February 4: Birth of Alexander Dobbin

If any of our readers are among the one and one half million visitors to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, you know that you and your family can not possibly see the entire Civil War battlefield without stopping for a meal.  And among the restaurants in that south central Pennsylvania town is the Dobbin’s House and Restaurant.

Many who park in its lot may not notice the small sign to the left of the building which identifies it as a Presbyterian historical site.  In fact, many will not know anything about its Reformed Presbyterian roots unless they turn to the back of the menu and read something about its connection to American Presbyterianism.  It was built in 1776 and was the home of the Rev. Alexander Dobbin, his wife Isabella, and eventually a family of eight children.  It was the manor house of a three hundred acre homestead, a Covenanter homestead, and a classical school, which was the first school west of the Susquehanna River.

Alexander Dobbin was born on this day, February 4, 1742 of Scottish heritage.  His father was described as a “pious sailor.”  Early on in his education at Glasgow University in Scotland, from which  he graduated in 1771, he had a desire to enter the gospel ministry.  Eventually  he was ordained by the Reformed Presbytery of Ireland on August 20, 1772.  He left with his wife Isabella in  1773 to go to the American colonies, accompanied by the Rev. Matthew Linn of the same presbytery to engage in missionary work.  Together with the Rev. John Cuthbertson, they would establish the first Reformed Presbytery of America at Paxtang, Pennsylvania.  Rev. Dobbin  became the pastor of the Rock Creek Presbyterian church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Teaching Latin, Hebrew, and Greek in his classical school, twenty-five of his male students became ministers of the gospel.  He was instrumental in advancing the cause of the gospel in that section of Pennsylvania.  Working with James Gettys, he helped lay out the streets of what later on became Gettysburg.  When his first wife died, he married a widow by the name of Mary Agnew, with ten additional family added to his home.

Later on, he would divide his ministry at Rock Creek with the Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Church west of Gettysburg.  The building of that congregation is still to be found on the grounds of what is now a congregation of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

When the Civil War came to the area culminating in that three day battle on July 1 – 3, 1863, the Dobbin House became a hospital with both  Union and Confederate wounded in it.  Before that, it was one of the stops of the Underground Railroad, all of which took place after his death.  His son Matthew was one of the “captains” of that railroad ferrying on escaped slaves to points north.

Alexander Dobbin died on June 1, 1809. He is buried in the Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Church burying ground off of Knoxlyn Road.

Words to Live By: 
It was said of Rev. Dobbin that his visage was not at all an imposing one.  He had a dark eye, a pointed nose, and was rather small in stature.  In other words, it was not so much his outward appearance which was effective in drawing worshipers to the visible church, but it was the spiritual zeal of his character and conduct which drew men and women to the gospel message.  Too much emphasis in the author’s opinion is placed today on the outward appearance of our pastor-teachers, when we should be spending more attention on his spiritual qualifications.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will fill your pastor daily as he seeks to please Him who called him to the gospel church.  And join with him as he labors to build up God’s kingdom in and through your local church to a needy world.

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  1. Phil Pockras’s avatar

    Hey, Wayne. It’s Dobbin, not Dobbins. You had it right when talking about the Dobbin House in Gettysburg. It’s on the web at http://www.dobbinhouse.com.

    Dobbin and Rock Creek RPC went into the 1782 formation of the Associate Reformed Church, so he’s important to their history, too! That congregation, some 40 years later (1822) went into the “union” with the PCUSA. It appears to me that, somehow, there’s a merger sometime between it and the still-existing Lower Marsh Creek PCUSA that still exists.

    The ARP re-established a congregation in Gettysburg by 1849 that became UPCNA in the 1858 union, but it died out by 1890, according to Glasgow.

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