« Prev Chapter VII. The Dutch Calvinist Colony On The… Next »



WHEN the Englishman Henry Hudson, in the Dutch East India Company’s ship, the “Half-moon,” in September, 1609, sailed up “the River of Mountains” as far as the site of Albany, looking for the northwest passage to China, the English settlement at Jamestown was in the third year of its half-perishing existence. More than thirteen years were yet to pass before the Pilgrims from England by way of Holland should make their landing on Plymouth Rock.

But we are not at liberty to assign so early a date to the Dutch settlement of New York, and still less to the church. There was a prompt reaching out, on the part of the immensely enterprising Dutch merchants, after the lucrative trade in peltries; there was a plying to and fro of trading-vessels, and there were trading-posts established on Manhattan Island and at the head of navigation on the Hudson, or North River, and on the South River, or Delaware. Not until the great Dutch West India Company had secured its monopoly of trade and perfected its organization, in 1623, was there a beginning of colonization. 69In that year a company of Walloons, or French-speaking Hollanders, was planted near Albany, and later arrivals were settled on the Delaware, on Long Island, and on Manhattan. At length, in 1626, came Peter Minuit with an ample commission from the all-powerful Company, who organized something like a system of civil government comprehending all the settlements. Evidences of prosperity and growing wealth began to multiply. But one is impressed with the merely secular and commercial character of the enterprise and with the tardy and feeble signs of religious life in the colony. In 1626, when the settlement of Manhattan had grown to a village of thirty houses And two hundred souls, there arrived two official “sick-visitors,” who undertook some of the public duties of a pastor. On Sundays, in the loft over the horse-mill, they would read from the Scriptures and the creeds. And two years later, in 1628, the village, numbering now about two hundred and seventy souls, gave a grateful welcome to Jonas Michaelius, minister of the gospel. He rejoiced to gather no less than fifty communicants at the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and to organize them into a church according to the Reformed discipline. The two elders were the governor and the Company’s storekeeper, men of honest report who had served in like functions in churches of the fatherland. The records of this period are scanty; the very fact of this beginning of a church and the presence of a minister in the colony had faded out of history until restored by the recent discovery of a letter of the forgotten Michaelius.3636   Dr. E. T. Corwin, “History of the Reformed (Dutch) Church in America” (in the American Church. History Series), pp. 28-32.

The sagacious men in control of the Dutch West India Company were quick to recognize that weakness in their enterprise which in the splendid colonial attempt of the 70French proved ultimately to be fatal. Their settlements were almost exclusively devoted to the lucrative trade with the Indians and were not taking root in the soil. With all its advantages, the Dutch colony could not compete with New England.3737   “The province, under the long years of Dutch supremacy, had gathered only some seven thousand inhabitants, against the hundred and twenty thousand of their New England neighbors (Lodge, “English Colonies,” p. 297). To meet this difficulty an expedient was adopted which was not long in beginning to plague the inventors. A vast tract of territory, with feudal rights and privileges, was offered to any man settling a colony of fifty persons. The disputes which soon arose between these powerful vassals and the sovereign Company had for one effect the recall of Peter Minuit from his position of governor. Never again was the unlucky colony to have so competent and worthy a head as this discarded elder of the church. Nevertheless the scheme was not altogether a failure.

In 1633 arrived a new pastor, Everard Bogardus, in the same ship with a schoolmaster—the first in the colony—and the new governor, Van Twiller. The governor was incompetent and corrupt, and the minister was faithful and plain-spoken; what could result but conflict? During Van Twiller’s five years of mismanagement, nevertheless, the church emerged from the mill-loft and was installed in a barn-like meeting-house of wood. During the equally wretched administration of Kieft, the governor, listening to the reproaches of a guest, who quoted the example of New England, where the people were wont to build a fine church as soon as they had houses for themselves, was incited to build a stone church within the fort. There seems to have been little else that he did for the kingdom of heaven. Pastor Bogardus is entitled to the respect of later ages for the chronic quarrel that he kept up with the 71worthless representatives of the Company. At length his righteous rebuke of an atrociously wicked massacre of neighboring Indians perpetrated by Kieft brought matters to a head. The two antagonists sailed in the same ship, in 1647, to lay their dispute before the authorities in Holland, the Company and the classis. The case went to a higher court. The ship was cast away and both the parties were drowned.

Meanwhile the patroon Van Rensselaer, on his great manor near Albany, showed some sense of his duty to the souls of the people whom he had brought out into the wilderness. He built a church and put into the pastoral charge over his subjects one who, under his travestied name of Megapolensis, has obtained a good report as a faithful minister of Jesus Christ. It was he who saved Father Jogues, the Jesuit missionary, from imminent torture and death among the Mohawks, and befriended him, and saw him safely off for Europe. This is one honorable instance, out of not a few, of personal respect and kindness shown to members of the Roman clergy and the Jesuit society by men who held these organizations in the severest reprobation. To his Jesuit brother he was drawn by a peculiarly strong bond of fellowship, for the two were fellow-laborers in the gospel to the red men. For Domine Megapolensis is claimed3838   See Corwin, p. 37; but compare the claim made in behalf of the Puritan Whitaker, “apostle to the Indians” thirty years earlier (Tiffany, “Protestant Episcopal Church,” p. 18); compare also the work of the Lutheran Campanius in New Sweden (Jacobs, “The Lutherans,” p. 83). the high honor of being the first Protestant missionary to the Indians.

In 1647, to the joy of all the colonists, arrived a new governor, Peter Stuyvesant, not too late to save from utter ruin the colony that had suffered everything short of ruin from the incompetency and wickedness of Kieft. About the time that immigration into New England ceased with 72the triumph of the Puritan party in England, there began to be a distinct current of population setting toward the Hudson River colony. The West India Company had been among the first of the speculators in American lands to discover that a system of narrow monopoly is not the best nurse for a colony; too late to save itself from ultimate bankruptcy, it removed some of the barriers of trade, and at once population began to flow in from other colonies, Virginia and New England. Besides those who were attracted by the great business advantages of the Dutch colony, there came some from Massachusetts, driven thence by the policy of exclusiveness in religious opinion deliberately adopted there. Ordinances were set forth assuring to several such companies “liberty of conscience, according to the custom and manner of Holland.” Growing prosperously in numbers, the colony grew in that cosmopolitan diversity of sects and races which went on increasing with its years. As early as 1644 Father Jogues was told by the governor that there were persons of eighteen different languages at Manhattan, including Calvinists, Catholics, English Puritans, Lutherans, Anabaptists (here called Mennonists), etc. No jealousy seems to have arisen over this multiplication of sects until, in 1652, the Dutch Lutherans, who had been attendants at the Dutch Reformed Church, presented a respectful petition that they might be permitted to have their own pastor and church. Denied by Governor Stuyvesant, the request was presented to the Company and to the States-General. The two Reformed pastors used the most strenuous endeavors through the classis of Amsterdam to defeat the petition, under the fear that the concession of this privilege would tend to the diminution of their congregation. This resistance was successfully maintained until at last the petitioners were able to obtain from the Roman Catholic Duke of York 73the religious freedom which Dutch Calvinism had failed to give them.

Started thus in the wrong direction, it was easy for the colonial government to go from bad to worse. At a time when the entire force of Dutch clergy in the colony numbered only four, they were most unapostolically zealous to prevent any good from being done by “unauthorized conventicles and the preaching of unqualified persons,” and procured the passing of an ordinance forbidding these under penalty of fine and imprisonment. The mild remonstrances of the Company, which was eager to get settlers without nice inquiries as to their religious opinions, had little effect to restrain the enterprising orthodoxy of Peter Stuyvesant. The activity of the Quakers among the Long Island towns stirred him to new energy. Not only visiting missionaries, but quiet dwellers at home, were subjected to severe and ignominious punishments. The persecution was kept up until one of the banished Friends, John Bowne, reached Amsterdam and laid the case before the Company. This enlightened body promptly shortened the days of tribulation by a letter to the superserviceable Stuyvesant, conceived in a most commercial spirit. It suggested to him that it was doubtful whether further persecution was expedient, unless it was desired to check -the growth of population, which at that stage of the enterprise ought rather to be encouraged. No man, they said, ought to be molested so long as he disturbed neither his neighbors nor the government. “This maxim has always been the guide of the magistrates of this city, and the consequence has been that from every land people have flocked to this asylum. Tread thus in their steps, and we doubt not you will be blessed.”

The stewardship of the interests of the kingdom of Christ in the New Netherlands was about to be taken away from 74the Dutch West India Company and the classis of Amsterdam. It will hardly be claimed by any that the account of their stewardship was a glorious one. The supply of ministers of the gospel had been tardy, inconstant, and scanty. At the time when the Dutch ministers were most active in hindering the work of others, there were only four of themselves in a vast territory with a rapidly increasing population. The clearest sign of spiritual life in the first generation of the colony is to be found in the righteous quarrel of Domine Bogardus with the malignant Kieft, and the large Christian brotherly kindness, the laborious mission work among the Indians, and the long-sustained pastoral faithfulness of Domine Megapolensis.

Doubtless there is a record in heaven of faithful living and serving of many true disciples among this people, whose names are unknown on earth; but in writing history it is only with earthly memorials that we have to do. The records of the Dutch regime present few indications of such religious activity on the part of the colonists as would show that they regarded religion otherwise than as something to be imported from Holland at the expense of the Company.

A studious and elegant writer, Mr. Douglas Campbell, has presented in two ample and interesting volumes3939   “The Puritans in Holland, England, and America” (New York, 1892). the evidence in favor of his thesis that the characteristic institutions established by the Puritans in New England were derived, directly or indirectly, not from England, but from Holland. One of the gravest answers to an argument which contains so much to command respect is found in the history of the New Netherlands. In the early records of no one of the American colonies is there less manifestation of the Puritan characteristics than in the records of the colony that was absolutely and exclusively 75under Dutch control and made up chiefly of Dutch settlers. Nineteen years from the beginning of the colony there was only one church in the whole extent of it; at the end of thirty years there were only two churches. After ten years of settlement the first schoolmaster arrived; and after thirty-six years a Latin school was begun, for want of which up to that time young men seeking a classical education had had to go to Boston for it. In no colony does there appear less of local self-government or of central representative government, less of civil liberty, or even of the aspiration for it. The contrast between the character of this colony and the heroic antecedents of the Dutch in Holland is astonishing and inexplicable. The sordid government of a trading corporation doubtless tended to depress the moral tone of the community, but this was an evil common to many of the colonies. Ordinances, frequently renewed, for the prevention of disorder and brawling on Sunday and for restricting the sale of strong drinks, show how prevalent and obstinate were these evils. In 1648 it is boldly asserted in the preamble to a new law that one fourth of the houses in. New Amsterdam were devoted to the sale of strong drink. Not a hopeful beginning for a young commonwealth.

Before bidding a willing good-bye to the Dutch regime of the New Netherlands, it remains to tell the story of another colony, begun under happy auspices, but so short-lived that its rise and fall are a mere episode in the history of the Dutch colony.

As early as 1630, under the feudal concessions of the Dutch West India Company, extensive tracts had been taken on the South River, or Delaware, and, after purchase from the Indians, settled by a colony under the conduct of the best of all the Dutch leaders, De Vries. Quarrels 76with the Indians arose, and at the end of a twelvemonth the colony was extinguished in blood. The land seemed to be left free for other occupants.

Years before, the great Gustavus Adolphus had pondered and decided on an enterprise of colonization in America.4040   The king’s noble conceptions of what such a colony should be and should accomplish are quoted in Bancroft, vol. ii., pp. 284, 285. The exigencies of the Thirty Years’ War delayed the execution of his plan, but after the fatal day of Lützen the project was resumed by the fit successor of Gustavus in the government of Sweden, the Chancellor Oxenstiern. Peter Minuit, who had been rejected from his place as the first governor of New Amsterdam, tendered to the Swedes the aid of his experience and approved wisdom; and in the end of the year 1637, against the protest of Governor Kieft, the strong foundations of a Swedish Lutheran colony were laid on the banks of the Delaware. A new purchase was made of the Indians (who had as little scruple as the Stuart kings about disposing of the same land twice over to different parties), including the lands from the mouth of the bay to the falls near Trenton. A fort was built where now stands the city of Wilmington, and under the protection of its walls Christian worship was begun by the first pastor, Torkillus. Strong reinforcements arrived in 1643, with the energetic Governor Printz and that man of “unwearied zeal in always propagating the love of God,” the Rev. John Campanius, who through faith has obtained a good report by his brief but most laborious ministry both to his fellow-countrymen and to the Delaware Indians.

The governor fixed his residence at Tinicum, now almost included within the vast circumference of Philadelphia, and there, forty years before the arrival of William Penn, Campanius preached the gospel of peace in two languages, to the red men and to the white.


The question of the Swedish title, raised at the outset by the protest of the Dutch governor, could not long be postponed. It was suddenly precipitated on the arrival of Governor Rising, in 1654, by his capture of Fort Casimir, which the Dutch had built for the practical assertion of their claim. It seems a somewhat grotesque act of piety on the part of the Swedes, when, having celebrated the festival of Trinity Sunday by whipping their fellow-Christians out of the fort, they commemorated the good work by naming it the Fort of the Holy Trinity. It was a fatal victory. The next year came Governor Stuyvesant with an overpowering force and demanded and received the surrender of the colony to the Dutch. Honorable terms of surrender were conceded; among them, against the protest, alas! of good Domine Megapolensis, was the stipulation of religious liberty for the Lutherans.

It was the end of the Swedish colony, but not at once of the church. The Swedish community of some seven hundred souls, cut off from reinforcement and support from the fatherland, cherished its language and traditions and the mold of doctrine in which it had been shaped; after more than forty years the reviving interest of the mother church was manifested by the sending out of missionaries to seek and succor the daughter long absent and neglected in the wilderness. Two venerable buildings, the Gloria Dei Church in the southern part of Philadelphia, and the Old Swedes’ Church at Wilmington, remain as monuments of the honorable story. The Swedish language ceased to be spoken; the people became undistinguishably absorbed in the swiftly multiplying population about them.

It was a short-lived triumph in which the Dutch colony reduced the Swedish under its jurisdiction. It only prepared a larger domain for it to surrender, in its turn, to 78superior force. With perfidy worthy of the House of Stuart, the newly restored king of England, having granted to his brother, the Duke of York, territory already plighted to others and territory already occupied by a friendly power, stretching in all from the Connecticut to the Delaware, covered his designs with friendly demonstrations, and in a time of profound peace surprised the quiet town of New Amsterdam with a hostile fleet and land force and a peremptory demand for surrender. The only hindrance interposed was a few hours of vain and angry bluster from Stuyvesant. The indifference of the Dutch republic, which had from the beginning refused its colony any promise of protection, and the sordid despotism of the Company, and the arrogant contempt of popular rights manifested by its governors, seem to have left no spark of patriotic loyalty alive in the population. With inert indifference, if not even with satisfaction, the colony transferred its allegiance to the British crown, henceforth sovereign from Maine to the Carolinas. The rights of person and property, religious liberty, and freedom of trade were stipulated in the capitulation.

The British government was happy in the character of Colonel Nicolls, who came as commandant of the invading expedition and remained as governor. Not only faithful to the terms of the surrender, but considerate of the feelings and interests of the conquered province, he gave the people small reason to regret the change of government. The established Dutch church not only was not molested, but was continued in full possession of its exceptional privileges. And it continued to languish. At the time of the surrender the province contained “three cities, thirty villages, and ten thousand inhabitants,”4141   Corwin, p. 54. and for all these there were six ministers. The six soon dribbled 79away to three, and for ten years these three continued without reinforcement. This extreme feebleness of the clergy, the absence of any vigorous church life among the laity, and the debilitating notion that the power and the right to preach the gospel must be imported from Holland, put the Dutch church at such a disadvantage as to invite aggression. Later English governors showed no scruple in violating the spirit of the terms of surrender and using their official power and influence to force the establishment of the English church against the almost unanimous will of the people. Property was unjustly taken and legal rights infringed to this end, but the end was not attained. Colonel Morris, an earnest Anglican, warned his friends against the folly of taking by force the salaries of ministers chosen by the people and paying them over to “the ministers of the church.” “It may be a means of subsisting those ministers, but they won’t make many converts among a people who think themselves very much injured.” The pious efforts of Governor Fletcher, the most zealous of these official propagandists, are even more severely characterized in a dispatch of his successor, the Earl of Bellomont: “The late governor, . . . under the notion of a Church of England to be put in opposition to the Dutch and French churches established here, supported a few rascally English, who are a scandal to their nation and the Protestant religion.”4242   Corwin, pp. 105, 121. Evidently such support would have for its main effect to make the pretended establishment odious to the people. Colonel Morris sharply points out the impolicy as well as the injustice of the course adopted, claiming that his church would have been in a much better position without this political aid, and citing the case of the Jerseys and Pennsylvania, where nothing of the kind had been attempted, and where, nevertheless, “there are 80 four times the number of churchmen that there are in this province of New York; and they are so, most of them, upon principle, whereas nine parts in ten of ours will add no great credit to whatever church they are of.”4343   Corwin, p. 105.

It need not be denied that government patronage, even when dispensed by the dirty hands of such scurvy nursing fathers as Fletcher and Lord Cornbury, may give strength of a certain sort to a religious organization. Whatever could be done in the way of endowment or of social preferment in behalf of the English church was done eagerly. But happily this church had a better resource than royal governors in the well-equipped and sustained, and generally well-chosen, army of missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Not fewer than fifty-eight of them were placed by the society in this single province. And if among them there were those who seemed to “preach Christ of envy and strife,” as if the great aim of the preacher of the gospel were to get a man out of one Christian sect into another, there were others who showed a more Pauline and more Christian conception of their work, taking their full share of the task of bringing the knowledge of Christ to the unevangelized, whether white, red, or black.4444   “Digest of S. P. G. Records,” pp. 57-79. That the sectarian proselyting zeal manifested in some of the missionaries’ reports made an unfavorable impression on the society is indicated by the peremptory terms of a resolution adopted in 17I0: “That a stop be put to the sending any more missionaries among Christians, except to such places whose ministers are, or shall be, dead or removed” (ibid., p. 69). A good resolution, but not well kept.

The diversity of organization which was destined to characterize the church in the province of New York was increased by the inflow of population from New England. The settlement of Long Island was from the beginning Puritan English. The Hudson Valley began early to be occupied by New Englanders bringing with them their 81pastors. In 1696 Domine Selyns, the only Dutch pastor in New York City, in his annual report congratulates himself, “Our number is now full,” meaning that there are four Dutch ministers in the whole province of New York, and adds: “In the country places here there are many English preachers, mostly from New England. They were ordained there, having been in a large measure supplied by the University of Cambridge [Mass.].” The same letter gives the names of the three eminent French pastors ministering to the communities of Huguenot refugees at New Rochelle and New York and elsewhere in the neighborhood. The Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, more important to the history of the opening century than any of the rest, were yet to enter.

The spectacle of the ancient Dutch church thus dwindling, and seemingly content to dwindle, to one of the least of the tribes, is not a cheerful one, nor one easy to understand. But out of this little and dilapidated Bethlehem was to come forth a leader. Domine Frelinghuysen, arriving in America in I 720, was to begin a work of training for the ministry, which would result, in 1784, in the establishment of the first American professorship of theology;4545   Corwin, p. 207. Undue stress should not be laid upon this formal fact. The early New England colleges were primarily and mainly theological seminaries and training-schools for the ministry. Their professors were all theological professors. It is stated in Dwight’s “Life of Edwards” that James Pierpont, of New Haven, Edwards’s father-in-law, who died in 1714, lectured to the students of Yale College, as professor of moral philosophy. and by the fervor of his preaching he was to win the signal glory of bringing in the Great Awakening.

« Prev Chapter VII. The Dutch Calvinist Colony On The… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection