A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reverend Charles McKnight

The Reverend Charles McKnight was received by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1741 and was ordained a Presbyterian minister a year later. Born around 1710, Rev. McKnight was from a Scottish family that had planted in County Antrim, Ireland. He came to New Jersey around 1740 and worked in Cranbury with the Presbyterians. He was installed as minister for the Shrewsbury and Middletown Point congregations on 2 April 1767. The Reverend preached at the church in Mount Pleasant, which is present day Freneau in Aberdeen. Mount Pleasant Church was a precursor to the First Presbyterian Church of Matawan. He also served as a trustee at Nassau Hall, which later became Princeton University.

During the American Revolution, Rev. McKnight used the pulpit to speak out against the British. The Honorable J. T. Headley said of Rev. McKnight:

At the commencement of the dissatisfaction with the legislative acts of the mother country, he had been accustomed to express sentiments adverse to the crown, with a boldness that caused considerable dissension among his people.

Potter's American Monthly said years later his parishioners recalled "the fervid words and impassioned expressions of their pastor when he got on his favorite theme of the rights of the people, or was expressing his sympathy with those who were leading their countrymen towards national independence."

Rev. McKnight sent two sons to war. And to show the congregation his earnestness, even at an advanced age, Rev. McKnight himself joined the fighting. He received a head wound at the Battle of Princeton as General Hugh Mercer fell nearby.

According to "Presbyterians Pioneer at Matawan: 1682-1959:
  • The Mount Pleasant Church and its green were being used regularly for patriotic meetings before and soon after the start of the Revolution -- meetings which had full support of the militant pastor.
  • In retaliation for his activities, a British detachment assaulted the compound from several directions and after some sharp fighting in which men on both sides were killed or wounded, their aims were accomplished.
  • The British burned down the church at Mount Pleasant and took the Reverend captive. Rev. McKnight was taken to New York, where he fell ill with pneumonia while incarcerated and died on New Year's Day 1778, soon after his release by the British.
His son, Dr. Charles McKnight, graduated Princeton in 1771, along with James Madison, Philip Freneau, et al. He served as a surgeon in the Continental Army, eventually being named Chief Physician of the Army and Surgeon General. You can see a picture of his surgical kit at the Smithsonian's The Price of Freedom: Americans at War website.

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