The Dempster Records
1778 - 1803



Saint Johnsville, New York, Enterprise and News
Town of Florida, Montgomery Cnty, NY
April 3, 1935

1778 - 1803

Vital Statistics Found in the Private Book of Rev. James Dempster. A Sketch of His Career and

The Warrensburg Church by

Few people are aware of the fact that an early minister of this name settled and became a permanent resident in the present town of Florida, previous or during the Revolution. He built a church and actively devoted the last thirty years of his life to the spiritual welfare of the early residents of this town, died among them in 1804, and was buried within a mile of his church. He is barely mentioned by Simms, Beers and Frothingham, as an early itinerant minister who built a log meeting house. So little is know of him that his name is almost forgotten.

The writer living in the immediate vicinity of where the Rev. James Dempster resided, and the traditional site of his "meeting house", has ever had a deep interest in this little known man, and through the years has gathered, from many sources, all possible data and tradition pertaining to him and his ministry, hoping such time would come when it was thought a fairly accurate sketch could be written of him and his activities. Records and traditions of him are so widely scattered, as to be almost inaccessible to the average person, and are now almost lost, and entirely unknown to the younger generation. No other information of him now seems available, yet it is possible additional data may come to light, that will enable others to make additions or corrections to this sketch.

However, as the publication of the marriages and baptisms performed from 1778 to 1804 by the Rev. Dempster, is in preparation, it is thought timely and proper to include as an introduction, the following biographical sketch of this little known man, who during his life and residence in our section, must have been well and favorably known.


The Rev. James Dempster was born in Edon, Scotland, September 21, 1740. He was the third son of William Dempster of Newton, who was the male representative of the house of Dempsters of Murect and Pitliver. His mother was Violet, the daughter of James Ker of Buchrigh, a cadet of the Marquis of Lothians family and late member of the British Parliament from Edinburgh.

James Dempster descended from a long line of illustrious ancestors of Auchlerless and Carolston, dating back before 1370. The surname Dempster, which is of great antiquity in Scotland was assumed form the honorable office of Deemster of Parliament, which office was long and honorably enjoyed by the family, from David, third Baron of Carolston in 1450.

He was educated at Edinburgh University as a Scotch Presbyterian minister, but withdrew from the established church before coming to this country, joining with the Wesley's, founders of Methodism. The exact date of his coming is unknown but it is believed he came with, or followed Francis Asbury and other itinerate Methodist missionaries to America a few years previous to the War of the Revolution. After the breaking out of the war, these English missionaries soon became unpopular and they returned to England. However, Rev. Dempster had been careful to take no part in the controversy and quietly remained in New York City, where he occasionally preached. He probably came to the Mohawk Valley in 1777, where he commenced to preach in houses and barns throughout the Mohawk District of Tryon County, and especially in Warrensbush, now the town of Florida. It is both record and tradition that he was one of the most eminent preachers of his day, and early was instrumental in the building of a log meeting house in the vicinity of Snook's Corners, which was commonly known as "Dempster's Meeting House", or "Warrensbush Church". This rude log meeting house was the first house of worship to be built in the present township after the erection in 1711-12 of the Queen Ann chapel at Fort Hunter, and was built some years previous to the organization of the old Remsen's Bush Church, east of "Yankee Street", now the village of Minaville.

So very little was known of this obscure church and of the ministry of Mr. Dempster, that no one thought there was any possibility of ever finding written records of this early church, or of his official acts. However, the unexpected happened, for within the past year, it was learned a copy of the marriages and baptisms as performed by the Rev. Dempster, was among the archives of the State Library in Albany, and also that these records had been published about 20 or more years ago, in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. And still later, came rumors that he original record was in the possession of some descendant of the Rev. Dempster, in the town of Ephratah, Fulton county. This old leather bound book, 7 1/2 by 9 inches, after a long search was found in the possession of Norman Smith, of Lassellsville, whose wife was a great grand, grand daughter of the Rev. Dempster. The book itself is in very good condition, although many of its pages had been used after Dempster's death as an account book. Its fly leaf is inscribed "James Dempster, Friday, December 23, 1768." From this inscription it is evident he had owned the book some years before coming to America and several pages contain miscellaneous religious reflections and notations. The record of his official acts, marriages and baptisms, are wholly those performed by him after coming to the Mohawk Valley, commencing July 1, 1778 and ending August 8, 1803, comprising 532 in number, and were performed in some thirty villages and hamlets in Tyron, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga, Washington and Rensselaer sections.

It may also be noted, that several other books containing sermons, religious memoranda and some family data, in the handwriting of Rev. Dempster, was found in the possession of other descendants living in the vicinity of Lassellsville.

The importance of these discoveries, together with the other information, gathered from various authentic sources, now places this heretofor obscure Warrensbush church, and its pastor, as occupying a prominent place in the early development of the religious life of old Warrensbush and a large surrounding country.

The Rev. Dempster preached in this log meeting house for over twenty years, and also itinerantly in other sections, as well as occasionally in the old Queen Ann Chapel for after the Revolution, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, or the Episcopal Diocese no longer continued to appoint ministers to supply the vacancy of Rev. James Stuart, who fled to Canada in 1778. It is tradition that the Rev. Dempster was the last to hold services in this old historic chapel before its condition became unfit for further use. Dempster died in 1804, but in 1801, according to the road records in the Florida Town Clerk's Office he was still holding services in the old log meeting house. We have no records or tradition how long this building stood after the death of Mr. Dempster, but it was still standing in 1810, when John Barlow bought the adjoining farm. However, it is reasonable to believe after his death, his old congregation gradually drifted to the Remsen's Bush Church and the other newly organized churches in the village of Veddersburg (Amsterdam), and the old building falling into disuse soon succumbed to the elements.

There are only two known records describing the location of this early Warrensbush Church, and both are found in the road records of the Florida old Town Clerk's Book. The first on page 28, is in the listing and describing the road districts as they existed in 1797, and is as follows:

"Road District Beginning at Dempster's Meeting house Ending at Andrew Williams." (1) Samuel Sweat (2) Path Master ."

The second on page 303, under date of December 24, 1801 is in an "Order" to officially establish the cross road as a public highway at which time the eastern terminus was entirely changed.

We the Subscribers Commissioners of Highways for the time being, do on the petition of Highways Freeholders and Inhabitants of the Town of Florida to us presented do establish a highway or Road two Rods wide. Beginning at or near the Log Meeting house where James Dempster now preaches at a North and South Road: (3) running an easterly course to where Major Bent (4) formerly lived, Crossing the Crick (5) a little below where the old Mill (6) stood,� etc., etc., till it intersects the road at Samuel Finches (7) running from the River to Murray's Street." (80.

"Don this 24 day of December 1801, at Florida, N.Y."


The foregoing are the only records known describing the location of Dempster's Meeting House. However, it may not be out of place to here note, that the only person within the last thirty or more years, who had tradition of its site was my father, Reuben M. Hartley, who related to me in 1911, that his uncle, John Barlow Jr., with whom he lived eight years, had pointed out its location to him in 1851.

So, form the above records and tradition, which agree, we are enabled to fix without question, the exact site of this early church, as being located in the north corner of the field, on the south or left at the intersection of the Chuctanunda Creek crossing with the Snook's Corners-Mudge Hollow road, and on the farm formerly owned by W. Jay Sweet, now in 1835 by Charles Francisco.

According to Beer's History of Montgomery county (page 114) a large Bible published in London in 1740 was presented to the Dempster congregation by John Watts (9), and contained the following inscription:

"New York, 20th July, 1790. Presented to the Congregation of Warrensbush of which Rev. James Dempster is now minister."


This Bible contained the Watts Coat of Arms. Apparently after the death of Mr. Dempster, the Bible was returned to the donor, as it had this second inscription on the fly-leaf: (10)

" 1814. Presented to John Watts Cady of Johnstown by his friend John Watts."

It is not know what became of this Bible. It is also of interest to note that John Watts gave the Rev. Dempster ten acres of land upon which he resided, and this lot was long known among the older residents of this section, as the "Dempster Lot". It is now a part of the large land holdings of the Pettingill-Devendorf family. No deed of this gift of land is recorded in the County Clerk's Office, but a search among the old deeds of the farms which adjoin the lot, revealed the ten acres Watts gave Dempster, had originally been a part of Lot 119, comprising the 200 acres in the Middle block of Warrensbush, which Watts sold in 1802 to Nicholas Hill (11), as it is specified in the descriptions given in the Hill deed, "all of lot 119 excepting a lot of ten acres heretofore conveyed to James Dempster."

According to a Dempster family record, as given in "The Mohawk and Hudson Valley Genealogical Record (Vol. IV, paged 1634), of the descendants of Joel Dempster (a son of Rev. James) of Kingsboro, Gloversville, it is stated that "Joel" a son of the Rev. James Dempster, was born in Edinburg, but did not come to America until about 1800, when he settled at Kingsboro, and was the founder of the Dempster family of Gloversville." This record further stated the "Rev. Dempster had three sons, James, John and Joel and a daughter Parmelia. John was the noted missionary, etc."

From the above record it would appear that Rev. Dempster was married and had a son before he came to America, and considering the circumstances of his coming, he naturally would have left his wife and son in the old country, until such time as he could provide a suitable home for them, if he had any intention of settling.

Dates???? correspond with the family record, in the handwriting of the Rev. Dempster, located during the summer of 1934, in the possession of Mrs. Flora Young and her sister, Miss Margaret Dempster of Lassellsville, Fulton County, great granddaughters of Rev. Dempster. Moreover, among the records that he baptised six of his own children, among them Joel. Baptismal No. 182, reads:

"Joel of James Dempster and Sarah Manrow, born 6th August and baptised 4 Oct. 1795."

Several other notations fixing Joel's birth were found on the last pages of the family memoranda, now possessed by Mrs. Young and Miss Dempster, and are:

"Joel was born 6th day of Aug. In the year of our Lord, 1795."

"Joel will be nine next Aug 6." ( No date given, but apparently written short time before his death in 1804.)

And in another handwriting:

"Joel Dempster was born Aug. 6, 1795, married May, the 18, 1817." Hence from the above it clearly indicates that Joel was born in Warrensbush in 1795, as were all of the other children of James Dempster and his wife Sarah Manrow, and according to his baptismal record, these children were:

  1. James Watt, born Warrensbush, 22 Nov. 1790. Baptised 2 Jan. 1791
  2. Elizabeth born July 6. Baptised 5 Aug. 1792.
  3. John, born 2 Jan. 1794. Baptised (no date).
  4. Joel, born 6 Aug. and baptised 4 Oct. 1795.
  5. Isiah, born 1 Aug. and baptised 3 September 1798
  6. Cornelius Winecoop, born ? Baptised 16 Aug. 1802.

There may have been other children, but the above are the only ones mentioned in the family and baptismal records.

One of the nearest neighbors of the Rev. Dempster, was the family of Rev. Nicholas Hill, who lived upon the adjoining farm to the north. The families were very intimate and upon the death of the various members of the Dempster family, they were buried in the Hill farm burial plot. In 1880 the dead of both families were removed and re-interred in Sec. "G", Vale cemetery, Schenectady, N.Y. The Rev. Dempster's grave stone reads as follows:

"Rev. James Dempster. A Methodist Preacher. Born Edon, Scotland, 1740. Died 1804."

The story of this early preacher and his church is nearly finished, but it would not be complete without mentioning the lasting impressions and influence he left upon the people, not only in the community in which Dempster lived, but throughout a large section of the surrounding country.

The important fact is that the Rev. Dempster was the pioneer - the first to preach Methodism in the entire Mohawk Valley. He scattered the seeds and others followed his labors. Prominently among them were his nearest neighbors Nicholas Hill ������.. Nancy. Due to the �. Of Dempster, Nicholas Hill, widely known as " the drummer boy of the Revolution," was in 1801, ordained as an itinerant Methodist preacher, and who after the death of Dempster in 1804, followed in his footsteps and ably carried on the work. Hill became a preacher of wide note. A man of vigorous mind, executive ability and determined zeal. He preached in barns and dwellings and reared churches, and it was largely due to his teaching and influence that so many Methodist societies were organized, where later, churches were built - at Minaville, Amsterdam and in other communities. Hill died in 1857, aged 91, active in his religious work almost to the day of his death. Nancy Hill, the sister of Nicholas, married John Sample in 1791, and they removed to the village of Veddersburgh. She also was equally active in advancing the Methodist faith, for it was at her house that he first Methodist society in present Amsterdam, was organized. And it is recorded of her in the annals, that "she witnessed its progress and increase in power; lived in its bosom and died in its benedictions."

As so very little has been know of the Rev. James Dempster, and this pioneer Warrenbush church, it is hoped the facts herewith presented will not only be of interest, but also will add a new chapter of pertinent value regarding the history of this early church of the town of Florida.

The value of the Dempster marriage and baptismal records, comprising as they do, hundreds of names of the pioneer residents of old Warrenbush and adjacent country, can scarcely be overestimated, and are an invaluable source of information to the many descendants of our old families, who are interested in their ancestors and genealogy. For many, who have searched in vain to prove certain connections, may now find among these record the long sought for data.

March, 1935
Local Historian of the Town of Florida.

The Rev. James Dempster Records

As stated above in the sketch of Rev. Dempster, Robert M. Hartley, the Dempster Records were almost lost to public use. They had been published many years ago by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and are a part of their files. They are also to be found in the New York State Library. But the resting place of the original book was known only to a few. The book was in the possession of Norman SMITH of Lasselllsville whose wife is a descendant of Rev. DEMPSTER. E.J. SHEEHAN, county archivist visited Mr. SMITH last summer and readily obtained consent to make a copy which was done and the record is now on file in the old court house in Fonda. It is from this source that he accompanying transcription is made. That many people will find the records of value, goes without saying. Rev. DEMPSTER covered a considerable territory, considering the roads and means of travel. One entry is of historic interest. "Stephen VAN RENSSELAER to Margaret SCHUYLER, dau of Gen. SCHUYLER of Saratoga, Friday 6th June, 1783." A laconic entry but filled with romance and tradition. The wedding was between Stephen VAN RENSSALAER who was to become a general in the War of 1812 and Margaret, daughter of General Philip SCHUYLER of Revolutionary War fame. Probably in the fine Saratoga home of Gen. SCHUYLER rebuilt directly after the Battle of Saratoga, at which time it was destroyed by the enemy. Other entries hold similar interest.

Rev. James Dempster died May 10, 1804.


© Ruth Roerig, town historian for Malta, NY. 

Transcribed by Diane Thomas,
original webpage creation by Debbie Axtman
American History and Genealogy Project New York History and Genealogy ALHN

© New York History and Genealogy Project