archives BuildingSouthern Lancaster County Historical Society

Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church

Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pa

From " History of Lancaster County" By Ellis and Evans printed 1883


Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church. From about 1716 to 1776, a great number or people for various reasons emigrated to America - from the north of Ireland, and quite a large part of these landed at Philadelphia, Pa., and at New Castle, Del. From these points they spread north and west into and beyond what is now Lancaster County. Part of these settled in the section of the county in which Middle Octorara Church is now located. The portion of these adhering to the Presbyterian Church were probably first ministered to occasionally by Rev. David Evans, who preached for a time as a supply at Upper Octorara, where a church was organized about 1720. The section of country now occupied by the Middle Octorara Church was then within the bounds of the Upper Octorara Church. In 1724, Rev. Adam Boyd was ordained and installed first regular pastor at Upper Octorara Church. About 1727 the families on the west side of Octorara Creek sought organization, and hence Middle Octorura Church Was Organized. They asked for one-third of Mr. Boyd's time, promising towards his salary fifty pounds, but on account of the distance and the demand for his services elsewhere he was directed to spend every sixth Sabbath at Middle Octorara. This Mr. Boyd did, as a supply, until about 1730. Who preached for several years after Mr. Boyd ceased the writer has not been able to learn. On Nov. 13, 1735, Rev. Alexander Craighead was ordained and installed as the first regular pastor of this church. What was the length of his pastorate or who immediately succeeded him the writer has not been able to learn, as he has no records of the church for forty years. Mr. Craighead died in 1766, but he had left this church years before.

In 1780 Rev. Nataniel W. Sample became pastor of Middle Octorara , in connection with the church at Lancaster and Leacock, dividing his time equally between between the three churches.He remained pastor about forty years, or untIl 1821 and was succeeded by Rev. Joseph Barr, who was elected pastor of Leacock and Middle Octorara, May, 1822, and installed May 6, 1823. This pastorate continued until Sept. 17, 1844, when it was dissolved by the Presbytery of Donegal, on account of the health of Mr. Barr.

The next pastor was Rev. Solomon McNair, who was ordained and installed May 8, 1846. He was released by Presbytery in 1853 , and in November, 1853, Rev. Joseph M. Rittenhouse was ordained and installed pastor. He continued in this relation until Sept. 23, 1873. He was followed by Rev. W. .J. Henderson, who was installed Oct. 9, 1874, and con- tinued as pastor until Oct. 6, 1876, when, at his own request, on account of his health, he was released.

Rev. W.G. Cairnes, the present pastor entered upon his ministry among this people April, 1877, and was regularly intalled pastor May 8, 1878.

During the pastorate or the Rev. Alexander Craighead a tract of land containing about one hundred acres was conveyed by a deed dated June 29, 1738, by John, Thomas and Richard Penn to Henry Work, Alexander Craighead, Robert Matthews, and Hugh Barclay, "for the use of the Presbyterian congregation dwelling near the same," This tract of' land is still In possession of the Middle Octorara Church, except six acres, upon which the United Presibyterian Church and parsonage now stand, which was conveyed to that church for that purpose.

The present church building, which is a stone structure, and was erected before the beginning of the present century, stands on this tract of land. It is capable of seating about three hundred people. a parsonage also was erected by the church during the time Rev. Mr. McNair was pastor. a dwelling for the former was erected in 1822

An extensive graveyard is connected with the church, to which additions have been made from time to time as there was need, In it many of those who have resided in the neighborhood have been buried, some who in their generation were prominent in the church and community. In the older part of the yard very few of the graves have stones with inscriptions. The stone bearing the oldest date is that erected to the grave of William Barclay. The full inscription is,

"Here lies the bodies of William Barclay and Mary, his wife.
He departed this life
October, 1732, aged sixty-three years,
and she October, 1757, aged eighty-eight years."

Beneath a marble slab (which is now, 1883, in a broken condition) lie the remains of Rev. John Cuthhertson, the first Reformed Presbyterian minister who preached in America. He was a Scotchman, and landed Aug 5, 1751 , at New Castle Del.. He preceached his first sermon in America at the house of a Mr. Joseph Ross, who is thought to have resided near the Pennsylvania and Maryland line, on Aug 9, 1751, from the text , Jonah ii 8. He made his home, after his settlement in this country, about two miles from the Octorara Church. He preached at Octorara, Muddy Run, Pequea, in Lancaster County, and also extended his labors into Dauphin, Adams, Cuinberland, Franklin, Fulton, and York Counties, and made a visit to the western part of the State, and to New York State. The gravestone bears the fol- lowing inscription:

"Here lies the Body of the
Rev. John Cuthbertson,
Who, after a labor of about 40 year. in the ministry of the Gospel among the Dissenting Covenanters of America,
depated this life
10th of March, 1791,
In the 75 year of his age.
"Psalm exii. 6-'The rightous shall be in everlasting remembrance."'
Among the other old stones are the following names
and dates:
William Barclay, Jr., who died May 23, 1757, aged
forty-eight years.
John Cunningham, who died Sept. 10, 1757, aged
thirty.one years.
John Barclay, who departed this life Jan. 4, 1765,
aged sixty-five years.
Mary McClure, who died Oct. 12, 1758, aged sixty-
three years.
William McClure, who died 1768, aged seventy years.
Samuel Anderson, Esq., who died Sept. 10, 1764,
aged sixty.four years.

The following persons, who served in the Revolutionary war, are known to have been hurled in tlis yard:

John Caughey, Sr., Joseph Tweed, Robert Bailey, James Thompson, and John McClure.

Also the foll6wing, who served In the 1812 war:

John Caughey, Jr., William MeCray, Henry Byre, William Sampson, James MeCord, William Boone, Andrew Thompson and William McClure

Also the following, who served in the late civil war:

Capt. Samuel Boone, George W. Good, Lewis Findley, Lewis Kaughman, Benjamin Young, and Jacob Ritz.

Also Edwin 14. Martin, M.D., who served as an assistant surgeon in the United States navy from April 12, 1875, until the time of his death, Aug. 20, 1878.

There are no sessional records of Middle Octorara Church previous to the settlement of the Rev. Joseph Barr, in 1823, known to the writer, and hence no definite information can he ascertained in regard to the elders previous to that date. When Mr. Barr entered on his ministry the following were elders: John Patterson, Francis McKnight, Alexander Morrison, James Steel, Robert Patterson, Samuel Morrison, and Samuel Paxton. On Sept. 11, 1831, Cornelius Collins, Thomas Morgan, Stephen Heard, Francis Caughey, and Alexander W. Morrison were ordained elders. In 1840, John A. Love, Benjamin Fite, Jacob Ritz, and Robert Ferguson were added to the session ; also the following at various times: William Boone , Thomas Ferguson, Adam Draucker, Peter Baughman Samuel Ressler, William McElwain, Lewis H. Linville, Harvey Baughman, and Milton Heildlebaugh.

"Churches of Today and Yesterday in Southern Lancaster County" by Fellowship of Solanco Churches, Raymond Dunlap, George Herbert, & Richard Yates , Sr. printed 1968

MIDDLE OCTORARA UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

In the minutes of a session of New Castle Presbytery held in the Meeting House at Pencader in the Colony of Delaware July 25, 1727 it is recorded that "A supplication being presented for several in-habitants in the West side of Acterara Creek requesting one third of Mr. Boyd's labours amongst them, a full consideration of said affairs is deferred until our next, but at present ordered that Mr. Boyd supply that Society one Sabbath before our next." This minute estab-lishes the exact date at which this Society was formally recognized by the Presbytery, the corresponding date of which is August 7 in the present calendar. It also establishes the fact that religious services of some nature had previously been held in the area for at least a sufficient time for the group to become known as a separate Society, yet still a part of the congregation of Acterara, the Reverend Adam Boyd being the Minister. There being no Meeting House here at that date, Mr. Boyd. who was accustomed to travel extensively over his wide field visiting local groups of his widely scattered flock, must have gathered these settlers on the West side of the Acterara Creek together frequently enough to weld them into a Society, meeting in some settler's cabin or in II "Tent" in this or some nearby grove, in what was then Sadsbury Township, Chester County in the Colony of Pennsylvania. George of England died that same year and George II ascended the throne. Major Patrick Gordon was Lieutenant Governor and James Logan Secretary of the Council of Pennsylvania.

This was the official beginning of Middle Octorara, so called be-cause of its location approximately midway between Upper Octorara, the Mother Church, and Lower Octorara, later West Nottingham. By 1730, the Society had become sufficiently established to warrant calling its own regular Minister, the Reverend John Thomson. About this time, a log Meeting House was erected, the location of which is now marked by a modest marble shaft located in the Southwestern area of the old graveyard. The term "Society" and "Meeting House" are used because at that time and until after the Colonies had won In-dependence, the term "Church" was used only in reference to the Established Church of England. It is accepted also that the old log house which stood until 1899 on the site of the present Educational Build-ing, and was used for a number of years as a Primary Sunday School building, was erected for the use of Pastor Thomson.

Lieutenant Governor Patrick Gordon, a short time before his death in 1736, approved an Act, long contended for, enabling religious Soci-eties of Protestants to purchase land for burying grounds, houses of worship, schools, etc. Middle Octorara immediately proceeded to take advantage of this Act, and in 1738 purchased one hundred acres of land from John, Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn. The price paid was fifteen pounds, eleven shillings and six pence.

Those named in the Patent as acting for the Congregation were Henry Work, Alexander Craighead, Robert Matthews and Hugh Barclay, "in Trust nevertheless for the sole use and behoof of said Presbyterian Congregation for ever for their Meeting House, School and burying place and to no other use Intent or purpose whatsoever." This tract of land is still intact with the exception of six acres deeded to the Covenanter Society for the erecting of their own house of worship in 1753_ Previously the Covenanters had worshiped in the Presbyterian Meeting House on alternate Sabbaths with the Presbyterian Society.The Covenanter Meeting House was situated on what is now the site of the United Presbyterian "Shrine" Church and was of stone construction.In 1965 this tract was deeded back to Middle Octorara. There has also been sold in recent years the plot of ground on which the old parsonage is located The remaining acres not occupied as Church grounds and Cemeteries constitute the present Church Farm There have been three dwellings provided for the Ministers; the log house in 1730, the Parsonage on the hill about 1850, and the present Manse in 1958. In the grove surrounding the first Meeting House, the great Evan- gelist George Whitfield preached to more than a thousand persons at the time of the "Great Revival" in the late 1730s while on his tour from Philadelphia to Wilmington, through Chester County to Nottingham, to Middle Octorara and on to Pequea, with great crowds following all the way, and Reverend Craighead of Middle Octorara his guide and enthusiastic companion through Chester County

Here also the Presbytery met in 1740 for the famous trial of Reverend Alexander Craighead, who was charged with introducing new terms of communion, of requiring parents to subscribe to the Solemn League and Covenant when presenting children for baptism, with carrying the Gospel to the people of New London in opposition to the wishes of his Session, and with excluding from communion those who opposed his methods. This fiery trial lasted two days and resulted in his being suspended from the ministry, yet leaving the door wide open for lifting the suspension at any time he should signify his repentance. This trial had two far reaching results. The first was the crippling of this congregation to the extent they could not afford a regular Pastor for almost forty years, during which time they were ministered to by supply pastors when available. In the second place, Reverend Craighead soon joined the steady tide of emigrants moving toward Virginia and the Carolinas. After a few years in Virginia at Windy Cove on Cow Pasture River, we find him in 1756 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, as the first Pastor of the newly organized Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church near Charlotte. Here he was destined to wield such an influence by his vigorous preaching in defense of freedom and independence that, although he did not live to see it accomplished, he is credited with being the inspiration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence issued May 20, 1775, many of whose signers were members of the Sugaw Creek Congregation. So much for the influence of Middle Octorara in Colonial affairs.

The present house of worship was built about 1790 as nearly as can be determined_ In 1849 it was remodeled, the pulpit removed from the north side to the east end, the door in the south side and the door and window in the east end closed, and a second door opened in the west end. The vestibule and belltower were added in 1914. A chapel for use of the Sunday School was erected in 1899, enlarged in 1929 and removed for the building of still a larger Educational Build-ing in 1953. At various times in the history of this Church there have been special outpourings of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the first Was in the days of Whitfield. but if so it was recorded only in Heaven. Of certain other times, however, there is record, for we read in the minutes of Session that on one day in 1865, ninety-one persons presented themselves seeking Church membership, only five of whom came by certificate from other Churches. Again in 1886, 31 persons; in 1900, 30 persons; in 1915, 42 persons; and in 1946, 48 persons. These occasions all seem to have followed seasons of special effort on the part of the Congregation, as led by the Pastor. This Church has sent seven of its sons into the Gospel ministry, six Presbyterians and one Methodist; it has contributed also a wife for a Missionary to India.

Grave stones in the old burying ground contain many odd and interesting inscriptions. The oldest marked grave is that of William Barclay who died in 1732. The oldest person buried here is Marietta Moore, "Relic of Walter Moore" who died in 1828 in her 109th year. Here also lies the body of the Reverend John Cuthberson, first Cove-nanter Minister in America. Many flags wave over graves in both Cemeteries proclaiming the fact that this people have contributed soldiers and sailors to every conflict in which this Nation has been engaged. No doubt many who lie in unmarked graves deserve the same recognition if that were possible.

This congregation has been under the care and supervision of eight Presbyterys:-New Castle, 1727, Donegal First, 1732, Lancaster, 1766, Donegal Second, 1767, New Castle, 1770, Donegal Third, 1843, Westminister, 1870, and Donegal Fourth, 1933. The following have served this Church as Ministers: the Reverend Adam Boyd, Supply 172 7 -30, the Reverend John Thomson 1730-33, the Reverend Thomas Creaghead, Supply 1733, the Reverend Alexander Craighead, 1735-41, the Reverend Evander Morrison, Supply 1753, the Reverend Nathaniel W. Sample, 1780-1821, the Reverend Joseph Barr 1823- 44, the Reverend Solomon McNair 1846-53, the Reverend Joseph M. Rittenhouse 1853-73, the Reverend William J. Henderson 1874-76, the Reverend William G. Cairnes 1877-1914, Reverend George H. Shea D.D. 1915-65, and the Reverend Robert W. Tanguy 1966.

The names of more than seventy persons are recorded as having served in the office of Ruling Elder. First mentioned is that of James Turner who was Commissioner to Presbytery meeting at White Clay Creek September 19, 1730, and carried the Call for the services of the Reverend John Thomson as Pastor of this Society. Another noted person to serve in this capacity was General John Steele who had served with distinction in the Revolution, and was severely wounded at Brandywine; recovering from his wounds, he later served on GeneraI Washington's Staff and was Officer of the Day at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown October 19, 1781. Since we believe the most important person in any Church to be the man or woman in the pew, we are pleased to relate that in spite of the absence of records covering about seventy years of the Church's early history, the names of more than 2700 persons are on records as communicant members.

The present enrollment, 1966, is 731. Regular services are held on Sabbath morning with Sabbath School at 9: 30 and the worship service at 10: 30. Evening service is at 7: 00. Service of Holy Communion is observed four times each year.

Present Day Church

Sunday Services at Middle Octorara are held at the following times:
Prayer Service 8:30 A.M.
Sunday School 9:10 - 10:00A.M.
Church Service: 10:30 - 11:30 A.M.

Records Location

Books & Written accounts
"Faith & Works at Middle Octorara since 1727" by Madison E. McElwain printed 1956
The above book was updated in 1976 and is presently being updated.
Includes history of the Church, information on its early Elders and cemetery inscriptions
"Register of Marriages and Baptisms performed by Rev. Cuthbertson" by S. Helen Fields printed 1934 reprinted 1983 by Genealogical Publishing, Baltimore
The Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society has several articles abouth the Church
Vol 81 #2 1977 includes
"Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church and the Revolution"by Barry Girvin
" The 250th Anniverserary of Middle Octorara United Presbyterian Church" by Hiriam G. Troop Sr.
Church Annual 1879

Microfilms at LCHS list the following records:

Roll 382 Middle Octorara - Bart township
Membership list
Subscription accts 1816-1823
Treasurers accts 1815-1827
Trustees minutes 1796-1822
Roll 384
Session minutes 1846-1874
Members admissions and dismissals 1847-1853
Members recieved 17 Sept 1865
Baptisms 1848-1859
Deaths
records 1882-1894
church cemetery lot sales
Roll 385
Primary Sunday School roll book 1898-1905
Records 1824-1850
Pew rents
Map of church woodland
Treasures Account
Records 1837-1850
Pew rents
Treasures Account
Salary Reciepts
Membership List 1808
Baptism records 1808-1812
Subscription 1816-1827
Accounts & Trustees minutes 1796-1833

Records held by the Church

The Church Registers
Birth & Baptism records
1966- to present
Marriages
1966- present
Death & Burial records
1916-1935
Church Roll
1915- 1935
Session Notes- includes funerals, baptism & marriages
1949-1955
1962-1974
1974-1987
1987-1994
1994-1998
Church Treasure Record Books
1933-1966
Church Treasure Record Books
Contributions in support of the Church
1927,1934,1936-1937
Trustees Minutes
1963-1987
Also various Sunday School records
"Minutes for History"by Dorothy Beyer 1976 (read each Sunday in 1977 ,250th Anniversary)
"View from the past "- an oral history project done in 1976
Transcribed interviews - also on tape
For other records the Church suggests checking with the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia
A big thanks to MOPC for their response to our query on record locations for their Church
This site is generously

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