The history of Lebanon Presbyterian Church, or any church, begins with the story of the people who make up that church. And so it is that consideration is given to settlers who came across the Alleghenies to clear and settle Western Pennsylvania in the years leading up to 1776.
Oliver Miller, for example, in 1742 emigrated from Northern Ireland to make a new life in America. In Fort Bedford, Pennsylvania he met and married Mary Tidball. He supported his family by working a small farm and operating a trading post. In time the Miller family moved westward and by 1772 they were permanently settled on a site near Peter's Creek located in what is now South Park. The family was one of the earliest to cross the Alleghenies by pack horse.
For many years the Miller home served as a meeting place for worship. The Fifes, the Dinsmores, and the Gilfallens and other pioneer families for miles around walked or came by horseback. Most of the frontier families were Scotch-Irish immigrants; some were of Scotch, Welsh, and German descent. They were a proud, frugal people with few possessions, determined to find good cheap land.
As these pioneer families moved westward they were leaving established Churches and trained clergymen behind. But their religious commitment was an integral part of their way of life. They continued to meet for worship in the homes of the settlers.
In 1767, the Synod of New York and Philadelphia of the Presbyterian Church sent the Reverent Charles Beatty, with the Reverend George Duffield as companion, to tour the western frontier with the joint objective of evangelizing the Indians and preaching to the settlers. The two missionaries traveled among the settlers and on to rebuilt Indian villages on the Muskingum Rivers. Their mission to the Indians was unsuccessful but the tour proved to be a permanent blessing to the settlers who were hungry for spiritual food.
Their report prompted Synod to send more ministers to assist in the spiritual development of the frontier. A definite missionary program was adopted with the happy result that every year either the Synod or the Presbytery of Donegal sent at least one minister, often several ministers, to preach beyond the Allegheny Mountains. The Treaty of Fort Stannix in 1768 had opened the territory west of the mountains to settlers who were establishing homes in the fertile valleys along the tributaries of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela valley. The calls for missionaries were increasing in numbers and earnestness.
The Reverend Levi Frisbee and the Reverend David McClure were two of the missionaries sent to the west. As they completed their tour and were discussing the eagerness and willingness of the settlers to provide for permanent ministers it is recorded that McClure said, "Truly the people here in this new country are as sheep scattered upon the mountains without a shepherd. May the Good Lord raise up and send forth faithful laborers into this part of His vineyard."
This "prayer-plea" was answered by stalwart men such as John McMillan, licensed by the Presbytery of New Castle, October 26, 1774 "to preach the everlasting Gospel." He set out immediately to visit vacant churches in the Presbyteries of New Castle and Donegal. By the summer of 1775 he determined to go farther a field and set off for the settlements of Virginia. This encompassed territory which later became West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. This trip has become known as McMillan's first missionary journey and took him to Fort Pitt with many stops to preach at homes along the way.
It was after his second journey beyond the mountains that McMillan made his decision to settle in the West and accept calls from the settlers at Chartiers and Pigeon Creek to be their permanent minister.
The third journey began in late September 1776 and the significant entry for Lebanon Church in his detailed Log is, "Tuesday after the 1st Sabbath in November -- preached at Peter's Creek, baptized 5 children." It is from this entry that Lebanon and Bethel date their beginning and the Oliver Miller home was the Peter's Creek location. Because John McMillan conducted services on this site it was named "Stone Manse" by Allegheny Country commissioners although it never served as a minister's home.
Some sources give the year 1778 as the year in which the church was organized and assume that John McMillan was responsible for its organization. There are apparently no official records with the result that the Western and Eastern Divisions of Peter's Creek, Bethel and Lebanon, choose to claim the 1776 date.
For the first few years the congregation met in the homes in the area. These were troubled times. The Revolutionary War was raging and Indian raids on the frontier made life even more hazardous. It was in November 1778 that conditions seemed right for John McMillan to bring his wife and infant daughter to the West. McMillan's own account of this period in a letter written much later gives a clear picture of the home made for his family.
When I came to this country, the cabin in which I was to live was raided, but there was no roof on it, nor any chimney or floor. The people, however, were very kind, assisted me in preparing my house, and on the 16th of December I moved into it. But we had neither bedstead, nor tables, nor stool, nor chair, nor bucket. All these things we had to leave behind us, as there was no wagon road at that time over the mountains; we could bring nothing with us but what was carried on packhorses. We placed tow boxes on each other, which served us for a table, and two kegs answered for seat; and having committed ourselves to God in family worship, we spread a bed on the floor and slept soundly till morning. The next day, a neighbor coming to my assistance, we made a table and stool. and in a little time had every thing comfortable about us.