Old Pine Street Church, Philadelphia


There were four thousand, seven hundred and seventy-four houses in Philadelphia in 1767 when the Pine Street Presbyterian Church, the third church of this denomination in the city, was built. The subscription paper, still in existence, shows that £1,078 ” in money or otherwise ” was subscribed for the purpose. The sum needed to complete the building was raised by a lottery, which yielded £2,500. In the proceeds of the lottery the Market Street Church and the Second Church shared, £1,035 going to the Pine Street building.

The original building was of but one story, with gable ends. When alterations were made in 1837 the top of the church was raised bodily, while a larger roof was built over the old roof. The visitor who climbs to the loft is able to see the old walls and windows. The floor was raised one step above the street level, and was paved with brick.

Rev. George Duffield, D.D., who was pastor from 1772 to 1790, was a prominent figure during the Revolution. He was chaplain of the Continental Congress and of the Pennsylvania militia during the period of the war, and he delivered fiery messages that stirred patriots to action. John Adams, who was a member of the church, called him a man of genius and eloquence. On May 17, 1776, after listening to a sermon in which Dr. Duffield likened the conduct of George III to the Americans to that of Pharaoh to the Israelites, and concluded that God intended the liberation of the Americans, as He had intended that of the Israelites, he wrote to his wife :

” Is it not a saying of Moses, Who am I that I should go in and out before this great people? When I consider the great events which are passed, and those greater which are rapidly advancing, and that I may have been instrumental in touching some springs, and turning some small wheels, which have had and will have such effects, I feel an awe upon my mind, which is not easily described. Great Britain has at last driven America to the last step, complete separation from her; a total, absolute independence. . .. ”

Headley, in ” Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution,” says :

” The patriots of the first Congress flocked to his church, and John Adams and his compeers were often his hearers. . . . In a discourse delivered before several companies of the Pennsylvania militia and members of Congress, four months before the Declaration of Independence, he took bold and decided ground in favor of that step, and pleaded his cause with sublime eloquence, which afterwards made him so obnoxious to the British that they placed a reward of fifty pounds for his capture.”

Later on in the same sermon he prophesied :

” Whilst sun and moon endure, America shall remain a city of refuge for the whole earth, until she herself shall play the tyrant, forget her destiny, disgrace her freedom, and provoke her God.”

As chaplain of the Pennsylvania militia, Dr. Duffield was frequently in camp, where ” his visits were always welcome, for the soldiers loved the eloquent, earnest, fearless patriot.”

Headley gives this incident of the courageous chaplain’s work :

” When the enemy occupied Staten Island, and the American forces were across the river on the Jersey shore, he repaired to camp to spend the Sabbath. Assembling a portion of the troops in an orchard, he climbed into the forks of a tree and commenced religious exercises. He gave out a hymn. . . . The British on the island heard the sound of the singing, and immediately directed some cannon to play on the orchard, from whence it proceeded. Soon the heavy shot came crashing through the branches, and went singing overhead, arresting for a moment the voices that were lifted in worship. Mr. Duffield . . . proposed that they should adjourn behind an adjacent hillock. They did so, and continued their worship, while the iron storm hurled harmlessly overhead.”

In spite of his almost constant service in the field, Dr. Duffield was in Philadelphia among his people every little while. The church records show that he baptized children every month during the Revolution, except for the period of the British occupation of Philadelphia, when the church was occupied as a hospital, and more than one hundred Hessian soldiers were buried in the churchyard.

Another remarkable fact is that of the one hundred and ten men who had signed the call to George Duffield in 1771, sixty-seven served in the army during the war. Colonel Thomas Robinson, whose portrait is in Independence Hall, was a member of the church; Captain John Steele, who was field officer on the day of the surrender of Cornwallis, and Colonel William Linnard, whose company attempted to keep the British from crossing the Brandywine, were also members. Many other officers and private soldiers were on the rolls; the stones and vaults in the cemetery tell of many of them.

One of the original trustees of Pine Street was Dr. William Shippen, Jr., first Professor of Medicine in America and Director General of all the hospitals during the war. Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration, was an attendant at the services, and his mother was a member.