On landing at the wharf, I could distinguish only one person [Samuel] in the crowd whom I had ever seen before. After a day or two, I set out for the town of Huntingdon, some 200 miles west. Four other passengers with whom I became acquainted on the ocean were going in the same direction, but to the then “Far West,” in southern Ohio. Details of incidents in this part of my journey must not be inflicted on the reader’s patience. One incident only may be mentioned. Five of us having engaged a public wagoner to haul our baggage to Huntingdon, and having paid him in advance, (as he affirmed was customary), when we reached Harrisburg, the team was seized for debt; we got our baggage, but we saw our teamster no more. Thus early were we swindled, not by a Yankee, but by a genuine son of Erin! About two weeks were occupied in reaching Huntingdon; there my companions and I separated and I never saw them afterward. Two of my father’s brothers, William and Samuel, were among the early settlers of Huntingdon, and were merchants in that county-seat for half a century or more. I spent nine months with the former as storekeeper, meanwhile prosecuting my pleasant classical studies. While there the younger of my two brothers [Stewart] who had six years before preceded me to America came fifty miles to see me. From him I learned that both [he and Samuel] had become citizens. He at once asked me to “file my intentions,” etc. Being already not only a naturalized citizen but “a limb of the law,” he urged the importance of speedy action on my part, and at once he would attend to the legal steps. This was my second great trial. I desired to know the nature of the oath to be taken by an alien. He immediately procured for me a copy of the Constitution. Wishing to act with deliberation, I succeeded in gaining time to examine the famous document, and we parted for the time. Some months afterward he visited me the second time, confident that I would be fully prepared for the initiatory steps toward citizenship. Our interview was substantially as follows:—“Well, I presume you have read the Constitution.” [Stewart said.] “Yes.” [I replied.] “Well, what do you think of it?” [Stewart asked.] “Of the greater part of it I think favorably.” [I replied.] “Very well, you are now ready to file your declaration of intention” etc. [Stewart asked.] “No, not yet.” [I replied.] “Why, what objections can you have?” [Stewart asked.] “I think I have discovered atheism and slavery in this document,” [I replied] as I held it my hand. “But you do not swear to perpetuate these: the Constitution provides for its own amendment.” [Stewart said.] “So I perceive; but I must swear to the document as it is—not to future amendments.” [I replied.] He expatiated on the advantages of political influence, lamented and extenuated my scruples, and continued to press the subject “till I was ashamed.” At length I closed the discussion by saying with deep emotion:—“Brother Stewart, I have resolved that by divine grace, and while I have the use of my reason, I will never swear that oath.” We lived in amity thirty-seven years till his death, but he never again proposed to resume discussion of that question. And here with grief I mention, that like too many other Covenanters, these two brothers [Samuel and Stewart] who had alternately led in our family worship in my boyhood, left this part of their religion in Ireland and forsook the Covenanted Testimony.
April, 1825, I taught in the first academy erected in Ebensburgh, Cambria Co., Pa., and continued in that position till September 1826, still pursuing my personal course of study. At that date I went to Pittsburg. On entering the stage-coach I found only one passenger. We soon became acquainted. His name was James Teas, from Milton, Pa. We found that his father and my uncle William had been fellow-passengers from Ireland, and still corresponded by letter. Moreover, Mr. Teas and I were going to the same place with the same object—to enter college. Having engaged boarding together, we entered the Western University of Pa. I expected to be placed among the Freshmen, or at most to be associated with the Sophomores. On examination by a committee of the faculty, to my surprise and alarm they assigned me to the Senior class, and likewise my new friend, Mr. Teas. He was a most amiable companion, but of not brilliant intellect. As the time of graduation approached, he was perplexed in selecting a subject for public exhibition. I suggested a topic that pleased him, and he set about composing his speech. He so often interrupted me for assistance that I besought him at length to allow me to finish, and he should have whatever help I could give. I soon found it would be less labor to make than to mend his essay. In short, I framed his speech: he committed and delivered it verbatim, and passed as creditably as others in the graduating class.
After graduation, I began the divinity course under the direction of Rev. John Black, D.D., then pastor of the R.P. congregation in Pittsburg, and Professor of Latin in the aforesaid University. I had not been under the Doctor’s tuition at college, but I was under his ministry every Sabbath since my coming to Pittsburg. Doctor Black was a profound theologian, and in my opinion very few were equal to him as a critic. Whether in language, metaphysics, or theology, his acuteness of intellect and powers of discrimination often excited the surprise and admiration of his audience in the class and in the congregation. I knew one infidel who paid liberally for a pew to “enjoy the luxury of Doctor Black’s reasoning powers.” Under his direction and the care of the Pittsburg Presbytery, I spent the usual time in the study of theology. One year before the end of the usual curriculum, the Presbytery deputed Rev. Thos. C. Guthrie to negotiate with me relative to accepting licensure. This overture was declined. Mr. Guthrie urged me by arguments needless to recount. I utterly refused.
Most of my time as student in Pittsburg, I boarded in the house of Mr. Hugh McMaster. His oldest son John was my fellow student in divinity, as he had been my fellow graduate from the University. While preparing pieces of trial for licensure our intercourse was similar to that in my experience with Mr. Teas already noticed. I finally had to write his Latin exegesis. We both passed the usual examination before Presbytery and were licensed together. In due time he became distinguished as Rev. John McMaster, D.D.!