Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

. (page 35 of 72)
Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 35 of 72)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



in the County, as well for themselves as in the name, and at
the desire of the other inhabitants of the said County members
of the Church of England," return thanks to the society in
London for the support of their worthy pastor, whom they
highly and justly praise. And then they go on to say, " upon
his first induction there were not above four or five in the whole
county who knew anything of our excellent liturgy and form
of worship, and many of them knew little more of any religion
than the common notion of a Deity; and as their ignorance was
great, so was their practice irregular and barbarous. But now,
by the blessing of God attending his labors, our church in-
creases; a considerable reformation is wrought, and something
of the face of Christianity is seen among us."

It will be observed that this is written while they had as yet
no place of worship of their own, and were still occupying the
French church "by sufferance," as they themselves express it.
And yet these blessed justices and high sheriff and the rest
ignore with celestial complacency the fact that there had been
Christian worship on the island for more than fifty years, and
at least three Christian churches built for more than thirty
years, and sustained by the descendants of the Waldenses and
Huguenots, among the noblest Christian men and women the
world has ever seen; that one of these churches for seven years
past had charitably given shelter to these members of the Eng-
lish church in their religious services.

In the meantime the church on the north side, although a
house of worship was erected at a very early period, seems to
have been dependent on such occasional services as the neigh-
boring ministers were able to render. Besides those of Drisius,
Selyns, Daille and Bertholf, there were frequent services by
Dominie Freeman, of New Utrecht, on Long Island, and also
by Dominie Anthonius, of Flatbush, Flatlands and Bushwick.
Long Island. In one instance a baptism is recorded as per-
formed by " Dom. Anthony of Staaten Eiland," but it is evi-
dently a mistake for Long Island. There are also frequent
records of baptisms "door Dominy uit Esopus," whose name
is not mentioned, but who was without doubt the Rev. Petrus
Vas, who was minister at Esopus, or Kingston, and afterward
at Rhinebeck from 1710 to 1756, and who died at the age
of 96.

After the retirement of Dr. Bonrepos, in 1717, the three


churches, of the Waldenses at Stony Brook, of the Huguenots
at Freshkill, and the Dutch at Richmond, united and came to
worship together at Richmond. We can find no account of this
Dutch church further than the fact of their having a house of
worship to offer to the united churches, which is a matter of
record. In that year the church at the north side and this
united church at Richmond joined in a call to Rev. Cornelius
VanSantvoord, of Leyden, in Holland. He accepted the call,
and came over to this country in 1718, when he was settled as
pastor over these churches. It was thus that the churches on
the island became blended into one, and transmitted to us here
the honorable ancestry to which we lay claim, as the repre-
sentatives of the Waldenses and the Huguenots, merging their
organization at length in that of the more rapidly increasing

There is no date of the settlement of Dominie Van Santvoord
extant; but the first baptism administered by him is recorded
April 20th, 1718, the child's name being Johannes Van Namen.
Dominie Van Santvoord was a man of admirable character and
abilities, and is known to have ministered with great accept-
ance from time to time, in the neighboring churches of New
Jersey and Long Island as well as in the city. He remained in
his charge here, preaching also frequently at Second River,
now Belleville, N. J., until 1742, when he removed to Schenec-
tady. Among the papers in possession of the consistory there
is a bundle of receipts for salary from Dominie Van Santvoord,
extending over several years. .They are written in beautiful
handwriting, and are sometimes given for very small sums, on
one occasion "Twee ponden, acht schellingen," being carefully
acknowledged. They indicate the fact of his ministering to
the two churches, that on the north side being evidently the
principal one. He was the author of several works of a theo-
logical character. He also kept up a correspondence with the
professors of the University of Leyden, by whom he was much

After Dr. Van Santvoord left the island there is an interval
of eight years, up to 1750, of which no record can be found.
Occasional services were performed, and baptisms administered
by ministers from the city, and also by Dominies Vas and
Anthonius as before.

In 1750 the church on the north side united with that at Ber-


gen, N. J., in a call to a minister to supply them in common.
His name was Petrus De Wint. The agreement drawn np by
the consistories regarding their respective shares of the ser-
vices, and their contributions for the ministers support, is very
specific. Each was to have a righteous half of the services,
and to make a righteous half of the payment. The church at
Bergen was to furnish a parsonage and sufficient firewood.
That on Staten Island engaged to give "an able riding horse,
with all that belongs to it." After that it was stipulated that
" the dominie was to look out for his own horse."

De Wint accepted the call, and commenced his labors in the
two churches in 1751 ; but these did not continue long. The
call had to be sent to Holland, to be approved by the Classis
of Amsterdam, and they immediately wrote back to the con-
sistory at Bergen that De Wint was an imposter, and that the
credentials by which he had obtained a favorable reception
were forgeries. Of course he was at once discharged by the two
consistories ; and a final settlement was had with him at Ber-
gen, which is recorded in the minutes of that consistory, June
22, 1752.

In June, 1753, the two churches again joined in calling Mr.
William Jackson, then a student under the care of Rev. John
Frelinghuysen, of Raritan, N. J. By the terms of the call
Mr. Jackson was to proceed to Holland to complete his studies
there, the churches agreeing, in the meantime, to pay him an
annual sum for his support. He remained in Holland four
years and a half, and was ordained there. On his return he
was installed pastor of the two churches, in 1757.

Mr. Jackson was much esteemed as a preacher, and in the re-
formed Dutch churches in Middlesex and Somerset counties,
had a reputation as a field preacher scarcely inferior to Whit-
field. Instances are recorded in which the crowds assembled to
hear him could not be contained in any church, and the ser-
vices had to be held in the open air. After ministering for up-
ward of a quarter of a century, he became subject to fits of
mental aberration ; not frequent at first, but very afflictive; and
while suffering from them he would say strange things in the
pulpit, by which the gravity of his hearers was sorely dis-
turbed, while the body of his discourse would be sound and
edifying. His illness at last increased to such a degree that the
two churches had to apply to the Classis of Hackensack for a


commission to inquire into his case. This met in December,
1780, and after a patient investigation, continued during three
days, Mr. Jackson's insanity was deemed to be such as to pre-
clude the hope of his farther usefulness, and he was advised to
return his call. This he finally did, although with extreme re-
luctance, for his heart was set upon his Master's work. He
never seemed willing to stop when preaching. On one occasion,
when at New Brunswick, his audience became so weary that
his friend, Hon. James Schureman, ventured to give him a hint
by holding up his watch. The dominie said to him quietly,
"Schureman, put up your watch, Paul preached till mid-

He finally bound himself under a penalty of five hundred
pounds not to preach, or administer the sacraments within the
bounds of the two churches. His ministry lasted thirty-two
years, and the two churches, greatly to their honor, united in
making a comfortable provision for their pastor as long as he

After Mr. Jackson resigned his ministry the connection be-
tween the two churches of Bergen and Staten Island was dis-
solved, having continued harmoniously thirty-nine years. In
1769 a deed was given by Jacob Rezeau to the Rev. Mr. Jack-
son and the consistory of the Reformed Dutch church at Rich-
mond and the session of the English Presbyterian church at
Stony Brook, for land in the village of Richmond on which to
build a church, these two bodies being desirous of uniting.

From this it would appear that after the Waldenses left
Stony Brook, in order to unite with the Dutch and the French
Huguenots in 1717, as already mentioned, a Presbyterian church
was formed in the place which they had occupied. The deed
mentions the names of James Rezeau and Samuel Broome as
" the present Elders of the English Presbyterian Church, ac-
cording to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Catechism
and Directory, agreeable to the present established Church of
Scotland." The deed conveyed a small lot, sixty-five feet by
fifty-five, to these parties. As far as we can understand it this
is the ground on which the present Reformed church in Rich-
mond stands. The church then standing at Stony Brook \v;is
to be removed and rebuilt on this lot. The deed was granted
by the donor " in consideration of the pious and laudable de-
sign of the said parties, and also of the sum of ten shillings,


lawful money of the province of New York, to him in hand
paid." It is distinctly specified that if ever any attempt shall
be made to alienate the property from sacred to secular pur-
poses, it shall be lawful for the grantor, his heirs or assigns, to
enter on it and reclaim it. This, unhappily, seems a not im-
possible contingency, in the present condition of that church.

The first minutes of the consistory of the Port Richmond
church, preserved in regular form, are dated June 25, 1785.
At a meeting then held, this minute is recorded, along with
some others not of interest, "our house of worship the six-
sided building described before having been destroyed in the
late unhappy war, it was resolved to build a new one, of brick."
The account is that the building was greatly injured by fire by
the British troops, and afterward blown down in a severe storm.
A committee was appointed to raise money for the purpose at
home and in the neighboring churches, and to superintend the
building. There are no particulars of the progress of the work,
but it was ready, for service in March, 1788.

In 1790, the Rev. Peter Stryker was ordained minister of
this church, and remained till 1794, when he accepted a call
from Second River, now Belleville, N. J. During his incum-
bency the church was incorporated, in 1792, under the style and
title of "The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, on Staten
Island," the names of the incorporators being Rev. Peter Stry-
ker, Hendrick Garretson, John Van Pelt, Wilhelmus Vreeland,
John Garretson, William Merrill, Peter Haughwout, Abraham
Prahl, and Nicholas Haughwout.

After Mr. Stryker' s departure, the church remained without
a pastor for three years, when Mr. Thomas Kirby was ordained
over it. He remained a little over three years, when he was
obliged to resign ; the means of his support having been almost
entirely withdrawn. He was an Englishman without culture,
unable even to spell correctly, and the minutes in his hand-
writing are such as would disgrace a schoolboy. Fifty years
ago there were many living who had sat under his ministry,
and knew him well. He soon showed himself to be a man with-
out much character, and his habits were so gross as to disgust
most of those who came into contact with him. He was
suspended from the ministry for intemperance after leav-
ing the island, but was afterward restored, and went to


The church at Richmond, erected on Mr. Rezeau's grant,
was burnt down also, during the war, by the British troops,
because it was, as they termed it, a rebel church. "This
speaks well," says Doctor Brownlee, "for the descendants of
the Waldenses and the Huguenots, and the Dutch
with whom they blended ; and their descendants may feel
proud that it did not earn the distinction of being al-
lowed to stand. There were no lories then in our churches, here
or at Richmond ; and so both of them were burnt."

During Mr. Kirby's ministry, an application was made by
Benjamin Swaim and Israel Oakley, for the concurrence of the
consistoiy here in building a new church at Richmond, on
the foundation of the old French church ; and steps were taken
to organize a church, by ordaining two elders and two deacons.
Very particular arrangements were also made as to the times and
the amount of service to be rendered by the pastor ; but Mr.
Kirby was not the man to succeed in a work of that kind,
and the project was not carried out till some years later.

On the 16th of May, 1802, Rev. Peter I. Tan Pelt, after-
ward Doctor Van Pelt, was ordained pastor of the church,
and remained till 1835, when the relation between him and the
church was dissolved by mutual consent. Dr. Van Pelt's
labors were exceedingly popular and successful from the first ;
and numerous additions were made to the membership of the
church at almost every communion.

During the incumbency of Dr. Van Pelt, a building was
erected on the spot now occupied by the brick stores in Port
Richmond, then the property of the church, with the view of
establishing a parochial school, under the care of the church.
The project, however, did not succeed very well ; and, after
trying two or three teachers, it was finally given up. What is
chiefly interesting in connection with this, is the fact of a Sab-
bath school being opened in the building as early as 1812, and
believed to have been among the earliest in this country.

In 1835, on the fourth Sabbath of August, the present pastor,
Rev. James Brownlee, was ordained ; and through a kind
Providence remains to this day. During all these years the
church has been, on the whole, growing, and has made many
efforts and some sacrifices to reach its present position, and
"provide things honest in sight of all men."

" Soon after my settlement, says Dr. Brownlee, " it was de-



termined to repair the old church, which had become much
dilapidated. This was immediately done, at a cost of over
84,000. The next year lots were purchased for a parsonage,
and a house was erected, the whole costing over $3,000.

"In 1845 it was found that the church was not large enough
for those desiring to worship in it, and after much discussion
as to enlarging the old building or erecting a new one, it
was finally resolved to build anew. This was accordingly done,
and the house which is now occupied was built, at a cost of


$10,000, and dedicated in February, 1846, the Rev. Dr. De
Witt, and other clergymen participating in the services. Since
then the parsonage has been enlarged and beautified at a cost of
$5,000, and is now one of the most convenient and comfortable
anywhere to be found.

' 'A necessity having long been felt for some additional burying
ground, that around the church as far as it is available being
almost completely filled up, about the year 1874 the consistory
purchased a piece of ground for a cemetery, most eligibly situ-
ated, and in one of the most beautiful spots on the island.


The consistory felt that this was necessary, as they had no
proper space to bury their dead, and the time cannot be far dis-
tant when the increase of population and the demands of
business may render it necessary, as in so many other places,
to remove the dead farther from the dwellings of men.

" During all these years the church has been much favored in
spiritual tilings. For a time after my settlement there was a
most depressing state of coldness almost of lethargy in the
church. But we had a band of praying men among us, men of
faith, who never ceased to plead before the mercy seat ; and
speedily their prayers were heard. Converts began to come in
in numbers, into our fold ; and from that time to the present, a
year has never passed, and rarely a communion season, without
some additions to our membership. In 1838, thirteen were added
to our list of members, by confession. In the year following,
sixteen, and so on. God never left himself without a witness
among us.

" We also have had our seasons of gracious revival but reviv-
al of the right sort ; not that which is got up, but that which
comes down ; which begins to show itself in a silent, prevalent
earnestness, and diligent attendance on the prayer-meetings
and other means of grace. Of that kind was the gracious sea-
son of 1843-44, when twenty-eight were brought into the
church ; some of whom are among the most warm-hearted and
devoted followers of Christ among us to this day.

" In 1858, there was another very remarkable outpouring of
the spirit among us. It began as before, silently and without
any concerted action.

"The consistory and myself sought rather to guide and reg-
ulate, than to stimulate it ; while at the same time we could
not but discern and gratefully recognize the hand of the Lord.
In April of that year, fifty were received in fellowship at one
communion; and within the year thirty-three more, making
eighty- three in all. It was a season that stirred the souls of
God's people to their depths, in joy and praise, and caused
their Christian graces to shine forth with new and holy lustre.

"Our Sabbath school has long been prosperous. It has for
years been under the very best management, without any at-
tempt at display ; without any efforts or contrivances to
allure teachers or scholars from quarters to which courtesy for-
bade us to apply. We have kept to the steady purpose of


cultivating the useful and solid, rather than the entertaining.

' It would be interesting, if space permitted, to give short
sketches of some of the fathers of the church, who have gone
to their reward from among us. Allow me very briefly to men-
tion a few.

' The first to pass away were Jacob Bodine and Joshua Mer-
sereau, both of Huguenot origin, and both exhibiting the inef-
faceable traits of their lineage, in the vivacity and energy which
we usually attribute to the French blood. Mr. Bodine was for
many years a member of the consistory, and an active and un-
tiring friend of the church. He and Mr. Mersereau, along with
Dr. Clark, had the whole burden of remodelling the old church
to bear, and of building the parsonage; and amid many diffi-
culties, chiefly met and surmounted by Mr. Bodine 1 s business
skill and tact, they succeeded, to the satisfaction of all con-

"Mr. Mersereau was somewhat reserved in his manner;
prompt, decided, and resolute. He had the appearance, to
those who did not know him, of being rather stern; but his
friends knew him to be of the most kindly and genial disposi-
tion, when he met them in the quiet family circle. He was a
man of incorruptible integrity, before whom no one could safely
venture to commit any meanact. He, too, was a life-long steady
friend of his church.

" Then there was Judge Tysen, who had been member of
congress, and for many years first associate judge of the
county; a most careful and accurate business man, for
many years the treasurer of the church; always ready, by
word and deed, to advance the interests of the church; faith-
ful and liberal in all his ways. To him, along with George Cad-
mus and myself, was committed the duty of overseeing the build-
ing of the present church, and on him fell by far the heaviest
share. He was indefatigable in his attention to the work while
it was in progress, and professed himself amply rewarded for
his labor when he saw the building completed which had a
much more creditable appearance then than it bears to-day,
among the many new church edifices which have been built all
around us. He was re-elected to the office of elder again and
again, as long as he would consent to serve; and when he was
taken away, in ripe old age, it seemed as if the most prominent
place in the church was left empty.


" Ther.e was Aartie Housman, as he was commonly called.
His name is entered on the record as Aaron, but I think it must
have been a mistake for Arthur. Many will remember him as
he sat under the gallery, with his tall, erect, massive frame,
and his magnificent head, with flowing white hair, which at once
attracted the notice of every stranger who entered the pulpit,
and which might have served as a model for a head of Jupiter.
He was a man of but limited education, but of strong good
sense and natural intelligence; who with greater advantages of
training, could not have failed to distinguish himself.

" Garrit Martling, for many years an elder and warm friend
of the church, was a man of few words, but his face beamed
with the kindliness which filled his heart; and when any one
asked a favor of him, he always granted it as if it were con-
ferred upon himself, delighted with the opportunity of doing a
kind act.

" Solomon Zeluff was long an elder. Quiet and reserved in
manner, but faithful to all that he deemed right; he was a man
of prayer, and earnestly attached to the doctrines and usages
of his church.

" George Cadmus was not a member of the church, but a
constant and generous friend. Without doubt, he was a true
Christian for years before his death, although, from unaffected
humility, he shrank from taking the name openly. Open
hearted, full of quips and jokes, he was a most attractive com-
panion and friend, beloved by all who knew him.

" Paul La Tourette, also long an elder, was of Huguenot ori-
gin, and showed it in form and manner. A man of prayer and
faith beyond many, he was strong in the Scriptures. Indeed,
his Bible was almost his exclusive study. His mind was clear
and logical, grasping at once the main points of any subject ;
and although he had not enjoyed many advantages of education
in early life, there were very few who could hold an argument
with him successfully on any Scriptural or doctrinal point. He
was remarkably fluent in prayer ; and so warm were his feelings
and so much did he become engaged that sometimes he would
pray for half an hour, or even three-quarters ; and would be
surprised when his friends told him how long he had been on his

'' Time would fail to speak of all whom we lovingly remem-
ber. But I must mention John Garretson (Judge Garretson, as


he was commonly called), who had also been in congress. His
name is the first of those subscribed to my call ; and he was the
first to depart. He and his wife Martha were the oldest mem-
bers of the church at Richmond, having been received in Dominie
Jackson's time. He was a devoted Christian, and one of the
finest specimens of the Christian gentleman ; polished, and even
courtly in his manners, which his usual dress and appearance
did not lead one to expect. He was a man of very extensive
information, and clear, incisive intellect ; and would have
greatly surprised any stranger who might have taken him for
nothing more than the plain farmer he appeared to be. His
household was one of the most delightful I ever knew. It was
probably the last in the county in which the Dutch language
was spoken. He and his wife always used it when alone ; and
when, at my request, they would speak it, it seemed to lose
every trace of uncouthness, which those unacquainted with it
are apt to attribute to it, and to be the very dialect of warm,
homely, household regard.

"The judge used to ride to church at Port Richmond every
Sabbath, for years, till the Richmond church was built, in 1808;
and, although he lived twelve miles away, there was no more
regular attendant than he. I remember well his saying, ' I do
not know what has come to our young people now ; it takes so
little to keep them home on a Sabbath day. I have gone for
years, through all weather, and it never hart me.' And, look-
ing kindly at his aged companion he added, ' and thejufvrouw
always went with me. It took a storm mind, I say a storm

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 35 of 72)