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Article Number 16 - The Catskill Patent No. 9 - Early Church in Old Catskill

Originally published in the Catskill Examiner by Henry Brace between the years 1876 and 1879. Article 16 was published on August 18, 1877. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Catskill Examiner located at the Vedder Research Library. Transcribed by Barbara Bartley.

Local Sketches.--No. 16. An Outline of The History of the Town of Catskill, To The Year 1783. By Henry Brace. 

In 1732, twelve yeomen, or at the most fourteen, with their families and dependents, were the only inhabitants of the region now embraced within the Town of Catskill. Their first care had been to clear a few acres of land and to build houses for themselves and barns for their cattle. These needful tasks accomplished, their second care was to found a church. Their children had been baptized and their dead had been buried by the nearest clergymen, by Kocherthal, of East Camp, and by Dellins and Van Driessen, of Albany. On Sunday, also, two or three times in the year, the people had gathered together, at the house of Gerrit Van Bergen, or in the roomy log-cabin of Benjamin Dubois, on the right bank of the Catskill, and had listened to the reading of the bible and of portions of the liturgy prescribed by the synod of Dort. But it now seemed to them that the time had come for a dedicated place of worship and for an established pastor. 

The inhabitants of Coxsackie were of like mind and joined their neighbors of Catskill in inviting George Michael Weiss to become their minister. The call bears date the eighth of February, 1732. The united congregations agreed to pay him a yearly salary of fifty pounds, or one hundred and twenty-five dollars, to provide for him a house, garden and fire-wood, and to give him a horse, saddle and bridle. He agreed to preach twice on every Sunday in Dutch, thirty times a year in Catskill, and twenty-two times a year in Coxsackie, to administer the sacraments, and to instruct the children in the Heidelberg catechism. A portion of his parishioners being Germans, among whom were Overpagh, Dietrich and Brandow, of the Inbogt, Domine Weiss engaged to give their children religious instruction in their mother-tongue.

The names of the land-owners of Catskill, who signed this call are preserved in the records* [*The first volume of these records is a venerable folio, stained and musty with age, and fast falling into pieces through careless usage and natural decay. It contains, among other things, a copy of the call to Domine Weiss, and of his testimonials, a memorandum of the organization of the church, and a list of the children baptized from 1732 to the close of Domine Schuneman's ministry. A translation of its title page, which is in Weiss’s handwriting is as follows: “General Church and Baptism-Book of the Reformed Dutch Church of Catskill land Coxsackie, in the County of Albany, of the Province of New York, first begun and written by George Michael Weiss, first ordained and called teacher of the said church, in the year of Christ, 1732, (O.S) the 25th February"] of the Reformed Church at Leeds. I transcribe the list, in order that the memory of these pious men may be kept alive among us:

Dirck Van Vechten, Benjamin Dubois, Gysberdt Oosterhoudt, John Bronck, Francis Salisbury, Gerrit Van Bergen, Martin Van Bergen, Friedrick Dietrich, Johan. Pieter Overpach.

Three inhabitants of the Inbogt, William Van Orden, Nicholas Brandow, and John William Brandow, are not in the list. I know not why, for they were men of good repute in the little community, and were among the first to bring their children to be baptized. It may be, that when the call was signed, they were attendants at the German Church of West Camp, or of the Dutch Church at Kaatsbaan.

The call was immediately accepted by Domine Weiss. Seventeen days after it had been given, on the 25th of February, 1732, the church at Old Catskill was organized, by the installation of its pastor, by the election of a consistory, †[†Francis Salisbury and Abraham Provost were chosen elders, and Jacob Ten Broeck and Frederic Streydt deacons.] and by the dedication of the church-edifice. Peter Van Driessen, of Albany, preached in the morning from that glowing verse in the twenty-seventh Psalm, in which David sings of his desire to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple. The new pastor preached in the afternoon, but from what text will now never be known. When he had made the entry in the Church Book of the services of dedication, he seems to have accidentally dropped a blot of ink upon the record of the chapter and verse, and to have smeared it with his finger. He thus obliterated the figures forever.

The church-edifice was built upon a knoll about one hundred yards north of the house of Martin Van Bergen, near an ancient burying ground of the Catskill Indians. It was repaired and enlarged in 1798, and it is of the new building only that any remembrance has been preserved. This was a wooden structure, about fifty feet square, with a pyramidal roof, except that the apex of the pyramid was cut off. On the flat surface thus created, was placed a belfry, in which hung a small bell. The door was on the east side of the church and opened into an auditory of about twenty feet in height. Two aisles led to the pulpit, which was opposite the door. Slips, as they are called in the United States, were placed between the two aisles and between each aisle and the northern and southern wall. On either side of the pulpit were seats, which were reserved, in part, at least, for the elders and deacons.

This quaint structure stood until 1817, when it was torn down‡ [‡The present house of worship was built in 1816; its site was given to the church by Martin G. Schuneman.] A portion of its sound and massive timbers was used in building a grist-mill at the upper waterfall in Leeds. The bell was accidentally destroyed. It was taken down to be hardened by being heated and then being plunged into cold water, as blacksmiths are wont to do with a piece of iron. It was being laid upon the ground and covered with a pile of stout oak wood, Martin G. Schuneman fired the stack and then went over to the Parsonage to smoke and talk with Caspar Van Hoesen. When he returned, he found the bell was melted.

Domine Weiss’s pastorate lasted until 1736, when he went back to Philadelphia. He was a native of one of the Palatinates, was trained as a minister in the great theological school of the University of Heidelberg, and was duly ordained in 1727. He was then sent to Philadelphia to preach to the Germans who had migrated to America, removed thence to Huntersfield, on the Schoharie, and from Huntersfield came to Catskill.  [In 1733 he married Annatje, daughter of John Bronck, of Catskill.] The traditions of the Reformed Dutch Church of New York, and the testimonials he received from Heidelberg and his German parishioners, establish his orthodoxy and zeal. He was a man, it is said, of considerable learning, and it is especially remarked of him that he could speak Latin with great fluency--more correctly, it is to be hoped, than he could write Dutch.

From 1736 until August, 1753, the church at Old Catskill remained without a pastor. The elections of officers were, however, duly held, and the elders, with occasional help from the ministers of Albany, Kaatsbaan, and perhaps Kingston, conducted the usual Sunday services, but with many interruptions. Then followed the long and faithful pastorate of Domine Johannes Schunneman. Of him I have already written.

In 1732, there were about twenty-five communicants. In 1783, there were about one hundred and twenty-five. It was an orderly and God-fearing congregation. On Sunday morning, in the little church upon the knoll, they met together--the Salisburys and the Van Bergens, from the neighborhood, the Van Vechtens, the Van Ordens and Dumonts, from the Inbogt, the Abeels from the Bak-Oven, Overbaghs, from the Kykuit, and the Duboises, from the Hopenose and the banks of the Catskill.  Some came on horseback, over the roads which had been cut through the forest, others in rude wagons, § [§A cluster of large red cedars grew on the knoll in front, on the south side of the church. These served as hitching posts for the horses.] and, during the Revolution, all bore arms. The men wore cues and three-cornered hats of brown beaver; their knee-breeches and long waistcoats were of home-spun; their stockings, knit by their thrifty wives, in the light of the open fire during December evenings, were of coarse blue yarn; their low shoes were of russet leather, and bore buckles of brass or polished steel. The women were clothed in gowns of linsey-woolsey, short-waisted, scanty, and reaching only to the ankle, as the fashion then was, and dyed black with logwood or brown with butternut, a few of the more fortunate maidens, Katharina Oothoudt, perhaps, and Elizabeth Van Vechten and Neeltje Van Bergen, wore strings of gold beads about their necks.

The services were conducted in the method recommended by the Synod of Dort in 1618, a method which obtains substantially in the church to this day. I know not whether, out of the cities, the vorlezer or clerk read the commandments or a chapter from the Bible, and announced the Psalm and led in singing it, or whether Domine Schuneman placed an hour-glass on the pulpit near him, to warn him, if he should preach beyond the prescribed hour.

Hymns were not used, except on rare occasions, when the exulting prophecies of Zacharias and Mary were sung in rude rhymes to a simple and not very unpleasing melody. But the Psalms of David were employed in all the Reformed Dutch Churches. The metrical version which Domine Schuneman used, and which I have seen, was translated into Dutch from the celebrated version in French of Clement Marot. The poetry is not worse than Sternhold's and Hopkins’s. Each Psalm is set to an air simply, as part-singing was not thought devotional.

The morning service was over at one o’clock. Then came an intermission of an hour. It was spent by the congregation in eating the dinner which each family had brought, in smoking under the savins, and in talking over the news and the gossip of the day. While the war of the Revolution lasted, one can readily believe what William Plank once told me, that little else was discussed except the progress of our arms, the surrender of New York, the advance of Sir Henry Clinton to Kingston, the incursions of Brant into the upper valley of the Hudson, and the surrender of Cornwallis.

The afternoon service was short, in order that the people might reach home before it grew dark. The old men, with their wives, feared to linger by the way; the young men were bolder, and stopped to pay visits of friendship or of courtship.

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