Thus far in my weekly column, I have talked about the people who settled Schaghticoke, from the Native Americans to the Dutch, Palatines, and immigrants from New England. I have focused on a few famous individuals and families, the development of local government, the industrial revolution, and the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Now I’ll go back to the start of European colonization of the town and discuss the spiritual lives of the settlers.
In 1700, Robert Livingston, Indian Commissioner for the Colony of New York, wrote to Governor Bellomont, requesting “a Fort at Schaghticoke and a Minister seated there, which would be a means to settle those Indians, and draw many of the Eastern Indians to them.” Livingston was concerned that the Schaghticoke Indians might be recruited to the French side in the ongoing French and Indian Wars. He felt that a fort and a church might be good inducements to keep them loyal to the English. He got the fort soon after, but the church had to wait until after Dutch settlers arrived in some numbers in 1709. According to the 1880 History of Rensselaer County by Sylvester, the first Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1715, a log structure near the junction of Route 67 and Knickerbocker Road. This was the first house of worship north of Albany. One source says that this church was burned by Indians from Canada during King George’s war in 1746. Sylvester goes on to say that the “new” meeting house was built in 1760, “a good specimen of the quaint style of church architecture” of the 1700’s, “60 x 40 feet, with low side-walls and a high-pitched Mansard roof, finished at the east end with a bulbous turret surmounted by a weathercock.” It had a pulpit with a canopy, on a high pedestal, and a “quaint” communion table. This was replaced with a new church on the same site in 1833, “a very good house but considerably modernized.” This burned about 1870, and was replaced by a church built near what is now a small airport, further west on Route 67 toward Mechanicville. That building burned in 1934. It was also topped by a weathercock, “a 5-foot-tall bronze affair weighing about 500 pounds,” perhaps transported from the first church.
Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, from the 1856 map of the town
Little is known of the early pastors of the church. It seems certain that there was no full-time minister until at least 1773. The records of the church survive from 1745-1866. The originals are in the New York State Library. I have a transcription of the records, done in 1909, and indexed by my mother. This transcription lists the first two pastors, Theodorus Frelinghuysen, 1745-1759, and Eilardus Westerlo, 1760-1773, as “supply” ministers, which would mean that they preached at the church only from time to time during the years. Sylvester’s history indicates that Frelinghuysen “preached so sharply against certain ‘fast’ habits of the soldiers and others” that he was much disliked. “One morning he found beside his door a staff, a pair of shoes, and a silver dollar.” He took those as a hint that he should leave, which he did, committing suicide on ship while en route to Holland, “so much did he brood over his troubles.” Who knows if that is true, but it’s a great story. I did find a mention of Theodorus on Wikipedia, the son of another Theodorus Frelinghuysen, both ministers, with a death date of c. 1760. The senior Frelinghuysen was an extremely prominent person in the Dutch Reformed Church.
It is important to note that church services in Schaghticoke were conducted in Dutch until about 1800. This was true at all the Dutch Reformed Churches in the area. For example, the Niskayuna Reformed Church had services in Dutch and English until 1812. The Schaghticoke church records were in Dutch until about 1800 as well. The second full-time minister at the church, Lambertus DeRonde, was deeply embroiled in the controversy that accompanied the change from Dutch to English in the wider Dutch Reformed Church in America. DeRonde was born in Holland in 1720 and arrived in New York in 1750, leaving a pastorate in Surinam, on the north coast of South America. DeRonde was hired by a church in New York City immediately, but soon became aware that there was great debate over whether ministers should switch to English. DeRonde worked hard to learn English, even writing a number of religious works in his new language, but supported the faction which advocated continuing to have services in Dutch. The English faction won, and he was forcibly retired in 1785 ending up in Schaghticoke, definitely a back water. He may have been acting as an associate pastor here as early as 1776, which would mean he was here during dangerous time as well, as the area was evacuated during the Revolution. He and his parishioners here were probably increasingly bilingual. DeRonde translated the new US Constitution into Dutch for those who weren’t in 1788.
DeRonde owned a farm just beyond the Mansion on Knickerbocker Road. The 1790 census lists De Ronde with a household of two other white males over 16, two females, and five slaves. One of the females was his wife, Maria Catherina De Sandra, who was born in Holland in 1719, died in 1801, and is buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery. The two males were presumably his sons Adriaan and Matheus or Matthew. The 1787 membership list of the Dutch Reformed church lists Maria Catherina as his wife, and the boys as his sons.
The records of the church also list the marriage of Adriaan DeRonde and Hendrikje Van Woert on July 12, 1787. They had a daughter, Margrieta Catrina baptised in 1791, and twins Matthew and Cornelia baptised in 1801, with Matthew and Cornelia Witbeck DeRonde as godparents. Interestingly, the list of members of the church in 1765 included Henderick Lent and his wife Catterina Deronde and in 1768 Aultje and Lena DeRonde. We don’t know how or if these earlier DeRondes were related to Lambertus. De Ronde died in 1795 and was originally buried on his farm. According to notes in my files, DeRonde’s body was exhumed some years later when the Dutch Reformed Consistory in New York City came to realize DeRonde’s importance to the history of the church. He was reinterred in the Knickerbocker Cemetery, with an impressive monument erected by the Consistory of New York. An ornamental fir tree planted next to that monument has grown to be huge over the years, and its roots knocked over that monument, which had been made in sections.
The probate records of Rensselaer County include a fascinating inventory of the estate of Lambertus DeRonde, made after his death in early 1796. Adriaan De Ronde was the administrator, and Matthew DeRonde helped with the inventory. As an aside, the next year Adriaan and his wife had a child, Lamburtus, baptized at the Troy Ist Presbyterian Church. They were listed as “strangers” and lived in Lansingburgh. Matthew died in 1813 and is also buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery, so apparently he stayed in town.
tombstone of Lambertus DeRonde, Knickerbocker Cemetery, Schaghticoke. Tipped over by the roots of the once ornamental tree next to it.
But let’s return to the inventory of Lambertus’ estate. . It begins with a list of 223 books in Dutch, 12 in English, and 69 in Latin. From the titles, many were religious works, and they were valued at a total of about 175 pounds, a considerable sum. To me it is amazing to think of a library that size on the frontier of New York State before 1800. It also indicates that while DeRonde was bilingual, his preference was Dutch. The inventory goes on to list 14 silver tablespoons, 1 silver tankard, 4 salt cellars, and 4 small spoons, 1 silver shaven (shaving?) dish, 1 punch ladel (sic), 1 Negro Man,…wait, what? Yes, slavery was common in well-off Dutch families, and DeRonde, even though he was a minister, had a Negro man and a Negro woman, each valued at 70 pounds, plus two Negro girls, one valued at 30 pounds, one at 20 pounds; one Negro boy valued at 25 pounds, and a second at 14 pounds.
DeRonde also had the belongings of a farmer: 5 cows; 2 heifers; 4 yearlings; 40 sheep; 4 horses each valued at 10 pounds; plus 2 other mares, one valued at 15 pounds, one at 20; 1 sow; and 13 shoats (piglets). He also had 2 wagons, 2 slays (sic), 2 plows, a harrow, and 1 windmill. Furnishings of the house included 3 featherbeds, 2 large looking glasses, 16 pictures, a mahogany tea table, and 12 Windsor chairs. Tableware included 25 Cheany plates- maybe china?, 12 pewter water plates- these would have allowed hot water to be placed inside to keep food warm- and 10 other pewter plates, 10 knives and forks, 3 brass and 4 pewter candlesticks, 1 pewter tea kettle and 1 pewter coffee pot, plus 1 (silver) plated oil and venigar (sic) server. There were also two tobacco boxes, one wooden, one pewter. The total estate was valued at 729 pounds.
Lambertus DeRonde was a well-educated, sophisticated man, with a European education, who lived in New York City for many years. In retirement he lived in a small, rural community on the frontier, but was surrounded by the possessions he had collected over a life-time.
The records of the Dutch Reformed Church are a great source for genealogists. They are the earliest vital records of residents of the town of Schaghticoke. Because there was no other church in the area until about 1776, many people who were not Dutch Reformed, and who lived quite far away, were married and had babies baptised in the church.
The record of pastors of the Dutch Reformed Church ends with J.A. Harper, the pastor from 1905-1909, but the records of baptisms and marriages dwindles, and ends with a few entries in the 1860’s. It is significant that when the church was rebuilt in 1870, it was relocated. The original center of population in Schaghticoke, in the old Albany Corporation Lands around the Knickerbocker Mansion, was now a backwater, supplanted by the growing village of Schaghticoke. It may have seemed that the new site, near a railroad station at the hamlet of Reynolds, and closer to the ferry to Mechanicville, would access more people. The church was reincorporated in 1872 by elders John A. VanVeghten, H.A. Hemstreet, and deacons James Webster, Ira Button, and William H. Fort. They all lived in that area. But the church continued to lose membership, and was not rebuilt after it burned in 1934.
Bibliography: notes by Rodney O. Winans in the files of the historian
Goodfriend, Joyce D. “The Cultural Metamorphosis of Dominie Lambertus DeRonde”, Hudson Valley Regional Review, Spring 2009. P 63-75.
Transcription of the records of the Dutch Reformed church, collection of the historian
Sylvester, Nathan , History of Rensselaer County, 1880.