The First Methodist Parsonage in the United States
by Christopher J. Anderson, Head of Special Collections, Archives, and Methodist Librarian @ Drew University Library in Madison, New Jersey, USA
I spent many of my childhood and teen years living in a church parsonage. A parsonage is a dwelling place reserved for the minister and her/his family. Some parsonages are stand alone buildings while some are directly attached to the church. I’ve lived in both contexts. While researching Methodists and popular culture I found this detailed history on the first Methodist parsonage from The Southern Methodist Handbook published in 1914. Throughout the history of American Methodism there have been many claims regarding the location of the first Methodist church. This is the first article I’ve found arguing for the location of the first Methodist parsonage. For those of you who grew up architecturally attached to the church you may find the following of interest:
“The controversy as to which was the first Methodist church in America we will leave to those who claim priority for the old John Street Church, New York, and those who enter a counter claim on behalf of the Strawbridge log meetinghouse in Maryland. While these warring advocates are pitting Asbury against Lee and Lee against Asbury — marshaling supposition against supposition and document against document — let us turn to an interesting item of Methodist history, about which there is no such perplexing surmise.
There can be no doubt that the little, old-fashioned, Dutch-built house which stood on a lot adjoining the John Street Church, New York City, was the first Methodist parsonage in America. When this house was purchased by the John Street Methodists is not known exactly; but that it was fitted up as a “preacher’s house” as early as June 1770, is a matter beyond dispute. This is amply shown by many entries in the first record book of the old Church. The items in this book were kept in the most painstaking fashion, and extend from 1768 to 1797.
But the fidelity which marked the early custodians of the record was not displayed by the later scribes, who mislaid the old book, and it remained lost for half a century. About fifty years ago it was recovered and came into the hands of Rev. J.B. Wakeley, who transcribed its most important entries and gave them to the public in a book bearing the title, “Lost Methodism,” published for the author by Carlton & Porter in 1858.
The items found in the old book and preserved for us by Dr. Wakeley’s antiquarian enthusiasm enable us to form a fair idea of the furnishing of the house which bears the unique distinction of being the first Methodist parsonage in America. It was not an overly comfortable house. It was pronounced by its clerical occupants a better “summer house” than “winter house,” as its numerous wide-open cracks permitted the biting winds of winter to enter and plague the prophets. These venerable fathers in Israel doubtless had warm Methodist hearts; but a warm heart is a poor antidote for a shivering spine and cold feet.
The task of furnishing the parsonage then as now largely devolved upon the sisters of the congregation. Being pioneers in this particular field of Church endeavor, the record shows that they did remarkably well. To get enough things together to make the house habitable, they bought, they borrowed, they gave. A sum equal to seventy-five dollars of our present currency was expended in making purchases for the house.
A complete list of what was bought is given: One bedstead and sofa; feather bed, bolster and pillow (weight, sixty-seven pounds; cost, forty dollars); two pairs of sheets; small furniture, saucepan, pair of blankets, places, nap-cloth, and tape. Altogether twenty persons loaned various articles to the parsonage. Sister Taylor fetched five chairs, three tables, two iron pots, a pair of andirons, and a shaving dish. Sister Trigler loaned a set of bed curtains and a small looking-glass. Brother Newton, an old bachelor, came along with the ladies and brought two blankets. Sister Jarvis, wife of one of the stewards, loaned a green window curtain, and Sister Beninger loaned another. The loan list was completed by four silver spoons supplied by Sister Sause, the wife of one of the stewards. This worthy couple have suffered the misfortune of having their name transcribed “Louse” by several of the later historians of Methodism.
Next came the “donation party.” Sister Sennet opened her heart and gave a gridiron and a pair of bellows. Other contributions were: six china cups and saucers, six china soup plates, salt cellars, bread basket, tea chest and canisters, wash basin, bottle, sauce boat, six cream-colored plates and two dishes, three wine glasses, cruet, five tablecloths, three towels, six knives and forks, copper teakettle, a bedquilt, Windsor chair and cushion, three pictures, one red rug, one bedspread, and a knife box. A Sister Harrison, long gone to a better land where such things are not needed, gave “three burnt china plates, two dozen cups, four silver teaspoons, and one picture.” Such was the furnishing of the John Street parsonage.”