The First Reformed

Church of

Ghent,

Columbia County,

New York

By Capt. Franklin Ellis372

1878   

     Many of the early settlers of the town were members of the Reformed Dutch church of Claverack and Kinderhook, chiefly of the former.  Some time before the Revolution these were animated by a desire to possess the privileges of religious worship in their own locality.  But it was found difficult to harmonize upon a site for the proposed building, and, accordingly, two houses were begun.  One was located on the old road leading to west Ghent, a short distance west from the Waltermire school-house, its chief promoters being the Kittles and the Philips.  The other was in the Squampamock flats, in the Hogeboom neighborhood, on the southeast corner of the present Union cemetery.  This having been the more vigorously pushed to completion, work on the first was suspended.  It was never finished.  The frame stood many years, and was finally taken down to prevent its falling.  As near as can be determined, both houses were begun in 1774, and, the completed one being ready for occupancy in the spring of 1775, a meeting for the formation of a church was appointed for March 28 of that year.

     The church of Claverack at that time (and indeed from 1770) was without a pastor.  Rev. Gerhard Daniel Cock, settled over the churches at Germantown and Rhinebeck, seems, more frequently than any other minister, to have supplied their pulpit.  He it was who came out to Squampamock and officiated at the dedication of the new church, and installed the first consistory.  The season of 1775 was a remarkably early one, and we can conceive that already, the last of March, the snows of winter were gone, the scattered fields of wheat and grass were already looking green, and the extended forests beginning to give promise of return spring.  The 28th of March that year fell, we find, on Tuesday, so that we can conceive Dominie Cock officiating at Claverack on Sunday, and coming on Monday from thence to the house of the chief promoter of the new enterprise, Mr. Lawrence Hogeboom, residing in a stone house near the site of the present residence of Hon. J. T. Hogeboom.  In coming thither the dominie doubtless rode, as was universal with the ministry in those days, on horseback, and followed the road that yet winds through the beautiful valley of the Squampamock.  But then, instead of the carefully-tilled fields, substantial homesteads, and fruitful orchards that now exist, the most of the land was yet primeval forest, with only occasional clearings about the humble cabins in which the most of the earlier settlers were content to dwell.  The stone house of Johannes Hogeboom (father of Lawrence) seems to have been quite a mansion for its day, since, as early as 1760, it gave name to the community.

     But we must pass from the early settlers to the church which was to be planted in the midst of them.  On Tuesday, March 28, in the presence of Dominie Cock and the consistory of the church of Claverack, the new church was organized.  Articles were drawn up regulating the relationship of the churches of Claverack and Squampamock, which were agreed to by Johannes Holsapple, Wilhelm V. Aolsteen, Johan Adam Schmit, and Richard Ysselsteen, elders, and Matthew Hollenbeck, Jonas Schenkel, and Jermias Johannes Muller, deacons, of the church of Claverack, and Zecharias Kernreich, Lawrence Hogeboom, Johannes Hogeboom, Jr., and Johannes Moedt, representing the new congregation.  On the same day a consistory was chosen, viz.:  Elders, Zecharias Kernreich and Lawrence Hogeboom; Deacons, Omphrij Moor, Johannes Hogeboom, Jr.  The following were the church members:  Lawrence Hogeboom and his wife Hester Leggett, Johannes Hogeboom, Jr., Omphrij Moor, Zecharias Kernreich and his wife Cornelia Schutt.  Service was held for the first time on Wednesday, March 29, when Dominie Cock installed the consistory and preached from the text, Rev. iii. 18:  "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."

     We can easily imagine that the little church was well filled on that day, and that from miles around the people came on foot and in wagons and on horse back to participate in the services.  A few among us yet remember the primitive building.  A frame structure, clapboarded and unpainted, sufficiently large for the somewhat sparsely-settled country.  The interior was fitted up with high old-fashioned pews, a lofty gallery on three sides, and a wine-glass pulpit reached by a winding flight of steps, and overhung by the inevitable sounding-board, in this case suspended from the rafters by ropes attached to its four corners.  At this first church service three children were baptized, viz., Mary Harton, Maria Keller, and Abraham Shutt, whose parents were respectively Meikel Harton and Elizabeth Ysselsteen, Adam Keller and Maria Muller, Abraham Shutt and Lena Rossman.  The sponsors were for the first, Albert Pawling and Maria Ysselsteen; for the second, Conrad Reh and Maria Schmit, his wife; and for the third, Jacobus Hogeboom and Catherine Hogeboom.  Thus was the Low Dutch Reformed church of Squampamock inaugurated.  Its career was not destined to be one of very great prosperity, but it maintained an existence for nearly forty years, and was an important preparation for the church that was to come after it, and which endures to the present.  The records of this first organization, though kept in Dutch and not very intelligible to those who are Dutch by descent and who have forgotten their fathers' language, are of great interest as giving some idea of our community a hundred years ago.  The book itself, bound as it is in vellum and of paper, which in its water-marks bears the evidence that it antedates the Revolution, having woven in its texture the crown, with the initials G. R. under it, besides a seal, in which the lion rampant of England is a chief feature, is to the antiquarian of great interest.

     The title-page reads as follows:  "Allgemeen Kerkenbock, Der Nederduitschen, Gereformeerden Gemeente Jesu Christi op Squampamuck, begonnen.  Anno. 1775, von 28 Maerch.  'Laet alle Dingen Eerlyck Ende met Orden Geschieden.' 1 Cor. 14: 40.

     "Von 29th dito is de Eerste Kerkenraedt bevestigt Docr.  Dom. Gerhard Daniel Cock en de Erste predicatie in de Nieuwe Kerk Gedaen ober de woorden Apoc. 3: 18."

     This book contains the Doop Register, list of baptisms; Register of Ledemater, or communicants; Kerkenraedt's Acten, or acts of the consistory.  Of these latter the first entry recounts what was done March 28, and records the articles of agreement between the consistories of Claverack and Squampamock.  The next entry is a call made upon the Rev. Dom. Johannes Gabriel Gebhard, in which it is stipulated that he shall preach once every two months and administer the sacrament in the church of Squampamock, in return for which the consistory promise yearly and every year to pay him the sum of 20 New York money.  This call was made on him Oct. 17, 1772, and signed by Lawrence Hogeboom, elder, and Johannes Hogeboom, deacon.

     During the seven years that elapsed from the formation of the church until the calling of Dominie Gebhard, there were occasional services by such ministers as could be secured.  The church did not prosper, but managed to preserve an existence through the trying times of the Revolution.  After this event it did not receive proper encouragement from the churches of Claverack and Kinderhook, nor cordial support from the members in the western part of the town, ,and for the next thirty years barely retained its organization.

     Children were baptized in 1777 (Feb. 27), 1779 (July 19), 1781 (Jan. 24 and Dec. 9), where we meet in the record the names of Adam and Heinrich Raed, Bartholomew, John, and Abraham Hogeboom, Geisbert and John Sharp, Wendel Ham, David Sager, Paulus Moon, Anthony Melius, Michael and Cornelius Muller, William Holsapple, Barent and Jacob Wager, Latham Lamphear, and others, as Wood, Cerder, Jackson, Conner, Whoms, and McKarty, and wives, with patronymics of Herder, Maul, Sheffer, Vinzon, Eggelston, Stahl, Dittmore, and Scott.  In 1782 Dominie Gebhard began stated services once in two months, and during their continuance the church enjoyed a fair measure of growth.  Forty persons were added to the membership in the ensuing seven years, twenty-eight of whom were on confession of their faith.  Exactly when and why the arrangement with Dominie Gebhard was terminated I am unable to state.  It would seem to have been about 1790.

     In looking over the names of the early church members, of names that yet continue among us, we find Hogebooms, Millers, Herders, Kuns, Gerners, Zufelds, Schermerhorns, Van Dusens, Diedricks, Sharps, Shaffers, and Lants.  Subsequent to 1790, while services were not perhaps as regular, and with no stated supply, yet they were continued with tolerable frequency up to 1801, and occasionally on to 1816.  The record of baptisms contains the names of over three hundred children baptized.  The last entries are John, Tobias, and Franklin, sons of Tobias L. and Eliza Hogeboom, and Jacob, son of James W. and Rebecca Peterson,--the first in 1809; of the latter two, one in 1816 and the other in 1818.  In looking over this list, among many names now unknown in our community beyond those already mentioned, the following have representatives yet abiding among us:  Stopelbeen, Jones, Grod, Hoffman, Rifenberger, Rossman, Moet, Gaul, Martin, Decker, Van Valkenburgh, Ostrander, Mesick, DeGraff, Pulver, Deo, Hess, Bauman, Van Dassel, Gardinier, Hoes, Van Ness, Leggett, and Traver.

     In 1801 the church, having stood for over a quarter of a century, was in need of repairs, and the membership and congregation were yet small and weak.  It was little more than a preaching station of Claverack, and offered few inducements for persons who could attend at Claverack or Kinderhook to identify themselves with it.  The building was rapidly falling into decay, and the congregation felt either unable or disinclined to make the needful repairs.  At this juncture the Hogebooms, on behalf of the church, arranged with the Lutheran congregation, then organizing, that if they would put the house in repair they should, by such process, acquire a half-interest in the building.  An agreement to this effect was drawn up and signed, the repairs duly made, and thus began a fraternal copartnership, a practical illustration of Christian fellowship, destined to continue not only during the further fifteen years' occupancy of the old edifice, but to be perpetuated in the building of a new one.

     This edifice was erected by the two societies in 1816, and was consecrated in the spring of 1817.  It was an attractively proportioned frame building, forty-five by fifty-five feet, with a shapely spire, surmounted by an angel blowing a trumpet.  The cost, including a good bell, was $4550.  A board of trustees was elected by the Dutch congregation, March 3, 1817, to control its interests in the building.  This was composed of Jacob Harder, John C. Hogeboom, Edward Holmes, Philip Dunspaugh, Teunis Snyder, and John Holsapple.

     The congregation was now more regularly supplied with preaching, and in 1819 ninety-six persons united in a petition to the classis of Rensselaer, asking for the formation of a separate church.  The prayer being granted, a special meeting was held to perfect the organization and install a consistory.

     This first consistory of the Reformed Dutch church at Ghent were William P. Link and Teunis G. Snyder, elders; John Jacobi, Jr., and George A. Shufelt, deacons.  In 1820, in addition to the before-mentioned persons, the following were ordained elders and deacons, viz.:  Jacob Stupplebeem and John H. Ryfenbergh, elders; Adam Gaul and Zechariah Link, deacons.  And June 10 of that year these eight persons formed themselves and their successors into a body corporate, under the statute providing "for the incorporation of religious societies."  The corporate name adopted was the "Consistory of Christ's Church in the town of Ghent."  It may be well to remark that this corporate title was subsequently (April 29, 1824) changed to "The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Ghent," the certification of which, as filed in the county clerk's office, bears the names of P. S. Wynkoop, minister; Conrad Gaul, Jacob C. Miller, Barent Van Buren, elders; Wilh's Ostrander, William Kisselburgh, Tunis Isbister, John Harder, deacons.  This is yet the corporate name of the church.  Thus, as far as ecclesiastical and civil law could go, the church was completely organized.  Its only further lack was a constituency that would enable it to support the ordinances of the gospel.  This could only be secured through the consent of the churches of Kinderhook and Claverack; for, of the ninety-six persons who signed the petition to classis, nearly all were members of either the one parent church or the other, and the heads of families were pledged to the support of the pastors of those churches.  So long as the new organization were satisfied with what services these pastors could render, and were willing to be a mere out-station of these churches, no opposition arose; but when, in order to call a pastor of their own, application was made for the dismissal of those members who resided more convenient to the church of Ghent, and their release from their subscriptions to the pastor's salary, both Claverack and Kinderhook refused to grant the application.  At length, on the 23d of September, 1822, the bounds of the new church were determined, and a call to the pastorate was extended to Rev. Peter S. Wynkoop immediately after.

     Mr. Wynkoop arrived and began his ministry in Ghent Dec. 10, 1822.  He was installed Jan. 9, 1823, Revs. Andrew Kittle, Isaiah Y. Johnson, James Romeyn, and Richard Sluyter participating in the services.  Immediately steps were taken as to the constitution of the membership.  Those who had been received by verbal recommendation were required to bring certificates, and others presented theirs, and still others came forward on confession; and on Feb. 14 the revised list of members was made up as follows (copying the register of the clerk):  "5 members heretofore admitted by certificate; 11 do. by confession; 60 this day from Kinderhook by certificate; 36 do. from Claverack; 1 do. from Hyde Park; 1 do. from Hudson; 2 do. from Germantown; 3 do. from old church of Squampamock; 17 by confession,--136 total number of communicants Feb. 14, 1823."  Seven of this number, viz., Henry T. Snyder, and wife, Jacob Rivenburgh, Mrs. Wm. P. Vosburgh, Miss Ann Vredenburgh, Mrs. William Jones, and Mrs. Samuel Andress, survive, and are still in the communion of the church.  Rev. Mr. Wynkoop at the time of his settlement was in the vigor of his manhood, being in his thirty-sixth year, having had already ten years of ministerial experience.  He was a faithful, earnest, and evangelical preacher, but above all of deep personal piety, cultivated by prayerful heart-searchings and communion with God.  At noon, as well as morning and evening, he gathered his family about the alter of worship.  He was strictly conscientious in the discharge of his duty, and to the neglect often of his private interests, and at every personal sacrifice fulfilled his appointments and watched over the spiritual interests of his flock.  His pastorate extended over the period of twenty years, and besides the fruit that was gathered year by year, was marked by several seasons of special ingathering.   Such were the years 1831, 1832, and 1838, in which last year forty-one were received on confession.  During the twenty years one hundred and twenty by confession and forty-one  by certificate were added to the church.  The highest number of communicants reported in any one year was two hundred and twenty-five, in 1839.

     The first year of his pastorate, Dominie Wynkoop resided in the house now occupied by Dr. P. W. Mull.  The following year a parsonage was purchased with eight acres of land, which was occupied by the pastor during the remaining years of his settlement.  It yet stands, and is the home of Mr. Jacob Rivenburgh.  The labors of Mr. Wynkoop were, by arrangement to that effect, shared by the Hillsdale or Krum church, until it ws merged in the church of Mellenville, in 1840, and with the latter church until 1843, when he resigned his charge.  Service was held every Sabbath in the Ghent church, one Sabbath in the morning and the next in the afternoon, (every other Sabbath morning the church being occupied by the Lutherans), and every fourth Sabbath, a.m., he preached at Hillsdale.  The Ghent church, as we have seen, in these twenty years had grown in numbers and strength very greatly, and for years the church had been filled with attentive worshipers.  In 1840 the work of colonizing began and several families and members were dismissed to help constitute the second church of Claverack (Mellenville).  A year or two later a mission was begun at Chatham Four Corners, which soon grew into a church; and in constituting it Ghent again sent forth some of her children.  Finally, the members in the western portion of the town agitated the securing a church in their own vicinity, an effort which resulted in the organization, in 1843, of the Second Reformed church of Ghent, and the withdrawal from the old church of nearly one-half of its families and members.  These changes so weakened the financial strength of the parent church, that when Mellenville wished a pastor for itself, it felt itself unable to keep its obligation to Mr. Wynkoop.  He too seems to have been despondent of the future, and accordingly resigned his call, after a pastorate of more than twenty years.

     Though shorn of its members the Ghent church, after the lapse of several months, addressed itself to the work of securing a pastor.  In the spring of 1845 their choice fell on Rev. John De Witt, son of an honored professor in the Theological Seminary, and who is now filling with acceptance and efficiency the chair of Biblical Literature in the same institution.  An effort was made to secure a sufficient subscription to settle him, which seems to have met with such success as to warrant a call, which was made upon him April 3, 1845.  The salary offered was $400.  Mr. De Witt accepted, and gave four years of his early ministry to the service of this church.  It was a critical period in its history.  Families had fallen from one hundred to forty-five, and it seemed doubtful whether the old church had not been so weakened as to presage extinction.  However, the new pastor, despite discouragements, addressed himself to the strengthening of the things that remained.  His work was largely one of adjusting the affairs of the church to its new condition.  Two important measures were successfully carried through looking to this end.  The first was to secure the title and exclusive possession of the church edifice.  For forty-five years the Reformed and Lutheran societies had now been joint occupants of the same house of worship.  So long as their pastors alternated their labors with other parishes the arrangement worked well, but now the Reformed church had a minister wholly to themselves, and only a half interest in the church.  Hence they inaugurated measures for dissolving the existing copartnership.  The proposal was made to the Lutheran society to buy or sell for $1100,--a proposition that was met by them with an offer to sell for that sum.  The Reformed consistory, in order to make the purchase, sold their parsonage, and on April 2, 1846, received a deed for the Lutheran interest.  Having thus gained full possession of the old church, the second measure of importance inaugurated was a change in the method of providing for the support of the church,--a change effected in March, 1847, by an order of consistory to have an annual sale of the pews to the highest bidder.  Thus the plan of a subscription list, with its unavoidable losses and inconveniences, was done away with,--superseded by a better if not a perfect system.

     In September, 1848, the connection of Rev. Mr. De Witt with the Ghent church was dissolved to enable him to accept a call to the church of Canajoharie.  During his ministry eight had been added to the church, two by confession and six by certificate.  During a portion, if not all the time, of his pastorate the church had to depend on the Board of Domestic Missions for aid in supporting its pastor,--a dependence that was to continue up to 1855.  The vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Rev. Mr. De. Witt lasted scarcely a month, for Sept. 24, 1848, the consistory made a call upon Rev. John Gray, for many years settled at Schodack, but then of Cohoes.  They were fortunate in securing his speedy acceptance.  He assumed the duties of his office the first Sabbath in October, and for exactly seven years faithfully and earnestly labored to serve the Master and the church.  Full of experience, gathered through years of missionary labor, alike in the foreign and domestic fields, and fifteen years of the pastorate in this country, with a heart on fire with love for souls, a ready and pithy preacher, under him the church gradually strengthened, and the prospect became more hopeful.  A parsonage was purchased for him by a number of members fo the congregation, who retained the title, but gave the use of it to the pastor.  It is now the residence of Mr. Seth Winn.

     During his pastorate the Rev. Mr. Gary received thirty-two into communion of the church, nineteen of whom were on confession.  Twenty-six--thirteen by confession and thirteen by certificate--were received during the last year of his settlement.  Shortly preceding and attending the resignation of Mr. Gray, there was an unfortunate breach of the long-prevailing harmony of the church, and which, costing the church its pastor and its parsonage, threatened its disruption.  Mr. Gray on leaving, for a short time assumed a pastorate in western New York, but in a year or two returned here and took up his residence among his old people, in the house now occupied by his widow.  He still did efficient service with his pen, and died among us, honored and mourned, in 1865.  By earnest effort the church was able, independent of the Board of Missions, to call a pastor for the old-time salary, and their choice fell upon Rev. W. W. Letson, a recent graduate of the seminary.  His call bears date Feb. 18, 1856.  He assumed charge shortly after, and continued to serve the church faithfully and acceptably for eight years.  He resigned his call in January, 1864.  During his pastorate considerable progress was made, the people became united, a parsonage was secured, and a good degree of prosperity enjoyed.  The accessions to the church were twenty-one by confession and six by certificate.

     The present pastor was installed Aug. 9, 1864.  In these fourteen years the church has passed through many trials,--has had its days of discouragement and darkness,--but the Lord has not allowed his cause to suffer or his church to perish.  Indeed, as we look over this period, we can thankfully praise him for what he has wrought, and gather a lesson of confidence and trust for the future.  In 1864 the church numbered forty-two families and one hundred and fifteen members.  Eighty members have been received into the communion (fifty-eight by confession), of whom seventy-five yet remain with us.  The Sabbath-school has grown from less than thirty scholars in 1864 to nearly one hundred and ten in 1878.  Just when the old church had been refitted, at an expense of about $1500, on the night of Dec. 23, 1868, it was burned.  It seemed for a moment as if the history of the Ghent church was ended, but the little band rallied and addressed themselves zealously to the work of rebuilding.  The present tasteful and convenient edifice, on its new and eligible site, was erected at an expense of nearly $15,000, and on June 28, 1870, was dedicated and opened for worship.  Having paid for it, in the summer of 1872 the old parsonage was sold, and the present spacious and substantial residence adjoining the church was built, at a cost of about $4500.  In all the needful appointments of a church we have now nothing to desire; and withal the Lord has not failed to add his spiritual blessing and largely revive his work.  Surely, on the review of the century, and particularly the last decade, we have every reason to thank God and take courage.  It shows conspicuously that God is mindful of his people, and ever watches over and cares for his church.

     The present officers of the church are:  Pastor, Rev. J. B. Drury; Elders, Philip Mesick, William Jones, Aaron C. Garner, Samuel Adams; Deacons, Aurelius M. Tracy, Charles Van Deusen, William W. Vosburgh, Richard Philip.

 

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