THE organization of the First Presbyterian CHURCH of Freehold took place on February 21, 1837.
However, the congregation has a history dating back well over 300 years.
The ancestral congregation of this church was born in rebellion in Scotland. In 1664, the British Parliament passed laws that prevented anyone from attending religious meetings that were not in strict accordance with the rites of The Church of England. The Scottish Presbyterians refused to abide by the new rules and were subjected to bitter and bloody persecution for many years. During the summer of 1685 about 100 Scottish Presbyterians, men and women, were imprisoned in Dunottar Castle, a strong fortress on the east coast of Scotland. Because of dungeon-like conditions, overcrowding, poor food, lack of water, and sanitation many died or became ill.
A prominent Scot—who had remained in the good graces of the British Crown and was also an outspoken defender of the Presbyterian faith—made a bid for the prisoners at Dunottar Castle to be brought to the Colonies as indentured servants. His request was granted, as the authorities had already sentenced this small band of religious prisoners to perpetual banishment.
These emaciated souls were forced to walk some sixty miles to the port of Leith where they were joined by other persecuted Presbyterians. A total of about 200 refugees set sail in September of 1685 aboard the ship Henry and Frances. It was a disastrous hundred-day voyage. An infectious disease broke out onboard the Henry and Frances shortly after it set sail; many passengers and crew members died and were buried at sea.
In December of 1685, when they reached the port of Perth Amboy, the remaining refugees were so reduced in strength that they could hardly walk to shore on their own. The people of Perth Amboy were indifferent to the fate of the Scottish Presbyterians.
Soon after establishing their homes, their next effort was to organize their religious lives and erect a suitable building where they could meet and worship God. Under the leadership of Walter Kerr some of these hardy souls moved inland to live in this part of Monmouth County.
In 1692, a crude log and timber building was erected on Free Hill, three miles north of Freehold in the area known as Wickatunk. In December of 1706, this church building known as Old Scots-Freehold Church was the scene of the first recorded Presbyterian meeting, the beginnings of organized Presbyterianism in the New World. At this same meeting John Boyd was examined, ordained and installed as pastor of Old Scots Church. This was the first ordination of a Presbyterian Minister in America.
A second church building was erected on White Hill a few miles west of Old Scots to accommodate the rapidly growing congregation; this is the location of the present Old Tennent Church.
In 1749, King George III granted a royal charter to this church and it was designated as the Presbyterian Church of Monmouth County. By 1753 this new Church had to be enlarged to accommodate the growing church membership.
Great evangelists of the 18th and 19th centuries preached at Old Tennent; the early missionary, David Brainerd, administered the sacraments from its pulpit to the Lenape and other native peoples who had converted to Christianity.
Nearby, on June 28, 1778, the Battle of Monmouth was fought and many casualties from both British and American Armies were buried in the surrounding church yard.
In 1832 a number of families living in the Village of Freehold erected a Church building as a more convenient place of worship. The cornerstone of the brick building was laid in June of 1835. On February 21, 1838 the Presbytery of New Brunswick effected the organization under the name The Village Church at Freehold. Thirty-two members brought Letters of Dismission from the Old Tennent Church.
Thus begins, on February 21st, 1838 the separate existence of this branch of Old Scots Tennent Church. The membership of this new church grew rapidly during the years between 1840 and 1870. This was due to the zealous spiritual outreach of the church in a village which was rapidly growing from a handful of homes on five streets to a town of many homes, shops and offices serving the needs of the county courts and the surrounding agricultural enterprises.
At the annual meeting in 1870, the pastor delivered a sermon in which he strongly advocated the erection of a new church building. The congregation unanimously endorsed the proposal. The building we worship in today was started in 1871 and completed and dedicated in 1873. At last in 1902, the debt was wiped out and the mortgage was burned; the total cost of the building and property was $125,000. This was accomplished by a congregation that never numbered over 300 members in a community where the average income was less than $1000 per year. Although this congregation, at the turn of the nineteenth century, was deeply involved in the financial responsibilities connected with such a large building and the upkeep of the church property, it did not occupy the whole attention of the people even during these strenuous days. Spiritual revival was continuously at work, bringing steady growth in numbers and commitment, even while the church was wrestling with devastation brought on by wars, depression, and the loss of the industrial and agricultural enterprises many members of the congregation depended on for their economic well-being.
Christian Education of children and adults was enhanced by the services of seminary students and trained professional Christian educators. Ministers of Music were hired to play the organ and to lead and to train both children and adults to take part in the worship services. In the early 1960s it was becoming evident to the congregation that the church building facilities were inadequate for our needs. The church building was in desperate need of structural repairs and refurbishing. Freehold and the surrounding area was experiencing rapid population growth with the conversion of farmland to housing. The Christian Education building was completed and dedicated in January 1967 in order to address these needs. Work on the sanctuary building started early in 1960 and continued until the building was rededicated to the Glory of God on May 17,1981.
In more recent years, additional restoration and renovation has taken place within our facilities. In 2006 the rear of the Sanctuary building was restored, opening up the second floor for continued education and music ministry needs.
As our church history continues to be written, we pray that you will be a part of it!