Reverend William Tennent (1673 – 1746)

Written by
Edmund Austin

Rev William Tennent

There is a monument thousands of people pass by each day on York Road in Warminster, Pennsylvania. The monument was dedicated on Tuesday, October 4, 1927. It was placed there by some of the foremost college educators at the time and was part of a four-day gathering of Presbyterian Church leaders to honor a man, who, during his lifetime, had little in the way of fame or fortune. Nineteen twenty-seven was the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of a school known as the "Log College" and the man being honored was a preacher from the Neshaminy Presbyterian Church – Reverend William Tennent.

The monument lists dozens of colleges, which trace their origin to the Log College. Some of the foremost colleges in the country are listed on the side of the monument, including Princeton University. Men who had been educated by Reverend Tennent at his Log College founded these schools.

As far as the original site of the school – it's believed to have stood within the area of the present Christ's Home, and any trace of it is probably covered by the new York Road 

house

It is believed that William Tennent and his family lived on a farm near the present monument. Although the original home no longer stands, a private residence close by has a cellar with beams dating back to the early 1700's. Speculation is that this home is the location of the original Tennent residence.

Although the 1927 celebration was significant, it was not as heavily attended as a previous celebration held on September 5, 1889. That gathering attracted in excess of 5000 people as the Presbytery of Philadelphia assembled a "who's who" of college and university leaders to honor the first efforts of Reverend William Tennent. Among the guests was the president of the United States – Benjamin Harrison. This was big news, of course, for the residents of Warminster, Hartsville and other local communities. The President, along with John Wanamaker, Governor James Beaver of Pennsylvania and many other political and educational leaders, dined under tents on the present Christ's Home property while over 12 different speakers, including the president, gave praise to the contributions of Reverend William Tennent and his "Log College".

The local papers from the day reported that thousands of people lined York Road from the Jenkintown Train Station – north through Abington and Hatboro to the site of the gathering in Warminster. Many people decorated their homes with flags and bunting for the President's procession as his carriage went by.

Who was William Tennent – how many of us really know much about him?

The purpose of this essay is to attempt to explain the significance of William Tennent in history and why his impact has been so important to education in our community. What follows is a brief summary of Tennent's life and his importance in history:

building In the summer of 1997, I had the opportunity to visit Tennent's place of birth in Mid-Calder, Scotland. Although many sources written in the 19th century list Tennent's birthplace in Ireland, recent research confirms his Scottish birth. He was born in 1673.
His grandfather's home, known today as Linhouse, is still standing outside of the village of Mid-Calder. The present owner has reported a number of visitors over the years, all interested in seeking more information concerned with William Tennent.  building

The ancestral home of Tennent's grandmother is also still standing today. It is the estate of Lord and Lady Torphican.

Tennent was educated at the University of Edinburgh and received his degree in 1695. None of the present buildings at the university were there when Tennent was a student. His father was a merchant in Edinburgh but William's interests lay in theology and intellectual pursuits.

Was William Tennent an early success in life? Evidence indicates he was not. After failing to be assigned to a church in Scotland, he left for Northern Ireland, only to serve as pastor for a wealthy family. It was in Ireland that he met and married Catherine Kennedy. They produced 5 children (four boys and a girl), but still – Tennent was dissatisfied with his position, even changing his affiliation from Presbyterian to Anglican, perhaps with the hope he may have more success in obtaining a more prestigious assignment.

Eventually, he was encouraged to try to start over in the colonies in North America. Why did he eventually settle in Pennsylvania? It was at the urging of his wife's cousin, James Logan, an Irish Quaker and close associate of William Penn. What we know about Tennent's life at this stage is contained in the letters of James Logan.

Tennent arrived in Philadelphia in 1718 and proceeded to apply to be reinstated with the Presbyterian Church. His church, Neshaminy- Warwick Presbyterian Church, is located by Neshaminy Creek on Bristol Road in Warwick Township. He had lived in New York for a short time before settling in Bucks County.

Did Tennent finally have success and fulfillment? Not really. Records indicated there were numerous attempts to have him removed as pastor because of theological disagreements.

We know today that Tennent's legacy is associated with the Log College, which he built it in 1727. He was, by this time, 54 years old – past the average life expectancy for the time period. His age, however, was not a deterrent for him to reach his goal – to educate any young man willing to attend his school.

The name "Log College" had a negative connotation at the time. It was a derisive nickname attached to the school by ministers educated in Europe. They chided Tennent for trying to educate poor farm boys considered by some to be unsuitable for the ministry.

When Tennent's students sought ordination, the established clergy refused them since the Tennent students were educated at the "Log College". Not to be deterred, the students, led by Tennent's oldest son Gilbert, showed themselves to be very well prepared for their vocation. Evidence indicates their level of knowledge was actually superior to many of the European-educated members of the cloth. In addition, Tennent's sons and Log College graduates were at the front of a radical theological movement in the 1740's known as the first "Great Awakening." This movement led to a religious schism in the church with the Tennent group eventually winning the day. Part of this revival was a visit to Tennent's church by the most famous evangelist of the time – the English preacher – George Whitefield. He spoke to over 3000 people on a hill by the church at the invitation of William Tennent. What little we know about Tennent at this time is recorded in Whitefield's diary. Tennent died in 1746 and is buried in the church cemetery.

tomb

Tennent's last will is still on record at the Bucks County Court House. It indicates that by the time he died he was still a poor, humble servant of God, leaving what little he had to his wife. It is interesting to note, however, that Tennent was a slave owner - as his will indicates, he left "three Negroes" to his wife. William Tennent's real legacy developed after his death as his students spread out across the country and founded their own versions of the "Log College."

tombstone

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