Roger Williams Institute

William Tennent

Virtual American Biographies

TENNENT, William, educator, born in Ireland in 1673; died in
Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, 6 May, 1746. He received a liberal
education in his native country, being graduated probably at Trinity
college, Dublin, entered the ministry of the Episcopal church of
Ireland in 1704, and became chaplain to an Irish nobleman. Wishing
for more liberty of conscience, he came to this country with his
family in 1718, and on application was received as a minister of the
Presbyterian church by the synod of Philadelphia. After brief
pastorates in Westchester county, New York, and in Bucks county,
Pennsylvania, he was called in 1726 to Neshaminy, Pennsylvania,
where he remained till the close of his life. Here, on land that was
given him by his kinsman, James Logan, in 1728, he erected a small
building, and opened a school for the instruction of candidates for
the ministry. In this academy, which became known as the Log
college, were trained many that became eminent in the Presbyterian
church. The name was probably bestowed at first in contempt by its
opponents. It was the first literary institution higher than a
common school within the bounds of the Presbyterian church in this
country, and is regarded as the germ from which sprang Princeton
college and several lesser institutions of learning. Tennent had a
rare gift of attracting youths of genius and imbuing them with his
own zealous spirit. About 1742 he withdrew from active labor. The
"Log college" has long since disappeared. It is described by George
Whitefield, who visited it in 1789, as "a log-house about twenty
feet long, and near as many broad, and to me it seemed to resemble
the school of the old prophets, for their habitations were mean."

About 1840 part of one of the logs that formed the building was
discovered, and from it a cane was made, which was presented to
Reverend Dr. Samuel Miller, then one of the oldest professors in
Princeton seminary. See Reverend Dr. Archibald Alexander's "History
of the Log College " (1846).--William's eldest son, Gilbert,
clergyman, born in County Armagh, Ireland, 5 Feb., 1703 ; died in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 23 July, 1764, came to this country with
his father, was educated by him, and taught for some time in the Log
college. After studying medicine for a year, he abandoned it for
divinity, and in May, 1725, was licensed to preach by the
Philadelphia presbytery. In the same year he received the honorary
degree of A. M. from Yale. After preaching at New Castle, Delaware,
and receiving a call there, he left so abruptly that he was rebuked
by the synod, and in 1726 was ordained as pastor at New Brunswick,
N.J. He was much admired as a preacher, and in 1740-'1 made a tour
with George Whitefield at the latter's request. He had much to do
with the division in the Presbyterian church in 1741 by his
indiscretion in denouncing those that were opposed to revivals, but
seventeen years later he was no less active in healing the breach.
In 1744 he became pastor of a new church in Philadelphia that had
been formed by admirers of Whitefield. Shortly afterward he asked
Benjamin Franklin's advice as to whom he should call upon for funds
to erect a new church edifice. Franklin told him to "call on
everybody," and, taking the sage at his word, Tennent soon obtained
money for an expensive building. In 1753, at the request of the
trustees of Princeton, he went abroad, with Reverend Samuel Davies,
to secure funds for that institution. Mr. Tennent was one of the
most conspicuous ministers of his day. He affected eccentricity in
his pulpit, but his sermons were marked both by forcible reasoning
and by passionate appeal. The controversies in which he engaged made
him many enemies, and he was even accused of immorality. His
published volumes are "XXIII. Sermons" (Philadelphia, 1744);
"Discourses on Several Subjects" (1745); and "Sermons on Important
Subjects adapted to the Perilous State of the British Nation"
(1758). Among his many separate published discourses are "The
Necessity of studying to be Quiet and doing our own Business" (1744)
; several on the lawfulness of defensive war (1747 et seq.) ; and "A
Persuasive to the Right Use of the Passions in Religion "(1760). Mr.
Tennent also wrote an "Account of a Revival of Religion " in
Prince's " Christian History" (1744). See also a volume of "Sermons
and Essays by the Tennents and their Contemporaries" (1855).

President Samuel Finley, of Princeton, delivered his funeral sermon,
which was published with an appendix and a "Funeral Eulogy" by a
young gentleman in Philadelphia (1764).--Another son, William,
clergyman, born in County Antrim, Ireland, 3 January, 1705 ; died in
Freehold, New Jersey, 8 March, 1777, also came to this country with
his father, with whom he followed a preparatory course, and then
studied theology under his brother Gilbert in New Brunswick. He had
nearly finished his course there when he fell into a remarkable
trance or cataleptic fit, continuing for several days as if dead.
His physician refused to permit his burial, and efforts to
resuscitate him were finally successful, though his life was
despaired of for weeks. He was obliged to learn anew to read and
write, and had no recollection of his former life till on one
occasion he felt a "shock in his head," after which his former
knowledge began slowly to return. He subsequently asserted that
during his trance he had thought himself to be in heaven, and that
afterward the recollection of the glories that he had witnessed and
heard was so intense as to blot out for a long time all interest in
earthly things. Mr. Tennent was ordained at Freehold, New Jersey, 25
October, 1733, as successor to his brother John, and was pastor
there forty-four years. He published several sermons. See a memoir
of him by Elias Boudinot, with a detailed account of his trance (New
York, 1847).--Another son, John, clergyman, born in County Antrim,
Ireland, 12 November, 1706; died in Freehold, New Jersey, 23 April,
1732, also came to this country with his father, was educated at the
Log college, and licensed to preach, 18 September, 1729, and from
1730 till his death was pastor at Freehold. A memoir of him was
published by his brother Gilbert, with a discourse on "Regeneration"
(1735), which warrants the belief that, had he lived, he would have
become as eminent as his brother.--The second William's son, WILLIAM
(1740--'77), was graduated at Princeton in 1758 with Jeremias Van
Rensselaer, and from 1772 till his death was pastor of a church in
Charleston, South Carolina, where he was elected to the Provincial


Promoting the Principles of Religious Liberty