Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Samuel Finley, Architect of The American Revolution

When Michael Finley arrived in Maryland (son of 1658 Glasgow University graduate Robert Finley who had sold his lands to his cousin Thomas Finley before leaving for Ireland) around 1730 (border dispute between Penn and Lord Baltimore created a window of opportunity for poor settlers) little did he know his son Samuel Finley would become one of the architects of the American revolution. 200,000 Scotch-Irish migrated to the Americas between 1717 and 1775. They had been invited by Cotton Mather and other leaders to come over to secure the frontier. Without much cash, they moved to free lands on the frontier, becoming the typical western "squatters", the frontier guard of the colony, and what the historian Frederick Jackson Turner described as 
"the cutting-edge of the frontier."
Samuel Finley most likely graduated from the Log College in Warminster, Bucks County Pennsylvania. This first Presbyterian Theological Seminary in America was founded by William Tennent and his son Gilbert Tennent (born in Armagh Ireland like Samuel Finley), and operated from 1726 or 1727 until William Tennent's death in 1746. The educational influence of the Log College was of importance since many of its graduates (about 18-20?) founded schools along the frontier.

In 1743 Finley was assigned by the New Brunswick Presbytery to the newly formed (January 1742) Presbyterian congregation at Milford, Connecticut. This congregation was started when 39 Scotch-Irish people applied under the Toleration Act as Presbyterians under the Church of Scotland. The larger community of Connecticut may have tolerated this new church, but actions indicate they did not foster and encourage it. In May 1742 the Presbyterians were denied erecting their church on the commons. In November 1742, with the aid of a court order, they built their first church nearby on donated land. Their first five ministers were harassed with fines, imprisonment, and threats of being apprehended as early as January 1742. Finley preached in Milford on August 25, and in New Haven, Connecticut on September 1, 1743. For this, he was prosecuted and condemned. Governor Jonathan Law ordered him "transported as a vagrant" from the Connecticut colony. Charles Augustus Hanna writes about this episode:
'this harsh treatment, so contrary to the British Constitution, sowed seeds of revolution'
Samuel Finley went on to found the West Nottingham Academy in Cecil County Maryland and married Sarah Hall september 1744.

 Benjamin Rush, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was born 1746 to Sarah Hall's sister Susan. Benjamin Rush received his education at West Nottingham Academy from age 6 or 8. Another signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, studied under Finley at West Nottingham Academy as well. Stockton's daughter, Julia, subsequently married Benjamin Rush.

In 1747 Samuel Finley became a founding trustee of Princeton.


From 1754 to 1760 raged the French and Indian war. This war was fought primarily along the frontiers separating New France from the British colonies from Virginia to Nova Scotia. The Scotch-Presbyterians were living precisely on this frontier. This war had an incredible impact on the content of the sermons during this time. In the book Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution James P. Byrd quotes from Samuel Finley's sermon from 1757 on the Song of Deborah:
'they who expect divine knowledge without studying Scripture; the Holy Spirit, without Prayer; saving blessings, without attending on gospel ordinances; or Deliverance from temporal enemies, without Fighting against them, discover their deep Ignorance of Scripture, of Reason, and the Whole scheme of divine government'

The College of New Jersey moved to Princeton New Jersey in 1756, in 1760 Benjamin Rush received his Bachelor of Arts degree there. In 1761 Samuel Finley became President of this College. In 1763 Finley received a honorary doctorat at the University of Glasgow. In the meantime,  as Charles Hanna notes, Scotch-Irish immigrants had spread across all 13 original colonies.

Benjamin Rush sat by him when Samuel Finley bade farewell to his daughter and son-in-law:
 "He will suport you when all eartly friends are removed," he said. "He has long been my Friend and Guardian and has preserved me from a thousand dangers and temptations" Seek, seek, then, my dear children, an interest in His favor, and among other motives to engage you in this work, remember it was the last dying advice of your father"
The infrastructure of the American revolution was ready to be stirred into action.

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