By Ronald E. Shaffer
George Duffield, born 1732 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was educated at Newark Academy, Delaware followed by the College of New Jersey…now Princeton. He returned to the Carlisle area…and with another Presbyterian minister, traveled on horseback over the Alleghenies to western Pennsylvania then southward to Ohio and West Virginia preaching to settlers and the Indians. He was always at ease with men bringing their muskets to church.
Back in Carlisle, his reputation for preaching against taxation without representation caught King George III’s attention. He place a £50 reward on Duffield’s head…dead or alive.
Duffield’s rebellious spirit attracted the attention of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia…a congregation of disgruntled Scots and Irish who fled England’s tyranny to come to Philadelphia. The congregation offered Duffield its pulpit. But, there was a major problem…the Third Church owed its very being to the First Presbyterian Church on High Street near Second.
An ecclesiastical dust-up ensued, about who should preach. The Third Church (Old Pine) was forced to pay-off its indebtedness to the First Church. Money was still owed when Duffield came to town…leaving the First Church still in control.
On Sabbath Day, September 22, 1772, Duffield arrived to preach only to find the church door locked. Undaunted, churchmen jimmied a rear window, climbed in and unlocked the door for the waiting crowd. Midway through the sermon, the church door flung open. In stomped a magistrate of the king’s court who proceeded to read the riot act. Angry worshippers bodily picked up the magistrate and threw him out the door. Next day, Duffield was arrested. He avoided jail when the mayor of the city offered to provide bail. Years of litigation between the two churches followed ending with an appeal being sent to the king’s court in London…just as the Revolutionary War broke out. To date, the case remains unsettled.
Duffield’s first wife died during childbirth. His second wife was the sister of General John Armstrong. This family connection thrust Duffield into important military and political circles.
When the first Chaplain of the Continental Congress left occupied Philadelphia with the British…Congress said, “He’s a Tory. This embarrassment will never happen to us again.” They appointed George Duffield and Bishop William White to be Co-Chaplains. In addition, Duffield was a Chaplain in the Continental Army. His sermons on the battlefields were as inspiring as his pulpit sermons at Old Pine.
Several delegates attending the Continental Congresses worshipped at Old Pine. John Adams frequently mentioned Duffield’s words in letters to his wife, Abigail. Adams called Duffield “my parish priest” and dubbed Old Pine “the war office”.
After the battle of Germantown, the British occupied Philadelphia for nine months. They brought wagon loads of wounded soldiers into the city. One of the places they conscripted for use as a hospital was Old Pine. To clear the building for cots, they chopped up all the pews and woodwork and burned it during the winter. When the British left Philadelphia in the spring, Old Pine had a roof overhead and four walls open to the wind.
Duffield was no “sunshine patriot”. He stood for American independence when his nearby neighbors in the pulpit were branded “tories”. From his pulpit he urged delegates to the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence and exhorted Philadelphians to fight for liberty. Amazingly, within five decades, Duffield’s role in the Revolutionary War was all but forgotten.
Reverend George Duffield was buried under the church. A memorial and plaque were erected in his honor inside the sanctuary. A wood-carved statue which bares his likeness also stands in the churchyard.