Alexander Dobbins

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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.


A Union of Scottish Presbyterians

A noted Reformed Presbyterian theologian was once asked in the early eighteen hundreds in this country to identify his branch of the Presbyterian Church.  He replied that he belonged to no branch of Presbyterians, only to the root of Presbyterianism.  This answer revealed the deep view of history which Covenanter Presbyterians have of their church.

Any article on Scottish Presbyterians must really have an understanding first of the religious  situation  in  Scotland,   to say nothing   of the   Church of Scotland coming out of Romanism in the Protestant Reformation under reformer John Knox.  We don’t have room enough to enter into that topic on this site, but a good perusal or even a scan of any of the books which deal with that history will bring you up to speed on this.   Suffice to say that the American colonies were the happy recipients of countless Scot-Irish immigrants from Scotland through Ireland to this land.  They brought with them their distinctives which were (1)  a perpetual obligation to the Scottish covenants which their spiritual forefathers had signed, many with their blood, (2)  the sole headship of Christ over all, and last, (3) the concept of Christian civil government, where the new nation would be recognized as a Christian nation under King Jesus.

In their Scottish history, there had been many breakaways from the Church of Scotland for alleged errors in doctrine and practice.  One was called the Associate Presbytery, while another breakaway was called the Reformed Presbytery.

The latter was organized in the American colonies on March 9, 1774 as the first Reformed Presbyterian Presbytery of Pennsylvania.  In fact, there is a blue historical sign by the state of Pennsylvania which recognizes this religious event beside one of the roads in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It was composed of three ministers: John Cuthbertson, William Lind, and Alexander Dobbins.

The first, John Cuthbertson,  was a missionary who traveled all throughout Pennsylvania, visiting the scattered societies, as they were known, ministering to them by the Word and Sacrament.  Often, their place of worship was under the sky and known as a Tent, such as the Junkin Tent in New Kingston, Pennsylvania.  Rev.  William Lind ministered in Paxton, outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in a church.  And  the third minister from Ireland, Rev, Alexander Dobbins, was ministering outside of Gettysburg, Pa.  Thousands eat today as the Dobbins House Restaurant near the 1863 Gettsyburg Battlefield, not realizing that Rev. Dobbins had a pivotal part in the establishment of Presbyterianism in Pennsylvania.

That union of three ministers in the Reformed Presbytery lasted about eight years as another union took place in Pequea, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1782 between  the Associate Presbytery and the Reformed Presbytery.  Somehow the Scottish distinctions between the two presbyteries were not as relevant in this new land.  This produced the Associate Reformed Presbytery.

Words to Live By:  Their current membership in the various Scottish Presbyterian Covenanter churches might be small in comparison with other Presbyterian churches, but in their minds and hearts, they are the root of Presbyterianism, never just another branch.  It is good to have a clear sense of history of your church.  In fact, this yearly historical devotional has that as one of its purposes.  This contributor desires that you, the reader,  know from where you have come in the past, so you won’t make the mistakes of the past, but labor effectively in the presence and future for King Jesus.

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