In 1772, Benjamin Abbott of Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, was converted to Methodism. “I have shown you the way wherein you ought to walk…” He began his work as an evangelist the next year. He was no doubt the most remarkable man among early Methodists in this area. In 1778 Benjamin Abbott had attended a quarterly meeting in Morris’ River.
Around 1778, the Methodist Society was organized at Morris’ River, also called Maurice River Town and soon to be called Port Elizabeth. William Donnelly who resided here, was a local preacher of the Methodist connection who served from 1778-1781. At the time of his death, in August 1784, the question of building a church was being agitated. Henry Reeves had offered a lot on the North side of the dam and Mrs. Bodly a portion of the present church lot.
Methodist Episcopal Church
At the time of his funeral, it was decided to bury him on his own land, very near the line of the lot offered by Mrs. Elizabeth Bodly. It was finally decided to accept her offer. On October 1, 1785, for five shillings, she deeded a lot containing one acre and twenty-seven hundredths, “for the purpose of building a preaching house on, and a burying yard, and to build a school house for the use of the neighborhood after the said meeting-house was built.”
The first church erected on the ground, which was the first church in the county for the exclusive use of the Methodists was about half the size of the present one, a frame building, and was completed in 1786.
Francis Asbury, the first Methodist Bishop in America, preached here on three different occasions. The following are entries from Francis Asbury’s Journal:
[September 1785] Saturday, 17. Quarterly meeting at Morris’ River: our house was not quite covered, and it was falling weather; the people, nevertheless, stayed to hear me preach; afterward brother A. and brother L. spoke to them. Sunday, 18. We had a great time; the people spoke freely of the dealings of God with their souls.
[October 1786] Friday 6. At Morris-River church, I was warm and close on, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” The people were attentive to the word.
[April 17, 1809] A heavy ride brought us on Monday to Port Elizabeth. I preached on 2 Cor. xiii, 5; it was a searching season. This is a new town, and we have a large house built here: the Baptists are building a grand house. We lodged at Benjamin Fisler’s.
New Red Brick Church
The present brick edifice was built in 1827. Dr. Benjamin Fisler furnished the plan and superintended its erection. The dedication took place the latter part of 1830, and the dedicatory sermon was preached by Rev. Robert Geary, of Bridgeton from Ezra 5:9 “Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?” When this church was completed it was considered the most complete and beautiful church within the State south of Trenton.