The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 14, Part 5

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


A peace was made between the Iroquois and the French in 1653, and in that same year Simon Le Moyne, a Jesuit father, came at the request of the Onondagas to be their religious teacher. The Mohawks also asked for a missionary, and in 1655 Joseph Chaumont and Claude Dablon arrived. "A bark chapel was built in a single day, and a site for a permanent French settlement was chosen at the Salt springs" in the Onondaga country, where Le Moyne had seen the famous Salt Springs, later such a source of wealth to the region. "In 1656 Father Le Mercier brought a colony of fifty Frenchmen and five additional missionaries." The peace failed to hold, and the fathers suffered but remained. When difficulties had again been settled, there was an increasing effort made by the French to introduce religion among the natives. Father Jacques Bruyas and five others arrived in 1667m and scattered among the tribes having no religious leader, where they were well received. On September 14, 1667, Father Fremin established the "Mission of St. Mary to the Mohawks" on the site of the "Mission to the Martyrs," founded by Jogues, the first missionary and martyr. Father Louis Hennepin made a winter visit to the Onondagas, Oneidas, and the Mohawks in 1677, but was evidently more interested in gathering material for his writings on American subjects than in the salvation of the Iroquois.

Names might be repeated at great length; the French orders, particularly the Jesuits, with great courage and hardship persisted in their futile efforts to win the Indians to their church and country. They met with a modicum of success; as to the amount of this the missionaries were deceived, for it is to be feared that the aborigine was less interested in the God of the French than in the "flesh pots and the raiment which went with installation into the church." These religious teachers were little aided by the French authorities, more often being opposed; and the English, now in control of the province thwarted their efforts wherever possible, for they feared that they might incite the Indians to attacks upon the settlements which were now spreading out from Albany into the Mohawk Valley. Despite all this, good was done; but whatever may have been accomplished was undone by the French themselves in their misuse of the Iroquois. Frontenac, Governor of Canada in 1672, held the Indians in contempt, although he desired to win as allies. His attitude toward the Jesuits was unfriendly; he accused them of "Thinking more of beaver skins than of souls, and denounced their missions as mockeries." And perhaps this was true at this later period. The Jesuits were influential enough to force his recall. As it turned out La Barre and the Marquis Denonville proved even worse. La Barre was weak and Denonville treacherous. The first made a disgracefully weak peace with the Iroquois, and Denonville, feeling that it was no longer worth while depending upon the tribes decided to stage a demonstration that would at least make the French feared. With a force of 2,000 men he tricked, entrapped, tortured and slew the Iroquois with a savagery not surpassed by the people of the long house in the worst of their raids upon the whites. The Senecas bore the brunt of Denonville's ire, not only in the number slain but in the destruction of villages and supplies burned. The other tribes came to the aid of their brethren, and by the council fire decisions were made which ended the French influence from ever again being in the ascendancy. For the greater part, the tribes allowed the missionaries to depart in peace, or, as in the case of Lamberville, sent them into Canada under protection of the Onondagas. This was the end of French missions in New York, an end brought about by the treachery of the very man who should have given them support, Governor Denonville.

Indian Missions Under the English.--The ministers of New York were rather late in acquiring any great enthusiasm for missionary work among the tribes of the colony. Visits had been paid the confederated Indians by some of the Dutch domines, notable that of Rev. Godfrey Dellius, the minister at Albany, but even these religious excursions into the wilds of the State were few and far between. When the Iroquois had definitely separated from the French, and had dismisses the father who had served so long with them, the need for religious teachers to replace the Catholic leaders became pressing. The "praying" Indians were migrating to Canada, (1698) but said they would return if teachers were provided them. There was a gathering of the sachems of the Five Nations at Albany on August 27, 1700, who asked that ministers be sent them. With Indian naiveté they remarked that "It was the French custom to clothe all those Indians that were baptized and received into their church. Thus we presume is a great inducement for our people to turn Papists . . . .We fear that Corlear will not clothe the converts as the governor of Canada does, for when our Indians are hunting and have bad luck, taking nothing, they go to Canada and the governor gives them clothes by which means they are induced to turn Papists." Promises were made by Bellomont, but it is to be feared that little was done, and that the Indians received neither religious instructions nor clothes to any great extent. Reverend Bernard Freeman, a Dutch minister, under the direction of Bellomont, went to Schenectady that same year to look after the religious needs of both settlers and Indians, but with the chief attention to be given to the latter. Freeman spent five years at this work, learned the language of the Mohawks, and translated parts of the liturgy and Bible into that tongue. He reported the conversion, during that period, of thirty-six of the Mohawks. Although missionary work was carried on by the English for more than three quarters of a century, and many learned men were numbered among the ministers, there never was such a translation of the Bible as that of Eliot in Massachusetts. The Book of Common Prayer was printed in the Mohawk tongue in 1769, but "the whole of the Bible was never translated into the language of the Six Nations" (Earl).

The Rev. Mr. Lydius, pastor at Albany, was another of those who labored faithfully during Bellomont's day, among the Iroquois. The churches in the mother lands very often became greatly exercised over the supported neglect of the heathen red man by the members of their denomination in New York. Societies for the promulgation of religion to the benighted were organized and funds raised to care for the work. In 1704 Thorougood Moor was sent over by the Church of England. He arrived in Albany, spent a year in looking over the field from that safe stand, and decided that he was not fitted for service to the Indian and departed. It is not to be inferred that all missionary efforts were as futile as that of Thorougood's. even though the work seems to have lapsed for eight years after his departure. In 1712, Rev. Mr. Andrews, assisted by Thomas Barclay, the English minister at Albany, ministered to the Mohawks, as did Domine Peter van Driersen, minister of the Dutch church of the same place. Sir William Johnson aided mission efforts with the Indians, and was responsible for the coming of teachers and preacher to the red men under his care. As the American colleges began to graduate men, many of them became missionaries. It was indeed the purpose of the early founded colleges of our country to provide ministers for home and Indian service; they ranked rather as theological seminaries rather then colleges. This was especially true of Harvard, and partly so of King's (Columbia).

Henry Barclay, a Yale graduate and an Episcopalian clergymen, labored with the Mohawks for a decade from 1736. Dr. Wheelock about this time founded a school at Lebanon, Connecticut, and another was established by Jonathan Edwards, Massachusetts, which sent a stream of missionaries tot he Indians of the East. In 1752 Rev. Gideon Hawley visited the Iroquois, and there were many others who served for brief periods. Probably the two most efficient laborers for the confederation were Rev. Christopher Hartwick, the founder of the seminary bearing his name in Otsego County, and Samuel Kirkland, who in 1764 went to the Senecas, but two years later becoming identified with the Oneidas, stayed with them for two decades. Kirkland knew the Indian and his tongue better, probably, than other missionaries. His crowning work was the establishment, in 1793, with the encouragement of Alexander Hamilton, of the Hamilton Oneida Academy, "for the mutual benefit of the young and flourishing settlements and the various tribes of the confederate Indians." On this foundation was Hamilton College built. The Rev. John Stuart (Stewart) who served from 1770 to 1775 was the last of the missionaries to the Mohawks. There can be no questioning of the faith and zeal of the laborers among the Indians who entered upon this task during the regime of the English. But they were few in numbers, and these were none too well sustained by the churches of the settlements. Compared with the policy of the French Jesuits with its breadth of plan and persistence in the face of persecution, the efforts of the English stand out by contrast. The Jesuits, with reasonable aid from their rulers, might well have won the Iroquois and the land they occupied to France; it cannot be said that the Confederacy and the State was retained by the fitful efforts of the churches of New York.

Returning again, after this summary of the Indian missions, to the state of religious affairs among the white settlements of New York in the early years of English control, we find them badly tangled by a reflection of the controversies which blazed in Europe. King James II was on the throne, and the colonies feared particularly the one whose name was derived from his ducal title. Would he interfere with the religious liberties of those on this side of the water? As far as the King was concerned, he did not; if anything, the charter of liberties was extended, and Governor Dongan was ordered to see that "all person, of what religion so ever" should suffer no interference. The Archbishop of Canterbury was to have ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the province, but it was exerted in control of schoolmasters rather then that of ministers and congregations. Dongan was a Catholic, as were many of his officials, but however much he disliked the Quakers, but did not persecute the Protestants. His treatment of the Quakers was based on politics rather then religion. Under their creed the Quaker could not take up arms. Dongan needing soldiers imposed fines and denied them the privilege of voting. When later the anti-Catholic fever ran high, Dongan lost favor and his position.

There was great rejoicing when William and Mary became sovereigns, for New York was strongly liberal "giving no special preference to priest or preacher of any creed." The inhabitants showed no liberality in their attitude toward Catholicism. A memorial was sent to England complaining of the treatment under the former "Papist" reign although this was far better than that given the Catholics under William and Mary. Jacob Leisler staged his dramatic but futile rebellion under the inspiration of existing conditions, and paid with his life. He no doubt felt that he was saving the Protestant faith in New York by the same means as had been used abroad, the resort to arms; but the Protestants in the province needed no such salvation. This could not be said of the few "Papists" in the settlements now that sovereigns had been changed. William and Mary repeated the proclamation of liberty of conscience, but in orders to the various Governors, from 1689 to 1709, this liberty was refused to Catholics. In 1697 governor Bellomont was instructed "not to prefer any minister to any ecclesiastical benefit here without a certificate from the Bishop of London that he was conformable to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England" (Earl), thus adding to the conditions upon which later led to the conflict with a state-controlled church and a self-sustaining one. The "Papist" difficulties in New York seem rather like a tempest in a teapot. In 1696 governor Sloughter found only ten Catholics in the city.

A double picture of the state of religious affairs in New York at the close of the seventeenth century is given in two reports that follow. Thomas Dongan, a Catholic, sent this to his home government:

Every town ought to have a minister, New York has first a chaplain belonging to the fort of the Church of England, secondly a Dutch Calvinist, thirdly a French Calvinist, fourthly a Dutch Lutheran. Here be not many of the Church of England, a few Catholics, abundance of Quakers, preachers men and women, women especially, singing Quakers, ranting Quakers, Sabatarians, anti-Sabatarians, some Anabaptist, some independents, some Jews, in short of all sorts of opinions there are some and the most part none at all. . . . .the most prevailing opinion is that the of Dutch Calvinists. . . .It is the endeavor of all persons here to being up their children and servants to that opinion which themselves profess, but this I observe, they take no care of the conversion of their slaves. (Quoted by Robert Earl in Herkimer County Historical Papers.)

It is to be feared that Dongan was a prejudiced observer, his hatred of the Quakers multiplying there numbers and importance. Nor did his clear Catholic faith countenance divering opinions.

Ellis Roberts, in his "History of New York," relates:

To Captain John Miller, who was for nearly three years chaplain to his Majesty's forced in the province, New York presented in 1695 an aspect sufficiently rude. Besides the Episcopal church in the fort, there was also a Reformed Dutch church, and in the city of New York were a large French Protestant congregation, one of Dutch Lutherans, and a Jewish synagogue, while England dissenters, although somewhat numerous, had no meeting house. Long Island had meeting houses in almost every town, but the ministers were Presbyterians or Independents, or without orders at all. At Albany and Kingston were Reformed Dutch churches. To the grief of Chaplain Miller, voluntary contributions were the only source of support of religion, and ministers "did more harm in distracting and dividing people than good in amending their lives and conversations." The chaplain pronounced the people little concerned about religion, inclined :so soon as the bounty of God furnished them with a plentiful crop, to turn the money into drink," and to "ride ten or twenty miles" for "softish engagement.' Like habits prevailed in New York City where "rum and destruction of many merchants: followed from frequent taverns.. . . . the absence of ministers of his own church, Chaplain Miller, deemed the cause of these evils, and perhaps gave depth of color to his statements; for his conclusion is that "the great, most proper and effectual remedy: was to "send over a bishop to the province of New York," to be appointed by the Governor, with the King's farm as an Episcopal seat. He should have also five or six sober young ministers, with bibles and prayer books. But the chaplain was not appointed bishop, as perhaps would have been in every way proper.

It is not to be expected that in a colony ruled by royal appointees, there should be no efforts by these Governors to establish in the premier place the church of their country and King. the adherents of the English church were not numerous in New York, but they were of the influential classes, often minor officials. The great majority considered the Dutch Reform to be the established church, if there was such a thing, and even these were but few. All churches were self-sustaining, and the matter of precedence was determined by how well this was done, and not by any governmental proclamation, or legal status. Then governor Fletcher threw the fat into the fire by getting a law passed on September 22, 1693, providing for a tax sustained church whose ministry should be subject to State supervision. The law in question was entitled "An Act for the Settling of a Ministry, and Raising a Maintenance for Them in the City of New York and the Counties of Richmond, Westchester, and Queens." In brief this act provided for five "Protestant" ministers to serve in the various parts of the counties named, salaries to range from fifty to one hundred pounds, these to be raised by taxation of the district served. Immediately the question arose as to how the word "Protestant" was to be construed. The Assembly which had passed Fletcher's measure under protest, went on record "that the vestrymen and the church wardens have the power to call a dissenting minister, and that he is to be maintained as the act directs." The Governor held that his was the authority to choose or reject, and to control the churches generally. The people understood, and proved to be right in their judgment, that the tax maintained ministers would be of the Church of England.

The governors who followed Fletcher during the next two decades made no changes in the law, but were rather lax in the enforcement of it. They had too many difficulties in maintaining their own positions to be very much interested in church affairs. The law was more of an irritant than an aid to religion. In Pennsylvania, where the Episcopal was growing rapidly, it had no legal or financial support from the State. As Lewis Morris pointed out, "she (the established church in New York) would be in much better condition if there were no law in her favor," and suggested that the extension of dissent was due to this fact.

The enmity aroused in the people at large by the endeavor to create a state church effected far more than the state of religion. Men and women, persecuted abroad for their faith, had from early days been migrating to New York under the hope and promise of religious liberty, which meant to them not merely the privileges of worshipping God as they chose, but freedom from helping others to worship in their way. Many were dissenters from the very church which was now being established over them, and which, by law, they were compelled to support. The desire for freedom in government was in the air, and to this was added the desire for freedom in religion. There are some historian who hold that the readiness of New York for revolution, was in a large measure brought about by its opposition to a state controlled church.

Trinity church was built and supported under the act of 1693, although not opened for worship until February 6, 1697. In 1703 the King's farm, which included the land owned formerly by Anneke Jans, was presented to Trinity by queen Anne. On October 22, 1746, a bill was passed by the Assembly ordering the raising by lottery of the sum of £250 to build a college. This marked the rise of King's (Columbia) College for which the school was formed was to teach loyalty to the King, and there were many in the colony who felt that loyalty already had been carried too far. Quite naturally the control of the college meant much to the future of political affairs, and the fight which followed to secure it, and which continued until well after the Revolution, was not only bitter, but went far beyond religion. On one side was ranged De Lancey, an Episcopalian, and the only college graduate in the Assembly; on the other were the Livingstons, the Schuylers and the Jays. Within a few years the controversy had become political, and the De Lancey faction was known as the Episcopal party; the Livingston as the Presbyterian. In the election of 1759 sides were drawn on the question as to whether the Episcopalians had been favored too greatly in the organizing of King's College. The breach made at this time was never closed until New York had attained both freedom and Statehood.

The De Lancey element remained in the ascendancy until shortly before the Revolution, and the Established Church held a semblance of power. But what could either hope for then opposed by a people composed of Dutch, Huguenots, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, none of whom had any feeling of friendship for England or its religion; and the New Englanders and dissenters had come to his country because of their hatred of the English Church. The power which religious beliefs exerted in the contest for the freedom of America has yet to be estimated, and would be a most interesting subject for historical research.

The Revolution did little to advance religion in New York. Smothered by the greater interest in the making of war, worship and churches received little attention. The ebb in faith had begun several decades before 1776. The worship of God with a choice as to mode was a very vital matter to the first settlers, but became less important as conditions changed. The life of the pioneer was hard, his recreations few. A belief in God eased his tasks, and the gathering together with his fellows in the church services had a recreating force. As the settlements became more numerous and folks moved a bout more freely, the tavern, often built close to the church, became a feature of every little hamlet. As men grew more than they ate or could sell readily, the surplus grains were distilled into the cup which cheered and made men forget. The taverns and liquors became competitors of the church, and when politics became the vital subject of thought and discussion, the tavern proved the popular place for such discussions. The ministers won prominence through the part they played in the controversies of the day, particularly as these clustered about the established church, but the churches themselves fade a bit into the background, the number of members failed to keep pace with the increase in population. Henry Cabot Lodge is the authority for the statement that less than half of the churches survived the Revolution.

This lapse was, of course, due to causes other then irreligion. The loss of men in the armies was large. Soldiers after the event was passed did not always return to their former homes. In New York some of the campaign of the war led into parts all but unknown to many, parts wonderfully attractive to those who had been trying to wrest a living from less fertile soil. A tide of migration started which swept all over the State before its onslaught had weakened. The up-State regions were settled with great rapidity, and while a church was apt to be one of the first public buildings erected as enough pioneers gathered in a section, it was well towards the end of the century before meeting houses had became numerous. And it must not be forgotten that many Loyalists left New York during and after the Revolution. Their churches were used for other purposes than places of worship, and it was years before the Episcopal Church recovered from the disaster which befell it. Then in the Mohawk region, the only section relatively well settled before 1775, it is said that during the Revolution it lost in killed one-thirds of its population; another third never returned or moved away; leaving but a third of its former members to take up its life where it had been laid down a few years before. Another illustrative incident is the complaint made by Rev. John Gano who, while recruiting Baptist, was driven out of New York during the Revolution, that after the war was over he could find only thirty-seven of the more than 200 members of his church. Whatever the causes, and they were many, the decade from 1770-1780 showed a sharp decline in religion as measured by churches and their memberships.

The Days of Reconstruction.--The last ten years of the century and the opening one of the new unfold a very different story. With a free country and a new State; with the rise of communities in the interior of the State, there came a revival of faith, and men turned their attention to the things of God. There began a reconstruction of the churches as well as of political affairs. By the law of 1777 religious toleration to all was proclaimed, except to those who pledged allegiance to any other civil or religious authority, an exception which worked hardship to the Catholics and continued to d so well into the nineteenth century. A law of April 6, 1784, permitted any religious body to organize as a body corporate, and advantage was taken by most religious societies of this permission, and we have the beginnings of the present denominational growth as corporations. One of the first tasks of the Episcopalian after the Revolution was, like that of other religious bodies to reorganize on an American basis. This was difficult in the case of the Episcopal Church because of its origin in the Established Church of England, and in the fact that so many of its adherents had been Loyalists. The reorganization was accomplished in New York in 1784; in the Nation at large the next year as the Protestant Episcopal Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church as incorporated in 1784; the Roman Catholic under Bishop Carroll in 1790. By 1790 there were regularly formed church societies in New York representing the Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, Anglican and Calvinist, Methodists, Lutherans, and Quakers.

The reconstruction of religion in the State was a gigantic task, but one which was speedily accomplished, the first quarter century of 1800 showing results which proved that the ground lost had more than been regained. The growth in the number of churches increased even faster than the increase in population. The marvelous agricultural progress of the State made it an attractive field, for the enterprising ministers of all religions. The incoming educated ministry, mainly from New England, gave a tremendous impetus to the founding of churches in the interior of the State; most of which date from this period. One feature of this advance in religion was the zeal for revivals which characterized the times. The most of these were not very different from the revivals of other days, but some gave rise to peculiar faiths and occasional misplaced activities. The fame of the Presbyterian preacher, Rev. Charles G. Finney, who, beginning in 1824 in Oneida County, stirred the State with his revivals, is even yet not passed away. His doctrine of "voluntary depravity or the unregenerate" led to much discussion among the Presbyterians. His converts were many, many strange vagaries of quasi-religions were introduced at this period, some of which lasted for years. The Shakers were far better citizens than their faith was orthodox. John Noyes established the Oneida community in the county of that name, in 1847, and alarmed the region by the preaching and practice of communism in property and between sexes. The latter feature was abolished in 1881. Jemima Wilkinson, the "Universal Friend," came from Rhode Island to Genesee County before 1790 and gathered a few followers who accepted her doctrine of freedom from carnality. She insisted that she had died physically when still a girl, and had been henceforth a spiritual being with the gift of prophecy. Nor must the debt which Mormonism owes to the State be forgotten.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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