Project Canterbury

History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915

By the Reverend S. D. McConnell, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1934.
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1934.

Part First. The English Church in the Colonies

Chapter V. The Dutch

Seeking the East Indies; ecclesiastical position of the Dutch; the Dutch as settlers; religious toleration; coming of the English; Church establishment; plan for the Episcopate; Trinity Church.

The early settlements were established, one after the other, on the banks of Albemarle Sound, Chesapeake, Massachusetts, New York, and Delaware Bays. To the three first and the last the colonists came impelled either entirely or dominantly by religious motives, and all came from England. The New York settlement sprang from religious motives only indirectly. Remotely, the Reformation was its occasion. That had divided Europe into two hostile camps. For half a century they strove to settle on the field that quarrel between the Pope and the Augustinian monk, which had failed of adjustment by argument. Slowly the war concentrated itself into the Netherlands, the historic battle--ground of Europe. In that arena Rome broke herself against the indomitable Dutch. But these could strike, as well as endure. While they stubbornly defended themselves at home, they aimed a blow at their Spanish enemy's remotest border. The English skipper, Henry Hudson, with a sturdy Dutch crew in the ship Half Moon, was sent to ravage the Spanish possessions in the Farther Indies. In September, 1609, they passed inside Sandy Hook, and fancied they might before evening drop their anchor in front of Singapore. [Parkman: Discovery of the Great West, p. xxi.] The great river they were in, and the Straits of Malacca, to their minds, covered the same space upon the map. An unsuspected continent and an unknown ocean lay between them and their purpose. Their voyage of war became changed perforce to one of discovery and adventure; for trading with Indians would be quite as profitable as fighting with Lascars. Bears and wolverines were plenty on either side of Hudson's River, mink and otter abundant along the Sound, and muskrats swarmed about the Haarlem flats. Barter with the natives was easy, and Hudson's crew went home both earlier and richer than they had expected. Their report soon led to other expeditions for the same purpose. A fort and a cluster of cabins sprang up on Manhattan Island. In 1619 the United Provinces gained their hard--won independence. Immediately there sprang up among them the same movement of adventure and colonization which had shown itself among the English upon their peace with Spain. The "Dutch West India Company" was organized. The United Provinces gave it leave to found a state in America. Leave was all they gave it. They warned the colonists that they went on their own responsibility, and took their own risk. They must "look to the Provinces for nothing but friendly patronage." In 1625 the advance guard of thirty families came. For twenty--four dollars they bought Manhattan Island for their own, and began at once to build their town about the block house of the fur traders.

It is their ecclesiastical future with which we have to do. After two centuries and a half shall have passed over, we will find the names borne by these Dutch immigrants in the Church, ­ Stuyvesants, De Peysters, Livingstons, Schuylers, Bleeckers, and Remsens. By what steps, and through what influences, have they come?

They came here Presbyterians, but Presbyterians of a very different type, and with other traditions, than those we shall find across the Church's path later on. In their long war with the Papacy their bishops had taken sides against them. When the Episcopate runs away, only the Presbyterate is left. The Dutchmen's theory of the Presbytery came after the fact. In such a case the theory is not held aggressively. Their theology was not of the fierce Calvinistic sort. It was broader, more kindly, and more human. The "Church idea" has never been wanting in them or their descendants. They had become Presbyterian from necessity, and continued to be so from wont and use rather than from conscience. Five years after their town of New Amsterdam was started, their first minister came out. Fifty communicants and more greeted him. The colony grew rapidly. Soon the island was too strait for them, and they pushed out to search new places. They ascended the Hudson, and followed the Mohawk till its branches interlaced with the Susquehanna. Adrian Block passed through the Sound, and left his name on Block Island. Captain May followed the Jersey coast till he reached the cape which bears his name. They plodded eastward until they confronted the Puritans on the Housatonic. This was a significant meeting. It was the old problem in physics of an irresistible body meeting an immovable one. It was followed by a whole generation of contest, sometimes by words, then by threats, and even by blows. Roger Williams came all the way from Providence to arbitrate between them, and gained the ill will of both.

The Dutch had learned religious toleration in a hard school, and had learned their lesson well. In New York alone, of all the colonies, absolute religious liberty subsisted from the start. Even in Penn's colony no "Jew, Turk, Infidel, or heretic" might live. New York gave a home to everything that is human. There the Jew first set foot in America. Lutherans, Puritans, Presbyterians, Huguenots, and Quakers dwelt undisturbed. Even when choleric old Peter Stuyvesant harried the Quakers and Lutherans, it was to satisfy a personal grudge, and his conduct was not sustained by the people. Dutch, French, and English were spoken, each by so many that public documents required to be in all three tongues.

But this prosperous Dutch colony was occupying British soil, and now their place was wanted. They had come without leave asked, and had been warned by their own government, in advance, not to look to it for help. The mouth of the Hudson was within the Virginia Company's grant. That company had resigned to the Crown what was needed for Massachusetts and Maryland, but not for New Netherlands. It was now wanted for the King's brother, the Duke of York. The Dutch were warned to vacate, but placidly sat still. On the 8th of September, 1664, the Duke's fleet, with Colonel Nichols, dropped anchor off the island. Stout Peter Stuyvesant, then governor, stormed in vain. The Dutch would not fight, neither would they run away. They went about their work serenely. Their governor ungraciously capitulated for them, stipulating that "the Dutch shall enjoy liberty of conscience here in divine worship and church discipline." [Capitulation: Article viii.]

Colonel Nichols landed with his staff and his chaplain, bringing the English flag and the English Church. Their coming did not strikingly change the English ecclesiastical situation. Colonel Nichols was himself a Churchman, but of a mild type. He made no attempt at propagandism. His own chaplain read prayers and preached in the little log chapel of Fort James alternately with the Dutch dominie, and, later on, the Roman Catholic priest. For thirty years this indifference continued. The Dutch had their meeting houses; the Huguenots had their chapel; the Baptists had theirs; and the Quakers met from house to house; but the Church's voice was not heard beyond the garrison's drumbeat. When Governor Andros came the situation changed. His truculent Churchmanship asserted itself here as it had done in Boston. He found, however, that the Dutch were more difficult to deal with than even the Puritans. They would not actively oppose his projects, much less fly into a religious fury, but their stolid inertia baffled even the domineering governor. He passed away soon to another province, leaving the Church circumscribed as narrowly as it had been before he came, but bearing now the burden of popular dislike which he had created.

It was not till 1690, after the Dutch Stadtholder had become the English King, that the Church began to grow. The change of dynasty had its effect. The Dutch in New York no longer deemed themselves foreigners. The King spoke their tongue far better than he did English. He was a member of their Church as well as an Episcopalian. If their beloved Prince of Orange found it easy to be a Churchman, why should not they do likewise? Even if they did not become so formally, their feeling toward the Church became greatly modified. The only thing they boggled at was giving up their beloved Dutch tongue. They stood out against this, but in vain. The young people understood English, and grew to dislike their fathers' speech. They clamored for English in their services. When the elder people refused to allow it, the younger turned to the Church.

In 1692 Governor Fletcher persuaded the Assembly to pass an "Act to make provision for the ministry in every county." It districted the province into parishes, provided for an assessment to sustain public worship, and put it within the governor's right to nominate "a worthy Protestant minister" in each. It is clear that the Assembly used the term "Protestant minister" in its widest sense. They were themselves almost all Dutch Presbyterians. But the governor declared that he was constrained to interpret the Act in accordance with the law of the realm. Wherever that law met the phrase "Protestant minister," it understood by it a minister of the Established Church. If the Assembly meant something else, they should have said what they meant. They had used the legal phraseology, and by it they had unintentionally established the Church of England in New York! He would nominate none but Churchmen to the parishes, and the tax must be expended for them. It seems at this distance like sharp practice. In Massachusetts it would have brought such a storm about the governor's ears as would have swept him off the coast. But the Dutch do not seem to have very seriously resented it. The truth was, it was rather a barren victory for the Church. The Assembly had the machinery for taxation in their own hands, and they would not be likely to set it going under the circumstances. The governor nominated a rector or two in Long Island, but no salary was forthcoming, and the appointees could not live in these parishes. But the Act, and the governor's interpretation of it, placed the Church legally in possession. It fenced all others out.

When the English--speaking Presbyterians, immediately afterward, organized their first society, they found they could not take title to the land where they wished to build their church. But the General Assembly of the (Established) Presbyterian Church of Scotland came to their relief. A committee of that body, a corporation known to the laws of the realm, held their title for them, and they went on with their building.

While the Presbyterians were thus trying to start their society, and the phlegmatic Dutch were seemingly indifferent to the whole matter, the Rev. Mr. Miller, the chaplain of the fort, elaborated a scheme for the Church's good, which, if it had been carried out, would have changed the future ecclesiastical history of America. His plan was to have a Bishop sent out. He proposed that the Bishop of London should consecrate a suffragan for New York. There was nothing to hinder. The province was a Crown colony. The Church was now established. The Bishop of London was its Ordinary. He could not look after it himself. Why not appoint a suffragan? Miller's plan was, as he states, "to use the King's Farm, at present a very ordinary thing, yet will admit of considerable improvement," for the Bishop's seat; that a subscription be started to put the farm in order, and to build a Bishop's Church; that the large sums of money now raised in England for missionary purposes be administered by the Bishop of New York; that "five or six sober young ministers be brought over with Bibles and Prayer Books and other things convenient for Churches, so that the Bishop with these powers, qualifications, and supplies, would in a short time, through God's assistance, be able to make great progress in the settlement, and in the correction of vice." The plan was in every way feasible, and is almost the only one of all the plans for the Episcopate which was so. At this time there would have been no difficulty in the way. The Dutch would not have opposed it, and it is hardly too much to say that they would have welcomed it. Twenty--five years later it would have been impossible in any of the colonies. By that time the idea of an ultimate separation from the mother country had found a lodgement. No institution not already here, which might seem to knit the bonds more tightly, would be tolerated. In 1695 this was not the case. Loyalty was then universal, and dissent was only in its second generation. It had not gained the strength of prescription. What really did stand in the way of this and every other attempt to secure the Episcopate here was the extensive and minute ignorance which obtained among English Churchmen concerning colonial affairs. The idea of a Bishop in the American wilderness was as grotesque to them as now would be the suggestion of a professor of the higher mathematics among the Zulus. It was not till fifty years later that Berkeley saw the star of empire westward take its way. And vision as clear as his was just about as common as seers always are. Poor Chaplain Miller's well--digested plan was not even considered. It was not possible a second time for a whole century.

Meanwhile the Church people of New York drew together and organized Trinity Parish in 1697. The Church made all the freeholders of the town electors to choose wardens and vestrymen; made the Bishop of London rector at a salary of one hundred pounds a year; the salary was to be raised by assessment upon real estate; the new church was to be, as the royal representative phrased it, "our sole and only parish church and churchyard in this our said City of New York."

The Church was built, and is described as "standing very pleasantly on the banks of Hudson River, and has a large cemetery on each side, and is enclosed in front by a painted paled fence. Its revenue is restricted by Act of Assembly to five hundred pounds, but it is possessed of a farm at the north end of the city, which is lately rented, and will in the course of a few years, it is hoped, produce a considerable income."

The hope seems to have been well founded.

Project Canterbury