Article Number 15 - The Catskill Patent No. 8 - Domine Johannes Schumeman Con't

Originally published in the Catskill Examiner by Henry Brace between the years 1876 and 1879. Article 15 was published on June 30, 1877. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Catskill Examiner located at the Vedder Research Library. Transcribed by Barbara Bartley.


Local Sketches, No. 15. An Outline of the History of the Town of Catskill, To The Year 1783. By Henry Brace. 

My last paper was taken up with Petrus Van Vlierden’s sketch of the life of Johannes Schuneman. I now propose adding such details as I have been able to gather respecting this reverend man. I regret that these details are so scanty, and wish that the pleasant labor of gathering them had been undertaken fifty years ago, while they were living who had known Schuneman and had heard him preach.

The Schunemans were Germans, and were among the Palatines whom Queen Anne, between the years 1708 and 1711, sent to New York. The Lower Palatinate had been ravaged by the French, and many of its inhabitants had been reduced to poverty. In their sore distress, they petitioned the Queen to transport them to America. Several hundreds were accordingly brought over in government vessels. It was the first German immigration of importance to New York.

The new comers were a thrifty and industrious people. They were established on a tract of six thousand acres at East Camp, which the Province bought from Robert Livingston, and on unappropriated lands at West Camp. They not only had a free passage, but they were also fed and clothed; and provided with tools for a year. It was the intention of the government to employ them in raising hemp, and in making tar, pitch and rosin, and in getting out masts of pine for the royal navy. But the enterprise proved a failure. Many of the colonists emigrated to the valley of the Schoharie; the remainder bought the lands upon which they had been put.

Among these refugees were the Fieros, Webers, Plancks, Dietricks, Newkirks, Schmidts, Oosterhouts and Sachses, whose sons afterwards became thrifty and industrious yeomen in the town of Catskill. Among them too, was Herman Schuneman, a man of mark among his brethren, and the father probably of Johannes.

Who were the teachers of the son, under what influences this Lutheran by birth became a Calvinist in early manhood, what circumstances brought him to Old Catskill--these things are no longer known. We only know that through the influence of the Rev. Mr. Frelinghuysen he was led to study divinity. Nor have we any account of his student-life in Amsterdam. The tradition only remains that, during his sojourn in that city, he was so disfigured by an attack of small pox, that, upon his return home, not even his sweet-heart, Anna Maria Van Bergen, recognized him. It is also said that sometimes, upon festal occasions, after the child had been christened, or after the young couple had been married, when the long clay pipes were lighted and the Canary wine was passed around, the Domine would speak of the glass of Hollands, which the good wife of the foremost divine in the Classis of Amsterdam used to give him, after his return from Sunday morning service.

His books were few. One of them is in my possession. It is a commentary upon the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. The doctrine is first explained and defended with vigorous logic. Then follow practical observations in the fashion of the bulky volumes, familiar to many of us in our boyhood, which contained the tiresome and commonplace reflections of the devout Dr. Thomas Scott.

I do not know whether Domine Schuneman ever practised [sic] medicine, but, besides these quartos in yellow parchment, he owned a Vade Me-cum, or Art of Medicine, a square, thick volume, printed in the sixteenth century, and illustrated by rude wood cuts of monsters born of women, of diseased organs of the body, and of barbarous surgical instruments. I have read scattered portions of the volume. The treatment, especially in cases of fever, was the heroic practice of purging and blood-letting.

Marten Van Bergen, the owner of the house with a roof of red tiles, which once stood by the road-side on the highway between Leeds and Katerskill, had three daughters. To these maidens, renowned for their beauty, and known to have a rich father, suitors from all the country round were not wanting. The sisters seem to have chosen wisely. Catharina, the eldest, became the wife of her cousin William Van Bergen, and Neeltje of Henry Oothoudt. Anna Maria, the youngest, married Domine Schuneman, after his return from Holland, he being forty-two years old and she twenty-six.

During the year of his marriage, and in anticipation of that event, the house which to this day is known as the Parsonage was built for him by Martin Van Bergen, with the aid of the church. It stands on the south-eastern edge of the terrace which bounds the first of the five great plains at Leeds, and is approached through an orchard of venerable apple trees, old enough, apparently, to have been planted by Domine Schuneman himself. The house is of gray sandstone, quarried from a ledge near by, and on its western front and its southern gable have been rudely cut many initials and figures. The date of the erection of the building, 1754, is over the front door, and near by are the letters M. V. B. the roof has a double pitch, so that the upper chambers, in the highest part, are six or eight feet high. A hall on the first floor, running through from east to west, gives access to two rooms on one side, and to a larger room on the other. The studeer-kamer, or what the New England ministers of the last century called their study, of Domine Schuneman was in the south-eastern room. Here he kept his scanty library; here he wrote his sermons, and received his neighbors, when they came to him for a little friendly gossip or for advice. I am sorry to write that the Parsonage is falling into ruin. The foundation of one corner has given away, the wall under a window has tumbled down, and great cracks show in the southern gable.

I visited the place a few days ago, toward the close of afternoon of a perfect day in June. The landscape from the edge of the terrace, near this house, is more beautiful, perhaps, than any other in this beautiful region. Below is the fertile meadow, which the Van Bergens called the Klaver-Way. At the right, as the fitting edge and boundary of the plain, a bend of the Catskill brings the water into view. Beyond, and at the west, is the Hooge Berg, pleasant to look upon, when, late in a summer day, its wooded sides lie in deep shadow. Still further beyond, at the north-west, Black Head and the Windham Mountains bound the horizon.

The ministry of this revered man was a faithful service of forty years. It was his habit to preach on one Sunday at Old Catskill and on the next at Coxsackie, traveling in the summer on horseback, and in winter in a sleigh through the lonely and unbroken forest which lay between these hamlets. The texts of three of his sermons have been preserved, and from them I infer that his preaching was of a practical rather than of a doctrinal character. His voice was deep and strong, his gestures were many and earnest, his enthusiasm was great, so that he seldom failed to impress his hearers. As for the sermons themselves, I once asked his grand-daughter if any had been preserved. She answered that, in her girlhood, before she was old enough to know their value, they were used by the negro servants in the kitchen of her father’s tavern, in lighting fires and in cleaning the smoked outsides of iron pots and frying pans.

During the Revolution, Domine Schuneman was an earnest patriot. All his zeal and superabounding energy flamed out in behalf of his country. He preached constantly the high duty of strenuous defense, exhorted his neighbors and parishioners in behalf of the good cause, became a member of the local Committee of Safety, made his house a shelter for the few soldiers who passed by on their way northward to Skeenesborough and Saratoga, and a hospital when they came back sick with fever. His enthusiasm aroused the wrath of the Tories of the neighborhood, who would gladly have set the Iroquois upon him. But he went about armed by day, and slept--his men servants also--with his gun by his side, and his precaution and his well known courage saved him from the fate of the Abeels.

I have been told that fifty years ago Mr. Apollos Cooke was the possessor of the diary of Domine Schuneman. It was a rather large book, and contained a record in Dutch of his husbandry, journeys, expenses, with pious reflections upon his daily reading of the Scriptures. One entry, my informant, Mr. Judson Wilcox, was able to remember. I have softened it somewhat, but it ran in this manner:

“Sold my mare. In the afternoon, attended the funeral of Johannes Dietrich at the Katerskill. All flesh is grass.--Isaiah 40:6.”

Martin Van Bergen died in the winter of 1769 and 1770. His will gave a fair proportion of his lands to his sons-in-law Schuneman and Oothoudt, and to their wives, Anna Maria and Neeltje. They thus became the owners--

1. Of the larger portion of the Corlaerskill Patent, or of the land which now lies between the rivulet called Stuck, above Dieper Hook, and the mouth of the Corlaerskill, and between the Old Catskill Path and the south-western corner of the Loonenburg Patent.

2. Of the land which now lies between the Hans Vosenkill and Sandy Point, including the testator’s right to the “Reef or Fall over the Catskill by the place called Tantagoeses House!.”

3. Of a lot in the Lindesay Patent, through which William street, I believe, was afterwards laid out.

4. Of the waterfall, which was then called the Leghten, and is now known as the Lower Falls of Leeds. Van Bergen was the owner of five slaves. Of these he bequeathed the “boy called Tom” to his daughter, Anna Maria. Dominie Schuneman thus became, as the times went, a rich man.

In 1792, the lands, which now form the greater portion of the village of Jefferson, were divided between him and Henry Oothoudt. At this time or perhaps a few years earlier, Domine Schuneman built the house which stands on the south side of the road between Jefferson and the Athens turnpike, near the eastern edge of the Flat, and moving thither from the Parsonage, died there in 1794.

One man, Mr. John Van Vechten, is still living among us, who remembers the funeral. The ceremony was in accordance with the custom which the Dutch, a hundred and seventy years before, had brought with them from the mother country. A man, especially deputed for the purpose, met each male comer at the door and offered him a glass of rum from a flask. A woman, in like manner, waited upon each female comer. The relatives of the deceased sat together around the corpse; the friends and acquaintances took their seats in another part of the room or in an adjoining chamber. When the services were over--these were in Dutch--they who chose went up to the coffin to take a last look at the deceased. The coffin was then closed, put upon a bier and taken from the house to the grave, the relatives following, and, after them, all comers. When the coffin had been laid in the ground, the procession returned to the house in inverse order, the relatives and the empty bier and its bearers coming last. One room in the house was assigned to the bearers; another to the people assembled. In each room a table had been spread with bottles of rum, a jar of tobacco and long clay pipes. All the men drank and smoked, talking in the meanwhile of the character and virtues of the deceased, of their horses, of the crops, and of the weather. One or two of the lower sort got tipsy and amused themselves by singing funeral hymn tunes out of doors.

Domine Schuneman was buried in what now forms the burying-ground of Jefferson. It was then a newly cleared field. At the head of his grave was erected a tombstone of red sandstone, which is still standing. It bears the following, inscription: “In memory of Rev. Johannis Schuneman, who departed this life May 16th, 1794, aged 81 years, 8 months and 28 days.”


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