THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS—The following brief 4 sketches of the various branches of the Christian Church in Moorestown are given in the order of their establishment. Practically all of the early settlers were Friends or Quakers as they are generally called and the Quaker Meeting House was the only place of public worship in Moorestown until early in the Nineteenth Century. It may be of interest to those of my readers who are not members of the Society to know that the name “Quaker” was applied to the members of the Society in derision during the early years of its existence. George Fox, the founder of the Society, bade Justice Bennett, before whom he was being tried, to “tremble at the Word of God,” hence the name Quaker.
The first Friends’ Meetings in this vicinity were held on alternate First Days at the homes of Timothy Hancock and John Kay in 1685. Timothy Hancock lived on the Pensauken Creek near the present location of the Club House of the Valley Brook Country Club and John Kay's home was located on the north branch of Cooper Creek near Ellisburg. These meetings were held under the authority and care of Burlington Monthly Meeting. The first Meeting House in Moorestown erected in 1700 was a small log affair and stood on the northwest corner of Main Street and Chester Avenue. Chester Avenue was called the Great Road or Meeting House Lane in the early Meeting records.
The lot on which the Meeting House stood was conveyed by James and Esther Adams to Matthew Allen, John Adams, William Hollinshead, Thomas French, Joseph Heritage, Thomas Wallis, John Cowperthwaite, William Matlack, Sarah Roberts (widow of John Roberts), Richard Heritage, all of Chester Township and Thomas Hooton and Timothy Hancock of Evesham Township trustees of
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Chester Meeting for fourteen shillings lawful money on Second month 9th, 1700. The deed read, “all that acre of land on King’s Highway on the west together with all that house or building now erected and being upon said acre of land called the Quaker Meeting House.” For many years the Meeting was called the Adams’ Meeting.
Money had been subscribed for the purchase of this lot and the erection of a Meeting House prior to the transfer of the land as will be clearly shown by the following entry copied from the records of Chester Preparative Meeting under date of Second month 9th, 1700. “Articles of agreement between John Hollinshead, James Adams, Matthew Allen, John Adams, William Hollinshead, Thomas French, Joseph Heritage, Thomas Wallis, John Cowperthwaite, William Matlack, Sarah Roberts, Richard Heritage, Thomas Hooton and Timothy Hancock in manner following:—that is to say whereas the said parties (being all of the people of God called Quakers) having heretofore voluntarily contributed and collected among themselves the sum of Seventy-one Pounds, fourteen shillings (or thereabouts) current money for the purchase of land and for building of a Meeting House thereon for the worship of God in spirit and in truth which said acre of land is already purchased and the said house built accordingly.” I have quoted this article in full to correct an error which has appeared in a number of local histories to the effect that this acre of land was sold to the Meeting for fourteen shillings which indicated the value of an acre of land in the heart of Moorestown at that time. As James Adams was one of the contributors to the fund it is evident that the lot was contributed to the Meeting.
It is interesting to note that with the exception of John and James Adams these contributors and trustees were farmers in the neighborhood and did not live on the ground on which Moorestown now stands, showing that Chester as the village was first called, must have been a very small
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settlement. Moorestown, without question, was largely a community of farmers until after the Revolutionary War.
The log Meeting House which was burned in 1720, was replaced by a larger stone building which accommodated the Quaker families of the neighborhood until the closing years of the century when it became evident that a still larger building was needed. The Meeting House now standing at the eastern end of the property now owned by the two branches of the Society, was erected in 1802 and the old stone Meeting House taken down. The land on which the two Meeting Houses and the Friends’ School now stand, was purchased from Ephraim flames by Chester Meeting in 1781 “to be applied to such uses as the body of Friends belonging to the above named Meeting shall think proper.” The old Meeting House erected in 1802 is now the property of the Hicksite branch of the Society and is undoubtedly the oldest place of public worship in Moorestown. After the unfortunate separation in 1827, the Orthodox branch erected a frame Meeting House on the western end of the lot which was torn down in 1897 and the present large brick building erected.
I am using the names “Hicksite” and “Orthodox” in a historical sense only as the two principal branches of the Society, generally speaking, have been so designated since the Separation. Each branch retained the name “The Religious Society of Friends.” The name “Hicksite” is unjust excepting in the sense that those so designated in 1827 supported their leader, Elias Hicks, in his controversy with the Elders of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The followers of Elias Hicks never officially endorsed or adopted his doctrines and some were not in sympathy with them but followed him out of the Meeting because they felt he had been unfairly treated by the Philadelphia Ministers and Elders.
Elias Hicks, a Long Island farmer, was one of the three outstanding Quaker preachers of his day. His views were held to be unsound by the leading Elders of the Philadel
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phia Yearly Meeting. The Yearly Meeting seems to have been largely dominated by the City Elders, most of whom were extremely conservative and held strictly evangelical views. The country members were more liberal in their views and felt that they were not being given fair consideration at the sessions of the Yearly Meeting. It was in a sense a struggle between autocracy and democracy in church government. The liberals, when they found their differences could not be adjusted, withdrew and set up separate Meetings. Generally speaking the Orthodox branch retained the city Meeting .Houses and properties and the Hicksite branch those located in the country. Had a larger measure of love and forbearance been exercised by both parties the schism would probably have been averted.
The Friends’ Meetings in Moorestown now have a membership of nine hundred and fifty-two, of which five hundred and twelve belong to the Hicksite Meeting and four hundred and forty to the Orthodox Meeting.
THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH—The first Methodist Church or Meeting House as it was then called, was erected in 1815 on a lot fifty by sixty feet purchased from Edward Harris, Sr., for $100.00. It was a small, plain brick building “without bell tower or spire” and stood on the south side of Main Street in the front yard of the property adjoining the Community House grounds on the west. The trustees of the infant church were James Stiles, Jacob Dobbins, John Van Horn, Isaiah Toy and Edward Harris. Rev. John Van Schorck was the first Pastor. Prior to the building of this church Methodism. had been preached in Moorestown by circuit riders who found receptive ears in the quiet little Quaker village. Doubtless some of these early meetings were held in the home of Edward Harris on High Street as Mr. Harris, although a member of the Episcopal Church, opened his doors to all ministers whose doctrines were unquestionably orthodox. Other meetings were held in the Town Hall which was erected in 1812.
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'The seed planted by these itinerant preachers fell on fertile soil and the followers of John Wesley grew steadily in this vicinity. Among the early members we find the names of James and Mary Moore, Rhoda Conover, Micajah Dobbins, William D. and Martha Brock and Wilhelmina. Van Sciver. In 1845-46 a series of Revival Meetings were held in the church under the leadership of their pastor, Rev. Thomas G. Stewart, and as a result the membership—then fifty persons—was doubled. The old Meeting House soon became too small for the growing congregation and in September, 1858 the lot on which the church now stands was purchased and in 1860 the present building erected. The parsonage in the rear of the church on Second Street, was built in 1873. The church building was enlarged and improved in 1901, the new stone front being the gift of Calvin Crowd and family. Rev. Frederick B. Morley is now Pastor of the church which has a membership of three bundied and forty.
The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on north Church Street was established in 1883. Rev. George M. Whitten, then living in Mount Holly, was the first pastor. The present pastor is Rev. William A. Dorsey and the church has a membership of two hundred and twenty-three.
THE METHODIST PROTESTANT CHURCH—In 1883 there was a separation in the Methodist Church in Moorestown which from all I can learn in talking with members of each side of the controversy was caused entirely by difference of opinion regarding church government. Part of the congregation withdrew and established the Methodist Protestant Church, located on the north side of Main Street, west of Church Street. As in the case of the Quaker separation in 1827, a larger measure of love and Christian forbearance on each side perhaps would have prevented the division. The present Pastor is Mrs. George Knell, Jr., and the church has a membership of forty-seven.
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THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH¹—The Baptist Church of Moorestown also had its roots in the old Harris mansion, Still standing at No. 12 High Street. Edward Harris, Sr., was a member of the Church of England, but Mrs. Harris, was a Baptist, her father being Rev. Thomas Ustick, a prominent Baptist Minister of Philadelphia. It was probably through her influence that Dr. Wm. Slaughter, pastor of the Sansom Street Baptist Church of Philadelphia, sent Theological students under his care to Moorestown. They frequently preached in the Harris homestead in the years 1810-1811-1812. Early itinerant Baptist preachers also held services in the Town Hall and the old Methodist Meeting House after the death of Edward Harris, Sr., in 1822.
There were, however, very few Baptist families in Moorestown prior to 1835. Elizabeth Van Derveer, wife of David Van Derveer, seems to have been the first. She was a member of the Haddonfield Baptist Church. Margaret Van Derveer, wife of Thomas, was “awakened” by the preaching of Rev. James M. Challis and afterwards joined the Church. Miss Miriam Shinn and Mrs. Ann Perkins, members of the Evesham Baptist Church founded in 1803 were among the earliest members. The Evesham Church (now Marlton) was the first Baptist Church in the neighborhood of Moorestown. It was located about three-quarters of a mile east of Marlton at a place called Eves Causeway in the early days. Services were first held in a school house at that place. The building is no longer in existence and was probably torn down when the Mariton Church was erected in 1840. On January 1st, 1835, Daniel Kelsey and John S. Clinger, Theological students, under the instruction of Rev. Samuel Aaron of Burlington, arrived in Moorestown and asked to be directed to the home of a Baptist resident. They were directed to the home of Margaret Van Derveer, where they received a cordial welcome. A meeting was
¹This sketch to based on an historical sermon preached by Rev. B. D. Fendall, Pastor of the Church from 1852‑1870, as given In Woodward and Hageman’s “History of Burlington County” published in 1883.
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held that evening and again on the evening following in the Town Hall. Thomas Venable, William Smith, Samuel Wisham and wife, were converted by these earnest preachers and afterwards joined the Church. In March, 1836. Chalkley Haines opened his home in Fellowship for the use of the itinerant Baptist preachers and at least twenty persons were baptized at these meetings. Shortly afterwards regular meetings were held in Moorestown, probably in the Town Hall, and the leaders decided to organize an independent church in this vicinity. Thirty-one persons united in asking for letters of dismissal from the Haddonfield Church.
On April 22, 1837, a meeting for organization was held at the home of Moses Hammel. Charles Kain was chosen Moderator and Moses Hammel clerk. The deacons chosen were Benjamin Jones, Samuel Wisham and Moses HammeL The new church organization was publicly recognized by a council of ministers held in Town Hall on May 6, 1837. The lot on which the church now stands was purchased from Wm. Doughten for $500. and work on the building promptly begun. The original church was 40 x 45' but since then it has been enlarged and greatly improved. It was dedicated Aug. 10, 1838, the Rev. Samuel Cornelius preaching the sermon. The Rev. John N. Courtney was the first pastor and was paid a salary of $300. per year. A little later, however, he also assumed charge of the Mariton Baptist Church, each congregation paying him $225. The church has had a steady growth and now has a membership of three hundred and forty-three. The present Pastor is Rev. C. W. MacGeorge.
The Second Baptist Church (Negro) on Mill Street, was organized in 1897. Rev. Samuel C. Hill is now the Pastor and the Church has a membership of two hundred and forty.
THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH‑Among the early settlers of Chester Township there were quite a number who belonged to the Church of England, now the Protestant Episcopal Church. A number of these were converts from
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the Society of Friends who joined the Established Church as followers of George Keith, the brilliant Scotch Quaker who was disowned by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting held at Burlington, N. J. in 1692 for doctrinal differences. He joined the Church of England and was one of the first missionaries sent to America by “the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.” On the way to this country, George Keith became acquainted with John Talbot who was Chaplain on the boat and with him established Old St. Mary’s Church in Burlington in 1703. Keith had a large following in the Society and quite a number of families were influenced to join the Church of England by his preaching.
The Episcopalians of this vicinity had no regular place of worship until St. Mary’s Episcopal Church was established at Colestown in 1751. The Colestown church was a plain, frame building without belfry or steeple and stood a. little below the present entrance to the Cemetery on the road leading to Merchantville. Unfortunately this old landmark was burned in 1899. A monument standing in the Cemetery near Church Road marks the exact location of the old building. The brick walk leading up to the monument is part of the walk which lead from the church to King’s Highway. In the early part of the Nineteenth Century, most of the members of St. Mary’s Church lived in or near Moorestown and after years of earnest consideration it was decided to build a new church in the village.
The lot on which the church now stands at the northwest corner of Main and Church Streets extending back to Second, was donated by Edward Harris, Jr., who also gave $500.00 to the building fund. The corner stone was laid in October, 1837, and the new church was consecrated by Bishop George Washington Doane of Burlington on March 2d, 1838. The building, constructed entirely of stone, was beautiful in its dignity and simplicity and with its ivy covered walls was a noticeable and attractive landmark All hearts were saddened when it was torn down in 1927 to
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be replaced by the present handsome structure. Rev. Francis Lee was the first Rector of the Moorestown church and Dr. Jonathan J. Spencer and Samuel Rudderow were the first wardens. Under the leadership of Rev. H. Hastings Weld, who was Rector from 1854 to 1870 the building was enlarged and improved in many respects. The church’s most prized possession is a silver Communion set formerly owned by the old St. Mary’s Church of Colestown. The Rev. Edgar L. Sanford is the present Pastor and the church now has a membership of two hundred and seventy.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH—Prior to the erection of the brick church in 1870 which stood on the site of the present imposing stone edifice, the Catholics of Moorestown worshipped in the village of Fellowship. The first Catholic services in the neighborhood of Moorestown were held in a room over a wheelwright shop in Evesboro in 1849. A little later services were held in the home of James Laverty of Fellowship (father of Mrs. Edward Brickner of Moorestown). Mr. Laverty, who arrived in this country from Ireland in 1832, was the first Catholic to settle in the neighborhood of Moorestown. Services were occasionally held in his home until 1853 when a small church was erected in his yard. It was conducted as a Mission Church by Father Moran of Camden. In 1863, Rev. Patrick Byrne of Camden took charge of the Fellowship mission. The church was destroyed by fire in 1869 and it was decided to build the new church in Moorestown as it was more centrally located and on the railroad. The new church which was built of brick was erected in 1870 and had a seating capacity of about 350. The church was continued as a mission until 1880 when Bishop Corrigan of Newark appointed Rev. James McKernan Pastor.
Rev. John W Murphy, upon whose “Historical Sketch of the Church of our Lady of Good Counsel” I have depended in a large measure for my information, was placed in charge of the church in 1890. Under his leadership the present handsome stone building was erected, the corner stone being
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laid in October, 1895, and the church dedicated on October 11th, 1896. The new building has a seating capacity of 600. The church now has a membership of fourteen hundred and eighty-two and is in charge of Rev. Thomas F. Rudden.
THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH¹—On January 31st, 1887, Rev. D. C. Porter of Mount Holly visited Mrs. Ann J. C. Bennett, an ardent Presbyterian, then living at 123 E. Central Avenue, for the purpose of considering the advisability of starting a Presbyterian Church in Moorestown. Mr. Porter offered to come to Moorestown on February 13th of that year and hold a service in Grange Hall which is lącated on the north side of Main Street a little east of Chester Avenue. This was the first Presbyterian service ever held in Moorestown. Encouraged by the interest shown at this meeting Grange Hall was engaged for regular services and for the organization of a Sunday School. The preaching was done by students from the Princeton Theological Seminary.
On April 25th, 1887, a committee appointed by the Presbytery of Monmouth, within whose bounds Moorestown was situated, visited the field and held a conference with the leaders of the local group. The time appeared to be favorable to organize and to gather funds for the erection of a church building. Progress was so encouraging that a committee of the Presbytery met the congregation on Sept. 12th in Heulings Hall, located on the second floor of a building then standing on the east side of Chester Avenue opposite the railroad station and organized the First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown. Nine names were entered on the roll as charter members and on the following Sabbath twenty-seven more presented letters of dismissal to the new church.
John C. Arrison and Thomas S. Collings were the first Elders chosen. Rev. Chalmers Martin was installed as Pastor on April 25th, 1889 and served until June, 1891, when
¹This article with the exception of the closing sentences is a digest of an Interesting sketch of the church which Dr. Finney kindly sent me.
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he resigned to accept the pastorate of Fort Henry Presbyterian Church, New York. The congregation continued to worship in Heulings Hall until the new building was completed in June, 1892. The doors were thrown open for public worship on June 26th and the new Pastor, Rev. Wm. P. Finney, was installed.
Dr. Finney served the congregation and the community faithfully for eighteen years and it is my pleasure to testify to his splendid service as a Christian Minister and public spirited citizen. The building was enlarged and the Chapter House erected in 1916. The congregation now consists of 217 members and is steadily growing under the faithful and inspiring leadership of the Rev. J. Shackelford Dauerty.