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.
This is the first 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.
This excerpt features Rev. David Bartine, the ‘spiritual godfather” of the Princeton Methodist Church (and the father of Dr. Oliver Bartine, who would procure the land for the first sanctuary),
The earliest of the hard working, circuit riding, Methodist preachers in New Jersey covered the entire state as their circuit. They found New Jersey slow to welcome Methodism. The Society of Friends was dominant in the southern part of the state and’ northern New Jersey was largely Presbyterian, with strong pockets of Dutch Reformed communities. The central part of the state contained all three groups, and none particularly welcomed any competition.
As more Methodist ministers became available the state was divided into the East Jersey and West Jersey Circuits, roughly corresponding to our Northern and Southern New Jersey Annual Conferences today. As smaller divisions were formed the Trenton Circuit was established in 1786. It seems likely that some of the circuit riders held services in Princeton, and there are suggestions that an itinerant lay preacher visited here as early as 1791.
In 1802 the Reverend Ezekiel Cooper was the first ordained Methodist minister on record as having preached in Princeton. However, we should probably consider that the real beginnings of Methodism in Princeton coincide with the appointment of the Reverend David Bartine to the Trenton Circuit, and Bartine should certainly be honored as the spiritual godfather of the Princeton Methodist Church.
Born in Westchester County, New York, in 1767, Bartine first served as an assistant to Bishop Francis Asbury, which meant preaching at no specified salary in places where there were no churches. He later received his first appointment from Bishop Asbury, who admired his wonderful oratorical power.
Bartine spent forty-one years in the Methodist ministry, many of those years on circuits that required constant travel. During this time he held twenty-nine one-year appointments and six two-year appointments. His first assigment was to “preach, form circuits and prepare the ground for permanent congregations” in “all that part of the State of New York west of Albany and as far north as Canada.”
After this grueling assignment he was moved to New Jersey where, except for a few years across the river in Pennsylvania, he spent the remainder of his ministry. He must have had a rigorous constitution, since even when assigned to an already established Methodist church he was still expected to ride a circuit to the surrounding towns and countryside.
Bishop Asbury praised Bartine for his “splendid argumentative power in compelling the enemies of Methodism to respect her.” Bartine apparently enjoyed engaging in logical debates, in what was described as “a cold steel-like manner,” without showing anger, but cooly presenting clear and logical arguments. One of his favorite gambits was to go into a store with his Bible in hand, and force a controversy on some text with the local men gathered there. Then he would calmly assert what he believed was right. He had a prodigious memory and could probably easily outquote any of his opponents.
As minister of the Trenton Circuit, Bartine first preached in Princeton in 1810 at the home of a Captain Blue, returning at intervals after that. However, it was not until 1841 or 1842 that a Methodist class was established by the Reverend C. H. Whitecar, meeting in the home of Samuel Stephens on Canal Street, now Alexander Street, with Mr. Stephens acting as the class leader.
Bartine’s second wife was Elizabeth Hunt of Cedar Grove, a small settlement several miles from the center of Princeton. Located on the Cedar Grove Road, now the Great Road, it contained a cluster of houses and farms, a one room school and a small general store. Mrs. Bartine remained in Cedar Grove, caring for the children of Bartine’s first marriage, along with their son Oliver, freeing her husband to travel more extensive and arduous circuits. Bartine finally retired to Cedar Grove in 1835.
In 1845 the Reverend T. T. Campfield held a series of revival meetings at Cedar Grove. The conversions that resulted from these meetings created enough enthusiasm to support the building of a small chapel the following year. Located about 100 yards southwest of the Great Road, it is described as a weatherboarded building painted white. David Bartine must certainly have been an enthusiastic supporter of this project, and the following year his son, Dr. Oliver Bartine, became a leading member of the group responsible for establishing a church in Princeton.
The elder Bartine’s influence probably was also felt under the leadership of the Reverend Israel Corbit, the second minister to serve Princeton, who had formerly served under Bartine in Camden, New Jersey. George Batchelder, eighth minister of the Princeton church, was not only converted under Bartine, but later became his son-in-law.
The revival meetings at Cedar Grove gave impetus to the group of Methodists already holding class meetings in Princeton to organize their own church. The New Jersey Conference had for some time been eager to establish a Methodist society to serve not only Princeton, but the surrounding area. However, the opposition of many of the townspeople had made it impossible to find a suitable location for a church at a resaonable price. Now, at the request of the local group, the Conference established a Princeton Circuit, and in April 1847 the Reverend Joseph Ashbrook was the first minister appointed to the new church, with the small congregation still meeting in members’ homes. The first task facing the new minister was to secure a plot of land on which to build his church.
Looking deeper into the history and spirituality of the stained glass windows —
This window in the chapel at Princeton United Methodist Church, is popularly known as ‘Christ at Heart’s Door’ re Revelations 3:20 (Behold, I stand at the door and knock.) Many 19th century British and German paintings had similar subjects — Christ knocking at the door of a home. They offer a puzzle: where is the handle on the door? The answer “you must open your heart from the inside.”
Dr. David Morgan of Valparaiso University in a 1994 exhibition catalog, suggested this particular image was influenced by the painting The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt. “The barely concealed heart produced by the luminance of Christ and the frame of the doorway convey Christ’s call to the soul ensnared in thistles of sin and the darkness of ignorance and willfulness,” he writes. “Yet, as promotional literature points out, ‘all is not hopeless, for there is an opening of grillwork in the door ‘revealing the darkness within,’ so that the individual may see who is at the door, and see that He is good and kind.'”
If you bring a visitor to the chapel, ask the question, “is there a handle on the door? Why not?” It’s a gentle way to offer a Jesus moment.
A new e-newsletter marks the launch of a denomination-wide effort to streamline and customize communications for United Methodist members, leaders and seekers. It is the first publication to carry the voice of the denomination directly to members. Subscribe to the free e-newsletter and view the most recent articles at UMC.org/newsletter. If you have an inspiring story to share, send ideas to UMNow@UMC.org
Sent twice per month from UMC headquarters in Nashville, United Methodist Now includes inspiration and information –stories, articles, videos, quizzes, links and other multimedia content. Subscribers can anticipate learning about:
What it means to be United Methodist
Christian living/your daily journey
Church beliefs and history
Motivation, inspiration and things worth watching
Close to home are you getting the PUMC newsletter in your email? Call or email the office if you aren’t. More news is available on Facebook here.
If you have news to contribute, email newsletter@PrincetonUMC.org.
Our own conference, Greater New Jersey (GNJ), is doing a great job at trying to communicate with us as members. GNJ was given the “Communication Director of the Year” a ward and six other awards. It offers a weekly e-newsletter, a monthly newspaper that is also online, and a podcast.
Anyone can sign up for the GNJ Digest, a free weekly email newsletter that promotes time sensitive events and resources at the conference level, previews weekly denomination news relevant to Greater New Jersey and the strategic plan, highlights conference-wide initiatives and agencies including Team Vital, the Mission Fund and A Future With Hope and provides a vehicle for job postings and committee meeting announcements. Sign up at https://www.gnjumc.org/the-gnj-digest/
The Relay is a monthly newspaper that provides information on events and resources available throughout Greater New Jersey. The Relay promotes evidence of vitality in our faith communities and bright spots among our worshipers. Print copies are sent free of charge to all clergy, lay leaders and committee leaders, but articles are also online. Print subscriptions are available for $10.
The Uncovered Dish Christian Leadership Podcast is a bi-monthly podcast on Christian leadership by the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey that uncovers stories, equips leaders, and changes the world. In this gospel-centered podcast hosts James Lee and Kaitlynn Deal invite guest on the show to share, discuss, and journey with listeners on what churches and congregations are doing in Greater New Jersey and for the Kingdom of God. The latest episode focuses on why every church should have an Instagram account. (We should, who wants to do it?)
Everyone is invited to participate in Princeton’s Joint Effort Safe Streets Program from August 4 to 13. Entitled “Looking Back and Moving Forward” it will focus on the historic role of the black church in the Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) community. For details, click here.
A Joint Effort Princeton Ecumenical Service will be held at the Miller Chapel of the Princeton Theological Seminary at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 6. It will recall the stories of the black churches in Princeton in words and music.
A youth basketball clinic is scheduled for Friday, August 11 from 9 a.m. to noon on the Community Park courts, and the Pete Young Sr. Memorial Safe Streets Basketball Games will take place all day on Sunday, August 13, also on the CP basketball courts.
Other highlights include a time capsule ceremony; a critical issues discussion; awards ceremonies for area youth, elected officials, and community leaders; a golf long ball contest; an art and photography exhibit; a book signing and dialogue with Kathryn Watterson; a walking tour; a community concert; music and other entertainment; workout and conditioning sessions; and more. Here is the schedule.
Bishop John Schol calls upon each church in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference to spot potential leaders and prayerfully call, equip, challenge and support them. “I challenge each of our congregations to give permission for your pastor to be more apostolic and to continue to support and challenge them to develop their leadership to lead the congregation to engage in and grow more fully the mission.”
“In GNJ we are developing new leadership resources that create a culture of leadership, spot and call new leaders and grow our leaders to be like Christ in their attitude, skills and spirit.”
One of the principles of the United Methodist Church is our Connectionalism; we do not stand alone as a congregation but are part of a network of congregations that all work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Connectionalism has always been a part of my DNA as a UM and so to serve in the wider church of the Annual Conference it will allow me to fully live out one of the values that has been so important to me as a UM pastor.