Amwell History

Amwell History

Over the next several weeks, we hope to put a series of articles and stories that tell some of the history of the Amwell Church of the Brethren.  Amwell is the oldest church in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, having been founded before the Revolutionary War in 1733.  There is more than 200 years of history to cover, so please come back frequently.  The articles that will be presented here will also be archived for future reference.  We've recently added two new articles to this page.  Our original article called "A Brief History of the Amwell Church," can be found by following the hyperlink.  The first new article is simply called "Amwell Church of the Brethren," and our second new article is on the founder of Amwell, John Naas.

Links to all articles:
Amwell Church of the Brethren
Johann Naas
A Brief History of the Amwell Church

Amwell Church of the Brethren

"Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life." Matthew 7:14 (Former inscription in Amwell Church)

For one to speak or write about the early history of the Amwell Church of the Brethren without mention of John Naas, would be unfair as well as difficult. This energetic evangelist arrived at Philadelphia, September 18, 1733, visited with the Brethren in Germantown, crossed over the Delaware River at New Hope, Pennsylvania, and settled in Northern New Jersey. With the help of four like-minded Brethren, he organized, before the year's course was run, a church where none had been before. Amwell Church stands today a continuing monument to the zeal, earnestness and determination of John Naas to serve his Lord.

In addition to this, Morgan Edwards states in his History of the Baptists that in the year 1733 Salome Miller and Joseph Miller, her brother, John Brech and wife, Peter Longanacre and Peter Rhode (all of Great Swamp, Bucks County, Pennsylvania) were baptized by Mr. John Naas.

So all this tells that John Naas was at once busily engaged in spiritual endeavors from almost the very minute he embraced the religious freedom of the American colonies.

Before there was a church building, Julius F. Sachse states in his German Secretarians of Pennsylvania, "Amwell meetings were held in different homes. In 1750 a church, a plain frame structure was erected. It was replaced by the present church in 1856."

J.W. Wayland, in his Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren states: "The single colonial congregation in New Jersey was located at Amwell, in Hunterdon County, some 30 or 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia. It was organized in 1733 with 12 members." Another description of the church and its location is in Historical Collections of New Jersey, by John W. Barber and Henry Howe. It is: "The Society of Dunkers have a church in the central part of this township (Delaware), about a mile northeast from Headquarters, New Jersey."

Amwell Church of the Brethren was originally known as the Amwell German Baptist Church. "It is the oldest place of worship in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. During the Revolution, General Washington marched his army past the site of the present church and halted overnight at the village of Headquarters, a mile distant." This is from the Newark Evening News of September 9, 1933.

It has always been considered the third church of the Brethren in America, in regard to age. However, in Urner's History of the Coventry Brethren Church it is listed fifth. They are: 1. Germantown December 25, 1723 2. Coventry November 7, 1724 3. Conestoga November 12, 1724 4. Oley in 1732 5. Amwell in 1733

In Abraham Cassel's "Notices of the Bretheren's Early Churches, with Biographical Sketches of Some of their First Ministers" there is the following chapter:

New Jersey - The first appearance of Brethren in New Jersey was 1733, when the following 5 Brethren (who had come in with the last division of 30 families from Holland, with Alexander Mack, in 1729), to wit Reverend Johann Naas, Anthony Deerdorf, Jacob More, Rudolph Harley, and John Peter van Laushe, these five with their families, crossed the Delaware in 1733, and settled at Amwell, in Hunterdon County, about 40 miles NEE from Philadelphia.

They increased very fast under the pastoral care of the Reverend Brother Naas, but as the land was pretty well taken up and consequently too high in price for the Brethren, who were generally of very straightened circumstances, to procure themselves homes there, they were continually moving to other and newer settlements. But, notwithstanding this constant dispersion, in 1770 they numbered 28 families, containing 46 persons, that were baptized and in the communion with the church. They had no meeting-house yet at the above date, but kept up their worship at the Brethren's houses in relation, and observed the Holy Communion as often as a Brother found himself disposed to give the feast of charity. Then the whole church was invited to meet at his house, where, when washing feet was over and the right hand of fellowship and kiss of charity was given, the Lord's Supper was administered with the usual elements and the singing of hymns.

Their first minister, as already said, was the Reverend Johann Naas. He was born at Noorden, which was a considerable town in the Province of Westphalia, 12 miles north of Emden, emigrated to America in 1733, and settled with the church at Amwell, New Jersey, in 1733. He appears to have been a talented man and very earnest in the discharge of his pastoral duties, also to have been imbued with a good deal of missionary spirit, in as much as he traveled a good deal for the purpose o extending his peculiar views of the Truth, as it is in Jesus, and was the instrument of planting several of the Brethren's early churches. He was twice married, but left no issue that we know of, except two daughters; the one was married to a Brother Wilhelmus Grau, in Creyfeldt, and the other to a Landes, who afterwards joined the Seventh-day Baptists and went to Ephrata, but was soon dissatisfied with that community, and about 1735 or 1736 was received again to the Brethren in Conestoga. - For a more particular account of this venerable Brother see the Anecdotes in my historical collections.

Next to him was the Reverend John Bechleshammer. He was from Holland with one Gideon Rouser for his assistant.

After him was William Housel, born in Neuwied, which was a flourishing commercial city in Germany, in the circle of the upper Rhine, about 10 miles north-west of Coblentz, in 1728. Was married, but had no issue. Was called to the ministry about 1750.

In Abraham Cassel's "Notices of the Brethren's Early Churches, With Biographical Sketches of Some of their First Ministers" there is the following chapter (continued) :

Next to him was the Reverend Abraham Laushe. Was born in the Parent church at Creyfeldt, in 1732, and married to a daughter of the aforementioned Brother Bechleshammer, and left a numerous offspring, some of whom are still respectable members of the church at Amwell.

The above is the only Tunker Church in New Jersey, and the only one which statedly uses the 8 Christian rites. In Pennsylvania, there were 15, prior to 1770; in Maryland 7; and in the more southern states 10.

Date and Author unknown.

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Johann Naas

In the year 1715-16 Johann Naas and Jacob Preiss traveled together, preaching and proclaiming the gospel of our Lord through the country of Creyfelt, to Marienborn and Epstein, at the time when the King of Prussia's recruiting officers were canvassing the country to recruit his forces. They compelled every one they met of a goodly appearance to enlist in the ranks of the soldiers and more particularly did they aim at those of a tall stature, for to be his body, or lifeguard, which was composed of such. Therefore they left none of that class slip.

Johann Naas was just such a one, being a head taller than almost any other man in that vicinity, and also of a very stout athletic constitution accompanied with such grace and nobleness of demeanor as almost to strike a stranger with awe at the sight of him. Preiss on the contrary was a small decrepit kind of a man. So one day as it happened, they came in contact with the recruiting officers, when Naas was immediately seized and taken up to enlist. But he refused; upon which they put him to various tortures to compel him, such as pinching and thumb screwing him. He still resisted, however, until at length they took him and hung him up with a cord by his left thumb and right great toe, in which ignominious posture they meant to leave him suspended until he would yield to their wishes. But he still continued so steadfast and immovable that they began to despair of accomplishing anything by torture, and also to fear that he might give up the ghost if they left him longer suspended, so they took him down again and dragged him along by force into the king's presence, stating how they had tried by persuasion, and by torture, to accomplish their designs, but all to no purpose, as he still resisted. And yet they were too choice and too desirable an object to let pass. They had therefore brought him to the king to dispose of, as he thought proper.

The king then eyeing him very closely, said, "Why yes, I should like to have him very much - tell me why won't you enlist with me?" "Because I cannot," he replied, "As I have already enlisted in one of the noblest and best of enrollments long ago, and I cannot become a traitor to him." "Why, to whom then, or who is your captain?" asked the astonished king. "My captain," said he, "is the great Prince Immanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. I have espoused his cause, and therefore cannot and will not forsake him." "Neither do I will that you should," answered the noble king, at the same time reaching in his pocket to present him with a gold coin as a reward for his fidelity, and bid him adieu. Upon which Naas went away very much rejoiced at his honorable dismission, and joined himself again to his companion Preiss, who meanwhile had been quite unmolested as he was of such a mean appearance that his service was not wanted. They continued their labors yet for awhile, until persecution became still more raging, when they fled with others to Serustervin, in West Friesland, Holland, from whence they emigrated to America in the Fall of 1719. Naas settled in Germanown, where he died on the 12th of may 1741, and his remains are interred there in the old burying ground of the Brethren.(?)

Preiss settled in the neighborhood of Indian Creek, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and the remains are buried in their family burying ground on his own premises, now occupied by his great great grandson, Abraham Price, and within sight of the Brethren's meeting house at Indian Creek.

Naas was in many respects an extraordinary man, and was possessed of considerable talents, both as a preacher and a poet as many of his hymns do testify; among which I would mention the beautiful one beginning, "Eins betrubt mich sehr auf erden," "One thing grieves me much on the earth." (See psalterspiel No. 19 in Appendix.)

Abraham H. Cassel -- date unknown

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A Brief History of the Amwell Church

Amwell Church was organized in 1733. In the late fall of that year, when the early German settlers in this area heard that John Naas had landed in Philadelphia in mid-September, a delegation made up of Jacob Moore, Antony Dierdorff, Rudolph Herli and John Peter Lausche waited on Naas and persuaded him to return with them to Amwell as their first pastor. Naas remained in Amwell for the rest of his life. He passed away in May 1741. In his latter years he had as an assistant John Bechtelsheimer. About Bechtelsheimer we know but little except he stayed on for some time after the death of Naas. Then apparently he left Amwell and all trace of him is lost. Only fragments of information have come down to us as to who may have carried on the work after the departure of Bechtelsheimer. During the next forty years various men seem to have been in charge. George Klein was here for a time and later on William Housell and Abraham Lawshe ministered to the people. The latter had married a daughter of John Bechtelsheimer.

In 1790 Morgan Edwards visited the area and reported that the Brethren had only forty-six members and no house of worship. Services were held around in the homes of the farmers and the preaching was still in German. There is no record of when Israel Poulson took over the work. He seems to have been here prior to 1811 for in that year he gave a half-acre of ground from his farm as the site for a church building. Presumably a building was put up soon afterward to be followed in 1856 by another and larger building which was substantially the church that we know today. Israel Poulson could speak no German so the change over to preaching in English had to be made and the congregation began to grow. His pastorate covered a period of about fifty years during which he became a sort of living legend.

In 1848 there was a vacancy in the next ranking Eldership. The congregation selected Israel Poulson, Jr., a son of the pastor for this position. The choice caused trouble. John P. Moore felt that he was in line for the post and he was disappointed and angry. After a long and bitter dispute, he and about twenty of his sympathizers withdrew and formed a church in Sand Brook. In February 1856, Israel Poulson died and his son assumed full charge. In spite of an unfortunate beginning, Israel Jr. proved to be a good pastor and under his able leadership the church enjoyed a steady growth. In 1873 dissension again arose and so bitter did it become that the pastor felt constrained to give over his pastorate. The discontent smoldered for about twenty-five years until the late 1890's when quite a number withdrew and formed a church in Sergeantsville, which left Amwell in a badly weakened condition.

After Israel Poulson, Jr. left, a long succession of Elders was sent over from Pennsylvania to take charge of the work. Perhaps the best remembered of these are Frank F. Holsopple, Jacob F. Graybill and Monroe B. Miller, but in spite of the best efforts of these dedicated men the work continued to languish. In 1916 the Rev. Henry T. Horne became the leader and a new era began to dawn for Amwell. He seemed to be the right man in the right place at the right time. As a result of his wise and patient leadership, accessions to the church increased, the Sunday School was revitalized and many material improvements were made possible. Rev. Horne continued in the work until 1943 when advancing age and bodily infirmities compelled him to relinquish the pastorate.

After an interim of about three years, the congregation invited the Rev. George W. Landis, then at the Springfield Church in Pennsylvania, to become their leader. In 1950 fire destroyed the interior of the church building, but by a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were able to completely restore the sanctuary within a remarkably short time. Since then the facilities for the Sunday School have been enlarged until the church stands today fully equipped to serve God and the community. The pastorate of Brother Landis has been a period of steady growth in strength and increase in dedication on the part of the people. The church has been able to extend her influence for good far beyond the geographical limits of Amwell.

What does the future hold? That is in God's hands, but judging from the way He has lead Amwell safely through her many ups and downs for over two hundred fifty years, we can only look forward with confidence and eager anticipation, trusting in His ultimate goodness.

Frank E. Burd - date unknown.

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