Article Number Twenty- Nine - History of the Reformed Dutch Church

Written by Joshua G. Borthwick and originally published
on June 30, 1883, in the Catskill "Examiner". Copy provided by the Durham Center Museum and retyped by Annette Campbell


 
The valley of the Catskills was settled principally by the Dutch, hence we find in the records of the Old Dutch Church a large number of names of that nationality. These people were a sober, religious people, and strongly attached to the church of their fathers; and naturally enough, all the Dutch people living in the valley from Freehold to Livingstonville and Smithtown, together with the few scattering families living on the hills in the towns of Durham and Rensselaerville, were drawn together into one church organization. The church building was located about a mile from Oak Hill, on the turnpike leading to Preston Hollow. The land was donated to the Church by Stephen VanRensselaer, the patroon, so that the building itself was on the line between the towns of Durham and Rensselaerville. The exact date of the organization of the Church is not certain, but probably it was about the year 1786 or 7. The preliminary records are lost, but the regular "Church Register" dates back to 1790. The record of infant baptisms, as kept in this book, commences August 7, 1794, when John VanVredenburgh and Rachel Freer, his wife, had their son, Abraham Freer, baptised by the Rev. Petrus VanVlierden. Abraham Freer and Maria Crispelle were present as witnesses. During Mr. VanVlierden's ministry ninety children were baptised, although the Rev. John Basset baptised four during that period.  The children were sometimes baptised very young.  Mr. Basset baptised Abraham, the son of John West, the very day he was born, Nov 6, 1795. Mr. VanVlierden's ministry closed in the Spring of 1798, and his successor was the Rev. Peter Labagh, who was called by the "congregations of Catskill and Oak Hill, which call was accepted, and he entered upon his ministerial labors in May, 1798.  He continued the pastoral care of the church until the 21st of May, 1809, when, upon receiving a call from Harligen, New Jersey, he obtained dismission."  The church seems to have greatly prospered under the ministry of Mr. Labagh, he baptised 394 children during his pastorate of eleven years, although many of these children's parents were probably not members of this church.  According to the church register, there had been twenty-three members admitted previous to the commencement of Mr. VanVlierden's ministry, and twenty-four members were received into the church by him. During Mr. Labagh's term of service sixty-five members were received and six were dismissed.  We have no record of the Consistory of the church until August 3, 1800, when, "at a meeting of the Consistory, the following persons were chosen elders, to wit: Peter Becker and Augustinus Shue, vice Jeremy Snyder, and Peter Plank."  The deacons elected at that time were "Jeremiah Young  and Dederick Hess, vice Augustus Shue  and Abram Young."  These persons were ordained by Mr. Labagh Sept. 14, 1800. The next year Lucas DeWitt and Abram Young were chosen elders, vice Peter Richtmyer and Charles Edwards;  and Johan Tinklebagh, vice Peter Emerick, was elected deacon, and Hermanus Russ was re-elected to the same office. The consistory was composed of four elders and four deacons, who were elected in classes of two each for the term of two years.
 
Mr. Labagh was succeeded in 1809 by Rev. Cornelius D. Schermerhorn, who continued his labors until May 21, 1818, when he was dismissed. He received thirty-three members into the church, dismissed fourteen and baptised 202 children. After the close of Mr. Schermerhorn's labor the pulpit was supplied for brief periods by different ministers. We find the names of Rev. Abraham Fort, who was employed at seven dollars per Sabbath from December, 1882 to the following May, and Revs. Peter Van Zandt, Jr., Jacob VanNeehan, and L. Sage it appears preached for them occasionally about this time. During this interval eleven members were received and sixteen children baptised. On the 5th of June, 1823, the Consistory passed the following resolution:
 
"Whereas, In the opinion of the Consistory of this church, the ordinance of baptism has been heretofore administered to children without any reference to the character and lives of parents; therefore, Resolved, unanimously, That the strictest morality be required of those parents who shall hereafter present their children for baptism.  Signed, Peter VanZandt, Jr.,V.D.M."

The Consistory at that time was composed of Samuel Snyder, Henry Hendrickson, Andrew Lewis and Jacob Roggen Sr., elders, and John Wells, Abram Hummel, Loderick Smith and John DeWitt, deacons.  On the 12th of February, 1824, the Consistory met for the purpose of choosing elders and deacons. Rev. Stephen Ostrander,  a missionary of the Board of Missions, was present, and acted as president, and Rev. Abraham Fort was the scribe.  In the following April they gave Mr. Ostrander a call, which he accepted and was installed as pastor Sept. 9, 1824.  His pastorate continued until March 1, 1831, when he resigned. The dismission was countersigned by Rev. John Gerretson, moderator.  Mr. Ostrander received twenty-two members into the church, baptised forty-six children and married twenty-three couples.  But deaths and removals and the formation of other churches upon the wide extended territory covered by this church in its early history, began to show their effects in the weakening of the church, and the crippling of its financial ability.  Mr. Ostrander lived in the house now occupied by the brothers Cyrus and John Field,  a long way from his church, and in 1822 he and others conceived the idea that the building of another church in that neighborhood, to be united with the church near Oak Hill in a joint pastorate, would enable them to support a pastor. Accordingly a committee consisting of Henry Hendrickson, Daniel Kirtland and Luke Kiersted was appointed Sept. 25, 1824, to select a suitable site for the proposed new church, and to ascertain how much money could be raised for its construction.  On the 11th of June, 1825, the committee reported "that they had agreed upon a site, obtained the ground and succeeded in raising by subscription nearly $400, with the prospect of obtaining more."  On their recommendation, Peter Hess, and Peter J. Snyder, members of the Consistory, were added to the committee and instructed to circulate a subscription among the people of Oak Hill for the same object.  But there is no further record made of the matter, and the project was abandoned.  April 25, 1825, they voted to renew their application to the Reformed Dutch Missionary Society at New York for aid, but the result of their effort is not given.  Some of the church members became disaffected and were disciplined to the evident weakening of the church, and yet they struggled on, until Mr. Ostrander resigned, March 1, 1831.  From that time until June, 1832, the church was vacant. On the 30th of that month the Consistory met, and the Rev. Peter Stryker, V.D.M, was present and acted as moderator of the meeting. At this meeting they appointed Elder Henry Burhans delegate to the Classis of Schoharie, to be held at Middleburgh July 3, 1832. They also chose John DeWitt and Henry Burhans elders for two years, and Henry Plank and Abraham Snyder deacons for the same term.  At this meeting they voted "that we will endeavor to support the Rev. Peter Stryker as our minister for three months, from the second Sunday in June, 1832." Mr. Stryker baptised two children and ordained the elders and deacons above mentioned, and probably labored in the field through the Summer, but no further record is made, and no further history of the church can be written, except that the building itself stood unoccupied for several years, and was finally town down and used in the construction of a dwelling in the village of Oak Hill. The register contains the names of 178 members in all, commencing with the names of Lucas DeWitt and Deborah Person. his wife, and ending with the names of Jacob Rockefeller and Sally Atkins, his wife. The number of children baptised was 750. 


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