Peter Peterson Vanhorn was born on Aug. 24, 1719 at Middletown, Pennsylvania, to Dr. Peter Barentson Van Horn and his wife, Elizabeth Gabriels Struddles.
He was raised a Lutheran, and sprinkled as a baby on Aug. 25, 1719, in the St. James Protestant Episcopal Church of Bristol, Pennsylvania, where his father served as vestryman (or in Baptist churches called a deacon).
He married Grace Stackhouse on Oct. 23, 1740, but she died a couple years later.
After embracing the Baptist faith, he became a member of the Pennypack Baptist Church on Sep. 6, 1741, being baptized when 22 years old.
He married Margarete Marshall on Mar. 29, 1744, when 25, and they had seven sons and a daughter: Thomas, William, Gabriel, Peter, Aaron, Charles, Marshall, and Elizabeth.
The church at Pennypack, Philadelphia, had several satellite (daughter) churches that they sent deacons and ministers to hold services. As these grew in number, they desired to be independent and to be able to choose their own leaders. In 1746, two such churches severed from Pennypack, and the membership rolls were thus reduced by 104 people. Their pastor for 20 years joined as leader of one of the daughter churches, forcing the Pennypack Church to reorganize.
George Eaton and Peter Vanhorn were called upon to serve as interim pastors, and a vote by ballot was taken. Mr. Eaton, as the senior member, expected to be made the pastor, but to his great humiliation, he was voted down. Mr. Eaton called for another vote by publicly standing for him on Apr. 16, 1747. He was rejected again, and then Mr. Vanhorn was elected.
Peter Vanhorn was ordained Jun. 18, 1747. He became 8th Senior Pastor of the Church on Oct. 31, 1747. The Pennypack First Baptist Church is located at 8850 Krewston Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His assistant pastor was George Eaton.
The church building was a simple one, 25 feet square, having been erected in 1707. In 1760, the church building was repaired, making it useful for another 10 years, when an enlarged stone building replaced the old structure.
The pastors of the Church had always been a mother church involved in organizing and supporting many branch churches, several in nearby states, where they often visited and served Communion at the Lord’s Table. One such place Rev. Vanhorn preached at was Roxborough, 12 miles away, where he conducted a wedding for the first deacon there in 1751, and is known to have preached at the church in 1754.
In 1752, Francis Briggs was the host of Baptist meetings at his house and his family becoming the first converts. They built a meeting house and asked the Philadelphia Association of Baptists for ministerial help. On Feb. 7, 1762, Rev. Vanhorn resigned as Pastor at Pennypack, Philadelphia, and moved to New Mills (now Pemberton), New Jersey, to establish a church there. With the Vanhorn family joining the Briggs family, they now had 10 members on which to start a church. It was believed that if 10 righteous people could have saved Sodom, they had enough to formally organize as a church. The Baptist Church thus became the first church in the area, standing up against apostasy and vague Christianity, being a strong witness to those moving there. The Briggs family was what makes up the Baptist identity. They only wanted the form of worship described in the Bible, and they held firmly to their convictions, not wavering or hiding them. They were the “living Epistles” of Paul. Francis Briggs died in 1763, not living to see the Church officially organized, but he lived long enough to see it was soon to do so.
The New Mills Baptist Church was officially organized on Jun. 23, 1764, and Rev. Vanhorn was the first Pastor. He was able to see the church increase from the original 10 members to 42 in the five years he was there. In view of the sparse population of the town, this was quite an achievement.
He resigned from the New Mills Baptist Church on Apr. 2, 1768, and returned to Pennepack, Pennsylvania. The church was without a pastor for three years, and when one was chosen, there was a problem a couple years later and this pastor was expelled. Once the split was resolved five years later, the church quickly grew to 100 members.
In 1769 he reported having 12 members in his household, 100 acres and a residence, a negro, 3 horses, 4 cows, and 3 sheep, in Byberry, Philadelphia, a mile or two from the Pennepack Baptist Church.
Two years later, Apr. 7, 1770, he was called to pastor the church in Cape May, New Jersey.
In 1775 he resigned from Cape May, and pastored churches in Dividing Creek and Salem.
In 1785, he became Pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of New Jersey, where he continued until he died.
He published several books and articles. One was the “Circular Letter” on Sanctification, when he was pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of New Jersey for the Philadelphia Baptist Association of Churches in 1787. In it he defines sanctification and explains why it is necessary to be sanctified and then ends with the merits of being sanctified. It is a concise and well written summary on this important Christian characteristic.
His son, William Vanhorn, became an important figure as a pastor and leader.
He died Sep. 10, 1789, at the age of 71 years, in Salem, New Jersey.
David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America (Watertown, Wisconsin: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1813), p. 584.
William W.H. Davis, edited by Warren S. Ely and John W. Jordan, A Genealogical and Personal History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1905 reprint (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1975), p. 94.
Thomas Sharp Griffiths, A History of Baptists in New Jersey, (Hightstown, New Jersey: Barr Press Publishing Company, 1904), pp. 170, 171.
Horatio Gates Jones, Historical Sketch of the Lower Dublin (or Pennepek) Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa., with notices of the Pastors, &c. (Morrisania, New York: Lower Dublin Baptist Church, 1869), pp. 23, 24.
William Nelson, New Jersey Biographical and Genealogical Notes from the Volumes of the New Jersey Archives with Additions and Supplements (Newark, New Jersey: New Jersey Historical Society, 1916), pp. 206, 207.
David Spencer, Early Baptists of Philadelphia (Watertown, Wisconsin: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1877), p. 71, 72.
“hedding188”, Phyllis Anderson Hedding family tree (Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.) accessed on Jun 22, 2013, www.ancestry.com