In our last post, we examined the possibility that Rebecca Bradford and her husband, William Miller, were associated with the Presbyterian Church because of their connections to the Scots-Irish community. Could it be possible that this is the church they attended? Read on and you will find some fascinating clues!
"Rev. James Finley (February 4, 1725- January 6, 1795) was an American Presbyterian minister and politician who may have owned the home in which the original draft of United States Declaration of Independence was written... James Finley was born on February 4, 1725 in Northern Ireland, the son of Michael Finley and Anne O'Neill. He was the brother of Rev. Samuel Finley, who served as fifth president of the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) from 1761 until 1766.
"James Finley became a Presbyterian Minister and served at Rock Church (East Nottingham) in Cecil County, Maryland. In his own day he was principally known for establishing three congregations of Presbyterians in western Pennsylvania in the areas of Fayette and Westmoreland Counties.
"The original settlers of this region were Scotch Presbyterians who had been driven by persecution and oppression from Ireland. They commenced migrating to this country about the beginning of the eighteenth century. The chief landing places were Philadelphia and New-Castle [Delaware]; and from these centres they scattered throughout Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and as far south as North Carolina. They were a resolute, determined people, who had principles and dared maintain them, who had a religious faith, and for it would endure any suffering and incur any sacrifice. In this wild wilderness of America they sought religious freedom and found it. Though widely scattered from each other, we soon hear of them erecting meeting-houses, and travelling many miles for the purpose of worshipping the living God.
"In the spring of 1720 we find no Presbyterian church in Cecil Co., Md., nearer than Bohemia Manor, none in Delaware nearer than White-Clay-Creek, and none in Chester Co., Penna., nearer than the Great Valley. The scattered people had been occasionally visited by ministers of the Gospel, but they yearned and longed to have 'the Gospel settled among them.' Preachers were scarce and the people poor, and it was both difficult to secure and to support a minister. But at a meeting of New-Castle Presbytery, May 18th, 1720, we find the following record: “A certain number of people lately come from Ireland, having settled about the branches of Elk river... Through Mr. Finley’s influence, many of the early citizens of this region, as well as members of the church, settled in Western Pennsylvania. In about twenty years, thirty-four families, chiefly young married persons connected with this congregation, migrated to that locality. They being neighbors, and closely related, sought settlements near each other, but were unable to do so, and had to scatter over a district forty miles long. Thus scattered, they united with different churches, and became the very pillars of many struggling congregations. They were most efficient men, and, by their piety, generous efforts and gifts, did a great work in sustaining the first ministers of Western Pa. Out of the thirty-four families, twenty-two of their heads became elders, among whom were Judge Allison, Judge McDowell, James Bradford, Henry Graham, Robert Barr, James and Samuel Fleming, John Wright, Robert Moore, John Powers, John Allen, and Samuel, Ebenezer, Joseph, Michael and William Finley, all sons of the Rev. James Finley..." (http://www.rootsweb.com/~mdcecil/church/rockpresb.htm)
There are so many clues in this quotation (see bolded items above)! Consider that our Miller and Bradford families lived along the Elk River in Maryland and a few miles away in New Castle County, Delaware. William and Rebecca eventually moved from their home in Cecil County, Maryland, to Fayette County, Pennsylvania, which is one of the places Rev. Finley's followers settled. Most convincing of all, the James Bradford mentioned above is Rebecca's uncle! And his in-laws included the Allison's and McDowell's.
I believe that that our William and Rebecca attended, or at least visited on occasion, this lovely church in Cecil County, Maryland and may have even been part of that group of "chiefly young married persons" who were strongly influenced by the Reverend Finley to relocate to Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Hopefully future research will verify this theory.