Presbyterians of the Past: 'What are the Old Side & New Side?'



 By Barry Waugh

The Old and New Sides are not the same as the Old and New Schools. From 1741-1758, Presbyterians in the American Colonies were divided into the Old and New Sides. The Old Side was the Synod of Philadelphia; the New Side separated from it along with non-affiliated ministers to become the Synod of New York. The published minutes source used for the current post was issued by the Old School as Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America…1706 to…1788, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841. It includes the Old Side records, “The Minutes of the Synod of Philadelphia, from A. D. 1717-1758” and the New Side records, “Minutes of the Synod of New York, from A. D. 1745 to 1758.” Why do the New Side minutes begin in 1745 rather than 1741 when the division took place? Because it was not until then that the New Side organized its synod which would come to encompass the presbyteries of New York, New Castle, and New Brunswick with the most influential presbyters respectively Jonathan Dickinson, Samuel Blair, and Gilbert Tennent. The Old Side had no need to organize because it was already the highest judicatory of the continuing line of American Presbyterians, while those holding New Side views departed to take another course. Names of note for the Old Side are Francis Alison, John Thomson, Robert Cathcart, and Alexander McDowell. The Old Side included the presbyteries of Donegall, New Castle, and Philadelphia. It is important to know a minster’s presbytery membership during the division because it likely indicated his sympathies regarding the debates of the day.

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