THE STORY OF
SUNDAYS IN COLONIAL DAYS
of the Dutch churches in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys had a family resemblance
in their solidity and small proportions, several of them being built in
whole or in part of little yellow bricks brought from Holland. The diminutive,
square, hooded windows were set with tiny panes of glass. Happily they
were guarded on time outside by heavy iron cross-bars, for the small boys,
then as in our day, threw stones. The gable end faced the road. In the
towns this architectural feature meant, Love thy neighbor as thyself
the idea being to let the snow and rain fall in your own yard and
not on the heads of street folks and passers-by.
The Sleepy Hollow
church at Tarrytown, still standing and in use, though greatly altered,
is a fair type of those structures. Inside the edifice were two connected
galleries, one on the west and one on the north side, and both were very
near neighbors to the high pulpit. Two beams, each a foot square, set
north and south across the inside of the building, bound the walls together.
The ceiling was of white painted boards. The six-sided sounding-board
of white oak, five feet above the pulpit, was suspended from the crossed
timber above by an iron rod. To these beams the kievits, or phbe
birds after which Kievits Hoek, on the Connecticut River,
was named used to come and build their nests. Untaught in the golden
virtue of silence, these and other feathered visitors kept up gossip and
scolding during the service, to the disturbance of the Domine and the
delight of the little folks.
The sturdy Dutchman,
like other puritans, disdained support to his spine while listening to
doctrinal sermons one or two hours long. Before the Reformation there
were no pews, for these came in with Protestantism, and are a family institution.
At first it was a luxury, as well as a novelty, to sit at all. When aristocratic
fashions imported from England prevailed, there were in the Dutch churches
at Albany, Schenectady, and in other places, on either side of the old
pulpit, the thrones, that is, seats elevated a little above
the level of the others, covered with rich curtains, and meant for the
special use of the family of the lord of the manor, or, in a free town,
the local magistrates. Here sat the Patroon and his wife, he occupying
the one side and the lady the other. In later days, during devotional
exercises, there were short curtains sliding on brass rods, and screening
off the inmates, which were drawn aside during the sermon, making the
inmates, the Domine, and the congregation visible to one another.
The Tarrytown bell,
still swinging in the belfry and summoning summer worshippers, was, like
others, in the Mohawk Valley and on Manhattan, cast in Patria. Amsterdam
was famous for its foundries, and the metal from captured Spanish cannon
was plentiful and cheap. The bronze of many hundreds of the bells in music-loving
Holland once made the thunder of war. Besides its rich ornamentation of
raised figures, the Tarrytown bell bears the inscription from Romans viii.
31, Si Deus nobis, quis contra nos, and the date 1685.
In very early days the bell was rung in most of the settlements three
times a day, to sound the hours of breakfast, dinner, and supper for housekeepers
and the men at work in feild or street, and always when there was a christening.
Then people went in the church to see the baby held in the Domines
arms. Whoever else might come, the minister and elder must be present.
On the sacramental
table the communion service of colonial days, sometimes of pewter, but
oftener of silver, is in many Reformed churches still in use. In larger
edifices, long tables were laid down the aisles. The baptismal bowl used
to be placed in a socket or bracket extending from the pulpit. The pulpits,
usually brought from Holland, were octagonal in shape, each suggesting
a wineglass in form, and just large enough to hold one man. Set up on
a wooden, standard, or demi-column, about nine inches in thickness, each
was mounted by a little stairway. Loftier than the ministers crown
was a peg upon which to hang his cocked hat. In silken gown and neck band
of linen, cambric befje, or bands, the Domineset out from the parsonage
arrayed for service. On entering he doffed his three-cornered hat, and
then the-men streamed behind him to their seats.
The Dutch Church
edifices were greatly altered after the Revolutionary War, and in one
respect they were made to conform to the simple and more democratic style
common before the English conquest. Then also the relics of feudalism,
the curtained seats of grandeur for the manor lord and lady and places
for the magistrates, were removed. In their stead were set, as in Holland,
pews for the members of the Consistory, elders and deacons, in front of
each of whom, on the projecting shelf of the pew front, was laid a Bible.
The hymn-book had bound up with it the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic
Confession of Faith, the Canons of the Synod of Dort, held in 1619, and
the forms for Ordination, Communion, Marriage, Burial, and Installation
used in the liturgy, and also the prayers of the Reformed Church of the
Netherlands. When in modern days the wineglass pulpit was exchanged for
a more fashionable sort, the mahogany of the old one was usually made
into souvenirs of some kind, tables or bookcases. Invertebrated hard oak
was exchanged for soft pine benches without cushions, but with high, straight
backs. It seemed like veritable laps of luxury, and flowery beds
of ease, when cushioned seats were provided for saints and sinners
In colonial days,
the meeting-house in winter was warmed chiefly by the zeal of the preacher.
The bodily heat of the men was kept in by great-coats. No wood stove radiated
roasting heat a few inches, nor did sheet-iron pipes of imposing length
and ugliness, as in later times, traverse the space from wall to wall.
The women found the holy tabernacles less arctic and more amiable than
did the men. Girls and matrons, who came with silver-clasped Bibles, hung
by chatelaines at their belts, had foot stoves. In the case of well-to-do
folk these were usually carried by the negro servants. In other instances,
the boys, or servant maids, or even Mynheer himself, were the heat-bearers.
In later days, hot bricks from the sleigh were wrapped up, and took the
place of stovey for caloric. If the klinkers got
cold before the service ended, for sermons were considered outrageous,
and it was thought that the Domine ran out of timber if they
were too short, the men went right up to the stove and heated them
again on the logs or embers. In modern days, when cast-iron wood burners
were introduced, high was their mounting on stilts, so that the
galleries could get warm. Terrific at times was the raking and banging
of the iron door by the sexton, who was very apt to magnify his office
as fireman, even to the extent of a million diameters.
that grew to be grand old trees, were early planted near the Kerk.
In the summer time the men sat out under their shade on smooth stones
or benches until the minister came, when they all rose up like a flock
of sheep, following their wether into the fold. Many were the proverbs
about the Domine, who, in the days before newspapers and magazines, was
on week days a walking library and on Sunday an oracle. As the Domine
sneezes, so sneeze we all, was a common saying. I hold by
your coat tails, Domine, confessed many a docile parishioner. Before
the social pipe or glass was enjoyed, Domine eerst was the
polite and waiting word. No wonder that the sociable pastor visited often
at the most hospitable homes, and sometimes brought down the sarcastic
fling, The Domine comes often for the wine; while of a reverend
but incorrigible old pipe smoker it was said, He belongs to the
family of John Tobacco (Jan Tabak). Considering the pithiness of
many Dutch proverbs, translation is treachery.
At Dorp, or Schenectady,
when the juffrouw, or Domines wife, entered the church, the
whole congregation stood up to greet her. It was the universal clerical
custom for the preacher, before mounting the pulpit, to stand at the foot
of the stairs, and, with one hand holding his hat and the other raised
in silent. prayer, to make spiritual invocation before he ascended. When
seated, he selected the biblical passage for the clerk or fore-reader,
who had his desk below. This important person, often school-teacher, funeral
director, and man of much if not all work, read to the people the appointed
chapter of Scripture, and afterwards gave out the psalm, usually acting
as precentor. This order of worship is still followed in the Fatherland.
If these colonial assistants read with the same fine effect and reverend
devotion as I have often heard the Scriptures rendered by the precentors
in Holland, it seems no wonder that Scripture-reading then, as now, was
often declared and felt to be quite as important as the ministers
discourse, for correct reading is, ipso facto, both illumination
The ordinary sermon
was from seventy-five to ninety minutes long, with occasional tendency
to plethoric continuity. Being divided into two parts, with a collection
in between, it was borne more cheerfully than in later times, when books
were numerous and homilies must be short. Then the proverb was occasionally
flung at the Domine, He cant let go of his sermon.
The universal rule
was to take at every service two collections for almsgiving, one
for the Church support, and one for the poor. There was nothing stingy
about a Dutchman when it came to his Church. His was ever an open hand,
and few people support their spiritual shepherds better than the Dutch.
On Communion Sundays, the table was drawn out to its full length, inside
the railing or down the aisle, and the people sat around it in successive
companies, every company receiving an address from the minister. As each
person approached the table, he, or more often she, would lift the edge
of the cloth and deposit under it the silver or copper coin, which was
to be used only for the purchase of bread and wine for the sacrament.
At noon there was
an hours intermission between the services, when the people ate
their lunch and chatted together, usually in the grove near the church.
Planted as shoots, these chestnuts, oaks, maples, or poplars grew up to
be magnificent trees of the Lord, full of sap. With their
increase the worshipers storehouse of precious memories and sweet
experiences was filled.
The subjects with
these neighbors were at first theological and edifying, but soon tapered
off to matters of daily routine, simple business, or elaborate gossip.
People rode long distances on horseback, and this equitation gave the
young men an opportunity to exhibit their dexterity and gallantry in assisting
the rosy maids from their saddles. The courtings, the flirtations, the
love-makings, and the delightful little nothings that took place during
the intermission between sermons were moments of joy at the time, and
became rich flowers in memorys gardens. Although excess of this
charm that Eden never lost might spoil, for the afternoon,
the full effect of the second sermon, yet who, other than the Domine,
would be called in to complete the work begun on Sunday noon and join
for life the lovers? Verily the better the day the better the deed.
The church records and the private cash accounts of the Domines show that
the people were as generous then as now, indeed, rather more no, we judge
from the many books we have seen, in paying for the privilege of linking
their lives with yoke-follows. In Dutch neither man nor woman in married
to any one. Bride or groom marries with him or her. In New
Netherland boys and girls were both educated, and men and women were more
on an equality than after the time of English fashions. Until quite recent
times all marriage fees were paid by the Domine into the church treasury,
and were not private perquisites, as at present, or gifts to the lady
of the parsonage.
The first use of
the English language at a baptism, September 25, 1785, greatly offended
some good people, who made mighty outcry against the innovation. How
shall we sing the Lords song in a strange tongue? voiced their
feeling. Indeed, it was difficult for Dutch folk in their old age to understand
how God could reveal his truths in any language but that of their fathers.