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Description of Old Dutch Churches
in New Netherland

...Before the arrival of any Dutch preacher in the new settlement in the new world, the spiritual care of the little company was provided for by men appointed to a benign and beautiful old Dutch office, and called krankebesoeckers or zeikentroosters, -"comforters of the Sick,"- who not only tenderly comforted the sick and weary of heart, but "read to the Commonality on Sundays from texts of Scripture with the Comments." These pious men were assigned to this godly work in Fort Orange and in New Amsterdam and Breuckelen. In Esopus they had meetings every Sunday, "and one among us read something for a postille." ....

In Fort Orange they had a domine before they had a church. The patroon instructed Van Curler to build a church in 1642; but it was not until 1646 that the little wooden edifice was really put up.....

The first church at Albany, built in 1657, was simply a block house with loop-holes for the convenient use of guns in defense against the Indians, - if defense were needed. On the roof were placed three small cannon commanding the three roads which led to it. This edifice was called "a handsome preaching-house," and its congregation boasted that it was almost as large as the fine new one in New Amsterdam......

In 1715 the second Albany church was built, on the site of the old one....it was precisely similar in shape, but was a substantial edifice of stone. This building was not demolished until 1806.....

In 1698 a stone church was built in Flatbush....When the church was remodeled in 1774, there were two galleries....

Many of the old Dutch churches, especially those on Long Island, were six-sided or eight-sided; these had always a high, steep, pyramidal roof terminating in a belfry. The churches at Jamaica and New Utrecht were octagonal. The Bushwick church was hexagonal. It stood till 1827, a little dingy, rustic edifice.

When the bold sea-captain De Vries, arrived in churchless New Amsterdam, he promptly rallied Director Kieft on his dilatoriness and ungodliness, saying it was a shame to let Englishmen see the mean barn which served Manhattan as a church.....and soon a stone church seventy-two feet long and fifty-five feet wide was erected within the Fort. It was the finest building in New Netherland, and bore on its face a stone inscribed with these words: "anno Domini 1641, William Kieft, Director-General, hath the Commonality buildt this Temple." It was used by the congregation as a church for fifty years, and for half a century longer by the military as a post-building, when it was burned.

There was no church in Breuckelen in 1660. Domine Selyns wrote, "We preach in a barn." The church was built six years later, and is described as square, with thick stone walls and steep peaked roof surmounted by a small open belfry, in which hung the small, sharp-toned bell which had been sent over as a gift by the West India Company.....This church stood in the middle of the road on what is now Fulton Street, a mile from the ferry, and was used until 1810.

These early churches were unheated, and it is told that the half-frozen domines preached with heavy knit or fur caps pulled over their ears, and wearing mittens and as well as carried muffs...... It is stated of the churches in New York City that until 1802, services were held, even in the winter-time, with wide-open doors, and that often the snow lay in little drifts up the aisles, which may have been one reason why young folk flocked to Trinity Church.

The growth of the Dutch Reformed church in New York was slow; this was owing to three marked and direct causes:

First, from 1693 until Revolutionary times, Episcopacy was virtually established by law in a large part of the province, - in the city and county of New York, and in the counties of Westchester, Richmond, and Queens; and though the Dutch Reformed church was protected and respected, people of all denominations were obliged to contribute to the support of the Episcopal church.

Second, the English language had become the current language of the province.....

Third, all candidates for ministry in the Dutch Reformed church were obliged to go to Holland for ordination; this was a great expense, and often kept congregations without a minister for a long time.....

...In 1824, ceased the public use of the Dutch language in the Flatbush pulpit. Until the year 1792, the entire service in his church was "the gospel undefiled, in Holland Dutch." Until the year 1830 services in the sequestered churches in the Catskills were held alternately in Dutch and English. Until 1777 all the records of the Sleepy Hollow church were kept in Dutch; and in 1785 all its services were in Dutch....

In New York City the large English immigration, the constant influences of commerce, and the frequent intermarriages of the English and Dutch, robbed the Dutch language of its predominance by the middle of the eighteenth century...







Excerpts from Colonial Days in Old New York, by Alice Morse Earle, (c)1896.







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