The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 14, Part 6

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


The State seems to have been fertile always in religious ideas, and the great numb hear of religions which may now be found within its borders testify to its receptiveness to all creeds and denominations. "The pulpit of New York, not of its chief cities only, but of the interior in remarkable degree, has in all denominations been a type of the progress and education of the people. The record of the State's religious activity, of its culture and development, of its charities at home and abroad, of its benevolent institutions, and of its private gifts for public uses, has never been written, while these labors are expanding constantly in their dimensions and in their efficiency." Nor can this thing even be suggested with the limited space of a chapter, although something of its history may be given in a few brief summaries of the rise of the older denominations in the Commonwealth.

Early Religion in New York.--It has been noted that in the field of religion a strong disposition to tolerance and to respect for a man's belief, whatever theological bias he might have, has been characteristic of the people in New York; and this has been traced back in part to the attitude of the Dutch founders of the colony, who were much more inclined than the English to permit people to worship as they pleased. True it is, the earliest colonists in New Netherland were forbidden to observe any form of public worship other than that of their own Dutch church; but in spite of this, the new province under Dutch authority, compared with other colonies in America and other counties in Europe, was tolerant. There was not forcing of belief one way or the other, there were no banishments, no burnings, no persecutions aimed at imposing opinion on unwilling victims. Nor was such tolerance merely passive. Anne Hutchinson, for example, when driven from Rhode Island for witchcraft, took refuge in what is now Pelham Park, Westchester, and barring a few neighboring protests, was allowed by the authorities to remain there in peace until her tragic death.

Dutch Reformed Church.--The first Christian religion in New York, that of the Dutch Reformed Church, came with the earliest settlers in 1624. Although without an ordained minister for four years, the colonists held regular services under the direction of an official known as "comforter of the sick" (Ziekentrooster) or "visitor of the sick" (Krankenbezoeker). The first "comforter" was Jansz. Sebastian Krol. A second comforter, Jan Huygen, brother-in-law of Governor Minuet, joined him in the summer of 1626. Krol was soon after sent to Fort Orange as commander, so Huygen was left in spiritual charge, and was very likely the first person to conduct a religious service in the place built in 1626 for that purpose, a "spacious room" over the newly constructed horse mill and granary.

The Church of Holland, in New Netherland, of which the Reformed Church in America is a limited descendent, was fully organized A. D. 1619. That church soon became distinguished for learning, soundness in the faith and practical godliness. This church not only maintained a close correspondence with sister churches, but often had the advantage of the presence of their distinguished men, since Holland was the common refuge of persecuted believers in Europe. Huguenots, Waldenses, Covenanters and Puritans, found a safe asylum on her hospitable shores.

The early settlers in New Amsterdam brought with them the Bible, the Catechism and the two "Krankenbezoekers" or "Ziekentroosters" before referred to, who, in the absence of a minister, gathered the people together and read to them passages of the Scripture, suitable arranged for instruction and comfort. Then in 1628 the Rev. Jonas Michaelius arrived, and in the summer of that year formally organized a church later known as the Collegiate Church of New York, of which Peter Minuet became the first elder. This church has had continuous existence to this day, and it is the oldest Protestant church on the continent. This was the beginning of the organized Reformed Church in America.

The Reformed Church in America is the oldest body governed by Prebyters on the Western Hemisphere. As the pioneer therefore of the doctrine and the American constitution, that church occupies a unique position in the annals of the country. The Reformed Church of Holland has the honor of having first planted this form of church government on the shores of the New World. The church, otherwise called that Dutch Reformed Church, has for its chief characteristics jealousy for doctrinal truth, insistence on an educated ministry, unyielding attachment to her own views on faith and order, and a large charity for all others who hold to Jesus Christ the Head. In the community of Christina churches she is often described by the terms--semi-liturgical non-prelatical.

The Liturgy begins to date from the Reformation period, while the ancient creed-the Apostles' the Nicene, and the Athanasian (Qui-cunque Vult)--and some other things are retained from the early church. "We have to remind ourselves," declared one of its prominent present-day ministers, " that there is no presentation of the Common Consensus of Faith more properly stated, more readily received, more satisfying to the Christian heart, than our own. While teaching the doctrine of Grace with distinctness and insisting on the sovereignty of God in salvation, our Standards begin from the point of a sinner's necessities, and by gently leading up to the mysteries of faith, avoid those hard and angular presentments which are likely to stir objection before the mind has received sufficient light to apprehend them. To this genial soul of Doctrine has been joined the appropriate body of a corresponding and Scriptural Order--the Waldensian System of a Parochial Episcopate, with its consistory of Presbyters and Deacons--a system pure from those secular elements which have disturbed the peace of so many churches."

The Reformed Church has always set value on a learned ministry. It was the first of the denomination of the land to appoint a theological professor (1784) and establish a theological seminary. It is a church preeminently imbued with missionary zeal, both in the foreign and domestic fields. From small beginnings it now represents (1922) 736 churches, 143,543 communicants, 31,228 adherents, with total contributions for benevolent and congregational purposes of $4,210,514. This church, which brought the Gospel in pure form to the Western Hemisphere has endured in New York therefore for three centuries. The Collegiate Church of New York now maintains eleven places of worship in the City of New York, fourteen clergymen ministering to several congregations.

First Ministers.--In 1628 the first regular minister, Jonas Michaelius, arranged a three-year contract for service in New Amsterdam. During the following year Reformed Church was legally formed, and he at once established the church organization which exists still as the collegiate church of New York. A consistory was organized and Minuit was made one of the two elders of the church. The service was in Dutch, and the congregation consisted of French, Walloons, and Dutch. In 1633 Evarardus Bogardus came out with Wouter van Twiller as the second minister for New Amsterdam. Governor van Twiller at once caused a church to be built, the first edifice in New Netherlands devoted entirely to religious purposes. This church of the Fort was called St. Nicholas in honor of the guardian saint of New Amsterdam, and, for half a century, the Dutch colonists used it as their place of worship.

The patroon of Rensselaerwyck petitioned for a minister and the church authorities in Holland stipulated that if they sent one, he should not have to collect his own tithes, lest "He who is a servant of Jesus Christ become a servant of the people." They sent John Megapolensis in 1642 under a six-year contract, and he preached his first sermon in the West India Company's storehouse. Under the governship of Stuyvesant, John Backerus was sent. He found the people "much given to drink" and Stuyvesant helped him to combat this evil by having all taverns and tap houses closed on Sundays until services were over.

After New Netherland Became New York.--When the colony came under the authority of the English crown Governor Nicolls allowed the Dutch church to continue, but its civil power was lost. That date there were only six ministers in the entire province and these soon dwindled to three. It was not until 1720, when domine Frelinghuysen came to New York, that the Dutch Reformed Church revived. Additional churches were built from time to time, as the increase in population made necessary. In 1693 the second important structure, the Garden Street Church, was opened. The next Dutch Reformed edifice, known as the Middle Dutch Church, was dedicated in 1729 there, in 1764, English preaching was inaugurated by the Rev. Archibald Laidlie. In 1769 the North Dutch Church was dedicated. In modern times the growth of this church has not been in proportion to its early vigor, but it still has many churches throughout New York, including a number of notable structures.

The Presbyterians.--When the fur monopoly was removed in 1638 many settlers from New England and Virginia came to New York. There were Presbyterians and Congregationalists among them. The Dutch church tolerated them as the former were "orthodox," the latter partially so. The first two Presbyterian ministers who came to New York were Francis Doughty in 1642, and Richard Denton in 1643. They very soon quarreled with the Congregationalist members who came to their meetings, on the question of baptizing the children of non-communicants. In 1706 we read of Francis Makennie, who sic considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church in American, being arrested in New York for preaching without a license. In 1739 George Whitefield was invited over to America on an evangelistic tour and spoke to Presbyterian audiences in New York.

Though the Presbyterians held variously located private meetings as early as 1806, and continued to have them, they met with constant persecution, principally by Governor Lord Cornbury, a fanatic adherent of the English church, until the year 1716,m when they organized a regular church and obtained the Rev. James Anderson of Scotland as their minister. Their meetings were held in City hall in New York until 1719, when the first Presbyterian church building was erected. Among the early ministers of this church were Jonathan Edwards, then a candidate of about nineteen years of age, who preached for them about eight months; the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton, 1727; the Rev. Alexander Cumming; the Rev. David Bostwick, 1725; and the Rev. John Rodgers, 1763. In 1768 the "Brick Church" was erected. The War of the Revolution scattered most of New York's congregations, and ministers were dispersed. The Rev. Dr. Rodgers returned in 1783 and preached in the chapels of Trinity church until their own buildings were repaired. In 1846 thirty-nine Presbyterian church existed in New York City and a good many more in New York State.

Congregational Churches.--The history of Congregationalism in New York traces itself to the history of the Broadway Tabernacle Church, from which it has, in the main, spread over the State. Bethany Church in New York City is a branch of the Tabernacle. The old Worth Street church congregation held its last service in 1857, moving then to Thirty-fourth Street. The latter was dedicated in 1859, but, in the march of northward progress, was abandoned in 1902 in favor of the Broadway Tabernacle, dedicated in 1905.

Greater celebrity attaches to the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. For three quarters of a century Congregationalist shave gloried in the possession of a church, the activities of which gave it a world-wide interest. First established in 1847 by fifteen or twenty prominent men in Brooklyn as a new Congregationalist church, they called, as their first minister, Henry Ward Beecher, who had, for eight years, been pastor of a church in Indianapolis. Mr. Beecher was installed on October 1, 1847, and in 1849 saw his initial labors rewarded by the completion of their first building, Plymouth Church. Mr. Beecher's forceful character and brilliant sermons always attracted capacity audiences. His unceasing activities during the Civil War period, his powerful sermons on the impossibility of reconciling the two conflicting powers of freedom and slavery, and his fearless advocacy of the plan proposed for Plymouth Church to supply every family going to Kansas and other disputed regions with a Bible and a rifle, were long vividly recalled. His sermons on the inhumanity of slavery were frequently emphasized by pulpit demonstrations of bona fide auction sales of slaves, and the Beecher martial spirit was always active in any situation requiring forceful interpretation of law and practice. After forty years of faithful service for the Plymouth Church and for humanity, Dr. Beecher died on March 8, 1887, and was succeeded in the year followed by Dr. Lyman Abbott, who also proved a strong leader and did much to advance the interests of the Plymouth Church. In its welfare work Plymouth Church, in time, became a centre which not only cleaned up declining sections in Brooklyn, but promoted educational and social betterment work and caused the opening up of similar institutions throughout New York State. Very many large congregations throughout the State, particularly in important centre such as Buffalo, Albany and Rochester, have also interesting histories and the roster of their ministers vie with leading names in New York in a more or less extended fame.

Lutheran Denomination.--As early as 1630 Lutherans began to come to New Amsterdam and by 1648 when there was a sufficient number to form the "Congregation of the Unaltered Confession," they petitioned governor Stuyvesant to be allowed to call a minister of their own and to hold public services. This request was refused and the Rev. J. E. Gutwasser, who came over in 1657, was banished in 1659. No religious denomination other than the Dutch Reformed was allowed to build a church on Manhattan Island during the Dutch regime. In 1664, however, the Lutherans obtained the desired concession from Governor Richard Nicolls and in 1671 they built their first small church on the present sire of Trinity Church. In 1664 the Lutherans were given permission also to secure a minister of their own faith. By order of Governor Colve the Lutheran's building was demolished in 1673 to add security to the Wall Street palisade, but the society was repaid with another lot farther up Broadway. There in 1674 the Lutherans built a church which was replaced by a new building begun in 1727. In 1806 the first Grace Church was erected on this same site. In 1924 the Lutherans denomination totaled 193 churches in New York City, 326 churches in the metropolitan district, and more than 2,000 churches through New York State.

The Baptists.--The Baptists were in America at an early date in the colonial period, and there is a record of Baptists in New Amsterdam as early as 1657. Under the Dutch regime they were regarded as Dissenters and treated accordingly. The first Baptist congregations in New York held its meetings in the private house of Nicholas Eyres, a wealthy brewer who resided in Broad Street in 1715. He invited Valentine Wright of Groton, Connecticut, and other men to address meetings.

In 1714 Eyres was publicly baptized. He had to ask for special police protection as a riot might otherwise have been the result of those bigoted days. It was a public ceremony, as, he explained, "no man doeth anything in secret, and He Himself seeketh to be known openly." Governor Burnet attended the ceremony and said that he thought the baptism by immersion was in the ancient manner and greatly to be preferred. In 1715 Eyre's house was licensed for meetings and in 1728 he received a permit to preach. It was felt in 1728 that am meeting house should be erected, but this project involved the little church in debt and a reaction set it. Four years later Eyres moved to Newport and the church was discontinued. In 1745 another citizen, Jeremiah Dodge, opened his house for small meetings, and by 1762 this group constituted themselves a church, with John Gano as pastor. The First Baptist Church was regularly formed in 1762 in a meeting house in Gold Street. Others followed at a later date, and the Baptist body increased from that time forward with the increase of population.

The Quakers.--The Quakes in the beginning had to withstand in New York, as elsewhere, a good deal of hostility, particularly from the authorities. In 1672 the first meeting of the Society of Friend to be held under a roof in New York City took place in an inn. Fourteen years earlier then that a Quaker vessel had arrived in New York harbor and was told that Quakers could not land, so that the ship left next day for Rhode island, which at that time was the only place that tolerated Quakers. A few Quakers, however, had landed secretly. Two women among them held a meeting in the street and proclaimed that the wrath of the Lord was on the city. They also "quaked" to the great wonderment of the citizens. They were arrested and imprisoned, and finally sent to the harbor between two Negroes, and shipped to Rhode Island. The Quaker men went to Long Island where they wee well received by various families of English origin, but persecution followed them. The families found helping them were punished. One man was fined 600 guilders. One of the Quakers was caught and made to work chained to a wheelbarrow; he was beaten by a Negro till he fell and other penalties were imposed. In spite of persecution Quakerism began to flourish, and in 1672 George Fox, the found of the sect, visited Long Island and spent four days among the Friends. In 1921, there were five congregations or Monthly Meetings of Quakers in New York City, three of them being Hicksite. The Quakers divided in 1828 and Elias T. Hicks, of Jericho, Long Island, led the modernist revolt which swept New York, New Jersey Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The Hicks movement was influenced by the Unitarian schism in New England. Throughout New York, where the Quakers are represented in every centre, a reunion movement is on foot, and it is the hope of the leaders that general unity may be obtained in the next few years.

Protestant Episcopal Church.--for a few years following the beginning of the English occupation the services of the Church of England continued to be held in the little fort chapel. But the settling act of 1693 provided for the maintenance of a minister, and in 696 the Church of England was given permission to purchase land. Work commenced at once, and it is recorded that Captain Kidd "lent a Runner and Tackle for the hoisting up of stones, as long as he stays here." In 1698 trinity Church first opened for service. In 1705 trinity received from Governor Lord Cornbury the gift of land that had formed part of the "King's Farm" a royal girl which has made the church enormously wealthy. Extending on Broadway from Fulton to Charlton streets and west to the Hudson, and the trinity leases forma source of huge income.

The Protestant Episcopal Church was not officially established in the colony until thirty years after English rule began. Governor Andros, in 1678, describes New York as having religions of all sorts, under William and Mary toleration was extended to every form of religion but the Roman Catholic. Chaplain Miller of the fort suggested to the English government that a bishop should be sent, but no notice was taken of his suggestion. In 1693 an act of Assembly gave five ministers to New York, Queens, Westchester, and Richmond. In this way Trinity church was founded in 1697 and William Vesey became its first minister. Governor Fletcher said the Assembly meant Anglican ministers and vetoed his nomination. Later, however, he said that if Vesey would go to England for ordination he would permit him to take office. Vesey went and was ordained by the bishop of London in 1697. The bishop send as a present to the new church a bell and sixty pounds sterling. The bishop of Bristol gave the pacing stones. The church was maintained by a tax levied on all the inhabitants of the colony. The second vicar of Trinity was the Rev. Henry Barclay who was well known for his missionary work among the Indians. During his term of office Trinity Church did much good work in sending teachers to both Indians and Negroes. In 1764 Dr. Auchmuthy succeeded him. He built St. Paul's Chapel, and St. George's, and he remained in office until the period of the Revolution. During the Revolutionary War, Trinity church was closed and was later destroyed by fire. Charles Inglis, the rector, was banished as a pro-British sympathizer, and went to Nova Scotia, where went 30,000 other royalists, and there became a bishop.

Following the Revolution the Episcopal Church had few members, though it still remained wealthy. The churches were used largely for prisons, stables, storehouses, riding schools, and the like and religion suffered greatly, but with peace restored the old life was resumed. A new trinity Church was dedicated in 1790. St., Marks, two Grace churches in New York City, and other churches throughout New York were built. The Episcopal Church during the nineteenth century, while not figuring prominently in numbers, remained very influential. An important modern undertaking has been building of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. It was in 1892 that the corner stone was laid; but the idea of the Cathedral had been in the minds of New York churchmen from the early part of the century. It was mentioned in 1828 and suggested by bishop Potter in his address at the convention of 1872. So that the cathedral has been building for over fifty years.

The Methodists.--Methodism is said to have been brought to New York by a band of immigrants from Ireland, and Philip Embury, their first preacher, has been called the Father of the Methodist Church in the United States. He began preaching in his own house to a congregation of six persons, but, as the congregation grew, a rigging loft was hired as a chapel. When at least the Methodists were allowed in 1768 to lease the lot in John street, New York city, for their first real church, it is recorded that Christians of all denominations assisted them in the building. The sect grew rapidly and before 1817 six Methodist churches had been erected. The withdrawal of a few members from the John Street church in 1796 resulted in the formation of the Society of United Christian Friends, which later developed into the Universalist Church. In course f time the Methodists became numerous throughout New York State, though not in the numbers that represent them in the south.

Roman Catholics.--the first conspicuous Catholic recorded in New York or New Amsterdam was Father Isaac Jorgues, the Jesuit priest, and missionary to the Indians, who was seized by Indians in the Huron country and kept a prisoner until he effected an escape to Fort Orange after fifteen months. From there he was sent by the Hollanders to Manhattan for safety, and given passage on the first vessel sailing to Europe. Before the Revolution the practice of the Catholic religion was illegal under English rule and the penal laws were in force here as they were in force in England and Ireland. As a result the Catholics then in the colonies were without church or priests, but the growth of the Catholic Church in New York after the establishment of independence was rapid. In 1808 Pope Pius VII made New York City an Episcopal see, and from then on there was a vigorous growth. In 1858 the corner-stone was laid for St. Patrick's Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue, and at the time it was built this edifice represented the most ambitious enterprise in American church architecture. With the strong tide of emigration that set in form Ireland early in the nineteenth century the Catholic population greatly increased, and this was added to as later emigration set in from other Catholic countries, so that it became the custom throughout the State for Catholics of various nationalities such as the Italians, the Poles, and the French to have churches of their own, in which their own languages was spoken. The Catholic population of New York is largely to be found in the civic centres such as New York City and Buffalo, though churches and members can be found in every part of the State.

Unitarians.--The first Unitarian service in New York was that held in a private house on April 25, 1819, when the sermon was preached by Dr. Channing of Boston. The first Unitarian Society was founded on May 24, 1819, and incorporated on November 15, of the same year, when it became known as All Soul's Church. Its first church building was on Chambers Street, New York City, dedicated January 20, 1821. All Soul's present church on Fourth Avenue, New York City, was erected in 1858. The Second congregational Unitarian Church Society of New York erected its first edifice in 1826, at the dedication of which Dr. Channing preached the sermon and William Cullen Bryant wrote the hymn. This building was destroyed by fire on November 26, 1837, and a new building was erected on Broadway at Waverly Place in 1839, and named the Church of the Messiah, a name carried with the congregation to their new third church building erected on T-fourth Street at Fourth Avenue, and dedicated in 1868, becoming later known as the Community Church. Similar churches have been erected by the Unitarians throughout New York State.


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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