A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

History: Rev Charles Webster, Pastor, First Presbyterian of Matawan (1838-1849)

Reverend Charles Webster was the son of the late Charles R Webster of Albany, New York. He was born 4 April 1793. He graduated Union College in 1813 and Princeton Theological Seminary in 1817. (Source: History of Long Island: From Its Discovery and Settlement. . ., pg 543, Benjamin Franklin Thompson, via Google Books)

Reverend Charles Webster, Pastor, Hempstead, Queens County, Long Island, conducted missionary work the area of Hempstead for three months in 1816 and 1817. (Sources: The Minutes of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, pg 312, 1816, at Google Books; The Minutes of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, 1817, at Google Books)

Reverend Webster, of Hempstead, Long Island, married Jane Wilson Brant, of Connecticut Farms, NJ on 4 Jun 1818 in Connecticut Farms, NJ (present day Union Township), according to the 9 Jun 1818 edition of The New York Evening Post. Rev Stephen Thompson conducted the service.

Reverend Webster was ordained at the Presbyterian Church in Hempstead, Long Island on 16 March 1818 and remained in charge there until 18 April 1837. He was followed there by Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge. Reverend Webster conducted Stephen Thomas' wedding at the Presbyterian Church in Hempstead in October 1831. (Source: Descendants of Stephen Thomas (1785 - 1859) Hempstead, NY; Ancestry.com)

Reverend Webster was pastor of Christ's First Presbyterian Church of Hempstead, Long Island, New York from 1818 to1837. (Source: History and Vital Records of Christ's First Presbyterian Church of Hempstead, LI, NY) (See also History of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, pg 97, 1864, via Google Books)

Reverend Charles Webster has sent the following account of his mission for three months, on missionary ground in the vicinity of the congregation of Hempstead, Long Island.

"I have laboured within the vicinity of Hempstead, comprehending Rockaway, Christian, Hook, Merrick, and Harricks; each of these are distinct societies, in which I preach in rotation. Our meetings during the past year have increased in numbers and solemnity. Several have become hopefully converted to the Christian faith, and have connected themselves with the church at Hempstead, and are walking in the order of the gospel. More attention has been paid to Biblical and catechetical instruction than formerly. We have had four Bible classes, containing in the whole about 75 youths.. In two of these classes we have made use of Dr. McDowell's Bible Questions. They have proved very beneficial in exciting a spirit of religious inquiry in the neighborhood of these classes. And the Branch Bible Society have disposed of a larger number of copies of the scriptures in those places, than in the three former years. Three prayer-meetings have been kept up in the week within the mission, beside two meetings for the monthly concert. The Sabbath schools, mentioned in a former report, still continue to flourish. The one at Rockaway has been blessed in the conversion of several of the blacks. One of the most interesting was a child of about ten years old, who gave very satisfactory evidence in his death, that the Spirit of God had operated on his heart.

"I have preached and lectured 69 times, attended funerals, and visited the sick, reading the scriptures and praying with them. (to be continued)"
(Source: Presbyterian Magazine, Vol 1, pg 427, 1821, at Google Books)

Reverend Webster of Hempstead was a member of the Presbytery of New York in 1829 when he and two others signed an application for the Sweet Hollow Presbyterian Church of Huntington Township to be brought under the care of the presbytery. Reverend Joseph Nimmo was the first pastor (1829-1836).(Source: Melville Presbyterians' Century Celebration, The Long Islander, 26 July 1929, pg 7, Section 2)

Other local histories suggest that Webster was the first pastor at Sweet Hollow. (Sources: a church history; Half Hollow Hills Patch, 11 Jul 2011)

Charles Webster was enumerated in South Hempstead, Queens County (now Suffolk County), New York in the 1830 Federal Census. He and his wife were 30-39 years old (b 1790-1800). They had what appeared to be two daughters less than 5 (b 1825-1830). There was one free colored person, a female age 10-23 years old (1806-1820).

Reverend Webster was installed on 6 November 1838 at the Mount Pleasant Church, which was situated at the corner of Main Street and New Brunswick Avenue (Route 516)  in the Mount Pleasant (now Freneau) neighborhood of Middletown Township (now Matawan).

Built in 1798 with the proceeds of a lottery, it was the second Mount Pleasant church on this site, the first having been burned down by the British during the American Revolution. Mount Pleasant stumbled along without a permanent pastor until 1820. After Reverend George S Woodhull died on Christmas Day 1834, there were rumblings in the congregation to erect a more centrally located edifice in downtown Matawan. The stated supply, Reverend Joseph L Shafer, led a petition drive in 1836, but money was tight and the subscription plan went nowhere. The cash-strapped congregation couldn't even pay the salary of the stated supply, so Reverend Shafer left in 1838. It was into this situation that Reverend Webster entered the scene in Matawan.

Presbyterians Pioneer At Matawan, a history of the First Presbyterian Church of Matawan, says the church's chimney malfunctioned one winter Sunday early in Reverend Webster's tenure. With a sanctuary filled with smoke, Webster cancelled services. By the next Sunday, worship had been relocated to the recently constructed Middletown Point Academy, operated by Philetus Phillips at the corner of Church and Jackson Streets in downtown Matawan. Also known as the Phillips Academy, the church would meet there for two years while Webster sought a more permanent location for what had become a growing congregation..

Middletown Point Academy

The Phillips Academy would have many names and become a rather prominent private school.  It would be the Collegiate Institute of Middletown Point (1857), the Glenwood Institute (1874, pictured above), and the Matawan Military Academy (early 1900s). The growth of public schools forced the academy to close in 1915.

Webster was enumerated as head of household in Middletown Township, Monmouth County, in the 1840 Federal Census. He was 40-49 years old (b 1790-1800). The woman in the household who was presumably his wife was 30-39 years old (b 1800-1810). (Note: Possibly an enumerator error, as the age is wrong for his wife.) There were three young females, presumably daughters, in the household: one less than 5 years old (b 1835-1840), one 5-9 years old (b 1830-1835), and one 15-19 years old (b. 1820-1825). There were two boys, one less than 5 and one 5-9 years old. There was also one free colored person, a male 10-23 years old (1816-30). The household was associated with a school (academy or grammar school) with 60 students and 1 learned professional.

Webster's congregation continued to grow, exceeding the available space, so the Reverend encouraged a movement to build a new church along Main Street. A great effort would be required, so one Sunday his sermon topic was "For the people had a mind to work." This sparked the women to hold a fair and raise several hundred dollars. The men tried the then-current fad of sericulture, which involved growing mulberry trees and silkworms to produce silk, but the project failed. The rest of the necessary funds were raised the more traditional way through subscriptions and pledges.

The old church building was sold to meet part of the obligation to Rev. Shafer. Simon Arrowsmith bought the building at sheriff's sale and moved it to his farm, which was located where the Buttonwood Manor currently sits. It first served as a warehouse building associated with the farm's dock near the head of Matawan Creek. It later became a barn and was eventually razed. Robert Little paid the balance of the debt to Rev. Shafer -- $60.

In March 1841, a half-acre of property at 216 Main Street was acquired for the new church building from Elizabeth and Eleanor Covenhoven at a cost of $650. The deed (Monmouth Deeds, C-4, p. 86) described the property as having been designated Lot 14 on a map made by Leonard Walling. The cornerstone of the new church was laid on 17 July 1841, and the new building was dedicated on 6 January 1842.

Reverend Webster and his son Charles were mentioned in the 29 Jun 1843 edition of The Monmouth Democrat. "Then there is a long programme of how the 4th is to be celebrated at Middletown Point (now Matawan). There was a parade, followed by exercises in the Presbyterian church, Rev. .Charles Webster to make the prayer; his son, Charles (a lawyer and afterward Vice Consul at Tehuantepec) to read the Declaration and William L Terhune, Esq, to make the oration. On the committee of arrangement were Tunis Hubbard, John H. Hubbard, aud others, and we know that more than half of the eight who were on the committee are now dead."
(Source: The 28 Nov 1891 edition of The Matawan Journal, pg 4)

Reverend Webster left the church on 24 April 1849. His replacement at the Matawan church, Reverend John M Rogers, was installed on 20 February 1850. (Source: History of Monmouth County, pp 489-90)

Reverend Webster was enumerated in Raritan Township, Monmouth County in the 1850 Federal Census. His occupation was Presbyterian clergyman. He was 56 years old and born in New York. His wife was Jane was 55 years old and born in New Jersey. His daughters Anna (18 NY) and Jane (13 NY), as well as Daniel P Stilwell and wife Elizabeth, Charles' son-in-law (34 NJ) and daughter (23 NY), were also in the household.

The 1854 Union College school directory showed Charles Webster, A.M in the Class of 1813 - profession: clergyman; original residence: Albany, NY; last residence: Middletown Point, NJ.

Charles (66 NY) and Jane (66 NJ) Webster were enumerated in Matawan Township, Monmouth County, in the 1860 Federal Census. Middletown Point was the nearest post office. Charles was an Old School Presbyterian (OSP) clergyman. He had $3,000 in real property and $1,500 in personal property. In their household were daughters Anna (26 NY) and Jane (23 NY) Webster.

Charles died 28 Dec 1862 in Middletown Point.

The 16 Mar 1892 edition of The Red Bank Register carried this obituary for Charles' daughter. "Mrs. Elizabeth W. Stilwell, widow of Daniel S Stilwell, died at her home at Matawan on Monday morning of last week, aged 68 years. She was the daughter of Rev. Charles Webster, who was once pastor of the Presbyterian church. She was married in 1850 to Daniel S. Stilwell, who died in 1866. She leaves five children."

UPDATE: Reverend Webster's father was a prominent printer and publisher in Albany, according to a biography by Stefan Bielinski. Charles R Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1762, son of Matthew and Mabel (Pratt) Webster.

He was apprenticed at age 7 to a printer, served briefly in the Connecicut militia, and then moved to Albany in 1781. He made some shrewd business deals and was soon running a newspaper and a major printing company with government contracts. The printing office suffered loss in a major fire in 1803 but was reborn in what remains a landmark site known as "Webster's Corner."

He served on societies and corporate boards. He was a Federalist and didn't shy from expressing himself in his newspaper, The Albany Gazette. He served as a captain in the local militia mobilized for possible war with France circa 1800.

He had two children with his first wife, Rachel Steele, whom he married in 1787. She fell ill and died in 1794, a year after young Charles was born. He next married his first wife's sister, Cynthia Steele, in 1796.

Young Charles would have been raised in the home his father built after the infant's mother died. That house was situated along the Hudson River in Schaghticoke. The Websters were active members of the First Presbyterian Church and a number are buried in its cemetery.

Charles' father died in Saratoga Springs in July 1834.


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