The Oldest Covenanter Church in North America

This year’s event will be held in conjunction with the 10th Annual Covenanter Scottish Festival and Highland Games. The Covenanter Scottish Festival is held on the grounds of the Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church and the Octorara Covenanter Church at 1199 Valley Road (Route 372), Quarryville, PA 17566.

The Octorara Covenanter Presbyterian Foundation is a charitable and educational non-profit organization established in part to restore and maintain the Octorara Covenanter Presbyterian Church and its attached school room as an historical site. The Church is the oldest Covenanter Church in North America dating back to 1754. The schoolroom, a Presbyterian Academy, was added to the Church about 1880. From 1901 to 1927 the schoolroom housed Bart Township High School.

The building serves as a museum displaying artifacts from the Covenanter Congregation, the Middle Octorara Congregation, Bart High School and Bart Township. The museum features details of the Covenanter radical patriot leadership prior to and including the Revolutionary War period. The desk tops from the Bart High School era are carved with vintage emblems. The exhibits provide a rich legacy to pass on to future generations.

Formation of the Church

Formation of the ChurchIn the eighteen century, men and women immigrating to America from Scotland and Northern Ireland were searching for new homes in the American colonies. These immigrants longed to worship God as they pleased. To fulfill their desire for freedom of worship, in 1753 a group called Covenanter or Seceder Presbyterians formed the Octorara Seceders congregation. In 1754 they were able to build their first church building. These settlers, inspired by their devotion to Jesus Christ, were building a piece of American history. Their leadership during the American Revolution is particularly noteworthy. Their church is now known as the Octorara Covenanter Presbyterian Church, and it is located at 1188 Valley Road, Quarryville, PA 17566.


The name Octorara is taken from local history and signifies both the name of a nearby stream and the name of one of the Indian tribes then living in this part of Lancaster County.


CovenanterThe name Covenanter springs from a group of Scots Presbyterians. In the early seventeenth century these Scots made a covenant with King James VI of Scotland to support the King in return for his support of the Scottish Presbyterian Church (Kirk) in its struggle against Catholic influence. If he became King of England, James promised freedom of religion to the Scots and pledged to make Presbyterianism the state religion of England, Scotland, and Ireland. When he became James I of England in 1603, he did not keep the covenant. In fact, he tried to get the Kirk to accept Anglican bishops. It got worse when the Solemn League and Covenant was signed with King Charles I. The Covenanters promised to support him in his war against Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. Cromwell won the war, executed Charles I and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar. The Covenanters then helped Charles II to come to the English throne and he promptly turned on them. It was called the “Killing Times” when thousands of Covenanters and other Scots were slaughtered. By the time freedom of religion was established in England in 1689 many of the surviving Covenanters had fled to Ireland. Many of them immigrated to America in the 18th century, and a large number of them settled in Lancaster County. The historic Old Church founded by these Covenanters stands as a memorial to their early influence on America’s spirit of freedom of religion.