Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us(Heb 12:1, NRSV)
The granite historical monument in front of the First Presbyterian Church states that "A house of Worship has stood on this site since 1675." This date was chosen as the beginning of the church since on May 27, 1675 the frame of the Meeting House, which became the first church building, was erected. The Meeting House lasted for 128 years and was also the seat of Woodbridge Township government until 1700. The founders of Woodbridge were Puritans and the church was non-denominational until 1710 when it became Presbyterian. The congregation is the 6th oldest in New Jersey and the third oldest Presbyterian Church in the state.
There have been only two distinct buildings on the site of the present church: the Meeting House, and in 1803, Jonathan Freeman erected a building "sixty-six by forty six feet." The 1803 building existed in its original appearance until about 1875 when it was given a Victorian look. In 1972, the original building was completely renovated and the church took on its present appearance. Before renovation it was known as the "Old White Church" and it still retains this affectionate title.
In December 2007, the church and cemetery were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as, the New Jersey Register for the same. The applications for such action were made by the Heritage Committee of the church, then headed by the late Robert J. McEwen, who was chairman at the time. His enthusiasm, persistence, and wealth of knowledge inspired the committee and others of the congregation to press forward for this action to be completed. It is hoped that this important step will increase the preservation of this spot as new generations worship and serve the community as members of the Old White Church. We are grateful to those who went before us, building and reflecting the Christian heritage which is its foundation.
Prior to the establishment of the First Presbytery in the Colonies by Francis Makemie in 1706, the spiritual needs of the early settlers in Woodbridge were met by a series of five independent ministers from the New England area.
The first was Samuel Treat who served for six months during 1670 for which he was paid twenty-one pounds sterling. He was given the opportunity to take a permanent position of Pastor but he did not accept the offer.
The second was Benjamin Salisbury (or Solsbury according to Rev. Dally). He preached twice every Lord's Day for three months in 1674 for which he was paid ten pounds. At the end of this period he was invited to leave his position as he was not well received by the congregation. He did so.
The third pastor was not employed until September of 1680. He was John Allen (Or Allin). During the entire 15 year existence of the town from the first permanent settlers in 1665 to Mr. Allen only 9 months of religious services had been enjoyed. John Allen was well liked and continued to preach until ill health forced him to retire sometime in late 1685. He continued to live in the town as a Freeholder until his death on January 19, 1715. He was married three times. His last wife was Deliverance Potter whom he married on October 24, 1707. Clerk Nathaniel Wade performed the ceremony. The same Mr. Wade who was to become Pastor in 1708. The Allens had two sons and two daughters.
The fourth man to occupy this position was Archibald Riddell. He accepted the call in 1686. He ministered until he left the country in 1689. Before he came from Scotland he was imprisoned at Edinburgh for, they say, preaching in the open air which was against the law. More probably, it was because of his connections with the Bothwells. He came to this country on the infamous "Henry & Francis", a ship used to bring prisoners out of Scotland. Twenty-four percent of the passengers died on this voyage. Reverend Riddell's wife was one of them. He was a powerful preacher and became a Freeholder of the town. On his return voyage to Scotland, the ship was taken by a French warship. He and his 10 year old son were put in prison at Rochefort. They remained there for two years before returning to their homeland.
The final independent clergyman to minister in Woodbridge was Samuel Shepard. He accepted the call in October 1695. His salary was to be 50 pounds per annum - later raised to 60 pounds - or its equivalent in the "current pay of the country (peas, port, wheat, etc). William Webster, Freeholder, refused to pay his share. Whereupon, Captain John Bishop assumed the payment thereof. This staved off a battle over separation of church and state but not for long. By 1700, the town had passed laws removing the payment of the minister's salary from the General Tax Rolls. This satisfied the Quakers who had by now a goodly representation in the town. On April 10, 1701, the Town Meeting voted to ordain Mr. Shepard as the Woodbridge minister. On July 23, he replied to the offer that "though he is otherwise willing to be ordained, he cannot admit of it to settle as a minister in the town because his wife is so adverse to his settling here." No one could change her mind and so it was agreed that Mr. Shepard could preach on Sabbath Days until another minister could be found. He stayed until January of 1707. He was an excellent preacher, well liked by all.
A few of the most notable pastors and their importance in the history of the church are presented in the following text. (The full is is available here).
He was the minister for only a short period of time but it was during his tenure that the church joined the Philadelphia Presbytery on Sept. 10, 1710.
He was the minister for 38 years, the second longest of our ministers. He was the son of Rev. Abraham Pierson, the first president of Yale College. He was one of the four founders of the College of New Jersey which is now Princeton University. His wife was Ruth Woodbridge, grand-daughter of Rev. John Woodbridge for whom Woodbridge may have been named. She is interred in our cemetery.
During his ministry the congregation applied for and was granted a Royal Charter from King George II of England in 1756. This gave the Trustees of the church legal possession of the land which had been granted them by the Lords Proprietors.
He was our longest serving minister - 52 years - and he is interred in the cemetery along with his two wives, Rebecca and Hannah. A Presbyterian Church had been established in Metuchen around 1720 and from 1772 to 1792 Rev. Roe preached half time in each of the congregations. Rev. Roe was a trustee of Princeton from 1778 to 1807, Moderator of the General Assembly in 1802, and received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Yale in 1800. Like all Presbyterian ministers he was an ardent supporter of the Revolution and was preaching revolution from the pulpit. Rev. Roe participated in a skirmish at Blazing Star (Carteret) and, as a patriot, he was captured by the British and imprisoned in the Sugar House Prison in Manhattan during the war. During his tenure, the Meeting House was replaced by the 1803 church built by Jonathan Freeman. He died Dec. 2, 1815, four days after his second wife.
Just prior to the pastorate of Rev. McNulty there was dissension in the Presbyterian Church and in, 1874, 38 members left to form the First Congregational Church of Woodbridge. There were many changes and additions to the church during his tenure. An organ and new pews were installed. A Sunday School addition to the back of the church was constructed and in 1825 a beautiful gas chandelier was installed in the sanctuary. Due to the effort of Rev. McNulty, a Presbyterian Church was established in Carteret in 1893. Electricity came to the church in 1902 but it is said that Rev. McNulty did not have a lamp for his desk until 1906. During the 200th Anniversary Celebration Rev. McNulty delivered a lengthy discourse which was delivered extemporaneously but due to the quality of his sermon and interest shown, he was asked to publish this as a booklet. Rev. McNulty was married twice and both he and his two wives Hannah and Margaret are interred in the cemetery.
Rev. Devanny's ministry was interrupted by WW II where he served as an administrative officer in the Air Force. During his tenure, the Christian Education building was built and dedicated on May 27, 1956. He retired in 1959 and both he and his wife Elsie are interred in the cemetery.
He had a major impact on the Woodbridge Presbyterian Church, since, thanks to his initiative and leadership, the 1803 church had a complete renovation. After 164 years, the church was in a state of decay. Rev. Bender also substantially increased church membership and started a program of Charasmatic Service.
For many years the annual Memorial Day parade in Woodbridge ended with ceremonies at our church cemetery. Until 1926, the High School graduation services were held in the sanctuary. The former church recreation hall, the Parrish House, was for a good many years the town athletic center. Each year the Township Veteran's Day celebration is held in our sanctuary. For over 325 years, the First Presbyterian Church of Woodbridge has been a major force in the social and religious life of Woodbridge Township.