The Old Colonial Cemetery
Sometime during the first three decades of the 18th century, a meeting house and its burial ground were established here. The meeting house itself may have been built as early as 1717. Rev. James Mason, one of the later ministers of the church, says that the burial ground was established about 1730 as a burial place for the community. Whatever the date of the original meeting house, the building was enlarged in 1753 to measure the thirty-six feet by twenty-five feet, with a door on the south side. It eventually included forty-two seats downstairs and twenty-two seats in the gallery. According to Ezra Hunt, a 19th century physician whose father was one of the church’s ministers, the church building was located at the southeast end of the burial ground; i.e., in present terms, near Main Street at the opposite end of the property from the railroad. In 1792, the building was enlarged by fifteen feet to thirty-six feet by forty feet, and a chimney was added. A new main entrance was constructed on the east side, entering upon a center aisle leading up to the pulpit, and the number of the seats on the main floor was increased to fifty six.
The oldest grave in the burial ground is that of John Campbell, who died in 1731 at the age of 72. Many of the gravestones have some appropriate inscription on them besides the name and date, to further identify the person whose grave they mark.
The conflict with the British government over the independence of the colonies brought direct military action into the Metuchen area. At least twenty-four of the sixty-six veterans of the American Revolution buried in the cemetery were members of the Presbyterial Church. There were five members of the Ayers family, five of the Mundy family, and three of the Freeman family. Matthew Freeman ad Robert Ross were captains in the army, and Melanthon Freeman was a surgeon. The cemetery also contains the grave of the Rev. Henry Cook, the first full time minister of the Metuchen church, who died in 1824.
Minor changes in the property lines of the cemetery took place at various times during the 19th century, the most prominent being the acquisition of property for the railroad right of way, in 1835. The movement for a new and larger church building had begun in the previous year and was accelerated by the coming of the railroad. In January of 1836 the new church, in its present location, was dedicated. Subsequently the church maintained two cemeteries for the rest of the 19th century. In 1882, a Cemetery Fund was created by the church with money from the sale of property, the income to be used for the maintenance and improvement of the two cemeteries.
The approach of the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence in the 1970’s brought increased realization of the significance of the old cemetery as an historic site. In January, 1974, the church transferred the property to the Borough of Metuchen to establish the cemetery as a historic site, and in March the Borough accepted the gift.
Written by Thomas Weber
May 1934 Dedication
Photos courtesy of the Metuchen Edison Historical Society