The Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation, an historical sketch, 1789-1939

In attempting to write even a brief historical sketch of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation, one must go far afield for information, and far back in the past to find its earliest roots. In fact, its beginnings reach across the seas to faraway Scotland, England and the north of Ireland. In earliest times of which we have knowledge, the territory now covered by the bounds of Huntingdon Presbytery was under the Presbytery of Donegal, the centre of which was around Donegal, east of Harrisburg and which, no doubt received its name from the County in Ireland from which many of the settlers had originally come. This was preeminently missionary ground then and for years that followed.

Many of these settlers had located in the Cumberland Valley, but, after tarrying awhile, forged across the mountains into what was first Bedford County and after 1787 Huntingdon County, all of which was a veritable wilderness. In ecclesiastical circles in Pennsylvania, the unrest and turmoil existent in Europe was reflected, making progress difficult. Remote spots in the wilderness suffered from the neglect of the church in more settled parts and rebelled.

Title:An historical sketch of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation : in connection with the celebration of the sesqui-centennial of its founding, 1789 – November – 1939
Author:Reed, Charles L
Publication date:1939
Publisher:[Huntingdon? Pa.] : [publisher not identified]
Digitizing Sponsor:Internet Archive
Contributor:Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
Repository:Internet Archive
Title page to An historical sketch of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation
Title page to An historical sketch of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation

In the year 1763, at the meeting of the United Synod of New York and Philadelphia a request from “the Corporation for the relief of poor and distressed Presbyterian ministers” was presented, to the effect “that some — missionaries be sent to preach to the distressed frontier inhabitants and to report their distresses and to let us know where congregations are aforming, _ and what is necessary to be done to spread the gospel among them, and that they inform us what opportunities there may be of preaching the Gospel to _ the Indian nations in the neighborhood”.

Nothing seems to have been done in this direction by the Synod until three years afterward, when Revs. Charles Beatty and George Duffield were sent upon a mission to the inhabitants on the Juniata and in the regions beyond. In the summer of 1766 they preached to the congregations in Tuscarora, at Cedar Spring, at Aughwick, Bedford and other points. At this period, Standing Stone, then only an Indian village, had at least one white settler, Hugh Crawford whose records claim that he had an improved piece of land at the mouth of what is now Crooked Creek, opposite the place where Standing Stone Creek enters the Juniata River, where he located in 1753. By Indian trail and obscure forest path these devoted men pursued their way, hunting up the scattered settlers in the vast wilderness. The next year they reported, “that they found on the frontiers numbers of people earnestly desirous of forming themselves into congregations, and declaring their willingness to exert to their utmost in order to have the Gospel among them.”

No permanent relief coming to the congregations then existing, the members of the churches at Cedar Spring and Tuscarora petitioned to be detached from Donegal Presbytery, but the petition was denied. This condition existed until the year 1786, when the Presbytery of Carlisle was formed and all this region was included in this new Presbytery. In the meantime the Revolutionary War intervened and its demoralizing effect was felt all through this region, interrupting progress in establishing churches.

By the year 1775, the Indian Village of Standing Stone, had become a village of six or eight houses. The names of,these first settlers were David McMurtrie, Benjamin Elliott, Abraham Haynes, Frank Cluggage, Mr. Ashbrough and Ludwig Sells.

In the spring of 1775, Rev. Philip Fithian, from Greenwich, New Jersey was commissioned by the Presbytery of Carlisle, meeting at a place near Mercersburg, Franklin County, to visit Central Pennsylvania as a supply to the scattered Presbyterian Churches. In his diary, under date of August 21st., 1775 he relates his experiences while visiting Standing Stone, and the Warm Springs, located about five miles north of the village. This Spring was said to have medicinal qualities, and, even at that time was visited by many people seeking relief from various ailments. In later years this spring was capital-ized and developed into a fashionable watering place. A hotel was built, and it was quite the proper thing to take the baths. The walled foundation of these bath houses can still be seen around the spring, though all other build-ings have vanished.

This early missionary visited Standing Stone on this trip, but there is no record of his having preached here. On his way back from this trip he stopped at Fort Shirley, and on August 27th, 1775 preached in Mr. Fowley’s barn, on a rainy, stormy Sunday, when fifty or more persons were present.

So many of these early Scotch and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had passed farther up the Juniata to points near which are now located Alexandria and Petersburg on Shavers Creek, that the demand for religious services became so pressing a question as to need solving. As early as 1786, this demand became so insistent that a subscription list for the erection of a house of worship was circulated and contains the names of fifty-eight heads of families who subscribed to the enterprise, evidencing the strength of the congregation at this early date.

This Church, the Hartslog Presbyterian Church, now the Alexandria Presbyterian Church, according to the records “is the oldest church in the Upper Juniata Valley west of Jack’s Narrows”. It is the Mother Church of the congregations later established at Huntingdon, Shavers Creek, Petersburg, Lower Spruce Creek and Sinking Valley.

This Log Worship House stood upon the hill, one mile north of the present site of Alexandria, it was a primitive building, without floor, and with split logs for benches for the worshipers, and without any heating facilities. The first regular minister of this church was the Rev. John Johnston who was installed pastor on November 26, 1787. He was born in the city of Belfast, Ireland, in 1750 and came to this country in 1784. He became a member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, later a member of the Presbytery of Carlisle out of which Huntingdon Presbytery was formed in 1795. He was installed as the minister of the Hartslog and Shavers Creek Congregations. He is de-scribed in the records as a “man of mind, erudition, and a very substantial preacher”. He continued to be minister of the church until near the time of his death in 1823, being survived by a family of six children. He was the first commissioner of Huntingdon Presbytery to the General Assembly, and was the second Stated Clerk of the Presbytery.

Sketch of the The Huntingdon Presbyterian Church
Sketch of the The Huntingdon Presbyterian Church

It is hard to believe, when driving through this section today, when a trip from the site of the old Hartslog Church to Shavers Creek takes but a few minutes of time, that in the days of Rev. Mr. Johnston, it was a trip of many hours by devious woodland paths on horseback. Depredations and massacres by Indians are recorded as having taken place as late as 1781, and the woods were not without danger as well as difficulties.

In passing from one to the other of his charges, Mr. Johnston had to ford a branch of the Juniata. Tradition tells that he frequently announced that “Preaching service will be held in this house on next Lord’s Day, Providence permitting and the Creek don’t rise”.

Previous to the installation of Rev. John Johnston as pastor of the Hartslog and Shavers Creek congregations in 1787, travelling missionaries, sent out by the Presbytery of Carlisle, no doubt held services at Standing Stone and other points, as the villages continued to increase in population and importance. By the year 1789, the village of Standing Stone had grown to the extent that Presbyterians felt the necessity of establishing a permanent congregation and of securing a regular minister.

As a result the Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation was organized, July, 6th., 1789, and a subscription paper was circulated during that summer to secure members and contributions for the support of a regular pastor. The following heads of families subscribed to this fund the amounts set opposite their several names,

  • Alexander Dean
  • John Fee
  • John Patton
  • Caleb Armitage
  • John Reed
  • Alex. McConnell
  • Patrick Leonard
  • John Simpson
  • John Light
  • John George
  • Robert Simpson
  • James Elliott
  • Robert Patton
  • George Guthrie
  • John Weston
  • George Buchanan
  • John Ashbaugh
  • Hugh Tanner
  • John Fee, Jr.
  • John Shaver
  • John Covanhovan
  • David McMurtrie
  • William MclIlvain
  • John Cadwallader
  • Benjamin Elliott
  • Andrew. Henderson
  • James Hamilton
  • Samuel Riddle
  • Charles Smith
  • Robert Galbraith
  • Archibald Ramsey
  • John Dean
  • Michael Humbert
  • Peter Stevens
  • George Martin
  • John Griffith
  • Henry McCarthy
  • Isaac Armitage
  • Peter Swoope
  • Moses Donaldson
  • Jesse Head
  • Matthew Simpson
  • William Simpson
  • Samuel McKenny
  • William Moore
  • Abraham Haines
  • Jocob Laird
  • Abraham Dearduff
  • Joshua Lewis

On the subscription lists for 1790, 1791 and 1792 the following additional names appear:— Robert Walker, Arthur Chambers, John Marshall, Archibald Thompson, James Nesbit, M. D., Richard Smith, John Galbraith, Thomas Whittaker, William McConnell, William Steel, James Fulton, Simon Weston.

New names appear in 1793 as follows:— William Rose, Thomas Dwyer, Alexander Donaldson, Alexander Moore, John Armitage, John Dorland, William States, James Thompson, Ebenezer Woolaston, Amos Moore, Anthony Molloy, Daniel Baker, Stephen Drury, Peter Steglether, Daniel McCoy, and William Searlight.

Some of the above names are still found on the rolls of the church, while descendants of others are also found there. Benjamin Elliott was a member of the convention that framed the State Constitution of Pennsylvania in 1776 and was also a member of the State Convention which ratified the Constitution of the United States. John Cadwallader another of the signers of the subscription list was first postmaster of the new town of Huntingdon, as it was re-named by its founder, Dr. William Smith and chartered in 1796.

A later subscription list beginning with the year 1795 and bearing the original signatures was found a few years ago by Miss Jennie McCahan and presented to the Congregation. It was framed and now hangs on the rear wall of the Church auditorium. Significant of the fact that human nature does not change through the years is a notation on this list, “Cash received of Adam Hall; not willing to put his name to the subscription paper, pays this gratis’.

On October, 7th., 1789, Rev. Mr. Johnston was released from the Shavers Creek Congregation to accept a call to the Huntingdon Church for one-half his time. He accepted the call at the next meeting of Presbytery, then the Presbytery of Carlisle, April 13, 1790. This action effected the organization of the Congregation, six years before the organization of Huntingdon Presbytery in 1795.

In 1793 the names of Benjamin Elliott, Matthew Simpson, James Nesbit and James Patton appear as the “Business Committee” of the Congregation. While there is no record to this effect, all those early session records having been lost or destroyed, it is altogether probable that these men constituted the Session of the church at that time.

The Presbyterian is the oldest church organization in Huntingdon. Dr. William Smith, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, who laid out the town and named it in honor of Selena, Countess of Huntingdon, during his visit to the place, no doubt, conducted religious services according to the rites of the Episcopal Church but did not organize a church. The Lutherans came in 1791, the Methodists in 1797. A German Reformed minister came in 1806. But the Presbyterians pushed their way up the Juniata to Standing Stone early in the century as has been shown, and organized this church, July 6, 1789.

Notes About the Book

  • No Copyright.
  • No Table of Contents.
  • Text lost in binding.
  • Tight margins.
  • Contains a list of members of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Congregation in 1939.
  • Contains a list of members who served in World War 1.


Armitage, Ashbaugh, Baker, Buchanan, Cadwallader, Chambers, Covanhovan, Dean, Dearduff, Donaldson, Dorland, Drury, Dwyer, Elliott, Fee, Fulton, Galbraith, George, Griffith, Guthrie, Haines, Hamilton, Head, Henderson, Humbert, Laird, Leonard, Lewis, Light, Marshall, Martin, McCarthy, McConnell, McCoy,, McKenny, MclIlvain, McMurtrie, Molloy, Moore, Nesbit, Patton, Ramsey, Reed, Riddle, Rose, Searligh, Shaver, Simpson, Smith, States, Steel, Steglether, Stevens, Swoope, Tanner, Thompson, Walker, Weston, Whittaker, Woolaston,


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