Old Tennent Church, originally built in 1632 and known as Freehold Church, Tennent, Monmouth County, New Jersey
Janet’s family were Quakers who came to the American Colonies to escape persecution from the Church of England. In 1683, she immigrated with her father, John Hampton, his wife, her step-siblings, and her uncle, Andrew Hampton on the ship, the Exchange from Leith, Scotland to Staten Island, New York. They settled in Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey.
Janet’s first four years in America were spent as an indentured servant in order to pay for her passage to America.
On January 9, 1690, she married another Scottish immigrant, Robert Rhea at her father’s home in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County. Robert was a carpenter by trade so an integral member of the growing community. Six children were born to Janet and Robert.
After Robert’s death in 1720, Janet joined the Presbyterian Church where she became a leading member of the church for the remaining 30 years of her life. She was said to be a woman of strong mind and spiritual application, and a communion member of the Old Tennent Church.
By 1731, the Scottish Covenanters in Monmouth County had outgrown the little log church on Free Hill. Land was purchased to build a new church at the bottom of the hill. Janet Rhea “seized the small cornerstone in her apron and, toiling to the top of the hill, set it down there, saying to the astonished onlookers: "Wha ever heard o' ganging doon to the Hoose o' the Lord, an no o' ganging oop to the Hoose o' the Lord?". Her point was taken and the church was built on top of the hill where the building replacing the original still stands today.
Janet continued to be a devout worker in the Presbyterian community that built the Old Tennent Church, the first Presbyterian Church in New Jersey. She provided for the church and support of the pastor in her will.
The farm that her husband, Robert had purchased, is now the site of the Visitors Center at Monmouth Battleground State Park. A road named Janet Rhea Road in her honor is nearby just west of the intersection of Routes 9 and 33.
The loss of her mother at a young age, persecution by the Church of England in her homeland, and becoming an indentured servant at the age of 15 for 4 years in a strange land, losing her husband at the age of 31 with six children to raise, and her unshakable faith helped her endure these hardships making her an extraordinarily strong woman.
William S. Hornor, This Old Monmouth of Ours (Cottonport: Polyanthos, reprint 1974)