Rev William Tennent, Jr

Rev William Tennent, Jr

Death 8 Mar 1777 (aged 71)
Burial Tennent, Monmouth County, New Jersey, USA
Memorial ID 22601618 · View Source
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age 71 yrs 10 mos 5 days; buried under the church

Rev. William Tennent, Jr., 1733-1777.
The fourth pastor of Old Tennent (formerly called Freehold) was the Rev. William Tennent, Jr., famous in religious and church history. He was born June 3, 1705 in the county or Armaugh, Ireland, and was a boy in his teens when he came with his father to America, as related in the foregoing chapter. In his studies he showed great industry, and became particularly proficient in the Latin language. Early in life he was deeply impressed with a sense of divine things, and soon determined to devote his life to the ministry of the gospel. His biography is of surpassing interest, a fascinating story of the unusual and extraordinary in spiritual life; the main features of which are too well known to recount here in detail. The memoir of Mr. Tennent was first published in "The Assembly's Missionary Magazine" 1806, and was prepared by Hon. Elias Boudinot, LL. D., but at his request the greater part of the narrative was written by Thomas Henderson, M. D., one of Old TennentÕs faithful elders and most distinguished sons. The original manuscript has long been in the possession of the Historical Society of New Jersey. The story has been published in book form by Dr. Archibald Alexander in his "Log College" (Presbyterian Board of Publication, Phila.) from which quotations are herein made; and also the story is published in neat booklet form (Robert Carter & Bros., New York). To these the reader is referred for further account than herein given. The most prominent feature in Mr. TennentÕs life and personal experience is the account of his remarkable and celebrated trance. He had completed his course in the languages, and then had gone to New Brunswick, N. J., to study theology under his brother Gilbert who was preacher of the church in that town. While there be experienced the trance; and it is said, that the house, in which it is supposed to have taken place, can still he pointed out. The Story is told in the book "Log College" as follows:

"After a regular course of study in theology, Mr. Tennent was preparing for his examination by the Presbytery as a candidate for the gospel ministry. His intense application affected his health, and brought on a pain in his breast, and a slight hectic. He soon became emaciated, and at length was like a living skeleton. His life was now threatened. He was attended by a physician, a young gentleman who was attached to him by the strictest and warmest friendship. He grew worse and worse, till little hope of life was left. In this situation, his spirits failed him, and be began to entertain doubts of his final happiness. He was conversing one morning with his brother in Latin, on the state of his soul, when he fainted and died away. After the usual time he was laid out on a board, according to the common practice of the country, and the neighborhood were invited to attend his funeral on the next day. In the evening, his physician and friend returned from a ride in the country, and was afflicted beyond measure at the news of his death. He could not be persuaded that it was certain; and on being told that one of the persons who had assisted in laying out the body thought he had observed a little tremor of the flesh under the arm, although the body was cold and stiff, he endeavored to ascertain the fact. He first put his own hand into warm water, to make it is sensible as possible, and then felt under and at the heart, and affirmed that he felt an unusual warmth, though no one else could. He had the body restored to a warm bed, and insisted that the people who had been invited to the funeral should be requested not to attend. To this the brother objected as absurd, the eyes being sunk, the lips discoloured, and the whole body cold and stiff. However, the doctor finally prevailed, and all probable means were used to discover symptoms of returning life. But the third day arrived, and no hopes were entertained of success but by the doctor, who never left him night nor day. The people were again invited, and assembled to attend the funeral. The doctor still objected, and at last confined his request for delay to one hour, then to half an hour, and finally to a quarter of an hour. He had discovered that the tongue was much swollen, and threatened to crack. He was endeavoring to soften it, by some emollient ointment put upon it with a feather, when the brother came in, about the expiration of the last period, and mistaking what the doctor was doing for an attempt to feed him, manifested some resentment, and in a spirited tone said, "It is shameful to be feeding a lifeless corpse;" and insisted with earnestness, that the funeral should immediately proceed. At this critical and important moment, the body to the great alarm and astonishment of all present opened its eyes, gave a dreadful groan and sunk again into apparent death. This put an end to all thoughts of burying him, and every effort was again employed in hopes of bringing about a speedy resuscitation. In about an hour the eyes again opened, a heavy groan proceeded from the body, and again all appearance of animation vanished. In another hour life seemed to return with more power, and a complete revival took place to the great joy of the family and friends, and to the no small astonishment and conviction of very many who had been ridiculing the idea of restoring to life a dead body.

"Mr. Tennent continued in so weak and low a state for six weeks, that great doubts were entertained of his final recovery. However, after that period he recovered much faster, but it was about twelve months before he was completely restored. After he was able to walk the room, and to take notice of what passed around him, on a Sunday afternoon, his sister, who had staid from church to attend him, was reading in the Bible, when he took notice of it and asked her what she had in her hand. She answered that she was reading the Bible. He replied, "What is the Bible? I know not what you mean." This affected the sister so much that she burst into tears, and informed him that he was once well acquainted with it. On her reporting this to the brother, when he returned, Mr. Tennent was found, upon examination, to be totally ignorant of every transaction of life previous to his sickness. He could not read a single word, neither did he seem to have any idea of what it meant. As soon as he became capable of attention, he was taught to read and write, as children are usually taught, and afterwards began to learn the Latin language under the tuition of his brother. One day, as he was reciting a lesson in Cornelius Nepos, he suddenly started, clapped his hand to his head, as if something had hurt him, and made a pause. His brother asking him what was the matter, he said that he felt a sudden shock in his head, and now it seemed to him as if he had read that book before. By degrees his recollection was restored, and he could speak Latin as fluently as before his sickness. His memory so completely revived, that he gained a perfect knowledge of the past transactions of his life, as if no difficulty had previously occurred. This event, at the time, made a considerable noise, and afforded, not only a matter of serious contemplation to the devout Christian, especially when connected with what follows in this narration, but furnished a subject of deep investigation and learned inquiry to the real philosopher and curious anatomist.

It appears that Mr. Tennent had written out a more extended account of this trance and left it among his papers. But these papers were either burned in Dr. HendersonÕs house when it was destroyed by fire at the time of the Battle of Monmouth, or lost after the death of Mr. Tennent's son in Carolina. Many interesting anecdotes are recorded about Mr. Tennent in regard to his preaching, his manners, his dealing with men. and his personal and spiritual experience, which may variously be described as amusing, singular, extraordinary, mysterious.

"Mr. Tennent's salary, it is thought, was possibly less than £100. But he lived on the parsonage farm, which was an excellent plantation, capable of yielding a comfortable support to his family. And yet he became embarrassed in his expenses, through inattention to temporal concerns, when he was a bachelor thirty-three years of age. A friend from New York visiting him advised him to be married, and suggesting a certain widow as an appropriate helpmate, recommended her in high terms, "In short, that she was every thing he ought to look for; and if he would go with him to New York the next day, he would settle the negotiation for him. To this he (Mr. Tennent) soon assented. The next evening found him in that city, and before noon the day after, he was introduced to Mrs. Noble. He was much pleased with her appearance; and when left alone with her, abruptly told her that he supposed her brother had informed her of his errand; that neither his time nor inclination would suffer him to use much ceremony, but that if she approved the measure, he would attend his charge on the next Sabbath and return on Monday, be married and immediately take her home. The lady with some hesitation and difficulty at last consented, being convinced that his situation and circumstances rendered it proper. Thus in one week she found herself mistress of his house. She proved a most invaluable treasure to him, more than answering every thing said of her by an affectionate brother."

The marriage took place Aug. 23, 1738. The lady's maiden name was Catharine Van Brugh. She married first 1717 John Noble, and they had a daughter Mary who married Robert Cumming. Beside several children that died in infancy Mr. Tennent had three sons that grew to manhood, John, who was a physician and died in the West Indies; William, who was a minister in Charleston, S. Carolina, and died the same year as his father; and Gilbert, who was a physician and died at Freehold in a remarkable deathbed repentance, and there being no minister near by his father conducted the funeral service and preached an impressive sermon. Mrs. Tennent died at Pittsgrove, N. J., in her 82nd year.

"One of the sore trials and deep sorrows of Mr. Tennent's life was the waywardness of heart and the early death of his youngest son, Gilbert. This son grew up to manhood years, was married, and began the practice of medicine. But he was very worldly. His father importunately prayed for his conversion. While engaged in his medical duties the son contracted a mortal fever. In the midst of its ragings he was overwhelmingly convicted of sin; but finally he obtained peace in the Saviour, and calling for his old companions in sin, he solemnly exhorted them to repent. After a few days more of great suffering he died, twenty-eight years of age; and there being no minister near by, the father preached the funeral sermon with impressive power. The grave of this young man with its inscribed tombstone may be seen a few yards distant from the front door of the church. It reads thus:

"Here lies the mortal Part of GILBERT TENNENT.
In the practice of Physick he was Successful and beloved.
Young Gay and in the highest Bloom of Life, Death found him Hopefully in the Lord.
But O Reader, had you heard his last Testimony, you would have been convinced
of the extreme Madness of delaying Repentance.
Natus April 1742. Obit March 6, 1770."

Wm. Tennent continued the active and earnest pastor of the church until his triumphant death March 8, 1777, when he had almost reached seventy-two years of life. He had been a helper of the poor, a friend to the rich, a true and loyal patriot, a peacemaker of unusual tact, and a trusted and revered pastor. A great concourse of people from his own congregation and from the country around assembled at his funeral service, and Dr. McLean said in his lecture on Wm. Tennent "The Rev. Charles McKnight, then pastor of the church of Shrewsbury preached the sermon at his funeral at the Parsonage and not at the church." His body was buried beneath the floor near the center of the present church building on White Hill where it still rests. It was buried there, it is said, for safety from possible molestation by English sympathizers in the Revolutionary War, probably the same that had annoyed and threatened and involved him in an unpleasant situation on account of his patriotism, just previous to his death. Forty-one years after this, in 1818, a memorial tablet three feet by six feet in size, made of white marble and with a suitable inscription was placed in the wall of the church on the west side of the pulpit. The funds for the erection of this tablet were contributed by friends, subscriptions being solicited by a young woman with others to assist her. In 1980 this tablet was removed to the wall on the east side of the pulpit, and its engraved letters regilded. This was in order to erect a recess on the side of the church where it had first been placed, and in which a pipe organ now stands.

to the Memory of the Reverend WILLIAM TENNENT
Pastor of the first Presbyterian Church in Freehold
who departed this life the 8th of March, 1777;
Aged 71 Years, and 9 Months.
He was Pastor of said Church 43 Years, and 6 Months. Faithful and Beloved."

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  • Created by: Anne Mount West
  • Added: 1 Nov 2007
  • Find A Grave Memorial 22601618
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Rev William Tennent, Jr (3 Jun 1705–8 Mar 1777), Find A Grave Memorial no. 22601618, citing Old Tennent Churchyard, Tennent, Monmouth County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by Anne Mount West (contributor 36614496) .