The First Church in Albany

From People of Colonial Albany
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Dutch Reformed Church[1] was the centerpiece of  Dutch culture in early Albany and its predecessor the village of Beverwyck. The church building itself was the most prominent feature on the community landscape. It was situated in the middle of the city’s main intersection from the 1650s to 1806. Previously, services had been held in a building owned by the Patroon and located near Fort Orange. Enlarged about 1715, the Dutch church shown on the left, and in all contemporary community iconography, was the largest building in colonial Albany and was described by a number of visitors. The Dutch church clearly was colonial Albany's premier social institution!

Staffed continuously by a European-born domine or minister, the Albany Dutch church represented continuity with the past and stability. Its lay leaders or Deacons were among the most prominent Albany businessmen and officials. Well-supported by these worthies, by more typical, rank-and-file city people, and by those in the countryside until Reformed Churches were built in Schenectady, Kinderhook, Catskill, and Schaghticoke, the Albany Dutch Church also provided poor relief, buried the dead, sponsored missionary work among Native peoples, and often served members of other congregations whose houses of worship were less well-established. Regardless of ethnicity, most early Albany families received some needed service from the Dutch Church.

The North Pearl Street Dutch church was opened in 1798 and replaced the old structure which was torn down in 1806. By that time, a secondReformed congregation was serving the south side of a booming city. Other Reformed churches followed in other parts of the city but the North church serves today under the banner of the First Church in Albany!

In 1815, the newspaper published an article on the division of the Reformed churches which included a list of those churchmen serving on the "Great Consistory."

At some time during the seventeenth century, the church took title to a large tract of flood plain land in the southeastern quadrant of the city. For good reason, it was known as "the Pastures" and was intended to provide the church with a source of income. In 1815, the church deeded "the Pastures" back to the city and it was immediately marked for development. Today it is called the South End."

In September 1825, a list of those resident/parishioners subscribing to endowing a third professorship at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary contained the names of Albany's most prominent Dutch ancestry personages and the amount each subscribed.

This sketch is mostly concerned with the membership of the church and with its role as a community-based social and economic institution. Perhaps it will one day responsibly address the core community question regarding the place of religion in the actual lives of the people of colonial Albany. It cannot do justice to liturgical and spiritual matters - only partially because most surviving information comes from official church sources, from the perspective of its ordained leadership, and from the impressions of visitors. However, it was an extremely important part of the Albany community during its formative years. In the beginning, and for most of the pre-Revolutionary era, the Dutch church represented the most important and often only spiritual identity for the community and its ever-growing hinterland.

  1. The comprehensive study by former church historian Robert S. Alexander stands above all others. The church's official website also provides historical information ND an overview timeline. Many of the early church records have been translated, transcribed, and printed. At the beginning of our enquiry, the printed records were extensively utilizedby the Colonial Albany Project. Since then, baptism and marriage resources have been placed online! Burial information also is available on the Internet - as are tombstone inscriptions from the church plot at Albany Rural. The latest addition to the available resources is Janny Venema, Deacons' Accounts, 1652-1674: 1st Dutch Reformed Church of Beverwyck-Albany, New York (Grand Rapids, MI, 1998); online preview. See also, Allan J. Janssen, Gathered at Albany: A History of a Classis (Grand Rapids, MI, 1995).