The Old Dutch Church
( Originally Published 1893 )
INDIAN RAIDS AND MASSACRES--A ROLL OF HONOR-THE OLD DUTCH CHURCH-ST. ANDREW'S PARISH-DAYS OF PESTILENCE AND DEATH
MY comrade and companion, Nebuchadnezzar, the great yellow cat who is the pride of the household, went on the war-path this morning. From the library window I watched his noiseless, stealthy tread ; his am-bush behind the lilac roots; his patient, moveless gaze, and then his sudden spring upon the prey ; his up-lifted claws, the torture of his victim, and the final process of scalping, which left the rat without a head. Presently the victor strutted proudly in, with tail up-lifted like a banner and a grim smile of satisfaction about the jaws, and then I felt him rubbing his sleek body against my legs with a purring hymn of triumph. It was a genuine picture from nature, and, as it was unfolded, I could readily see whence the red man had drawn his habit of patient endurance and methods of warfare. Had I been a Brahmin, I might have be-held in Nebuchadnezzar the transmigrated soul of Massasoit or Philip of Pokanoket.
I had intended to sit down and write of the streets and people of Harlem village, but my cat has set me thinking of the days when the Indians were a dream of terror to the early settlers under the shadow of Snake Hill and upon Hell Gate Bay, and of the doughty pioneers who returned from work to find their homes on the otter tract " a heap of ashes, or were slain, together with wife and children, on the lands now traversed by railways and thickly sown with enormous buildings. If the men of those dark days, every one of whom seemed to have the soul of a king in his rugged breast, could awake, what would be their astonishment to see the city of palaces that has risen from the isolated village cottages of a decade or two ago, and what would stout Nicholas de Meyer say to the luxurious homes that surround Mount Morris Park, in one of which his lineal descendant, Mr. Joseph O. Brown, the sage of Harlem, has his abode? As little dreamed the parents of the first white child born in New Amsterdam, in their thatched cottage hard by the Battery, that its lineal descendant, Judge Charles H. Truax, would live in a home in Harlem fit for a nobleman, when that distant village would be almost the centre of the city, and would honor the family name upon the bench of justice. Time has seen many changes, but few like those which have built up the commercial metropolis of the western world.
It is passing strange that so little is known of the Indians who inhabited the Island of Manhattan and of their relations to the early settlers. Fenimore Cooper has immortalized in romance the Delawares and Iroquois of the interior regions of the colony, but no poet or writer of romance has risen to em-blazon the courage of the settlers who had to battle for their homes in these fertile glades; and the historian has passed lightly over the bloody deeds by which the savage took vengeance for his wrongs. In reading the pages of history, one would be led to sup-pose that the Dutch colonists, after purchasing the island for a few dollars, with sundry trinkets and bottles of veritable Dutch fire-water thrown in, had been permitted to take quiet possession of the land and push on their settlements without hinderance. The truth was otherwise. The Indians had sold the land, but reserved to themselves the right of hunting at will and pursuing the game everywhere. It was their means of livelihood, and when in time it came to interfere with the farmer's methods of sowing and gathering his crops, there was trouble. Their principal encampment was at Wickquaskeek, or " the birch-bark country," in the forests which stretched down from Inwood to Fort Washington, and from this camp they took their right name. A haughty and proud race, they kept much aloof, and had given no trouble until Director Kieft attempted to levy a tax of corn, furs, and wampum upon them. It was a most impolitic measure, and as Montagne, one of the Harlem colonists, said : " A bridge has been built, over which war will soon stalk through the land." Hostilities followed, and forty Indians were massacred one night in cold blood at Corlear's Hook, some of whom were friendly Mareekawaks, from Brooklyn. Retaliation came next. The farms at Harlem were devastated ; Kuyter's bowerie was burned to the ground while the guard. of soldiers were asleep in the cellar or underground hut, and the settlers fled for protection to New Amster-dam. A temporary truce was patched up, and then hostilities broke out afresh. Pieter Beeck, who owned the patent at Horn's Hook-where the Gracie house now stands-was surprised while at work on his farm, and, with his three workmen, was cruelly murdered. Still the Indians were refused compensation for their rights and privileges, and they announced their determination to expel the whites from the northern end of the island. A foray of three days ensued in September, 1655, during which fifty settlers were slain, and over one hundred, mostly women and children, were carried into captivity. Hordes of armed savages swept over the flats. Jochen Zuyter was slain at his bowerie ; later his wife fell a victim to the savages. Cornelis Swits and Tobias Teunissen were killed, their homes on the flats and their crops destroyed, their families carried into captivity, and all the neighboring settlements were swept away. The fury of the red men led them also to cross the East River and carry desolation up and down the Long Island shore. It was a scene of wide-spread devastation, such as sickened the hearts of the soldiers sent up from New Amsterdam to bury the dead and protect the living, and it went on growing in blood and blackness until the director and council at New Amsterdam passed an ordinance, in 1656, requiring isolated farmers to re-move their families to the village, and to go out only with armed parties to till their lands and gather their crops.
England has her Abbey Battle Roll, on 'which her proudest peer is prouder yet to find the family name written, and Harlem should keep in similar remembrance the names of the stout-hearted pioneers, who battled to the death for the very existence of the ancient village. The story of their struggle of twenty years for existence, though it ended in failure, is a rare record of heroism, and deserves more than the little glimpse of sunshine which my pen lets in upon it. Upon this roll of honor, ln addition to those whom I have named, I should enter the names of the De Forests, Van Keulens, Delavalls, Waldrons (headed by stout old Resolved Waldron, the baron), Vermilyes, Tourneurs, Dyckmans, Kortrights, Delamaters, Bus-sings, and every pioneer who could be raised up from the dim but glorious past of local history. Some day the world around us will wake to the knowledge that there is a vein of heroism which we now tread underfoot, but that will be richly worth unfolding to the light. The men who succeed are the men who make history, but it is the men who do not succeed that furnish most of the romance to life. It was the pioneer whose fertile lands had been devastated by the savage, and whose hearth-stone had been drenched in the blood of women and children and their defenders, that made the future village of Harlem possible, and determined the authorities at New Amsterdam to make it an armed outpost of this city, alike against the wily savage and the unscrupulous Yankee.
The village was laid out on Church Lane, whose grassy paths and air of rural repose, overhanging elms and adjacent gardens, are still kept in the memories of some old inhabitants of the plain as an exquisite picture which can never be forgotten. The road followed an old Indian trail to the Harlem River and the ferry at Morrisania. If one should draw a straight line from the north-eastern corner of One Hundred and Nineteenth Street and Lexington Avenue to the north-east corner of One Hundred and Twenty-third Street and Second Avenue, and thence to the river, it would pass through the centre of the old Harlem Road or Church Lane. Half a block from the point of departure it crossed the Eastern Post-road, into which at One Hundred and Twenty-first Street and Sylvan Place came the old Kingsbridge Road from the north-west. The meeting of these roads made what was known to the village folks as the Five Corners, where a market was established in 1807, and where again in 184o a law was passed for the erection of a market-house and for the purposes of a public square. The market was a failure, the city was neglectful, and for years this land, occupying the half block between Sylvan Place and Third Avenue, was taken possession of by a " squatter," who paid no rent to the city.
In Sylvan Place the antiquarian will find the only surviving traces of the old Eastern Post-road, which took up part of the little street and a large slice of the block to the east of it. Old Church Lane and the Kingsbridge Road also touched upon either corner of the little street, but one may see in the trees which stand in its roadway, and reach their lines out into the blocks adjoining, plain traces of the double line of elms, silver poplars, and willows through which the old stage-coach to Boston used to plod its way. Along the Harlem Road, from One Hundred and Twentieth to One Hundred and Twenty-third Street, and reaching back six hundred feet or more to the north-west, lay the lands of the Reformed Dutch Church, and at One Hundred and Twenty-first Street and Third Avenue stood the church which I remember as a boy, and which has since been moved to a rear lot, and now faces upon the street instead of the avenue. This was built in 1829. The original church edifice stood at the other end of Church Lane, at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, about midway between Second and Third
avenues, where was also the old cemetery. The first structure was of wood; the second, erected in 1685, was of stone, and aspired to the dignity of an arched door, steeple, and weathercock. William Hellaker, of New York, contracted to build it for the sum of 750 guilders in wheat. According to the prevalent Dutch custom of building houses, ships, and public buildings as broad as they were long, in accordance with the average physical proportions of the genuine Knickerbocker, the contract says : " The size of the church across either way is thirty-six Dutch feet." There is no doubt that it appeared a thing of beauty to all village eyes, when the gilded vane or weather-cock, with the glittering ball on which it was perched, and for which John Delamater had been credited nine florins, was proudly raised to the top of the steeple, and left there to decide for once and always any dispute as to the way of the wind. Among the sub-scribers I note the names of Tourneur, Dyckman, Kortright, Bogert, Van Brevoort, and Geresolveert (Re-solved) Waldron, for 100 florins each-every man of note in the colony for some substantial sum. The total cost, in addition to work and material furnished by the people, was 2600 guilders.
Everything went well in the new church until the Leisler troubles of 1690; when the Harlem people naturally took sides with the martyred Dutch governor, who had been executed for his fidelity to the rights of the people, and they cut loose from the brethren of New Amsterdam to such an extent that Dominic Selyns wrote to the classis of Old Amsterdam that the Harlem people had run away with the idea that they could live without ministers or sacraments. The breach was soon healed, however, and the church grew strong and prosperous. Until the organization of St. Mary's Episcopal Congregation at Manhattanville, the Re-formed Dutch Church at Harlem was the only church of any denomination within the limits of Harlem, which, as a separate village organization, comprised the upper half of the Island of Manhattan, and held to its boundary-lines (from the foot of Seventy-second Street on the East River to the foot of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street on the Hudson) with great tenacity in all questions which concerned itself and the city at the other end of the island.
There was a sturdy independence about these ancient Dutch and Huguenot pioneers, which occasion-ally came to the surface in their church legislation. At one time, in order to pay the salary of Jan la Montagne, voorleser (that is, foresinger, who led the singing and read the Bible in the church) and school-master, the magistrates laid a tax upon the land. But it came to nothing. The people objected to being taxed for religious purposes. They had enough of that in their old homes, and the French and Walloons especially had suffered cruel treatment under this pretence of tithes. The opposition proved effectual, and a return was made to the old method of free-will offerings, and with apparent success.
There was also a good deal of human nature in the little settlement, and sometimes it involved disputes that were difficult to arrange amicably. No sooner had this matter of the foresinger been settled than public excitement was raised to fever heat by the refusal of several leading men to pay the prices assessed by the pound-master. Horses belonging to Cornelis Jansen, the innkeeper, to Resolved Waldron and Adolph Meyer, oxen that were the property of David Demarest and Jean le Roy, and hogs owned by Delavall and Roloefsen, were found without a herder "upon . the bouwland " or cropping the herbage " in the gar-den " belonging to the church, and straightway were driven to the pound. The delinquents complained that a raid had been made upon the Sabbath day, and declined to pay the 74 florins exacted from them by way of fines. It took a whole day's confab at the village tavern, amid clouds of smoke and endless pots of beer, to adjudicate the matter, and at the end the bill of the worthy tapster was fully equal to the amount of fines collected. Here is a copy of the bill paid by the town :
Cornelis Jansen, Credit : Fl. Kr.
It is not told who got the rum, but the secretary of the conference was found physically equal to four quarts of beer, the vaan being two quarts in measure and the mutsje one gill.
As a boy I have a much more vivid remembrance of the old Episcopal church of Harlem. On Ascension Day, in the forties, Trinity School made its annual excursion to this ancient Dutch burgh, and some of us discovered that the church doors were unlocked, and went in. It was a wooden building, of the then favorite Grecian style of architecture, with Doric col-urns in front, and a pepper-box steeple. Standing in the block on Fourth Avenue, between One Hundred and Twenty-seventh and One Hundred and Twenty-eighth streets, it commanded in its earlier days a magnificent view of Harlem and the East River, the still unoccupied meadows by the water-side, the hills beyond, the virgin islands beyond the mouth of the Harlem, and the hills that rose on all sides in the distance, all as yet unmarked, save by scattered villas. In the days when I first visited the church it was a rural edifice, in a rustic village, and its atmosphere was one of delicious repose. I recall the tables of the Ten Commandments, the high pulpit, reached by stairways at either side, the ample desk and little mahogany " altar," so distinctive of the days when ritualism had not as yet been resurrected by the Oxford Tracts. But what most attracted my notice there was a marble tablet on the wall to the memory of the first rector of the church, George L. Hinton. A son of his, a boy of the same name, was my school-mate then, and, no doubt, stood at my side as I reverently read the inscription. The son had been orphaned in a few hours, the father and mother having perished by cholera on the same day in the awful visitation of 1832.
At one of the earliest meetings for the organization of this church, Mr. Charles Henry Hall made a gift of twelve lots on condition that the church bought six adjacent lots, and he was also one of the largest sub-scribers to the building fund. A wealthy merchant, he had his home on the site of the Metropolitan Hotel, occupying the entire block, with fine stables in the rear. But in 1829 he moved his family and his magnificent stud of horses to Harlem. He was one of the first vestrymen of the church. Among other early members of that body were Lewis Morris and Abel T. Anderson, prominent Knickerbockers; A. B. Sands, William Randel, Aaron Clark, Mayor of New York from 1837 to 1839; Edward Prime, the banker; Robert Ray, John A. Sidell, Archibald Watt, District-attorney Nathaniel B. Blount, Colonel James Monroe, nephew of the President of that name ; William G. Wilmerding, Jacob Lorillard, and other men of note living on the East River and on the Harlem as far up as High Bridge, where Colonel Monroe then had his residence. The first church was destroyed by fire in 1871. It was rebuilt on the same site, a hand-some Gothic edifice of stone, but recent changes of population have been so great that it was recently decided to move the church site to the corner of Fifth Avenue and One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Street, and to occupy yet another and larger edifice.
The cholera made a terrible sweep in the village of Harlem on its first visitation, in 1832, and in many cases the sick and the dead were alike neglected. It was the Asiatic plague ; it slew whole households in a, few hours ; its very name was a horror. At that time the engine-house of the Harlem fire company, No. 35, located at the south-west corner of Third Avenue and One Hundred and Twentieth Street, a few feet to the west of Church Lane, was used for a temporary morgue. Two negro men had charge of it, and they were compelled to act in the triple capacity of grave-digger, sexton, and minister. Scores of victims, when the plague was at its height, were daily received there, hastily thrust into pine boxes, and buried in the churchyard just beyond. I have heard an aged physician say that it was rumored afterwards that some were buried alive, but the exigency was too great for delays, and even the ties of kindred were sacrificed to fear of the pestilence. One day a man was found dead under the old willow-tree yet standing in the vacant lot on the south side of One Hundred and Twenty-first Street, opposite the church. A coroner's jury was hastily empanelled, viewed the body, and returned a verdict of death by cholera. In a week, eleven of the jury-men had perished by the epidemic, and the one exception, marvellous to tell, was the foreman, Charles Henry Hall, who subsequently survived all his official associates of the Board of Health on their visit a few days later to the city quarantine.