Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church
"The Church of the Patriots"
Old Pine Street Church is the only pre-Revolutionary Presbyterian structure still standing in Philadelphia. What was intended in 1768 to be a modest "chapel of ease" for the city's First Presbyterian congregation, is today a prodigious Greek-revival edifice. Formidable Corinthian columns and a pair of giant doors anchor the Church's north side while the rest of the temple is enveloped by an old cemetery replete with rows of tilting tombstones that lend a Charles Addams touch to the scene. Belying the mood, however, is the Church's cheerful canary-colored exterior which only hints at the beauty to be found within.
On the day Reverend George Duffield came to preach in 1771, though, cheerfulness was in short supply.
But first we must fall further back in time to 1704, the year the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, nicknamed "Old Buttonwood," was built.
Just 35 years later, George Whitefield first came to call in Philadelphia. Whitefield was the most influential of the prophets of the Great Awakening. Others in the movement included Jonathan "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Edwards in New England and Gilbert "the Terrors of the Lord" Tennent in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
The Great Awakening was highlighted by a wave of religious revivalism in the Colonies during the mid-1700s. Led by these spellbinding sermonizers, the movement sought to emphasize brotherhood and the plight of the poor.
Playing on fear and stirring passion, Whitefield harangued individuals into being empathetic, charitable, and socially responsible. His message appealed to those who were alienated from their various churches and to the democratic-minded who responded to Whitefield's call for Humanitarianism.
At the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, the Great Awakening led to a rift: the "Old Lights" were content with the status quo and the "New Lights" were drawn to the oratory and message of Whitefield.
Shortly after hearing Whitefield preach, "New Lighters" came together to build a church on Arch Street — the Second Presbyterian Church. The minister there was none other than the aforementioned Gilbert "Hell-fire" Tennent.
Over time, enthusiasm for the Great Awakening waned and by 1759 there was a reconciliation between the "Old Lights" and "New Lights."
Though differences still existed concerning the taking of oaths and other theological matters, political concerns, such as talk of American Independence and of a swell in immigration, confronted them. At that time, the First Presbyterian Church was ministered to by Francis Alison and John Ewing.
WE INTERRUPT FOR A FEW WORDS ABOUT ALISON AND EWING
To the list of extraordinary Colonial Philadelphians we must add the names of these two Doctors of Divinity.
In addition to being a minister, John Ewing was a brilliant mathematician. A committee of scholars of which he was a member charted the transit of Venus in 1769. He helped fellow mathematician David Rittenhouse survey the Mason and Dixon line. He became first Provost of the University of the State of Pennsylvania and was a member of the American Philosophical Society. In addition, once the Declaration of Independence was signed, Ewing would offer no prayers to George III.
Francis Alison has been called the greatest classical scholar in the Colonies. He was Vice-Provost of the College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia, and, like Ewing, a member of the American Philosophical Society. Plus, to his glory or censure, he founded the first life insurance company in the colonies, "The Corporation for the Relief of Poor and Distressed Presbyterian Ministers." Using money from the Ministries, Alison sponsored missions to proselytize Native Americans living on the frontier.
BACK TO OUR STORY
Alison, recognizing that the First Church could no longer accommodate the swell of Presbyterian immigrants, arranged for a new church to be built as a satellite of the First Church. In 1764, Alison purchased a plot of land from William Penn's sons Thomas and Richard. The site they chose was coincidentally, where George Whitefield gave a public sermon and is what is today called the Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church.
The original church, a rectangular brick Georgian structure, was designed by Robert Smith, who was born in Scotland (as were many of the Church's congregants) and was one of Colonial America's foremost master builders, or architects. Those who visit St. Peter's, Christ Church, Ben Franklin's home, or Carpenters' Hall on their virtual walking tour will become better acquainted with the venerable builder's work.
Initially it was Dr. Alison who preached here. The first Pastor hired by Alison was Samuel Aitkin, a strong supporter of American Independence. Though well liked, Aitkin resigned the Pastorate owing to a scandal in his first year. Some historians claim that the firebrand Aitkin could not control his passions when it came to his future wife. She delivered a baby six months after they were married. Alison, an "Old Light," returned to preach until 1771 when our story finally returns to the day George Duffield came to town.
GEORGE DUFFIELD'S YEARS
The wounds between the "New Lights" and the "Old Lights" never really healed. Duffield was decidedly a "New Light." He was a frontier preacher, one of those hired by Alison to convert Native Americans living in the Wilderness. Traveling as far west as Ohio, Duffield had been successful in his proselytizing efforts. Members of Old Pine had heard Duffield preach on occasion and asked him to become their pastor.
Alison had hired Duffield to convert Indians, but was not about to allow him to pervert the Old Pine congregants.
When Duffield arrived, he found the doors to the Church locked. Legend has it that friends and supporters of Duffield picked him up and literally threw him into the Church through a window. Jimmy Bryant, a magistrate employed by the First Church, informed Duffield and his supporters that they were illegally assembled. Church member Robert Knox, in turn, grabbed Bryant by the scruff of the neck and seat of his pants and literally threw him out of the church door. Knox then calmly addressed the new Pastor and said, "Go on, Mr. Duffield."
The First Church went to the highest courts in an effort to regain Old Pine. Ultimately, the Revolution interceded and the matter was cleared up with a $4,250 payment from Old Pine to the First Church after the War's end.
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Duffield preached for American Independence from Old Pine as well as in the field of battle. Appointed both Chaplain of the Pennsylvania Militia and co-Chaplain of the Continental Congress, Duffield left the church for the duration of the War. Sixty men from his congregation followed him into the army, many serving with distinction. John Steele was field officer the day Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. William Linnard launched cannon fire on the Hessians at the Battle of Germantown. George Latimer was so effective in fighting the British that a reward was offered for his capture — dead or alive. Duffield's oratory was so inimical to the British that they also put a price on his head. And so, after the war, Old Pine became known as "The Church of the Patriots."
During the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777, the Old Pine Street Church was desecrated. First, royal troops used the building as a hospital. They tore up the pews and pulpit to make fires to warm their sick and dying. After being eviscerated, the Church was turned into a stable. At this time too, the graveyard was profaned and used to bury over 100 mercenary Hessian troops. Not all churches suffered a similar fate. Right down Pine Street, St. Peter's, an Episcopal Church, served the British army as a church of choice in offering prayers to King George.
Old Pine Street Church was enlarged 1857, under the Pastorship of Thomas Brainerd, who would go on to become a fervent anti-slavery activist. Upon completing the renovations, he wrote, "the church has been transformed into a beautiful and classic temple; uniting the associations of a venerated antiquity with the demands of modern taste." Greek Revival was the architectural style of the day in Philadelphia. World travelers like Second Bank President Nicholas Biddle had been to the Continent and taken the grand tour. Upon returning to the States they brought back a love of the ancient world which was reflected in their estates and art collections.
THE CHURCH TODAY
It is hoped that the non-virtual tourist will make time to visit Old Pine Street Church. However, arrangements must be made in advance to tour the sanctuary. There, one will find a beautiful large room with a massive ceiling with no visible means of support. On the walls are restenciled patterns and symbols representing the church's history and ecumenical outlook. According to literature provided by the Church, the intent of the symbols "is to lead people on a journey of faith from the remote past into the present and on into eternity."
The official name of The Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church is the Third, Scots and Mariners Presbyterian Church, reflective of the amalgamation over the past two centuries of a dozen congregations into the present site. A stencil of waves is symbolic of the Mariners' church. Thistle stencils, emblematic of Scotland, scrolls, stars of David, Papal tiaras, cornucopias, broken chains, and pine cones bedeck the walls. The pine, which figures prominently in Old Testament writings, receives special consideration as the Church is situated on Pine Street.George Whitefield, a Calvinist Minister who led the "Great Awakening," spoke on the site of Pine Street Church before it was built.
Whitefield, it is said, could make people weep or tremble by the various ways he uttered the word "Mesopotamia."
Although Philadelphia is associated with William Penn and other Quakers, in fact by 1739, Presbyterians outnumbered all other religious denominations in Philadelphia.
Eugene Ormandy is buried here.
William Hurry, who rang the Liberty Bell the day The Declaration of Independence was read for the first time, is buried here.
Mathematician David Rittenhouse (see The United States Mint) was buried here and reinterred at Laurel Hill.
The British occupied the Church in 1777 and used it for a hospital and stable.
Location: 412 Pine Street (corner of Pine and 4th Streets) (Map)
Built: 1768, rebuilt 1837 and again in 1857
Original architect: Robert Smith
Style: originally Georgian; now Greek Revival
Tourism information: Services Su 10:30am, Summer 9:30am.
Official website: http://www.oldpine.org/