It is good to occasionally consider one's mortality and there may be no better way to do this than to walk through the graves surrounding Old Tennent Church.  This vast cemetery has been here a very long time with many graves dating from the eighteenth century.  And Old Tennent's congregation first buried its dead at an even older cemetery, Old Scot's Graveyard, where the first burial (of Rev. John Boyd) was in 1708.  

Tombstones have certainly changed over the years.  Some of the early ones are almost frightening.  A winged death's head frequently appears at the top of the old stones.  Life was hard in those days and the Grim Reaper a frequent visitor. In some cases, the tombstone is as much a warning for the living as a  memorial for the departed. On Robert McGalliard's stone, a popular epitaph from that era is carved: "Behold and see as you pass by, as you are now so once was I, as I am now so must you be, Prepare for death and follow me."  The large stone on the grave of William Tennent's son, Gilbert, carries this stark warning to the passerby:  "O Reader had you heard his last Testimony you would have been convinced of the extreme Madness of delaying Repentance."  A walk through the durable granite monuments in the newest section of the cemetery is far less disturbing.  While there is some religious symbolism here you will also see laser-inscribed portraits of the deceased or perhaps a depiction of their favorite hobby, place, or vehicle.  Any writing on the stones tends to express comforting thoughts such as "Together Forever."


The people buried in this cemetery came from every walk of life. Many former pastors of Old Tennent are interred here and William Tennent, Jr's body rests in a place of honor buried beneath the middle aisle of the church that bears his name.  There are so many soldiers - veterans of virtually every war this nation has fought - including people who were killed during the Battle of Monmouth; in some cases right on this property.  There is a well-known story of a patriot soldier who was gravely wounded by a cannon ball while resting on a tombstone in the cemetery.  He was carried within the sanctuary to die and there is a tradition that blood stains from his wound are still visible on the seat of the second pew from the door in the west aisle.  British soldiers are interred here as well, including Lt. Col. Henry Monckton, the highest ranking British officer killed during the Battle of Monmouth near the old church parsonage.  There was a desperate struggle over his body until Americans secured possession of it, carried it to the rear, and buried him a few feet from the southwest corner of the church.  A British flag is placed over his grave on Memorial Day.

We do not know where one of the most famous people buried in Old Tennent's Cemetery is interred; but somewhere here lies the earthly remains of Captain Joshua Huddy - namesake of numerous Central New Jersey taverns and restaurants, roads, two trails in Colts Neck, and parks in Atlantic Highlands and Toms River.  In 1782, Huddy was captured by Loyalists and his death by lynching on the beach at the foot of Waterwitch Hill in the Highlands nearly scuttled the peace process with Great Britian to end the Revolutionary War.  Patriots carried his body to Old Tennent Church for burial with full military honors in an unmarked grave.   It was not until 1962 that the U.S. Army Department erected a monument to him near that of Col. Monckton. Indeed many of the names that you see on the stones here are familiar to anyone acquainted with the names of streets, towns, and businesses here in Monmouth County:  Wooley, Rue, Clayton, Stillwell, Perrine, and many more.  A lot of people died at an early age; some mere babes. Other epitaphs tell of a long life well lived in which the soul was "ripe for the harvest." While today's stones are nearly all granite ordered from local dealers, older monuments came from a variety of sources. Many of the early stones are said to have come to New Jersey as ship's ballast (John Boyd's original brown sandstone marker is thought to have arrived this way) and in the late nineteenth century, families could order cast zinc monuments through their Sears Roebuck catalog.

The writing on many old stones is either obliterated or barely visible.  Some are small and so modest they seem to have never had much in the way of identification.  Other monuments are magnificent tributes to wealthy individuals and their families.  Charles Sanford secured the best burial spot of all on the hill where the first church on this property may have stood.  There are numerous stone mausoleums with beautiful stained glass windows along with a number of monuments that are wonderfully unique:  Margaret Ditmas Harrison clearly loved her niece, her painting, and her cats.  But perhaps the most poignant memorials are the simplest.  We need to know nothing more about little Harriet except that she was greatly loved.

Judy Thomas







Zinc Monument


Harrison Monument


McDonald Mausoleum