A Journey of Faith: 1847-1848: Methodists Weren’t Very Welcome

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How Presbyterians Almost Kept Methodists from Buying Land

This is the second in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997. 

….The first task facing the new minister, Rev. Ashworth, was to secure a plot of land on which to build his church.

As the home of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University in 1896) and the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton was dominated by Presbyterians. The entire faculty of the Seminary were Presbyterian clergymen, and the College had only a few non-ministerial members on its faculty. Tales of enthusiastic singing and noisy conversions at camp meetings gave the Methodists a reputation among the more sedate Presbyterians of being loud and lacking in dignity, perhaps verging on rowdyism. It was thought that these Methodists would certainly be a bad influence on the college and seminary students, and a subtle form of discrimination was exerted, making it difficult to secure a suitable plot of land on which to build.

The building that was both the home and medical office of Dr. Oliver Bartine occupied the land on what would later become the corner of Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue, although the latter street had not yet been cut through. The area of the present church building containing the Sanford Davis Room and the chapel occupies Dr. Bartine’s former lot. This property, as well as the adjoining lot which the new congregation wished to purchase, had once been part of the estate of Dr. Ebenezer Stockton, who had his home and office at Bainbridge House, the present home of the Historical Society of Princeton. All of this land had been part of the kitchen garden so necessary to homes at that time.

Stockton was the brother-in-law of the Reverend Ashbel Green, a staunch pillar of conservative Presbyterianism. During his tenure as president of the College of New Jersey, from 1812 to 1822, Green had strongly opposed any other religious groups coming into Princeton and possibly seducing his students from the straight and narrow road of Calvinism. The lot where the Methodists wished to build their church was owned by Alexander R. Boteler and his wife, Helen, descendants of Dr. Stockton, who were residing in Jefferson County, Virginia. Feeling that they might refuse to sell the land for the use of a Methodist church, they were not approached by representatives of the congregation.

Instead, Dr. Bartine purchased the property for $500 by a deed dated September 20, 1846, with the sellers probably assuming that he wished to enlarge his office. On November 30, 1848, he conveyed the property for the same price to the newly appointed Trustees of the Princeton Methodist Episcopal Church, a group which he served as president.

 

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