ELDER, John
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Elder, John, son of Robert Elder, who came from Lough Neagh, county Antrim, Ireland, to Pennsylvania in 1730, was born January 26, 1706, in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland; died July 17, 1792, in Paxtang township, Dauphin county, Pa. He received a classical education and graduated from the University at Edinburgh. He subsequently studied divinity, and in 1732 was licensed to preach the gospel. Four or five years later, the son followed the footsteps of his parents and friends, and came to America. Coming as a regularly licensed minister, he was received by New Castle Presbytery, having brought credentials to that body, afterwards to Donegal Presbytery, on the 5th of October, 1737. Paxatang congregation having separated from that of Derry in 1735, and Rev. Mr. Bertram adhering to the latter, left that of Paxtag vacant, and they were unanimous in giving Rev. John Elder a call. This he accepted on the 12th day of April, 1738, and on the 22nd of November following he was ordained and installed, the Rev. Samuel Black presiding. The early years of Mr. Elder’s ministry were not those of ease; for in the second year the Whitefield excitement took a wide spread over the Presbyterian Church. He preached against this religious furore, or the "great revival," as it was termed, and for this he was accused to the Presbytery of propagating "false doctrine." That body cleared him, however, in December, 1740; "but a separation was made," says Webster, "and the conjunct Presbyters answered the supplications sent to them the next summer by sending Campbell and Rowland to those who forsook him. He signed the protest. His support being reduced, he took charge of the ‘Old Side’ portion of the Derry congregation." Following closely upon these ecclesiastical troubles came the French and Indian war. Associations were formed throughout the Province of Pennsylvania for the defense of the frontiers, and the congregations of Mr. Elder were prompt to embody themselves. Their minister became their leader – their captain – and they were trained as scouts. He superintended the discipline of his men, and his mounted rangers became widely known as the "Paxtang Boys." During two summers, at least, every man who attended Paxtang church carried his rifle with him, and their minister took his. Subsequently, he was advanced to the dignity of colonel by the Provincial authorities, the date of his commission being July 11, 1763. He had command of the block-houses and stockades from Easton to the Susquehanna. The governor, in tendering this appointment, expressly stated that nothing more would be expected of him than the general oversight. "His justification," says Webster, "lies in the crisis of affairs…Bay at York, Steele at Conecocheague, and Griffith at New Castle. with Burton and Thompson, the church missionaries at Carlisle headed companies and were actively engaged." During the latter part of the summer of 1763, many murders were committed in Paxtang, culminating in the destruction of the Indians on Conestoga Manor at Lancaster. Although the men composing the company of Paxtang men who were exterminated the murderous savages referred to belonged to his obedient and faithful rangers, it has never been proven that he Rev. Mr. Elder had previous knowledge of the plot formed, although the Quaker pamphleteers of the day charged him with aiding and abetting the destruction of the Indians. When the deed was done, and the Quaker authorities were determined to proceed to extreme lengths with the participants, and denounced the frontiersmen as "riotous and murderous Irish Presbyterians," he took sides with the border inhabitants, and sought to condone the deed. His letters published in connection with the history of that transaction prove him to have been a man judicious, firm and decided. During the controversy which ensued, he was the author of one of the pamphlets: "Letter from a Gentleman in one of the Back Counties to a Friend in Philadelphia." He was relieved from his command by the governor of the Province, who directed that Major Asher Clayton take charge of the military establishment. Peace, however, was restored – not only in civil affairs, but in the church. The union of the synods brought the Rev. Mr. Elder into the same Presbytery with Messrs. John Roan, Robert Smith and George Duffield, they being at first in a minority, but rapidly settling the vacancies with New Side men. By the leave of the Synod, the Rev. Mr. Elder joined the Second Philadelphia Presbytery May 19, 1768, and on the formation of the General Assembly, became a member of Carlisle Presbytery. At the time the British army overran New Jersey, driving before them the fragrants of our discouraged, naked, and half-starved troops, and without any previous arrangement, the Rev. Mr. Elder went on Sunday as usual to Paxtang church. The hour arrived for church service, when, instead of a sermon, he began a short and hasty prayer to the Throne of Grace; then called upon the patriotism of all effective men present, and exhorted them to aid in support of liberty’s cause and the defense of the country. In less than thirty minutes a company of volunteers was formed. Col. Robert Elder, the parson’s eldest son, was chosen captain. They marched next day, though in winter. His son John, at sixteen years, was among the first. His son Joshua, sub-lieutenant of Lancaster county, could not quit the service he was employed in, but sent a substitute. Until his death, for a period of sixty-five years, he continued the faithful minister of the congregations over which he had been placed in the prime of his youthful vigor, passing the age not generally allotted to man – that of fourscore and six years. His death was deeply lamented far and wide. Not one of all those who had welcomed him to his early field of labor survived him. Charles Miner, the historian of Wyoming gives this opinion of Rev. John Elder: "I am greatly struck with the evidences of learning, talent, and spirit displayed by him. He was, beyond doubt, the most extraordinary man of Eastern Pennsylvania. I hope some one may draw up a full memoir of his life, and a narrative, well digested, of his times…He was a very extraordinary man, of most extensive influence, full of activity and enterprise, learned, pious, and a ready writer. I take him to have been of the old Cameroninan blood. Had his lot been cast in New England, he would have been a leader of the Puritans." He had, with one who well remembered the old minister, "a good and very handsome face. His features were regular – no one prominent – good complexion, with blue eyes…He was a portly, long, straight man, over six feet in height, large frame and body, with rather heavy legs…He did not talk broad Scotch, but spoke much as we do now, yet grammatically." His remains quietly repose amid the scenes of his earthly labors, in the burying-ground of old Paxtang church, by the side of those who loved and revered him. Over his dust a marble slab bears the inscription dictated by his friend and neighbor, William Maclay, first United States senator from Pennsylvania. The Rev. Mr. Elder was twice married; married, first, in 1740 Mary Baker, born 1715, in county Antrim, Ireland; died June 12, 1749, in Paxtang; daughter of Joshua Baker, of Lancaster, Pa. He married, secondly, Mary Simpson, born 1732, in Paxtang; died October 3, 1786; daughter of Thomas and Sarah Simpson.

 

Transcribed by: Lynne Ranieri

From page 169