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Looking Back: Wall Street Church

Looking back to September 1958 and the Church of Scotland's ties with New York City.

FIRST SCOTS KIRK….began in Wall Street

It influenced New York City and the USA

Wall Street Church

In the year 1719, a large sum of money was remitted by the Church of Scotland to the City of New York. It represented the total of collections taken from congregations throughout Scotland by order of the General Assembly in that year.

The Assembly had heard of a group of Presbyterians worshipping in ‘house-churches’ in New York City under the ministry of a Scotsman, the Rev James Anderson, and anxious to build their own church in a strategic situation in that growingly important city.

With the help that came from Scotland, they purchased a lot in Wall Street for £350, and in the building which was erected there, the Presbyterians, who had originally gathered in 1706 at Prayer Meetings held in their homes, found a local habitation and a name. Wall Street Church, as it was then called, was the first Presbyterian Church to be built in New York City.

 Episcopal Opposition

With the dedication of a place of worship, they must have felt they had acquired a status and some degree of security. The first thirteen years had been precarious and many of them remembered that in 1707 their minister had been arrested and imprisoned for daring to baptize a baby.

Their difficulties were not yet by any means over, and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland had to come to their rescue at a later stage.

In order to secure their property rights it was necessary to get a Charter of Incorporation. For this they presented a petition to His Majesty’s Council, which was on the point of being granted when the Vestry of the Episcopal Church intervened in opposition and the Petition was rejected.

A second application for a charter was made later to the Governor of the Province, who “thought favorably of the design” but the same influence again defeated their intention.

A third attempt in 1727 met with a like fate and they determined to appeal to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,

For more than 50 years the Church of Scotland held the title deeds and it was not until 1784 that ‘the Corporation of the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York’ was formed. It is in this year that records show the baptism of Washington Irving (the writer of Sleepy Hollow, diplomat and son of Scottish immigrants).

Twice thereafter the First Church was damaged by fire, the second being in the Great Fire that wiped out the greater part of Lower New York. In the rebuilding of that section, the area was devoted to business and the residential section moved up town.

The Wall Street Church decided, on the Presbytery’s recommendation, to do likewise, and purchased ground on the west side of Fifth Avenue, between Eleventh and Twelfth streets where the new building was dedicated in 1846.

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