On October 19, 1879, the cornerstone of the old church building, now part of the Fellowship Hall, was laid for what would soon be called the Evangelical Church of Plainsboro. This was the first of five churches Rev. John Miller founded in the Princeton and New Brunswick area.
John Miller, the ninth of ten children, was born on April 6, 1819, and died on April 14, 1895. His father, Dr. Samuel Miller, was a distinguished professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. John graduated from Princeton College in 1836 and from the seminary in 1841. Two years later he was ordained by the Presbytery of Baltimore.
Prior to returning to Princeton in 1871, Rev. Miller served churches in Frederick, Maryland; Petersburg, Virginia; and Philadelphia, and beginning in 1855 preached at different places in the Virginia Valley. His first wife, Margaret Benedict of Philadelphia, died on September 5, 1852, leaving him with a daughter, Margaret, and a son, Olamby, who died in 1869 of tuberculosis. In Petersburg, Rev. Miller married Sally McDowell and had two daughters with her, Susannah, born on June 29, 1858, and Elizabeth, born in December 1860.
With the Civil War, the Presbyterian churches in the Confederate States formed a new denomination. Rev. Miller was preaching in Virginia at this time and joined the new denomination. He transferred to the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1874.
Back in Princeton, he devoted his time to writing on theological and philosophical subjects and publishing several books. He was not in sympathy with Princeton Theological Seminary but rather agreed with Auburn and Union, which carried on the New School tradition.
One of his books, “Questions Awakened by the Bible,” resulted in Rev. Miller being hastily tried for heresy by the New Brunswick Presbytery. He appealed his conviction to the Synod of New Jersey, which sustained the presbytery but modified his sentence of suspension as an ordained minister and permitted him instead to withdraw from the presbytery until his views changed. After the General Assembly declined to reverse the action of the synod, Rev. Miller resigned from the Presbytery of New Brunswick.
In 1878, when he withdrew from New Brunswick, Rev. Miller sought permission to begin preaching in the Old Bethel M. E. Church of Plainsboro on Sunday mornings. The Methodists had ceased to supply the church, and local area ministers held regular Sunday afternoon services in Old Bethel on a rotating basis. Soon afterwards, he announced that a communion service would be held. A local preacher who was one of the afternoon preachers protested to the board that Mr. Miller had no right to conduct communion services since he was no longer an ordained minister. This, however, was not the situation. Nonetheless, the trustees of Old Bethel did not let Rev. Miller conduct communion services. He applied to the school authority and held the service in the Plainsboro School. He continued to preach there until the next year when a new church building was erected at a cost of $600 plus another $100 for pews and painting.
Sunday School and worship services were held every Sunday morning. At one time, all Sunday School classes were taught by Mrs. Miller and the three daughters, Margaret, Susan, and Elizabeth. At first, there seems to have been no organization to the congregation, but later the church was given the name, “The Evangelical Church of Plainsboro.”
Extracted and quoted from:
Reverend John Miller (1819-1895): His Family and His Churches
by Rev. A. Raymond Eckels
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Plainsboro
January 1, 1922 to April 5, 1942