|The first preaching in Duchess County was
probably by ministers of the Reformed Dutch Church. Two societies of that denomination
were formed in the county in the year 1716, by the Rev. Peter Vas, of Kingston: - one
being located at Poughkeepsie, and the other at Fishkill. These were the first organized
churches in Duchess.
A deed of land was given in 1718, for the use of the inhabitants of Poughkeepsie for a burial place, and plot for a meeting-house, wherein the worship of God was to be conducted in the Low Dutch language. The deed bears date December 26, 1718, and was acknowledged before Leonard Lewis. The ground deeded was on the corner of Main and Market Streets. The older inhabitants will remember the mean old buildings which covered that ground until the year 1830, beneath which were the remains, thickly planted, of the earlier people of Poughkeepsie. In that year these remains were removed, and the fine buildings that now cover the front of the ground were erected. The late Gilbert Brewster built several of them, and that corner of Main and Market Street was long known as "Brewster's Corner."
The entire plot was devoted to burials. As the city grew this ground was wanted for building lots. At first the desecration was permitted so far as to allow the inhabitants to put buildings upon the ground, but were not allowed to have any cellars under them. In a little while, human bones began to appear about the streets, and around the dumping grounds - the people being inclined to transcend their privileges somewhat, some excavating underneath their houses unobserved. Finally the ground was dug over, the bones carefully picked out, and placed in a vault in the rear of the Smith Brothers restaurant.
The first Reformed Dutch Church ediface was built on the opposite side of Main Street; and there, in the rear of the store, may be seen the graves and gravestones of a burial ground attached to that meeting house. It was demolished about the year 1819, when one was erected that was burned in January 1857, and which stood on the site of the present First Reformed Dutch Church of Poughkeepsie.
The Dutch Reformed Church in this country (the exact counterpart of that in Holland) adhered to the custom of having preaching in the Low Dutch language, with great tenacity. The first of these churches in America were planted at New York (the Nieu Amsterdam), Flatbush, Esopus, and Albany. That at New York was founded at or before the year 1630. It was the established religion of the colony, until its surrender to the English in 1674, when the Church of England took its place.
The first judicatory higher than a consistency among this people was a coetus formed in 1747, with no higher object than that of advice and fraternal intercourse. The first regular classis was formed in 1757, which involved the church in unhappy collisions, two powerful parties being formed within its bosom which carried on a war of words for several years, and, at times, threatened the church. It was, in a large degree, alienated from the mother church in Holland. Finally, in 1744, John A. Livingston (the father of the late Colonel Henry A. Livingston, of Poukeepsie) went from New York to Holland, to prosecute his studies, in preparation for ministry, in the Dutch universities. He was then a young man; but his representations produced a favorable disposition toward the American church. Its membership declined, in consequence of the persistence in preaching in the Dutch language, and Dr. Laidlic, a native of Scotland, who was expressly called to preach in the English language.
Mr. Livingston was a native of Poukeepsie, and received the degree of D. D. at Utrecht, in Holland in 1779. During a portion of the Revolutionary war, he preached in the Dutch language in the first Dutch Reformed Church built in Poughkeepsie. He was appointed President of the college at New Brunswick, N. J., in 1807, and there spent the remainder of his life, prolonged till 1825.
There was no settled pastor over the Dutch Churches of Poughkeepsie and Fishkill for several years after their organization. They, however, enjoyed the occasional services of the Revs. Peter Vas, of Kingston, Gualterus Dubois, of New York, Vincentius Antonides, of Kings County, and Mr. Van Deusen of Albany.
The first minister regularly called and settled over them was the Rev. Cornelius Van Schie, who was sent by the Classis of Amsterdam, in the year 1731, fifteen years after the churches were organized. The following persons constituted the first consistory of the Dutch church at Poukeepsie: Elders, Peter Palmatier, and Johannis Van Kleeck; Deacons, Lawrens Van Kleeck and Myndert Vanderbogart. Van Schie was succeeded by Rev. Benjamin Meinema, whose call bears date 1745, and who remained pastor of the churches till the year 1758. The third pastor was the Rev. Jacobus Van Nist. His ministry was short, for he died in early life. He was buried in the church yard at Fishkill, where his tomb stone was accidently discovered while some men were digging a grave.
The death of Van Nist occurred about the period of the unhappy strife between Coetus and Conferentia parties. In 1763, the Conferentia party of Poughkeepsie, Fishkill, Hopewell, and Rhinebeck, united in sending a call to the classis of Amsterdam, to be disposed of according to its wishes. That body appointed Rev. Isaac Rysdyck pastor over the churches, who was regularly installed. On the 4th of Dec., 1769, the Coetus party presented a call to Henricus Schoonmaker, a candidate for the ministry, which call was accepted. So vehement was the opposition of the opposing faction to Mr. Schoonmaker, that at the time of his installation in Poughkeepsie, they forcibly closed the doors against him, and the services took place under an old apple-tree not far distant from the present site of the First Dutch Church. Peace again being restored, Mr. Rysdyck relinquished his charge of the church of Poughkeepsie, and confined himself mainly to the care of the churches of New Hackensack, Hopewell, and Fishkill, until his death, which occurred in November and, 1790. He died very suddenly, from paralysis. The congregation had assembled that morning for services, when a messenger arrived and informed them that Rysdyck was dead. He was found alone in his room, with his completed manuscript sermon before him. His remains were placed beneath the floor in front of the pulpit (an ancient Dutch custom) in the old church at New Hackensack. When the old ediface was taken down in 1834, they were removed to the burying ground.
In the year 1800, a few Baptists began to meet for social worship in this place. They had but little preaching. Mr. Palmer was one of their first preachers. A council met at George Parker's, June 10th 1807, and organized a church of 16 members. Francis Wayland, Sen., was their first pastor, who remained with them four years, during which time they built a house of worship. Rev. John Lawson, a missionary, when on his way to India, preached for them some time. He was succeeded by Lewis Leonard, of Massachusetts. In 1815 a Convention met with them at their request, and organized the Hudson River Association (*This association at one time had over 12,000 members).
Aaron Parker succeeded Leonard as pastor, remaining one year. Their next pastor was Rufus Babcock, JR., who was ordained with them. He continued there three years and was much esteemed. He was succeeded by R. W. Cushman, and Hutchinson. In 1826, Rev. A. Perkins returned, and was their pastor four years. In 1839, the church again obtained the services of Rufus Babcock, D. D., who served them as pastor three years more with abundant success, when he resigned to engage in the important duties of Corresponding Secretary of the American and Foreign Bible Society. Their house of worship, which had just then been erected, cost $20,000, one half of which was given by Mathew Vassar, a member of the congregation. Thomas S. Ranney and wife, Missionaries to Birmah, were for several years members of this church.
An aged resident mentions an old Methodist Meeting House - probably the first of that denomination in Poughkeepsie - which at one time stood in the vicinity of the burying ground between Main Street dock and the Lower Landing. It was a plain edifice, and unpainted; it had no steeple, and was never finished on the inside.
The cemetery north of Poughkeepsie, on the Hyde Park road, was the ground used by the Reformed Dutch Church and society for burial purposes, after the old grounds on Market street were given up. Here may be seen the monument of some of the oldest residents. Near the southern borders of the city, below Montgomery street, is the old Episcopal burying ground. Elegant residences are springing up around it; and the hurry and bustle of the busy throng contrast strangely with the solemn stillness of the sacred enclosure. Here, too are monuments marking the resting place of the ancient buried dead, shaded by venerable trees, and hidden by dense underbrush.
General History of Duchess County, 1609 to 1876, Inclusive, by Philip H. Smith, Pawling, NY, 1877, pgs. 349 - 358