatory work I could not have served you, even as I have, and credit should be given to him to whom credit is due. And I am pleased to be here to-day, by agreement, representing his family, and serving as a witness to their continued interest in this church and congregation.
Christian Endeavor Society. A very interesting meeting was held by the Y. P. S. C. E. Society of the Presbyterian church, Monday evening, June 27th, at which different reports were read by delegates attending the annual convention, held at Tri-States. At the close of the meeting the look out committee served light refreshments to those present and entertained them with a quotation hunt. The society is always ready to welcome visitors at their weekly meetings.
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