A Brief History of FPC
After the English claimed New York from the Dutch in 1664, Governor Richard Nicholls
issued the Monmouth Patent, which granted vast uncharted lands of present day
Monmouth and Ocean counties and beyond to a dozen men. The English patentees, once
considered interlopers by the Dutch, were now free to move south from New York and
Long Island to develop the rich highlands and fisheries of New Caesarea (New Jersey).
Captain John Bowne was the recognized leader among the Monmouth grantees. He
organized the settlement of Middletown village and acquired additional lands along the
Bayshore from the Lenape Indians. At its most expansive, Middletown included a large
swath of land east of the Amboys, including present day Old Bridge, Aberdeen, Matawan,
Keyport, Hazlet, Union Beach, Keansburg, Hazlet, Holmdel, Middletown, Atlantic
Highlands, and part of Colts Neck.
First Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church of Matawan claims its origins with the arrival of Scotch
Presbyterians aboard the Henry & Francis in 1685. They pioneered at Middletown Point,
later encompassing Aberdeen and Matawan, and established a house of worship known
now as the Old Scots Church. While its location and years of service is the subject of some
debate, some members of Old Scots Church left to establish Old Tennent Church in 1730.
The balance maintained the dilapidated ‘Lower Meetinghouse” until they could build a
church more to the north.
The Mount Pleasant Church was erected about 1763 and was soon the bully pulpit of the
Reverend Charles McKnight, an outspoken critic of colonial rule. Reverend McKnight
served nearly ten years as pastor of churches at Shrewsbury, Shark River and Middletown
Point. Mount Pleasant was burned to the ground in early 1777 by British troops angry at
the pastor’s agitation against the Crown. Not only was he speaking openly of support for
the Revolution, only months earlier he had served as chaplain to Continental Army
soldiers at the Battle of Trenton and suffered a saber wound to the head. The Red Coats
arrested Reverend McKnight and held him prisoner in the notorious Sugar House.
Although he was soon traded in a prisoner exchange and freed, he soon died from his ill
treatment while imprisoned.
It was over twenty years (1798) before the Mount Pleasant church was rebuilt and nearly
forty (1816) before a full time pastor could be hired. The congregation soon longed to
worship on Main Street, which was developing quickly. But the finances just weren’t there
to move. It wasn’t until the chimney flue filled the sanctuary with smoke (1839) that the
pastor could encourage a pledge drive that would allow a move downtown. Temporary
quarters were found just off Main Street at the Phillips Academy (later known as the
Glenwood Institute) while the property was acquired and the cornerstone laid (1841) until
the new sanctuary at 216 Main Street was completed and dedicated (1842).
The Main Street edifice served the congregation until a tragic fire on Christmas Eve in
1955. Services were held at the high school until today’s church on NJ State Route 34
could be built. The educational wing and chapel were dedicated in 1967.
The First Presbyterian Church of Matawan is a vibrant worship community that looks for
ways to serve. Our annual Mission Matawan project delivers assistance to the poor and
-elderly who need minor household repairs, painting and yard work. Our food pantry
donations help feed the needy. Our gifts to CONNECT bring joy to poor children. Our
financial assistance to Manna House and Habitat for Humanity helps provide shelter to
those who cannot afford it, and Interfaith Dialog offers a chance for peace and
understanding between faiths.
You are welcome here!