Subtitled “Some of the Records Lost During the Revolution,” the following article originally appeared in the Allentown Messenger dated April 28, 1904.
The Episcopal Church in Allentown is one of the oldest in the county. The Parish of Christ Church was organized under the auspices of the ‘Society of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts,” about the year 1730, and for many years there after was served by several missionaries. Among these was Rev. Thomas Thompson, who was sent over by the society, in 1745, to have the care of the churches of the denomination in Monmouth county. In his own account of this work he says: “I had these churches immediately in my charge, each of them situated in a different township. * *
The names of the townships are Freeehold, Shrewsbury and Middletown. I also officiated at Allentown, in Upper Freehold, while that church was destitute of a minister.”
From what could be gathered from past records it would seem that the church building, which stood in the old cemetery, near the former tanyard [east side of S. Main St. down Lakeview Dr.], had furnished a home at different periods for Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists.
During the Revolution the church records were lost. The building had been used as a stable and was somewhat injured by shot.
In the diary of a British officer, found on the field of Monmouth after the battle, it is stated that the British army arrived at Allentown on the 24th of June, 1778, and left on the following day. It is just possible that they were partly responsible for the unsightly condition of the old church as it was after the war. It was well known that churches in various places were occupied by them as barracks and stables, and in every case suffered much damage.
After the war the few who remained were scarcely able to maintain the regular services. The old bible and prayer-book that were used prior to the Revolution are still in existence, in the keeping of one of our citizens. After peace was declared, the Rev. Mr. Frazer, rector of St. Michael’s Church of Trenton, officiated once a month; also Rev. Mr. Waddell, who succeeded him. From time to time on infrequent supplies could be obtained.
In 1808, as reported in the “Journal of Convention” of that year, the church building was taken down in a ruinous state, after which only occasional services were held, for the benefit of the remnant of the congregation, in the churches and rooms kindly offered by the Presbyterians and Methodists.
After a period of thirty-five years without a church building, and with naught remaining to tell of the existence of the former one save the old graveyard, a lot was secured on Church street [site of the Borough Annex], on which through the efforts of a few individuals, a small and inexpensive church was erected in 1845. In this, for a period of fifteen years, occasional services were held by the rectors of Trenton, Princeton, and Bordentown churches.
In 1860, the Rev. E. A. Foggs became rector, officiating also as missionary at Hightstown and Crosswicks. Mr. Foggs afterwards became rector of old Christ Church on Second street, Philadelphia. He was succeeded, in 1861, by Rev. Mr. Carroll, whose rectorship continued over eight years.
In 1869 the church property was sold, and an eligible tract of land on Main and Broad streets was purchased, on which a larger and more attractive church edifice was erected. The rectors since that date have been as follows: The Revs. Bawn, Isaac, DuBois, Hyde, Daw, Cobb and Phelps.
The Rev. Mr. Hyde was removed from his labors by death, which occurred here on October 5, 1882. The parsonage at that time was the dwelling now occupied by Prof. A. S. Taylor.
Owing to the removal of several families to other places, the congregation has for several years been much reduced in numbers. Since 1894 the church services have been conducted by clergy sent from the Mission at Trenton.
Among the members of the congregation in the early years we find the names of Lloyd, Ely, Rogers, Newell, Lawrence and others. Col. Elisha Lawrence, Jr., was an officer in the Revolutionary Army in 1775-7 [later joined Lt. Col. David Rhea in the Quartermaster Department]. His daughter was the wife of Dr. James Newell, who resided on the site of the Baptist Church [now Library] during the Revolution. Dr. Elisha Newell, son of the above, was great-grandfather of the Misses Lucy and Hettie Gill, now of Trenton.
The little cemetery, in one corner of which stood the old church, is one of the oldest in Monmouth county. In it repose the remains of some of the first settlers in this region. Some of the grave stones date back to the middle of the eighteenth century. The oldest of the inscriptions that can be made out at present is the following: “In memory of James Rogers, who died January 2, 1754, aged 20 years.” There is also one to the memory of Samuel Rogers, who died 1756. The next oldest, and the most elaborately carved stone in the yard, is the following: “In the hope of a glorious resurrection. Here lies the body of Thomas Overend, who departed this life July 15, 1764, aged 42 years.” Other names recorded there are Bills, Bruere, Lloyd, Blackwell, Robbins, Price and others.
The “Allentown Industry,” in one of its issues of 1880, had an editorial on the condition of this old burying ground. In speaking of the Overend headstone, it said: “He was evidently a stranger, and from the elaborate execution of his headstone, a man of means. There seems to be no way of identification as to his connections, but, from the best opinion that was can form from our researches, he was an Englishman, a stranger from a strange land, among strange people, and found a stranger’s grave. There are persons of this name now in New York, and they were in active business there in 1844.”