The Old Dutch Church of Sleep Hollow
The following is taken from "First Record Book of the 'Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow' Organized in 1697 and now The First Reformed Church of Tarrytown, N. Y.," An original translation of its brief historical matter, and a coy, faithful to the letter, of every personal and local name, of its four registers of members, consistorymen, baptisms, and marriages, from its organization to 1791, by Rev. David Cole, D.D., Yonkers, N. Y., Published by The Yonkers Historical and Library Association, 1901.
The First Reformed Church of Tarrytown, familiarly known as "The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow," grew out of a religious life that had, long before the church's organization, been expressing itself through informal house meetings. The church was not organized till 1697, and it had not settled pastor till 1785. Certainly till 1716, and it is believed till 1724, it was under the continuous supervision of Rev. Guiliam (William) Bertholf, actual pastor of two Reformed Churches in New Jersey, and care-taker of several other church plants in his vicinity, whom the people employed to exercise over them a general direction, and to administer the sacraments for them three or four times each year. From the time of Rev. Mr. Bertholf, we have evidence that they kept up their communion and baptismal occasions, but have no information as to how often or by whom they were supplied. From 1744 to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1775, the church was under the care of Domine Johannes Ritzema, one of the New York church pastors, who did all he could for it and other churches within his reach, while carrying at the same time the heavy cares growing out of his own special city charge. During the Revolution the church and tis affairs fell into great confusion. It finally called its first pastor, the Rev. Stephen Voorhees (or Van Vorhees) in 1785. Since that time it has had a regular pastoral succession, and a history that can be more easily traced.
The very interesting book herewith presented, the First Record Book of the Church, covers only the period mentioned, from 1697 to 1785. Down even to 1800 the church had no other book, and even in this one the historical matter is exceedingly brief, being confined to less than eight pages at the very opening. Beyond these eight pages, the book is not one of minutes, but one of registers -- first, of members, second, of consistories, third, of baptisms, and fourth, of marriages. Besides the very brief historical data on its first eight pages, it has no other reading matter between its covers, except the four short headings to its four registers, and the financial reports of its elders and deacons, as, year after year, they retire from office and hand over their balances to their successors. And even as to the eight pages of history at the beginning of the volume, they were made up in full in 1716, and cover only the first nineteen years of the church's life. On November 3, 1715, as the matter of the eight pages, herewith given in both Dutch and English, will show, the Consistory state that they had preserved no minutes of their doing from 1697 to that day. They had lists of their baptisms and marriages, but no consistorial or elders' minutes. To remedy this neglect as far as possible, they determined at once to appoint one of their church members, who had the eighteen years well in his knowledge and memory, to draw up a sketch of the church's back history and its progress, and to make out full registers of its members and its consistories, and record these gathered materials in a book fitted for the purpose. It seems to have been their intention at the time to go on from this beginning and keep regular minutes. But, strange to say, while thence forward keeping up their statistical registers and their yearly financial accounts, they have not left behind a single minute of a later date than May, 1716. The century from that date on to its close is a perfect blank as to any written record of consistorial or elders' acts, except those that had to do with the money balances of the successive years. Fortunately we have the four registers all preserved -- that of the members perfect to 1775, that of the consistories to 1776, with the single addition of 1790: that of the baptisms to 1778, with fragmentary additions to 1791; and that of the marriages to 1790. Dates turn out to be all quite clear, except that the baptismal register, from beginning to end, almost always omits birth dates. To us, with our habits of thought, this is seriously disappointing. But our parents used to have their children baptized as soon as possible after birth. They loved to date their lives from their baptisms, and made little account of birthdays on their church books. It is important to keep this in mind in dealing with their church records.
It has been stated that the Tarrytown Consistory, on November 3, 1715, resolved to appoint one of their best informed and most competent church member to make up a statement of events that had led to the founding of their church, and of the church's history for the then past eighteen years, and to start a church minute-book, to be kept up from year to year from that time on. Mr. Abraham de Revier, Sr., whose name stands second on their member roll, and first on their list of elders, seems to have been keeping private memoranda through the years, and these now proved useful. But Dirck Storm, Sr., was the man selected by the Consistory for their work. Mr. Storm was never at any time a Tarrytown Elder or Deacon. He had been Voorleser of the Tappan Church Book, it seemed like an old friend when it first met my eye on the Tarrytown Book also. Twice he has signed it to papers written by himself, certifying that what these papers contain is true to the best of his knowledge. One of these papers is the monetary report of April, 1716, and the other is a list of ninety-six members, which he certifies to be the actual membership of the church in May, 1716, after eight members have, from 1697, been lost by deaths and dismissions. So we come to know his writing intimately. It is full, round, clear, and shows firm character. Its capitals are very peculiar, and it abounds in a style of flourish which enables us to identify it wherever we meet it. We find that he laid out the plan of the Tarrytown book, and that he wrote the whole of its first (or historical) division and all of the headings of its four registers, and made all the entries on these registers down to May, 1716. After this his hand wholly disappears. Perhaps he may have died about this time. His composition and his spelling were no doubt up to the best lay scholarship of his day, though both were quite at variance with the Dutch usages of our own time. To follow his word formations and orthography requires familiarity with the Dutch of our American churches as written and spoken along the Hudson and in East Jersey from fifty to a hundred years ago. Mr. Storm was equal to the demands of the work committed to him. The rest of the book was at the mercy of a succession of clerks, some of whom did pretty well, but others of whom were shockingly illiterate and blundering. During the period of the Revolution and later, the baptismal record is very confused. But in this printed book it is given just as it is, to word and letter, in the original, all the way to the end.
A word now as to the present condition of the old book itself. It is very badly decayed. Several of its leaves have broken from their stitching, and a few of them are badly rotted on their edges. In a few cases words have been carried away. No doubt even a few dates have been lost. But whatever in the book can possibly be deciphered, has been brought out and is given in this volume. There will never again be need to refer to the old book, unless some one may wish to study its formal monetary reports, which are positively void of all interest now. Exhaustive scrutiny of these reports enables me to say that they do not contain a single minister's name, except those of Bertholf, Ritzema, and Voorhees, and what there is of these names is given in brief notes upon Divisions 6, 7, and 8, at the end of this book.
This reproduced volume will be of priceless worth to the descendants of old Westchester County families, and especially of original Philipsburgh Manor and Van Cortlandt Manor settlers. Westchester County, so far as is now known, has no other church record of the period. Thankful for success with what has been a laborious but loving work, whose value many people will be sure to understand, I now present it to all whose lines of descent it may touch, and especially to the churches and people of Tarrytown, and to the historical societies of the county in which it has been my privilege, for more than a third of a century, to live and labor in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yonkers, September, 1899.
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