By Richard Gwynallen

In A Mordah-Rutherford Homestead in Lancaster County,  I wrote about one of the homes of Jean Mordah and Tom Rutherford, and the church they attended after moving to Paxtang, Pennsylvania.  That led me to poke around other possible sites of Mordah activity in Lancaster County.

We have in Tom Rutherford’s own hand the confirmation that he and Jean Mordah were married by the Rev. James Anderson.  Rev. Anderson was called to Lancaster County in September 1726 to serve the Donegal Presbyterian congregation.  He was installed August, 1727 (Notes and Queries of Pennsylvania, William Henry Egle, 1886, p24.) Anderson traveled to serve congregations along Swatara Creek and Derry township until Derry installed it’s first pastor, but he served the Donegal congregation until his death on 16 July 1740.

The congregation existed before the arrival of James Anderson.   In his Origin and History of Donegal and Carlisle Presbytery, West says: “In 1714, the tide of emigration, following up the eastern side of the Susquehanna, had reached the valley of the Clequesalunga, now in Lancaster Co., where Donegal Church was organized in that year.” (Quoted by J. L. Zieglar in An Authentic History of Donegal Presbyterian Church, and recorded in Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical …, Volume 9)

On 1 August 1721, application was made by Andrew Galbraith to Newcastle Presbytery to have the Donegal congregation supplied with a pastor.  The location was referred to as Chicken’s Longus (the correct name being Chequesalunga). The ministers Gillespie, Cross, McGill, Hutchinson, and Evans were among the first preachers sent. They served the church more or less regularly from 1721 to 1724, and in 1725 the Donegal congregation obtained one-sixth of Mr. Boyd’s time, but James Anderson was the first installed pastor. (History of the Presbyterian Church of America, Rev. Richard Webster).

Regarding the name “Chequesalunga”, The stream from Donegal Spring was called Little Chicquesalunga Creek in a deed of the Rev. Peter Nissley, situated about three-fourths of a mile east from the Church. (An Authentic History of Donegal Presbyterian Church; J. L. Zieglar; 1902)

The Mordahs would have arrived early in Anderson’s tenure, reaching Donegal in early 1729.

By 1732 enough families were in the larger area that the Presbytery of Donegal was organized; a presbytery being an administrative body of elders and minister representing all the local congregations of a district.

The records of the Donegal church prior to 1786 are lost, so we do not have records of John Donegal Presbyterian Church - 2Mordah’s involvement in the Donegal church.  However, the church was built about 1740. It is a 1 1/2-story, three bay by five bay, stuccoed  stone building with a gambrel roof. The chapel underwent a remodeling in 1851. The adjacent cemetery is enclosed in a rough hewn stone wall built in 1791.

According to The Donegal Society, a log building served as the church until the construction of the existing stone church in 1740. 

Donegal Presbyterian Church - 3

Two hundred acres of land were deeded by the sons of William Penn.

“On the 4th of June, 1740, two hundred acres of land were deeded to the ‘Rev. James Anderson, Pastor, John Allison, James Mitchel and David Hayes, Elders of the Church, by Thomas Penn, by the powers and authority to him granted by the said John and Richard and of his own right.’ — (Patent Deed.)

“This was bounded on the north by the land of James Stephenson, and on the south by Mary Moderil or Mortheril ; on the east by Andrew Galbraith, and on the west by Ephraim Moore’s land.” (An Authentic History of Donegal Presbyterian Church; J. L. Zieglar; 1902)

This seems like a long stretch of time for land already in use to have gone without a patent.  However, after William Penn died in 1718 no patents were issued for a number of years following his death.

We assume that it was on this land in the original log meeting house that Jean and Tom were married.  The reader will see below that by 1734 John and at least some of the Mordahs had moved on to the Conewago congregation. I do not yet know if Jean and Tom continued on at Donegal.

What was the Donegal church like for congregants?

Zieglar describes it thus: Before the remodeling in 1851, the exterior of the Church was not plastered, the windows and doors were arched ; there

were three entrance doors, one on the south, one on the east and one on the west end of the Church building ; the aisles leading from these doors were paved with bricks ; four large pillars supported the ceiling (these may still be seen at Mount Joy, on the east side of Mr. Harry Newcomer’s hardware store); the pulpit, with the precentor’s seat on its front and a high sounding-board overhead, was on the north side ; the pews were of the high, square-box variety . . .”

Some notes from the Donegal church website also offer an idea:

  • Entrance was through arched double doorways in the center of the side facing the graveyard, which is on the southeast.  There were two windows at each end, and in the rear toward the spring, the windows corresponded to the number opposite.  The tops of the windows were arched matching the double doorway opening to a broad aisle toward the pulpit area.
  • The doors were made of 2-inch oak plank, heavily battened. The window shutters were also battened.  The window muntins  (strips separating panes of glass) and rails of the sash (framework in which panes of glass are set) were constructed of lead.  One account states that at some time the windowsills were made of sandstone.
  • Historian Samuel Evans says that the building was 38 ft. by 68 ft. (interior?).  Mr. Barr Spangler, grandfather of Robert Spangler, who lived more than a century, writing memoirs in the late 1800’s, stated that benches alone were used in the church at first.  Later, pews were made of yellow pine and oak and remained unpainted until perhaps 1772.  This was corroborated by writings of Miss Martha Bladed Clark, first president of the Donegal Society for many years beginning in 1911.
  • Miss Clark also wrote that the floors were earthen until the aisles were paved with brick. (One of these octagonal bricks was on display in the narthex until about the middle 1900’s, after which it disappeared.)  It was during the 1851 remodeling that the wooden floors were installed.  She said none of the woodwork was painted until 1851.
  • Concerning the building, Miss Clark wrote in 1913:  “After the first log meeting house had been used for a dozen years, the present edifice was erected.  Loose stones were collected from the surrounding woods.  No effort was made by the masons to dress the stones.  They simply were laid in mortar to a line.  The edges were craggy or rough until the remodeling of the building in 1850-51.”
  • At the first remodeling in 1772, John Bayley furnished the walnut boards made from his tree and by his sawmill.  It was either at or near the mill erected by John Galbraith, brother of Andrew Galbraith, where Wolgemuth’s mill is now located and Donegal Run flows under the Mount Joy-Marietta pike.   From this walnut the first pulpit and sounding board were constructed.  The present pulpit is an expansion of this first one.

Though long after our Mordahs left the area, there is an interesting fact about the remodeling of the church in 1851.   The Donegal Society records that “The old horse used to drag the stones from the quarry site to the church dies, and following an ancient Irish custom, the head of the horse is buried beneath the pulpit during the remodeling. According to folklore, the buried head of the horse will aid in the projection of the voice of anyone speaking at the pulpit.”

Donegal Presbyterian Church - 6

The original church sits in the foreground.


John Mordah seems to have left the Donegal congregation by 1734.  The Conewago church records show that John Mordah was an Elder of the Presbytery at meetings on 5 June 1734, 22 June 1737, 6 April 1742, and November 1742.

John Mordah died in December 1744.  His will was proved on 9 January 1745.  The witnesses included the Rev. Samuel Black, originally of Ulster, minister to the Conewago Presbyterian Church.  His brother, Robert, was also a witness.  (Notes and Queries, Historical, Biographical and Genealogical …, Volume 1)

The first record of Samuel Black serving Conewago congregation was in 1741, but it is generally held that he had been there before that date. Conewago records show John Mordah as one of the heads of families of the Conewago congregation, as well as his brother Robert and his son James.

Conoy Creek, Lancaster County, PA - 1

Conoy Creek

Why Mordah left the Donegal church is pure speculation with what information I have now.  John and Agnes lived somewhere above Conoy Creek in 1732, so it may be that as the Conewago congregation was forming it was simply closer to them.  Though the site of the Mordah homestead is not certain, in his will, John Mordah indicated the dividing line ran ‘down by John Spears Cabin or along the foot of the hill above the waterbrook before my door & the East side to be Eleanor’s & the West side James’. Eleanor and James were children of John and Agness.

Also, James Anderson’s 1740 will showed that he had three slaves on a 350 acre farm he had bought.  We know that the descendants of Jean Mordah and Thomas Rutherford were slavery opponents and involved in the Underground Railroad, and that Mordahs that moved on  to North Carolina never owned slaves. A difference with Rev. Anderson over slavery might have spurred the move. Again, all speculation.

Conewago Presbyterian - 1

The existing Conewago Church was built in 1787.  During John Mordah’s time the congregation had no established center for worship, though a note appears in some genealogies saying that they met in a 12′ x 16′ building 3/4 mile east from Geinburg, formerly the village of Franklin, on the farm of Mr. J Alwine in Londonderry Township near the present church cemetery.  In 1747 they built a log cabin near the gate of the church cemetery.

Conewago church cemetary

Main gate of the Conewago Presbyterian Church cemetery.


We know that after John Mordah died, Jean and Tom moved on, staying in the area of the Derry Congregation until 1754 when they moved to the land described in A Mordah-Rutherford Homestead in Lancaster County and the Paxtang Presbyterian congregation.  Several of their children would have been born here.

Derry Session House - 2

The log cabin, referred to as the Session House, shown above sits on the grounds of Derry Derry Session House - 1Presbyterian Church.  However, the congregation predates the building.  According to tradition, the congregation first met in the grove on this land in 1724. The earliest written record which has been preserved was made in the year 1729 and records that the Rev. James Anderson was appointed to supply the people on the Swatara Creek every fifth Sabbath, which he did until the first Pastor, Rev. William Bertram, was installed in 1732.

Swarta Creek - 2

Swarta Creek

The Session House is the oldest building in this part of Pennsylvania, constructed of hand-hewn logs in 1732. It was used for Church meetings, Sunday School, and other gatherings. This building hosted the first school in this part of Pennsylvania.  As the next church building was not built until 1769, We can assume Jean and Tom’s children were amongst the students in this log building.

Derry Presbyterian Church draws this interesting thought about the building: “In and out of the door of this cabin, two centuries ago, filed boys who later were to serve in the War for Independence.”

Old Derry Church, 1769 - 1883

Old Derry Church, 1769 – 1883

What is called the Old Derry Meeting House was built in 1769 , after Jean and Tom had moved on. This was a large, barn-like structure which stood on the site of the present Chapel for over one hundred years.  It was torn down in 1883 and the existing church built in 1884.

Derry Chapel 1884

Derry chapel, 1884

The land upon which the Session House and the present church stand was deeded to Derry Presbyterian Congregation by John, Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn and proprietaries of the King of England, in the year 1741.

And there we have some additional Mordah information for a family excursion to Lancaster County one day. More to come, perhaps.