Founded by immigrant Scottish Presbyterians who settled in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in the late 1680s, Old Tennent Church, originally known as “The Scotch Church” or “Old Scots,” was named after two of the congregation’s most famous early pastors, John Tennent and William Tennent Jr. Both were sons of William Tennent Sr., whose “Log College” in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, served as a training ground for ministers in colonial North America, many of whom became leaders in the Great Awakening.
John Tennent served as pastor of the congregation from 1730 until 1732. His ministry was distinguished by piety and consecrated zeal, and he was considered an eloquent and effective preacher. Following his death at the age of 25—just two years after coming to the congregation—John Tennent’s brother, William Tennent Jr., took over the role of pastor and served from 1733 until 1777. Early in his ministry the congregation voted to purchase a farm and parsonage for the new pastor. The parsonage contained four lower rooms with a kitchen attached to the rear and an attic room with a window facing north, which the pastor used as his study. William Tennent Jr. lived at the parsonage for approximately forty years, during which time his guests included Great Awakening leader George Whitefield as well as David and John Brainerd, brothers who served as Indian missionaries.
There was a vacancy in the pastorate following William Tennent’s death in 1777, and it was during this vacancy— on June 28, 1778—that the Battle of Monmouth, one of the most severe battles of the Revolutionary War, raged in an orchard nearby the old parsonage. The parsonage was so close to the heat of the battle, in fact, that a round of shot broke through the roof of the parsonage and cannonballs and musketballs continued to be found on the property for years following the battle.
John Woodhull, a graduate of the College of New Jersey who later went on to do theological study, eventually filled Old Tennent’s pulpit vacancy, serving from 1778 until 1824. An ardent patriot, Woodhull convinced all the able-bodied men in his congregation to enlist during the Revolution, himself serving as their chaplain. (It is said of Woodhull that he was actually at the Battle of Monmouth, and when a cannoneer fell, he eagerly jumped in to take his place.) In 1780 Woodhull became a trustee of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, and around the same time he set up a grammar school in which he taught. The year after Princeton Seminary was established, in 1813, Woodhull became a member of the Board of Directors of the Seminary and served as vice president of the Board from 1813 until his death in 1824. Woodhull resided in the parsonage during his long service to the congregation.
The congregation’s next pastor was Job Foster Halsey, an 1826 graduate of the Seminary. Halsey served less than two years at Old Tennent Church, during which time he resided in the parsonage with his young wife. Together, the couple began the first Sunday school in Old Tennent’s history, with Mrs. Halsey serving as the first superintendent.
After a year of pulpit vacancy following Halsey’s service, another Princeton Theological Seminary graduate was called to Old Tennent Church’s pulpit. Robert Roy, PTS Class of 1820 and a former frontier missionary in Virginia, became pastor of the congregation and served from 1829 until his death in 1832. He did not live in the parsonage, preferring instead to build his own home.
In 1832, the congregation called Daniel Veech McLean, an 1830 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. McLean served the congregation and lived in its parsonage from 1832 until 1836. As pastor, McLean began a worship group in the nearby Village of Freehold. This congregation grew and eventually became a congregation of its own. After continuing to supply the pulpit there for a time, McLean was eventually called to full-time service in the new congregation and resigned the position at Old Tennent. In later years McLean would serve as president of Lafayette College and as a director of Princeton Theological Seminary from 1848 until 1860.
Daniel McLean was likely the last of the Old Tennent pastors to reside in the parsonage, as the building was sold by the congregation in 1835, following which time it served as a tenant house, a hay barn, and a shop for making chairs. The building eventually fell into disuse and was left abandoned and neglected in its last years, used as a scrap yard for builders and a treasure chest for souvenir hunters.