RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS
Open for research.
The Second Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia originated during the first Great Awakening from the preaching of the Rev. George Whitfield in Philadelphia. The followers of Whitfield constructed a building on Fourth Street above High (Market) Street where they gathered on a nondenominational basis. In 1743 the Presbyterians worshiping there organized as a New Side Presbyterian Church and called the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, oldest son of the renowned William Tennent and a leader of the revivalist Presbyterians, to be their pastor. Other groups, particularly the Moravians, objected to their use of the building. In 1750 the Presbyterians erected a brick building of their own at Third and Arch Streets.
During the colonial period, the church was served by Tennent until his death in 1764, and the short pastorate, 1764-1765, of the Rev. John Murray from Ireland followed. After a three year vacancy the pulpit was filled in 1768 by the Rev. James Sproat, a Congregationalist minister from Connecticut, who served until his death in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. During his pastorate the corporation was granted a charter in 1772 by Thomas and John Penn, the proprietors. In 1780 the General Assembly of Pennsylvania granted the Church a new charter. Sproat started worship services at Campington in an area north of the city, site of a British army camp during the French and Indian War. The Campington congregation was served by the pastors and administered by Second Presbyterian Church until it became independent in 1813 as the First Presbyterian Church of Northern Liberties.
During the Revolution the Presbyterians generally supported the American cause. Services ceased during the British occupation of Philadelphia and the Arch Street building was used as a hospital. The woodwork and pews of the interior of the church building and the graveyard fence were destroyed. The Campington church building was used by the Americans as a warehouse for military stores.
Ashbel Green, called to be assistant pastor in 1786, succeeded Sproat as sole pastor in 1793. John N. Abeel served as assistant pastor, 1792-1794, as did Jacob J. Janeway, 1799-1812. Janeway become sole pastor when Green assumed the presidency of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1812. During 1809-1810 considerable reconstruction of the Arch Street Church was undertaken.
The Second Presbyterian Church experienced the internal division that often afflicted the Presbyterian Church and that foreshadowed the great schism of the denomination in 1837-1838. In 1813 the Rev. Thomas S. Skinner became assistant pastor, but his pastoral style and preaching differed from that of Dr. Janeway and produced party strife within the congregation. In 1816 Skinner resigned, taking a few families with him to form another congregation. In 1828 Janeway left Second Presbyterian Church to join the faculty of the new Western Theological Seminary. When his successor, the Rev. Joseph Sanford attempted to make certain changes, the congregation again became polarized, and, after Sanford's death in 1832, a large group withdrew to form another congregation. During the schism of 1837-1869, Second Presbyterian Church adhered to the Old School branch of the Presbyterian Church.
Second Presbyterian Church never regained the numerical strength it had before the division of 1832. Under the leadership of the next pastor, the Rev. Cornelius C. Cuyler, who came from a Dutch Reformed Church in New York State, the congregation in 1837 erected a new building on Seventh Street below Arch, but when expectations of growth did not materialize, sentiment for another move gradually grew during the pastorates of the Rev. Charles W. Shields (1850-1865) and the Rev. Elias R. Beadle (1865-1879). The Arch Street Church was sold, the remains were removed from the graveyards, and a new building erected at Twenty-first and Walnut Streets was occupied in 1872.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Second Presbyterian Church experienced financial problems and, at times, had difficulty filling the pulpit. The Revs. John S. Macintosh (1881-1896), Charles Wood (1897-1908), and Alexander MacColl (1911-1949) served as pastors of the church during the remainder of its history as a separate congregation. Several attempts to merge the church with other congregations finally succeeded in 1950 with the consolidation of First Presbyterian Church and Second Presbyterian Church, retaining the name of the former and occupying the building of the latter.
Second Presbyterian Church was generous in its benevolences. The church had several benevolent, Sunday School, charity school and missionary organizations, to a large extent managed by the women. In 1812 Elias Boudinot gave the Church four brick homes at the northeast corner of Ninth and Cherry Streets, to provide homes for widows and their children. It was known as the Widows Asylum.
Second Presbyterian Church also established a congregational school which accepted both tuition and charity students and had varying arrangements between the teachers, male and female, and the Church, at different periods. The original frame schoolhouse erected on the church lot was replaced in the 1790's by a brick structure that also served as a lecture room. Another schoolhouse was built on the Asylum property.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
This record group consists of records of the corporation, session, the Board of Trustees, and other organizations of the Church, two thirds of the material being the records of the Board of Trustees, its committees, and the treasurers, from 1759-1940. The bulk of the records covers the post-Revolutionary period through the nineteenth century. The records were created by the various lawyers, businessmen and physicians who served as elders, trustees, treasurers and members of committees. The records include correspondence, reports, accounts, bills, minutes and other records of the operation of the Church, and deal with as pew rentals, building construction and maintenance, management of the congregational school and the burial grounds, church finances and pulpit supply.
The correspondence of the Rev. Charles Wood includes letters of Robert Lansing, Grover Cleveland (in rare documents file), Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Thomas Riley Marshall, Phillips Brooks and Henry Van Dyke.
Record Group 33 is arranged accordingly:
SERIES III: Clerk of Session, 1871-1913
SERIES V: Clerk of the Corporation, 1874-1902
SERIES VII: Treasurer, 1777-1940
SERIES VIII: Committee of Accounts, 1794-1915
SERIES IX: Committee for a Sinking Fund, 1823-1834
SERIES X: Committee on Finance, 1784-1897
SERIES XI: Committee on Trusts, 1838-1925
SERIES XII: Committee on Church Buildings, 1793-1916
SERIES XIII: Committee on Church Records, 1827, 1874- 1906
SERIES XIV: Committee on Church Collections, 1875-1906
SERIES XV: The School Committee, 1786-1844
SERIES XVI: The Asylum Committee, 1813-1864
SERIES XVII: Committee of Music, 1833-1912
SERIES XVIII: Committee on Pew Rentals, 1790-1914
SERIES XIX: Committee on Burial Grounds, 1783-1914
SERIES XX: The Campington Church, 1787-1819
SERIES XXIII: Beth Eden House, 1936-1941. n.d.
SERIES XXIV: The Guild, 1907-1922
SERIES XXV: Ladies' Association, 1874
SERIES XXVI: Philadelphia Union Society...for a Female Charity School, 1804-1806
SERIES XXVII: Woman's Home Missionary Society, 1888-1923
NOTES TO THE RESEARCHER
The researcher should consult the card catalog for the bound volumes of official records and printed items in the library. Some of the original minute books are in extremely fragile condition and must be handled with great care. They should not be photocopied. Researchers may also want to look at Record Group 218, the papers of Isaac Snowden, Jr., secretary of the Board of Trustees, member of the School Committee, an elder of Second Presbyterian Church, and source of many of the records in this Record Group 33.