Welcome to the Matawan Historical Society

Pride in Our Past & Present

Settled by a group of Scottish Presbyterians beginning in the 1680’s, Matawan was first called New Aberdeen, and then Mount Pleasant. Today, Matawan’s historic town core retains its appeal as a place to live, work, and shop.

Burrowes Mansion 300th Anniversary

Burrowes Mansion Raid 2023On June 3rd and June 4th 2023, the Matawan Historical Society held a historic event honoring the Burrowes Mansion and its 300 years of history.  The festivities included a reenactment of the 1778 Mansion raid by the British (see video here), a self-guided walking tour of the Matawan historic district, tours of the Mansion, and many other activities.  The anniversary was featured in the Asbury Park Press on June 3rd.

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April 13, 1777
The American Revolutionary War arrives on the streets of Matawan, New Jersey

247 years ago today, Mount Pleasant Church, which was located on the corner of Route 516 and Route 79, was burned to the ground by British Loyalist forces in an intense raid that also resulted in a kidnapping and multiple casualties on both sides.

The pastor of the Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Reverend Charles McKnight, was strongly in favor of American Independence and did not mince words when it came to his disdain for British rule. Even at 67 years old, Reverend McKnight was a man of action and did not simply preach independence. He fought against the British on January 3rd at the Battle of Princeton and sustained a sword wound to the head. His sermons inspired our founding Fathers, such as John Burrowes Jr. and Samuel Forman, which made him reviled amongst the Matawan Tories who were still loyal to King George III. Neighbors and families in Matawan were torn apart in what was truly the first civil war our emerging country encountered.

On April 13, 1777, the British Loyalists had finally had enough of Reverend McKnight and the Patriots of Matawan. A wicked plan was set into action. William Horner offers us a glimpse into the raid in his 1932 book, “This Old Monmouth of Ours:”

“The Presbyterian church near Mount Pleasant and the green surrounding it had long been a focus for patriotic mass-meetings and a rallying-point for patriotic activities, these being ardently supported and participated in by the militant pastor, Reverend Charles McKnight. Now, the Tories, rancorous and revengeful, laid a plan to burn the meeting-house and carry its pastor to the captivity of a pestilential prison-house. The raid was completely successful, although few of its details have been handed down to us. There was considerable sharp fighting, men on both sides were killed and wounded, and the Reverend Mr. McKnight was carried off, to languish in [a] leprous British dungeon in New York—from the results of which he died in the following year."

It must have been quite the scene of chaos; men running down Main Street with muskets and weapons, arriving at Rt. 516 and fighting hand to hand in the churchyard as people screamed, and the flames from the church illuminated the night sky. The names of those killed on that day may be lost to history, but their sacrifice would not be in vain.

Ultimately, the fire was successful in its aim to destroy the church and the raiders were able to kidnap Reverend McKnight. It should be noted that there are varying accounts on whether the kidnapping and arson took place the same day or over the span of several.

The British Loyalists had sought to demoralize the people of Matawan and ensure their non-involvement as the war progressed by sending this message. However, the Mount Pleasant Church arson and kidnapping of Reverend McKnight had quite the opposite effect. Now a blaze had also been sparked inside the minds and hearts of the local residents. The line in the sand had been drawn and there was no going back. Freedom and revenge would be the only thing that would satisfy those affected. War had come to the streets of Matawan…the rest is history.

If one visits the churchyard today, you will notice an area with no headstones located in the rear corner of the property. This was the actual location of the former church. The graveyard is also home to multiple Revolutionary War Veterans from our area. Another church was rebuilt on the site in 1798 and remained home to the Presybterian congregation until 1840 when it was moved closer to the heart of town on Main Street. Sadly, the Main Street church was also burned down in 1955. The Presbyterian Church found its final home on Route 34 in Matawan and is still located there today.

Reverend Charles McKnight and the Mount Pleasant Church arson are two extremely important pieces of our local (and national) history. A proposal to erect a large 24/7 gas station and convenience store directly up against this historic site was denied by the Matawan PZ Board in April of 2024. Substantial clean-out of the cemetery has taken place since 2019 thanks to Matawan Borough. Plans by the Matawan Historical Sites Commission are also currently underway to place new signage chronicling these events on the site.

Want more local history? Consider joining the Matawan Historical Society. For only $20 a year you will receive: our monthly newsletter, monthly historical presentations/speakers, pre-sale ticket access for events, invitations to our members only BBQ, plus the satisfaction of helping keep our local history alive for future generations. Please click the link below to join.

matawanhistoricalsociety.org/join-or-donate/

-Sources:
“This Old Monmouth of Ours” by William Horner
-Photo credit: Journal of the American Revolution & APP
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5 hours ago
April 13, 1777
The American Revolutionary War arrives on the streets of Matawan, New Jersey

247 years ago today, Mount Pleasant Church, which was located on the corner of Route 516 and Route 79, was burned to the ground by British Loyalist forces in an intense raid that also resulted in a kidnapping and multiple casualties on both sides. 

The pastor of the Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Reverend Charles McKnight, was strongly in favor of American Independence and did not mince words when it came to his disdain for British rule. Even at 67 years old, Reverend McKnight was a man of action and did not simply preach independence. He fought against the British on January 3rd at the Battle of Princeton and sustained a sword wound to the head. His sermons inspired our founding Fathers, such as John Burrowes Jr. and Samuel Forman, which made him reviled amongst the Matawan Tories who were still loyal to King George III. Neighbors and families in Matawan were torn apart in what was truly the first civil war our emerging country encountered.

On April 13, 1777, the British Loyalists had finally had enough of Reverend McKnight and the Patriots of Matawan. A wicked plan was set into action. William Horner offers us a glimpse into the raid in his 1932 book, “This Old Monmouth of Ours:”

“The Presbyterian church near Mount Pleasant and the green surrounding it had long been a focus for patriotic mass-meetings and a rallying-point for patriotic activities, these being ardently supported and participated in by the militant pastor, Reverend Charles McKnight. Now, the Tories, rancorous and revengeful, laid a plan to burn the meeting-house and carry its pastor to the captivity of a pestilential prison-house. The raid was completely successful, although few of its details have been handed down to us. There was considerable sharp fighting, men on both sides were killed and wounded, and the Reverend Mr. McKnight was carried off, to languish in [a] leprous British dungeon in New York—from the results of which he died in the following year.

It must have been quite the scene of chaos; men running down Main Street with muskets and weapons, arriving at Rt. 516 and fighting hand to hand in the churchyard as people screamed,  and the flames from the church illuminated the night sky. The names of those killed on that day may be lost to history, but their sacrifice would not be in vain.

Ultimately, the fire was successful in its aim to destroy the church and the raiders were able to kidnap Reverend McKnight. It should be noted that there are varying accounts on whether the kidnapping and arson took place the same day or over the span of several. 

The British Loyalists had sought to demoralize the people of Matawan and ensure their non-involvement as the war progressed by sending this message. However, the Mount Pleasant Church arson and kidnapping of Reverend McKnight had quite the opposite effect. Now a blaze had also been sparked inside the minds and hearts of the local residents. The line in the sand had been drawn and there was no going back. Freedom and revenge would be the only thing that would satisfy those affected. War had come to the streets of Matawan…the rest is history.

If one visits the churchyard today, you will notice an area with no headstones located in the rear corner of the property. This was the actual location of the former church. The graveyard is also home to multiple Revolutionary War Veterans from our area. Another church was rebuilt on the site in 1798 and remained home to the Presybterian congregation until 1840 when it was moved closer to the heart of town on Main Street. Sadly, the Main Street church was also burned down in 1955. The Presbyterian Church found its final home on Route 34 in Matawan and is still located there today. 

Reverend Charles McKnight and the Mount Pleasant Church arson are two extremely important pieces of our local (and national) history. A proposal to erect a large 24/7 gas station and convenience store directly up against this historic site was denied by the Matawan PZ Board in April of 2024. Substantial clean-out of the cemetery has taken place since 2019 thanks to Matawan Borough. Plans by the Matawan Historical Sites Commission are also currently underway to place new signage chronicling these events on the site.

Want more local history? Consider joining the Matawan Historical Society. For only $20 a year you will receive: our monthly newsletter, monthly historical presentations/speakers, pre-sale ticket access for events, invitations to our members only BBQ, plus the satisfaction of helping keep our local history alive for future generations.  Please click the link below to join.

https://matawanhistoricalsociety.org/join-or-donate/

-Sources:
“This Old Monmouth of Ours” by William Horner
-Photo credit: Journal of the American Revolution & APPImage attachment

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