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BECAUSE the Netherlanders were not, like the New Englanders, fugitives from persecution at the hands of their fellow-countrymen, the Dutch colonization in America is often spoken of as a purely commercial venture; but in reality the founding of New Netherland marked a momentous epoch in the struggle for the freedom of conscience. Established between the long contest with the Inquisition in Spain and the Thirty Years’ War for religious liberty in Germany, this plantation along the Hudson offered protection in America to those rights of free conscience for which so much blood had been shed and so much treasure spent in Europe.

The Dutch colonists were deeply religious, with no more bigotry than was inseparable from the ideas of the seventeenth century. They were determined to uphold the right to worship God in their own way; and to say that their own way of worship was as dear to them as their beliefs is not strikingly to differentiate them from the rest of mankind. They brought with them from the home country a tenacious reverence for their fathers’ method of worship and for the Calvinistic polity of the Dutch Reformed Church. They looked with awe upon the synod, the final tribunal in Holland for ecclesiastical disputes. They regarded with respect the classis, composed of ministers and elders in a certain district; but their hearts went out in a special affection to the consistory, which was made up of the ministers and elders of the single local kerk. This at least they could reproduce in the crude conditions under which they labored, and it seemed a link with the home which they had left so far behind them.

They had no intention, however, of forcing this church discipline on those who could, not conscientiously accept it. The devout wish of William the Silent that all his countrymen might dwell together in amity regardless of religious differences was fulfilled among the early settlers in New Netherland. Their reputation for tolerance was spread abroad early in the history of the colony, and Huguenots, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Moravians, and Anabaptists lived unmolested in New Netherland till the coming of Director Peter Stuyvesant in 1647.

The religious tyranny which marked Stuyvesant’s rule must be set down to his personal discredit, for almost every instance of persecution was met by protest from the settlers themselves, including his coreligionists. He deported to Holland a Lutheran preacher; he revived and enforced a dormant rule of the West India Company which forbade the establishment of any church other than the Dutch Reformed; and he imprisoned parents who refused to have their children baptized in that faith. But it was in his dealings with the Quakers that his bigotry showed itself in its most despotic form. Robert Hodgson, a young Quaker, was arrested in Hempstead, Long Island, and was brought to New Amsterdam. After he had been kept in prison for several days, the magistrate condemned him either to pay a fine of a hundred guilders or to work with a wheelbarrow for two years in company with negroes. He de-dined to do either. After two or three days he was whipped on his bare back and warned that the punishment would be repeated if he persisted in his obstinacy. This treatment is recorded by the Domines Megapolensis and Drisius in a letter to the classis of Amsterdam, not only without protest but with every sign of approbation. Yet in the end public opinion made itself felt and Mrs. Bayard, Stuyvesant’s sister (or sister-in-law, as some authorities say) procured the release of his victim.

In another case, a resident of Flushing ventured to hold Quaker meetings at his home. He was sentenced to pay a fine or submit to be flogged and banished; but the town officers refused to carry out the decree. A letter, signed by a number of prominent townsfolk of Flushing, declared that the law of love, peace, and liberty was the true glory of Holland, that they desired not to offend one of Christ’s little ones under whatever name he appeared, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist, or Quaker. “Should any of these people come in love among us therefore,” said they, “we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them.” This letter immediately brought down upon the writers the despotic rage of Stuyvesant. The sheriff of Flushing was cashiered and fined; the town clerk was imprisoned; and penalties of varying degree were imposed on all the signers.

When accounts of Stuyvesant’s proceedings reached Amsterdam, however, he received from the Chamber a letter of stinging rebuke, informing him that “the consciences of men ought to be free and unshackled, so long as they continue moderate, inoffensive, and not hostile to government.” The Chamber, after reminding the Director that toleration in old Amsterdam had brought the oppressed and persecuted of all countries to that city as to an asylum, recommended Stuyvesant to follow in the same course. Herewith ended the brief period of religious persecution in New Netherland.

The amiable Domine Megapolensis who acquiesced in these persecutions came over to the colony of Rensselaerswyck in 1649 in the service of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. He was to have a salary of forty guilders per month and a fit dwelling that was to be provided for him. So the “Reverend, Pious, and learned Dr. Johannes Megapolensis, junior,” set sail for America “to proclaim Christ to Christians and heathens in such distant lands.” His name, by the way, like that of Erasmus, Melanchthon, Æcolampadius, Dryander, and other worthies of the Reformation, was a classical form of the homely Dutch patronymic to which he had been born.

Apparently the Reverend Johannes was more successful in his mission to the heathen than in that to the Christians, for he learned the Mohawk language, wrote a valuable account of the tribe, and understood them better than he understood the Lutherans and Quakers of New Amsterdam and Long Island. In 1664 when Stuyvesant was in the mood to fire on the British fleet and take the consequences, Megapolensis, so tradition runs, dissuaded him with the argument: “Of what avail are our poor guns against that broadside of more than sixty? It is wrong to shed innocent blood.” One wonders if the domine had any room in his mind for thoughts of the useless sufferings which had been inflicted on Hodgson and Townsend and the Lutheran preachers while he stood by consenting.

When Megapolensis arrived at New Netherland he found the Reverend Everardus Bogardus already installed as minister of the Gospel at Fort Amsterdam, his predecessor Michaelius having returned to Holland. From the beginning Bogardus proved a thorn in the side of the Government. He came to blows with Van Twiller and wrote a letter to the Director in which he called him a child of the Devil, a villain whose bucks were better than he, to whom he should give such a shake from the pulpit the following Sabbath as would make him shudder.

The difficulties which Bogardus had with Van Twiller, however, were as the breath of May zephyrs compared to his stormy quarrels with Kieft. This Director had taken Bogardus to task for having gone into the pulpit intoxicated, and had also accused him of defending the greatest criminals in the country and of writing in their defense. The fighting parson promptly countered on this attack. “What,” he asked from the pulpit, “are the great men of the country but receptacles of wrath, fountains of woe and trouble? Nothing is thought of but to plunder other people’s property — to dismiss — to banish — to transport to Holland.” Kieft, realizing that he had raised up a fighter more unsparing than himself and, unable to endure these harangues from the pulpit, ceased to attend the kerk; but the warlike domine continued to belabor him till Kieft prepared an indictment, beginning: “Whereas your conduct stirs the people to mutiny and rebellion when they are already too much divided, causes schisms and abuses in the church, and makes us a scorn and a laughing stock to our neighbors, all which cannot be tolerated in a country where justice is maintained, therefore our sacred duty imperatively requires us to prosecute you in a court of justice.” The quarrel was never fought to a finish but was allowed to die out, and the episode ended without credit to either party.

Like everything else in the colony of New Netherland, the original meeting-places for worship were of the simplest type. Domine Megapolensis held services in his own house, and Bogardus conducted worship in the upper part of the horse-mill at Fort Amsterdam, where before his arrival Sebastian Jansen Krol and Jan Huyck had read from the Scriptures on Sunday. These men had been appointed ziekentroosters or krankenbesoeckers (i.e., consolers of the sick), whose business it was, in addition to their consolatory functions, to hold Sunday services in the absence of a regularly ordained clergyman. In time these rude gathering-places gave way to buildings of wood or stone, modeled, as one would expect, on similar buildings in the old country, with a pulpit built high above the congregation, perhaps with intent to emphasize the authority of the church.

The clerk, or voorleser, standing in the baptistery below the pulpit, opened the services by reading from the Bible and leading in the singing of a psalm. The domine, who had stood in silent prayer during the psalm, afterward entered the pulpit, and then laid out his text and its connection with the sermon to follow a part of the service known as the exordium remotum. During this address the deacons stood facing the pulpit, alms-bag in hand. The deacons collected the contribution by thrusting in front of each row of seats the kerk sacjes of cloth or velvet suspended from the end of a long pole. Sometimes a bell hung at the bottom of the bag to call the attention of the slothful or the niggardly to the contribution, and while the bags were passed the domine was wont to dwell upon the necessities of the poor and to invoke blessings upon those who gave liberally to their support. When the sermon commenced, the voorsinger turned the hour-glass which marked the length of the discourse. The sermon ended, the voorleser rose and, with the aid of a long rod cleft in the end, handed to the domine in the pulpit the requests for prayers or thanksgiving offered by members of the congregation. When these had been read aloud, another psalm was sung and the people then filed out in an orderly procession.

The principle of competitive giving for the church was evidently well understood in New Amsterdam. De Vries has left us an account of a conversation held in 1642 between himself and Kieft in which he told the Director that there was great need of a church, that it was a scandal when the English came that they should see only a mean barn for public worship, that the first thing built in New England after the dwellings was a church, and that there was the less excuse for the Dutch as they had fine wood, good stone, and lime made from oyster shells, close at hand. The Director admitted the justice of the plea but asked who would undertake the work. “Those who love the Reformed Religion,” De Vries answered. Kieft replied adroitly that De Vries must be one of them, as he had proposed the plan, and that he should give a hundred guilders. De Vries craftily observed that Kieft as commander must be the first giver. Kieft bethought himself that he could use several thousand guilders from the Company’s funds. Not only was he as good as his word, but later he contrived to extort private subscriptions on the occasion of the marriage of Bogardus’s stepdaughter. As usual when the domine was present, the wine flowed freely. “The Director thought this a good time for his purpose, and set to work after the fourth or fifth drink; and he himself setting a liberal example, let the wedding-guests sign whatever they were disposed to give towards the church. Each, then, with a light head, subscribed away at a handsome rate, one competing with the other; and although some heartily repented it when their senses came back, they were obliged nevertheless to pay.”

In view of this story it was perhaps a fine irony which inspired the inscription placed on the church when it was finished: “Ao. Do. MDCXLII. W. Kieft Dr. Gr. Heeft de Gemeente desen Tempel doen Bouwen,” i.e., “William Kieft, the Director-General, has caused the congregation to build this church.” The correct interpretation, however, probably read: “William Kieft being Director-General, the congregation has caused this church to be built.” 1

Evidently religion prospered better than education in the colony, for the same lively witness who reports the Bogardus affair and the generosity stimulated by the flowing wine says also: “The bowl has been passed around a long time for a common school which has been built with words, for as yet the first stone is not laid; some materials only have been provided. However the money given for the purpose has all disappeared and is mostly spent, so that it falls somewhat short; and nothing permanent has as yet been effected for this purpose.”

The first schoolmaster sent to New Netherland arrived in 1633 at the same time as Bogardus, and. represented the cause of education even less creditably than did the bibulous domine that of religion. Adam Roelantsen was twenty-seven years old when he was sent over seas as instructor of youth in the colony, and he was as precious a scoundrel as ever was set to teach the young. He eked out his slender income in the early days by taking in washing or by establishing a bleachery, which must be noted as one of the most creditable items in his scandalous career. He was constantly before the local courts of New Amsterdam, sometimes as plaintiff, sometimes as defendant, and finally he appeared as a malefactor charged with so grave an offense that the court declared that, as such deeds could not be tolerated, “therefore we condemn the said Roelantsen to be brought to the place of execution and there flogged and banished forever out of this country.” Apparently, on the plea of having four motherless children, he escaped the infliction of punishment and continued alternately to amuse and to outrage the respectable burghers of New Amsterdam. He was succeeded in order by Jan Stevensen, Jan Cornelissen, William Verstius, sometimes written Vestens, Johannes Morice de la Montagne, Harmanus Van Hoboocken, and Evert Pietersen. In addition to these there were two teachers of a Latin school and several unofficial instructors.

The duties of these early teachers were by no means light, especially in proportion to their scanty wage. We learn in one case that school began at eight in the morning and lasted until eleven, when there was a two-hour recess, after which it began again at one and closed at four o’clock. It was the duty of the teacher to instruct the children in the catechism and common prayer. The teacher was ordered to appear at the church on Wednesdays with the children entrusted to his care, to examine his scholars “in the presence of the Reverend Ministers and Elders who may be present, what they in the course of the week, do remember of the Christian commands and catechism, and what progress they have made; after which the children shall be allowed a decent recreation.”

Besides his duties as instructor, the official schoolmaster was pledged “to promote religious worship, to read a portion of the word of God to the people, to endeavor, as much as possible to bring them up in the ways of the Lord, to console them in their sickness, and to conduct himself with all diligence and fidelity in his calling, so as to give others a good example as becometh a devout, pious and worthy consoler of the sick, church-clerk, Precenter and School master.”

Throughout the history of New Netherland we find the church and school closely knit together. Frequently the same building served for secular instruction on week-days and for religious service on Sundays. In a letter written by Van Curler to his patroon, he says: “As for the Church it is not yet contracted for, nor even begun.... That which I intend to build this summer in the pine grove (or green wood) will be thirty-four feet long by nineteen wide. It will be large enough for the first three or four years to preach in and can afterwards always serve for the residence of the sexton or for a school.”

How small were the assemblies of the faithful in the early days we may gather from a letter of Michaelius, the first domine of the colony, incidentally also one of the most lovable and spiritually minded of these men. In his account of the condition of the church at Manhattan he observes that at the first communion fifty were present. The number of Walloons and French-speaking settlers was so small that the domine did not think it worth while to hold a special service for them, but once in four months he contented himself with administering the communion and preaching a sermon in French. This discourse lie found it necessary to commit to writing, as he could not trust himself to speak extemporaneously in that language. There is something beautiful and pathetic in the picture of this little group of half a hundred settlers in the wilderness, gathered in the upper room of the grist-mill, surrounded by the sacks of grain, and drinking from the avondmaalsbeker, or communion cup, while the rafters echoed to the solemn sounds of the liturgy which had been familiar in their old homes across the sea.

There is the true ring of a devout and simple piety in all the utterances of the settlers on the subject of their church. The pioneers were ready to spend and be spent in its service and they gave freely out of their scanty resources for its support. In the matter of education their enthusiasm, as we have seen, was far less glowing, and the reasons for this coolness are a subject for curious consideration. The Dutch in Europe were a highly cultivated people, devoted to learning and reverencing the printed book. Why then were their countrymen in the New World willing to leave the education of their children in the hands of inferior teachers and to delay so long the building of suitable schoolhouses?

We must remember that the colonists in the early days were drawn from a very simple class. Their church was important to them as a social center as well as a spiritual guide. For this church they were willing to make any sacrifice; but that done, they must pause and consider the needs of their daily life. Children old enough to attend school were old enough to lend a helping hand on the bouwerie, in the dairy, or by the side of the cradle. Money if plentiful might well be spent on salaries and schoolhouses; but if scarce, it must be saved for bread and butter, clothing, warmth, and shelter. In short, reading, writing, and figuring could wait; but souls must be saved first; and after that eating and drinking were matters of pressing urgency. Fortunately, however, not all education is bound up in books, and, in the making of sturdy and efficient colonists, the rude training of hardships and privation when combined with a first-hand knowledge of nature and of the essential. industries provided a fair substitute for learning.

On the other side of the picture we must consider what type of men would naturally be drawn to cross the sea and settle in the new colony as schoolmasters. Many of the clergymen came urged by the same zeal for the conversion of the savages which fired John Eliot in New England and the Jesuit Fathers in the Canadian missions. For the schoolmasters there was not this incentive, and. they naturally looked upon the question of emigration as a business enterprise or a chance of professional advancement. As a first consideration they must have realized that they were leaving a country where education and educators were held in high respect. “There was hardly a Netherlander,” says Motley, “man, woman or child, that could not read and write. The school was the common property of the people, paid for among the municipal expenses in the cities as well as in the rural districts. There were not only common schools but classical schools. In the burgher families it was rare to find boys who had not been taught Latin or girls unacquainted with French.” From this atmosphere of scholastic enthusiasm, from the opportunities of the libraries and contact with the universities, the pedagogue was invited to turn to a rude settlement in the primeval forest, where the Bible, the catechism, and the concordance formed the greater part of the literary wealth at his disposal, and to take up the multiple duties of sexton, bell-ringer, precentor, schoolmaster, consoler of the sick, and general understudy for the domine. In return for this he was to receive scanty wages in either cash or public esteem.

What hardships were experienced by these early schoolmasters in New Netherland we may understand by reading the Reverential Request written by Harmanus Van Hoboocken to the burgomasters and schepens that he may be allowed the use of the hall and side-chamber of the Stadt-Huys to accommodate his school and as a residence for his family, as he has no place to keep school in or to live in during the winter, for it is necessary that the rooms should be made warm, and that cannot be done in his own house. The burgomasters and schepens replied that “whereas the room which petitioner asks for his use as a dwelling and schoolroom is out of repair and moreover is wanted for other uses it cannot be allowed to him. But as the town youth are doing so uncommon well now, it is thought proper to find a convenient place for their accommodation and for that purpose petitioner is granted one hundred guilders yearly.”

Can we wonder that New Netherland did not secure a particularly learned and distinguished type of pedagogue in the early days? In 1658 the burgomasters and schepens of New Amsterdam with a view to founding an academy petitioned the West India Company for a teacher of Latin, and Alexander Carolus Curtius was sent over to be the classical teacher in the new academy; but he was so disheartened by the smallness of his salary and by the roughness of the youthful burghers that he shortly returned to Holland, and his place was taken by Ægidius Luyck, who, though only twenty-two years old, established such discipline and taught so well that the reputation of the academy spread far and wide, and Dutch boys were no longer sent to New England to learn their classics.


1 Brodhead, History of the State of New York, vol. p. 557 (note).

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