A Brief History of William Tennent and His Log College
Before Jonathan Edwards delivered his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”; before George Whitefield preached to thousands in the open air on our colonial shores, William Tennent, “an old grey-headed disciple and soldier of Jesus Christ,” lit a revival fire that spread west into Ohio and south to North Carolina. This Presbyterian minister helped father the Great Awakening in the American Colonies, which produced the spiritual strength of faith to win our liberty during the Revolution.
In 1726, Reverend William Tennent and his family settled in Northampton Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He started ministering to some small congregations – the first in Bensalem and the second near the forks of the Neshaminy Creek. Later—through the generosity of his wealthy cousin, James Logan—he acquired fifty acres in the same township and a house for the family was built on that land.
In the early eighteenth century, the American colonies faced a serious problem. Not enough ministers could be found to serve the spiritual needs of a growing population. This problem was acute in the middle colonies. Young men seeking training for the ministry needed to study at an approved school in New England or return to Europe for an education. William Tennent, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, solved the problem by training young men for the ministry himself. He began in his Northampton home with his four sons. Soon, other young men came to him seeking an education. By 1735, Tennent resigned from the Bensalem congregation to devote his time and energy to Neshaminy. In that year, he moved from his Northampton home to a one-hundred-acre plantation in Warminster to be closer to the church. Near his new home, he built a log cabin structure in which he educated the growing number of young men who wanted to study with him. While Tennent had no name for the school, his critics derisively dubbed it “the College”.
The Log College
On November 22, 1739, the young itinerant evangelist, George Whitefield, came to the churchyard at Neshaminy to preach to a crowd of 3,000 people. After several hours of ministry, Whitefield retired to the home of William and Catherine Tennent. These two men—one an old disciple of Jesus Christ and the other, a young upstart—discussed what measures they could take to promote Christ’s Kingdom. In his journal, Whitefield described “the College” as a “school of old prophets”.
Controversy clouded William Tennent’s rough-hewn school as his beliefs ran contrary to the theology of many of his colleagues. Most Presbyterian ministers of that period stressed a social covenant of grace and favored a tightly organized church with traditional educational standards for ministers. On the other hand, Tennent preached the necessity of personal salvation in Jesus Christ. Man needed to be convicted of his sinful state and repent. It was this “controversial” theology that Tennent imparted to his students. He ignited a fire in these young revivalists which they carried as far west as Ohio and south into Virginia and North Carolina.
After William Tennent’s Death
By 1742, the aged William Tennent decided to retire from the pastoral ministry, but he continued to teach in his beloved log cabin school. He remained an educator until his death in 1746. Soon after, the Log College closed its doors, but that was not the end. His “college” has given birth to many descendent schools of higher learning. In 1746, the first of the progeny, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) opened.
Upon William Tennent’s death, the plantation was sold. Reportedly, the new owners turned the Log College into a pigsty. Eventually, the logs rotted and it was torn down. However, subsequent owners of the plantation continued living in the Tennent home.
Today, most of the land that once belonged to William Tennent is now owned by Christ’s Home, a ministry for children and senior citizens.
Further Reading about William Tennent
- Biographical Sketches of the Founder, and Principal Alumni of the Log College by Archibald Alexander, 1845
- History of Neshaminy Presbyterian Church by D.K. Turner, 1876
- The Presbytery of the Log College; Or, The Cradle of the Presbyterian Church in America by Thomas Murphy, 1889 – One of the highlight sections in this book is “Murphy’s Appendix” beginning on page 497 with a detailed account of the Log College Celebration that took place on Tennent’s former plantation in Warminster on September 5, 1889