Ohio History Journal

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When the Treaty of Peace was signed with Great Britain in

the year 1783, which gave independence to the United States of

America, the Congregational Church was the largest and most

influential religious body in the land. Though confined almost

exclusively to New England the Congregationalists were, at the

same time, nationally important because of their cultural and edu-

cational leadership. They had come through the War of Inde-

pendence with increased prestige, since their clergy and members

had been overwhelmingly patriotic, and had furnished during the

period a group of leaders who were recognized as of national im-

portance. There were, all told, 656 Congregational churches in

the country at the time the Nation entered upon its independent

existence. The Congregational Church was still established by

law in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, and it

continued to occupy this privileged position for more than a gene-

ration following independence.

Ranking next in point of numbers and influence at the be-

ginning of our national life were the Presbyterians. Made up

largely of the Scotch-Irish immigrants and their descendants

who had come to the colonies in such vast numbers during the

eighteenth century, the Presbyterian Church had grown with

amazing rapidity from almost nothing at the beginning of the

century to 543 congregations at the time of independence. Both

the Congregational and Presbyterian clergy were to a large degree

American born and American trained. The Presbyterians also

had come through the Revolution with increased prestige because

of their almost unanimous support of the cause of independence.

The only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence was

President John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey, the

outstanding Presbyterian leader in the Nation.