History of Christ Church

Christ Church

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What is now the State of New Jersey was once the home of the Lenni-Lenape Indians but came under Dutch control as part of New Netherlands (the boundaries of which once extended from Albany, New York down to what is today the State of Delaware). The area came under English control in 1664 when the Dutch surrendered their domain to the invading forces of theBritish military and had the area renamed New York (after James, Duke  of York, later King James II of England). From 1674 to 1701, the area below Manhattan was divided in two (known as West and East Jersey) and given as a grant to two proprietors, Lord Berkeley and George Carteret. Both provinces were merged into the royal colony of New Jersey in 1702.

With English control came English settlers, who in the old country had been member of the Church of England. The laity may have claimed a religious identity as Anglicans, but more as an idea than as regular practice. In 1701 English minister Thomas Bray formed the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) to minister to these new settlers. It is to the SPG that Christ Church owes its existence.

In 1711 a group of Anglicans were holding service in an old broken down townhouse in Piscataway they shared with Baptists. Under the influence of William Skinner, an SPG minister, in 1717 a timber frame church was built, which was completed in 1724. St. James Parish in Piscataway continued to grow, including members from higher up the Raritan River in New
Brunswick. The demand was such that a group gathered in 1742 to construct another church, to
be called Christ Church, on the New Brunswick side of the River.

Although construction began in 1742, title to the land was not obtained until 1745. This was because one of the original church planners was Philip French, who was the largest land owner in New Brunswick. French did not believe in selling land, but for public buildings that
would benefit the community he did provide land leases at nominal rates. For the land to build Christ Church, he charged a yearly rent of “one peppercorn a year, only if asked.” The lease for
the land is still on display in the Rector’s office at Christ Church. Throughout the early years,
Christ Church remained a mission parish. It would not receive a royal charter as an independent parish until 1761.