The Church At Caldwell, New Jersey


The trying days of the Revolution would not seem to be a favorable time for the beginning of a church, especially in the section of New Jersey which was so often overrun by the soldiers of both armies. Yet it was at this critical time that many of the people of Horseneck (now Caldwell), New Jersey, near Montclair, were looking forward to the organization of a church and the building of a house of worship. Timbers were in fact drawn and framed for church purposes, but the war interfered with the completion of the project.

The donation, in 1779, of ninety acres of wild land in the centre of the settlement gave the prospective congregation new heart. On this land a parsonage was begun in 1782. The upper portion of this house, unplastered and unceiled, was used for church purposes until 1796.

The final organization of the church dates from December 3, 1784, when forty persons signed their names to the following curious agreement :

” We Whose Names are Under writen Living at the Place called Horse Neck, Being this Day to be Formed or Embodied as a Church of Jesus Christ, Do Solemnly Declare that as we do desire to be founded Only on the Rock Christ Jesus, So we would not wish to Build on this foundation, Wood Hay and Stubble, but Gold and Silver and Precious Stones; and as it is our profested Sentiments that a Visible Church of Christ, Consists of Visible Believers with their Children, so no Adult Persons ought to be Admitted as members but such as Credibly profess True Faith in Jesus Christ, Love, Obedience, and Subjection to Him, Holding the Fundamental Doctrines of the Gospel, and who will Solemnly Enter into Covenant to Walk Worthy such an Holy Profession as we do this Day.”

The last survivor of those who signed this document was General William Gould, who died February 12, 1847; in his ninetieth year. During the Revolution he saw much active service, especially at the battles of Springfield and Monmouth and the campaigns that pre-ceded and followed these conflicts.

But the connection of the church with the Revolution came rather through Rev. James Caldwell, who was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth Town. During the early years of the struggling congregation he was their adviser and helper, and after his death the name of the church was changed to Caldwell, in his honor.

Mr. Caldwell—who had among his parishioners in Elizabeth Town William Livingston, the Governor of the State, Elias Boudinot, Commissary General of Prisons and President of Congress, Abraham Clark, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as more than forty commissioned officers of the Continental Army—was one of the famous chaplains of the war, having been chosen in 1776 chaplain of the regiment largely made up of his own members. Later he was Assistant Commissary General.

The British called him the ” Fighting Chaplain,” and he was cordially hated because of his zeal for the cause of the patriots. His life was always in danger, and when he was able to spend a Sunday with his congregation he would preach with his cavalry pistols on the pulpit, while sentinels were stationed at the doors to give warning.

The enmity of the British led to the burning of the chaplain’s church, and the murder, a few months later, of Mrs. Caldwell. While she was sitting in a rear room at the house at Connecticutt Farms, where she had been sent for safety, surrounded by her children, a soldier thrust his musket through the window and fired at her.

Mr. Caldwell survived the war, in spite of the efforts of the British to capture him, only to be murdered on November 24, 1781, by a Continental soldier who was thought to have been bribed by those whose enmity the chaplain had earned during the conflict.

The Elizabeth Town congregation succeeded in rebuilding their church five years after it was destroyed, but the delayed Caldwell church building was not ready for its occupants until 1795. The timbers for the church were hewed in the forest where the trees were felled and were drawn by oxen to the site selected. Forty men worked several days to raise the frame. Lime was made from sea shells, which were hauled from Bergen, and then burned in a kiln erected near the church lot.

The interior of the building was plain. The pulpit, about the size of a hogshead,” was built on a single pillar, against the wall; above this was a sounding board. The windows had neither blinds nor curtains, and nothing was painted but the pulpit. The backs of the pews were exactly perpendicular. Provision was made regularly for the purchase of sand to freshen the floors. This building was burned in 1872.

The first pastor, Rev. Stephen Grover, received as salary one hundred and fifty dollars a year, though this sum was to be increased ten dollars a year until the total was two hundred and fifty dollars. Of course the use of the parsonage and land was given in addition.

Mr. Grover was pastor for forty-six years, and his successor was Rev. Richard F. Cleveland, to whose son, born in the old manse at Caldwell,—which was purchased in 1912 by the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association,—was given the name Stephen Grover, in memory of the first pastor of the church. Forty-seven years later Stephen Grover Cleveland be-came President of the United States.

For the first ten months of its history the Caldwell church was Presbyterian, then it became Congregational, but since 1831 it has been a Presbyterian body.