Old Tennent Church, Freehold, New Jersey


One of the bas-reliefs on the monument commemorating the decisive Battle of Monmouth, which has been called the turning-point of the War for Independence, represents the famous Molly Pitcher as she took the place at the gun of her disabled husband. In the back-ground of the relief is the roof and steeple of Old Tennent, the church near which the battle raged all day long.

Tennent Presbyterian Church was organized about 1692. The first building was probably built of logs. The second structure, more ambitious, was planned in 1730. Twenty years later a third structure was demanded by the growing congregation. This building, which was twenty-seven years old at the time of the battle of Monmouth, is still standing.

The plan called for a building sixty feet long and forty feet wide. The present pastor of the church, Rev. Frank R. Symmes, in his story of the church, says of the building :

” The sides were sheathed with long cedar shingles, and fastened with nails patiently wrought out on an anvil, and the interior was finished with beaded and panelled Jersey pine. . . . The pulpit . . is placed on the north side of the room, against the wall, with narrow stairs leading up to it, closed in with a door. The Bible desk is nine feet above the audience floor, with a great sounding board overhanging the whole. . Below the main pulpit a second desk or sub-pulpit is built, where the precentor used to stand. . . . The galleries extend along three sides of the room.”

Among the early pastors of the church were Rev. John Tennent and his brother, Rev. William Tennent, members of a family famous in the early history of the Presbyterian Church in New Jersey. In consequence of their forty-seven years of service the church became known as ” Old Tennent.”

The story of the marriage of Rev. William Tennent is a tradition in the congregation. In spite of his salary of about one hundred pounds, and the use of the parson-age farm, he became financially embarrassed. A friend from New York who visited him when he was thirty-three years old told him he ought to marry and suggested a widow of his acquaintance. Mr. Tennent agreed to the proposition that he go to New York in company with his friend, and see if matters could not be arranged. So, before noon next day, he was introduced to Mrs. Noble. ” He was much pleased with her appearance,” the story goes on, ” and when left alone with her, abruptly told her that he supposed her brother had informed her of his errand; that neither his time nor his inclination would suffer him to use much ceremony, but that if she approved he would return on Monday, be married, and immediately take her home.” Thus in one week she found herself mistress of his house. She proved a most invaluable treasure to him.

The year after the death of Mr. Tennent, on Sunday, June 28, 1778, General Washington, at the head of about six. thousand men, hurried by Old Tennent. That morning he had been at Englishtown where the sound of cannon told him his advance forces under General Lee were battling with the British. Washington was about one hundred yards beyond the church door when he met the first straggler who told him that Lee had retreated before the British. A little further on the Commander-in-chief met Lee. After rebuking him sharply he hastened forward, and rallied the retreating Continentals. The renewed battle continued until evening when the British were driven back to a defensive position. During the night they retired, to the surprise of Washington, who hoped to renew the battle in the morning. The victory snatched from defeat in this, one of the most stubbornly contested and longest battles of the war, gave new courage to the Colonies.

During the battle wounded soldiers were carried to the church, where members of the congregation tended them, in what could not have been a very secure refuge, since musket balls pierced the walls. An exhausted American soldier, while trying to make his way to the building, sat for rest on the grave of Sarah Mattison. While he was there a cannon ball wounded him and broke off a piece of the headstone. Watchers carried him into the church where he was laid on one of the pews. The stains of blood are still to be seen on the board seat, while the marks of his hands were visible on the book-rest of the pew until the wood was grained.

A tablet has been placed on the front wall of the church with this message :

1778-1901 In Grateful Remembrance of Patriots Who, on Sabbath June 28,’ 1778, Gained the Victory Which Was the Turning Point Of the War for Independence, And to Mark a Memorable Spot on The Battlefield of Monmouth, This Tablet is placed by Monmouth Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution September 26, 1901.

Not far from the church is the monument commemorating the battle itself. Spirited bronze reliefs on this tell the story of some of the picturesque incidents of the memorable struggle.