Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Weel, then, sing as mony as there be." /// Rev John Moorhead of Newtown(ards?) - minister of the 'Church of the Presbyterian Strangers', Boston, Massachusetts

It has been said that the New England pulpit was where the American Revolution really began, through the Great Awakening of the time. Englishmen Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield are still famous today, with their sermons and social impact still being studied and cited by historians, theologians and preacher-evangelists - but the Ulster-Scots were thick on the ground and some were also in the pulpits. One of their ministers appears to have been from Newtownards.

“… About the year 1729, a number of Protestant, Presbyterian families from the North of Ireland, came to Boston. They were from the counties of Londonderry, Donnegall, Antrim and Down … they were generally descendants of ancestors, who emigrated from Scotland to Ireland, in the reign of king James I; and settled in the north part of the Island … hence they were called Scotch-Irish...

… Either before they left Ireland, or on their arrival, they invited Mr. Moorhead to be their ministers, and he arrived in Boston soon after them. Mr Moorhead was born in Newton, near Belfast, in the county of Down, of pious and respectable parents. His father, who was a farmer, gave him the best advantages within his power, for improvement in learning. He finished his education at one of the universities in Scotland. He came to Boston about the twenty-third year of his age…'

– 'Memoirs of Rev. John Moorhead, first minister and founder of a Presbyterian church in Boston’. published in The Panoplist, Boston 1807 (online here)

A pretty good biography by one of Moorhead's descendants is online here, from 1857. A wee glimpse of his mode of speech is here – “Ay, I must see to it” – and also this story:

"About one hundred years ago, Jonny Moorhead, upon a drowsy summer afternoon, gave out the one hundred and eighty-seventh psalm. The chief minstrel, with infinite embarrassment, suggested, that there were not so many in the Book – and tradition tells us, that Jonny replied – "Weel, then, sing as mony as there be."

His papers are in Harvard Divinity School.


Other sources specify Moorhead was born in 1703, educated at Edinburgh, and that his congregation was known as the ‘Church of the Presbyterian Strangers’, a name they adopted and even had carved into the pillars of their eventual meeting house. He arrived in Boston in 1727, was ordained as the minister in 1730 and for about 14 years they met in the barn of a John Little, before building their own meeting house in 1744. He died in December 1773.

His portrait below was painted by Boston artist John Greenwood, and was sold at auction earlier this year by Sotheby’s New York. Engraving and line drawing versions, by Peter Pelham and John Huybers, were produced later.

John Moorhead


pmharvard said...

Many thanks for this piece. What a great response !
The quotations here are useful in placing him in
Boston...and others there at the time.

Wulfhere said...

Well written! I stumbled upon Rev. John Moorhead in my genealogy. I always thought my ancestors were Welsh because they're rife with Williams and Davids. Then I stumbled upon the Scotch-Irish story and the Five Ships of 1718. It turns out my 6th great grandfather and his wife were married by Reverend Moorhead in Boston. Now I'm pretty sure I need to start looking a bit more towards Scotland. My dad would love it...he was a piper all of his days thinking he had no Scottish blood at all!

Wm Thomas