Rev. John Smith was born in 1747, near Stirling, Scotland; was
graduated at the University of Glasgow, and studied theology with Prof.
Moncrieff at Alloa, near Stirling, on the river Forth.
He was ordained in 1769 by the Associate Presbytery of Stirling, with
a view of going as a missionary to America. In the late fall of 1770,
Revs. John Smith and John Rogers were appointed missionaries to America
and sailed for their new home, arriving late in the winter. They
attended a meeting of the Presbytery at Pequea, Pa., June 4, 1771, and
became members of it.
The Associate Church of North America began in 1750, when the first
application was made for preaching, 13 years after the secession from
the Church of Scotland. Another application was made in 1770, which led
to the appointment of Revs. Smith and Rogers.
Before the close of the year 1771, Rev. Smith received a call to
preach from Guinston, York county, Pa., and Middle Octoraro, Lancaster
county, Pa., and accepted the latter, being installed May 6, 1772,
adding Oxford to his charge March 19, 1783. After the Union, the
Covenanter Church of Octoraro was also added to his church. He remained
here until 1794. The congregations grew rapidly, so much so that on May
20, 1776, the Presbytery was divided into those of New York and
Pennsylvania, Rev. Smith being a member of the latter, in which all his
work was done.
In 1774 the Reformed Presbytery was constituted in Pennsylvania, and
in 1777 a plan of union was proposed between the Associate (Seceders)
Presbytery of Pennsylvania, and the Reformed (Covenanters) Presbytery of
Pennsylvania, to be called the Associate Reformed Presbytery. The
agitation was kept up, and in April 1781, Revs. John Smith and William
Marshall were appointed a committee, to draw up an ultimatum upon which
the Associate Church would enter the communion of the Reformed
Presbytery, which was unanimously adopted by the Associate Presbytery,
but was rejected by the Reformed Presbytery.
Another meeting was held November 29, 1781, in the report of which it
is said, that "Mr. Smith, who was a man highly gifted, especially
as a public speaker, directed all his efforts to secure a majority in
favor of the Union." It was again brought up June 13, 1782, before
the Associate Presbytery, which voted for the Union, and it was
The Associate Synod of Scotland August 31, 1785, condemned the
action, and held Rev. Smith and the others who voted for it, "to be
in a state of apostasy," and the two members not voting for it,
were constituted the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania. Later nearly
all these ministers returned to the Associate Church, Rev. Smith on
account of the statement of principles of the Associate Reformed
Presbytery not being satisfactory.
He was one of the ablest advocates of the
Union; and in a report on the subject of Psalmody, adopted by the
Associate Reformed Synod of America in 1838, he is called "One of
the fathers of the Associate Reformed Church."
In the trying and stirring days of the
Revolution, the ministers of these churches were in earnest and active
sympathy with the Colonists, some of them being chaplains in the army.
Rev. John Smith was settled at Octoraro
most of the time he was in eastern Pennsylvania, but by request was one
of the first preachers in Washington county, Pa. Rev. John McMillan, D.
D., was the earliest Presbyterian minister settled in the county, first
visiting it in 1775, and was located permanently as pastor of the
Chartiers and Pigeon creek churches in 1778.
In 1773 members of the Associate Church in
Peters township made application to the Presbytery of Pennsylvania, for
preaching, and in answer to their prayers, Revs. John Smith and John
Rogers visited them, but did not organize a church, that being done by
Rev. Matthew Henderson in 1778, who first visited the section in 1775.
Revs. Smith and Rogers were probably the first members of the
Presbyterian faith to preach in the county, if not the first of any
Upon the death of Rev. Matthew Henderson
in October 1795, pastor of the Chartiers Associate Church, Canonsburg,
Pa., Rev. Smith was called, and became its pastor November 15, 1796,
remaining as such until January 21, 1802. He was also pastor of the
Peters Creek Associate Church at the same time. It was said of him while
pastor here, that he was "A man of superior intellectual powers and
a very popular speaker."
The Associate Synod of North America was
constituted at Philadelphia May 20, 1801, of which Rev. Smith was
Soon after 1800, Revs. John Smith and John
Anderson were appointed to issue a warning on the evil of slaveholding.
They made a report in which they pronounced slaveholding a moral evil,
and urged the necessity of fully instructing the people in reference to
December 26, 1797, while he was pastor of
the Chartiers Church, the trustees purchased 4 acres, 2 roods and 15
perches of land from John Canon, founder of Canonsburg, for which they
paid 45 pounds. One of the trustees was Samuel Agnew, brother of Mrs.
Smith, who came to Chartiers creek in 1780. The land was situated about
one mile southwest of Canonsburg, on which the congregation erected
their first meting house, and the remaining portion was used as a burial
place by the people of Canonsburg and vicinity, now known as "Oak
The house was built of round logs daubed
with clay, some of the logs having been cut to give light. The seats
were of round poles laid on blocks. It had no fire place, stove or
chimney. There the congregation would sit for two sermons, in cold
winter days, without fire, and no glass in the windows. The church
served by Rev. Smith is now the Chartiers U. P. Church. The old log
house gave way to one built of limestone, which was succeeded by a brick
church in 1834. This was torn down in 1869, and the present church
edifice in Canonsburg was erected in its place and dedicated in March
After his release here, Rev. Smith served
a while in Alexandria, Va., and after his release there he lived on a
farm near Canonsburg, where he died March 25, 1825. The day before his
death, a Chronicler says: "He attended the funeral of a neighbor,
Mr. Weller, and after the interment he returned with the family to the
house of the deceased. Several other friends were present, and he
delivered a very solemn and pertinent address. He remained over night,
and next morning at the breakfast table, after asking the blessing, he
reclined his head backwards and immediately expired without a struggle
A church historian said of him: "In
mental force, in theological learning and in pulpit power, Mr. Smith had
few equals, and perhaps no superiors, among all the ministers with whom
he was ecclesiastically associated, and soon after the Union of 1782, he
was designated by the Associate Reformed Synod, as a suitable person to
take oversight and instruction of its theological students." This
position he held for about ten years. Mrs. Smith died August 26, 1805.
Some Pioneers of
Washington Co., PA, 1902, pages 79-83
Hugh Scott Family.
Rev. John Smith was married to Anne Agnew, the granddaughter of Hugh
Scott, who came from the North of Ireland to Pennsylvania, and settled
in Chester county about 1670. Hugh Scott had a son Abraham, born in
Chester county in 1677, who had children as follows: Ann born October
1699, Samuel 1705, Rebecca December 17, 1707, Alexander 1716, Grace,
Hugh 1726, Josiah 1735, two of whom Hugh and Josiah, settled in
Washington county, Pennsylvania.
Some Pioneers of
Washington Co., PA, 1902, page 84