August 11: William Tennent the Third

Consecrated to God and Country
by David T. Myers

Readers of this Presbyterian series certainly should be aware of the first William Tennent who emigrated from Ireland to the colonies. He was the celebrated pastor and founder of the Log College. His son, the Rev. William Tennent was the Presbyterian pastor of Freehold, New Jersey congregation. And his son, also the Rev. William Tennent, known in church history as William Tennent the Third, is the topic of this day’s post. Certainly all three William Tennents devoted themselves to the cause of their Master, as one author put it. It was the third William Tennent who also devoted himself, as our title puts it, to God and Country.

When the American Revolution broke out in the colonies, many a pastor, and made the cause of the colonies their cause, along with their congregations. This was certainly the case with the Presbyterians of the colonies. England saw the stand of these Presbyterian pastors and congregation with alarm as they stood side by side with the patriot cause. Presbyterian minister after minister either marched from the parishes and homes as common soldiers or as chaplains in the ranks. Cousin America was spoken in England as having run away with a Presbyterian minister.

Our subject today is William Tennent the Third. His dates were 1740 to 1777. Born in Freehold New Jersey, he was the son of the second William Tennent, who was a Presbyterian minister. Obviously, with the spiritual history of his grandfather and father, he would be destined for the pulpit as well. At age 18, he graduated from the College of New Jersey when it was under the tutelage of Rev. Aaron Burr. A further degree of the Master of Arts was earned from Harvard in 1763. Ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, he preached for six months in the churches of Hanover Virginia area. After that he became an assistant minister to Rev/ Moses Dickinson in Connecticut. Married in 1764, he moved with his family to Charleston, South Carolina to minister to a Congregational Church.

It was in this capacity as the Revolution approached, he began to minister to both church and “state.” Elected to the Assembly of South Carolina, he took on the cause of freedom with full heart. It was said that he would preach in the pulpit to his congregation biblical messages, and then in the afternoon “preach” on political matters to citizens gathered as the court house. He took a celebrated journey with two others, with the direction of the Assembly, to the back counties to seek to rally up the citizens to support the coming revolution which was seen on the horizon. He failed to convince the Tories or Loyalist families in that area, while convincing others to rally by the organization of military regiments for freedom’s cause.

In 1777, upon the death of his minister father, he sought to bring his surviving mother to South Carolina. In that trip, he was seized with fever and died on the way. It was said that his mind was calm at the sudden turn of events and that he was willing to die. Thus, on this Day in August 11, 1777, he went into the presence of his heavenly Father.

Words to Live By: Early Presbyterian pastors and members. took the teaching of Deuteronomy 20:1 – 4 (read) as justification of the presence of Presbyterian ministers going into battle with them during these times. Certainly, our character today would justify his presence in the struggle for freedom in those terms. This author’s father, as a Presbyterian chaplain in the military, would in both World War Two and the Korean War, serve his God and country in that spirit. Pray today for faithful Bible believing chaplains as they minister to soldiers and sailors in dangerous parts of this world.


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