May 30, 2021
Let’s get a sense of where we stand.
1721 – The first documented mention of a community of believers meeting at a location near the White Clay Creek.
1723 - The first meeting house was not here but up on Polly Drummond Hill, and was built of logs.
1735 – a second meeting house was built on an adjacent half-acre to the original site.
1752 – “New Siders” build on the present site – a building of stone.
1785 – Stone wall around cemetery built.
1855 – Present building erected, with second floor sanctuary.
1962 – Educational building was built.
The cemetery behind us is the “new” WCCPC cemetery. The old WCCPC cemetery is up on Polly Drummond Hill, near the site of the old church building. According to a 1984 UD survey, there are over 2,100 interments in this “new” cemetery, with the oldest headstone from 1738. As it is Memorial Day weekend, let’s focus on the earliest intersection of WCCPC and American veterans.
There is one known Revolutionary War veteran buried in the cemetery: John Rodgers, (1725-1791). A captain in the Maryland Militia (the 5th regiment), and proprietor of the Rodgers Inn of Perryville. His son was a Commodore in the Navy, John Rodgers, and is known as the “father of the American Navy” for his heroics in the War of 1812. His grandson, Rear Admiral John Rodgers, led exploring expeditions in Chinese waters and through the Bering Strait in 1855. Commander John Rodgers II, the great-great-grandson of Colonel Rodgers, was a pioneer of Naval Aviation. From 1798 until 1926, there were members of this family with the name "John Rodgers" who were Admirals, commanders, or Commodores. There have been six Navy Destroyers named The U.S.S. John Rodgers. How did John Rodgers end up in the WCCPC cemetery? In 1760 he had married Elizabeth Reynolds from Delaware. They had had eight children. Perhaps in their twilight years, the Rodgers returned to Delaware, and may have been members of WCCPC.
We know of three members of WCCPC who served in the Revolution. The best known is Robert Kirkwood (1756 -1791), who grew up attending WCCPC, where his father was an elder. Kirkwood was the only brother of eight sisters. He graduated from the Newark Academy (present day UD) and became a hero in the Revolutionary War, as an officer in the 1st Delaware Regiment. After the Revolution, and after his wife died, Kirkwood became a captain in the regular army and would die in battle on 4 November 1791 at the Battle of the Wabash (or St. Clair’s defeat) in his thirty-third engagement. Kirkwood was buried in an unknown location in NW Ohio, on the battlefield. Kirkwood Highway is named after him.
The second member of WCCPC to serve in the Revolution was William McKennan (1758-1810). McKennan’s father, the Reverend McKennan, pastored WCCPC as an Old Side pastor (Mackey, pp. 12-14, & Green, pp. 247-48). Presbyterians in colonial America experienced a schism or controversy from 1741-1758. On one side were the “Old Siders” who held, basically, that Presbyterians should not engage in enthusiastic Revivals (such as engaged in by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield), on the other side were the “New Siders” who endorsed emotional religious services. This schism, by the way, lead to the founding in 1743 of the New London Academy by Francis Allison, an Old Sider. The New London academy would eventually move to Newark and in the fullness of time become UD. The New Siders also founded their school of higher education, The Log College, which would later become Princeton University. WCCPC’s second pastor, Rev Charles Tennent, was a graduate of the Log College. By the way, Francis Allison was later involved in the founding of an academy up in Philly that is today known as UPenn. Most members of WCCPC were sympathetic to the New Side, but the congregation split into two. The New Siders and Old Siders held separate worship services and even had different Pastors but shared the same building. This led to a competition in which the two sides strove to get to the church building first on a Sunday, to hold their worship service first. One enthusiastic parishioner, a Mrs. Black, is said to have once shown up extraordinarily early one Sunday, carrying an axe handle, to claim the pulpit for her pastor. When her pastor arrived, he hesitated to approach the pulpit occupied by the formidable lady armed with an axe handle, until she sternly ordered him to get up here and lead the service. In any case, William McKennan served in the NY campaign, the battle of Brandywine, in the Philly campaign, where he was wounded at Germantown. After recuperating, he returned to the Delaware Regiment and participated in the Carolina campaign. He is buried in Washington County, PA.
The third member of WCCPC to serve in the Revolution was George Craighead (1733-1811), grandson of WCCPC’s first pastor, and a captain in the Delaware Regiment (Haslett’s regiment). Raised at WCCPC, he was also a ruling elder at WCCPC, but moved west in 1795 to KY to settle on a congressional grant of land given to veterans. (Mackey, 17). George Craighead’s grandfather was the first pastor of WCCPC, Thomas Craighead. He pastored at WCCPC from 1724 - 1733. After leaving WCCPC in 1733, Craighead pastored several churches in the Carlisle, Pennsylvania area. During a service there in 1739, Reverend Craighead pronounced the benediction, raised his hand and said "Farewell, farewell." He then slumped over dead in the pulpit. He is buried In Carlisle. The reverend’s widow, Margert Craighead, is buried in the old WCCPC cemetery up on Polly Drummond Hill. Why, one might wonder, are the Craigheads buried in different locations? Perhaps the explanation has to do with this story. In the 1730s, after leaving WCCPC and Delaware, one of the Craigheads sons (they had had four sons and one daughter) wrote his Father and asked to move back home with his family. Rev Craighead agreed without consulting his wife. Mother Craighead, once informed, of the impending family expansion, did not agree. Their disagreement became so heated that the Rev Craighead refused communion to his wife at the next communion Sunday. She appealed this denial to the church’s Session, which found in her favor. The reverend Craighead however did not backdown and he refused his wife communion once again. This refusal brought the local Presbytery in to adjudicate. The Presbytery found in favor of the wife but ruled that the son and his family should move out. (Bass, 89).
WCCPC has enjoyed 300 years following Christ in faith, hope, and love. It is a history worth remembering and celebrating. Thank you.
Bass, J.M. “Rev. Thomas Craighead” The American Historical Magazine 7/1 (1902): 88-96.
Green, C.E., Delaware Heritage: the story of Delaware in the Revolution (Wilmington, DE: Press of William N. Cain, 1975).
Mackey, W.D. History of White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church (Wilmington, DE: James Webb Pub., 1876).