Op-ed: Tradition of Trinity Church, Oxford needs help to thrive

“However, we are concerned for the future and our ability to preserve the truly sacred and historic portion of the property.”

Great place to worship: The Trinity Church, Oxford is accepting donations at its website. The church is also welcoming new members at its Sunday services. TIMES FILE PHOTO

By Trinity Church Oxford Historical Committee

In response to the op-ed by historian Fred Moore, the deed to Trinity Oxford’s approximately 3-acre churchyard is dated 1700.

The “adjoining lot for an orchard” is also indicated. Six acres was not a lot of ground in those days.

The earliest map of Oxford Township we have found is from 1779, Draught of Oxford Township (Historical Society of Frankford, found here).

It shows Benjamin Cottman was not the majority landowner of the parcel Mr. Moore wrote of. It is also not part of Trinity Oxford’s current property. Trinity did own a property on the other side of Rising Sun Avenue with a rectory at some point. That property was sold when a new minister’s wife believed it was haunted and refused to live there. That could very well have been Caesar Penrose’s property at one time, although a thorough title search and look at the surveys would be needed to confirm that theory.

We do know that Caesar Penrose died in 1831 and rests in the Trinity Oxford Churchyard. He was a free black man who was employed as our sexton for over 50 years. Caesar would have first worked as sexton around 1775. As a free black man, he would probably have had the surname of his last owner. A strong connection to the Penrose name is the wife of our minister, Aeneas Ross. Sarah Leech Ross’ maternal aunt was Hester Leech Penrose.

Trinity was an integrated church, a tradition that Aeneas Ross fervently preached.

Sarah Leech Ross had a like-minded cousin, Jonathan Penrose. The most likely scenario is that Caesar’s last name came from Jonathan. Jonathan Penrose was a vice president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Also on the board were Ben Franklin (president), Anthony Benezet (co-founder) and Benjamin Rush, who was baptized at Trinity Oxford. Jonathan Penrose grew up attending Christ Church, where Aeneas Ross was also an occasional assistant rector. We currently are searching for Caesar Penrose’s manumission record, which would definitively answer this question. There were a lot fewer people around at that time, so everybody knew each other.

As this and other published articles have shown, we are in awe of Trinity Church, Oxford’s history. However, we are concerned for the future and our ability to preserve the truly sacred and historic portion of the property, the church and graveyard. Trinity Church is the fourth-oldest building in Philadelphia, and you can imagine the maintenance and repairs required for such an old property. The Parish Hall on Rising Sun Avenue, a non-sacred asset, is an additional burden as we continue to pay insurance, utilities and maintenance on the surrounding grounds. Trinity is saddened to be unable to use our limited resources to make much-needed improvements to the church building, its graveyard and toward efforts to increase our mission, as much of the budget is needed to maintain the Parish Hall. While we appreciate the concern from our neighboring community, including such history buffs as Matt Jackson, we have yet to be approached with a solution to keep Trinity Church, Oxford alive. We keep the lights on with our Sunday offerings and donations.

Please consider donating to Trinity Church, Oxford. You may do so by check or by visiting our website, tcophilly.org

Your donation is tax deductible and can be designated for a specific use, such as repairing gravestones, church building maintenance or church mission. Only donations made directly to Trinity Church, Oxford are guaranteed to be used for the good of Trinity Church, Oxford. The fundraiser mentioned in a recent article has no connection with Trinity Church. The funds gathered there are not collected for the benefit of any 501(c)(3) organization and lack any of the financial safeguards the law requires of charitable organizations.

If you do not have a church home, please consider joining us for worship any Sunday morning. Service is held at 9 a.m. during the months of July and August, moving to 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in mid-September. All are truly welcome, and we would love to see you. ••