Friday, October 5, 2012

October 05, 2012

"Nieuw Amsterdam" and the Reformed Church: New York City’s Religious Heritage

When studying 17th century America I see a distinct pattern: English on the eastern seaboard; Spanish in Florida; and French in Louisiana, Alabama, and “New France.” But I often fail to remember that there was actually a very important Dutch presence in America as well. The Dutch had had quite an ugly falling-out with their Spanish overlords and had refused to be subjected to Catholicism. Adopting Calvinism, they threw in their lot with those much-accustomed to persecution and thus became part of the Reformation heritage. The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church came into power in New Amsterdam (Manhattan Island, New York) in the early 1600s. French Huguenots flocked to the settlement, often with Dutch spouses.

 Like the English, the Protestant Dutch checked the New World presence of the Catholic French and Spanish. Though their contributions have sadly been given scant attention, it was their presence that cemented the Reformed Church of America, which is still going strong today. Concerning New Amsterdam and 17th century dogma, I am uncertain of what level of religious tolerance there might have been. I laughed when I wondered if I and the majority of my ancestors, as Lutherans, would have been welcome. The 17th century was a time of persecution. Yet perhaps there would have been some tolerance, as Protestants tended to stick together. They had certainly learned that attempts to step “outside the box” and fit in with their neighbors often ended badly.

So how important was the 17th century Dutch presence on Manhattan Island? Very. Although the Dutch faded from the scene rather quickly and little remains of their heritage, they still helped carve out early America and had a huge hand in its colonization. Can it be proven that they were even there? Many documents still exist that testify to the presence of early Dutch Reformed and Huguenot settlers on Manhattan Island. In some cases, these letters are fascinating and detailed glimpses into the settlers’ lives. Underneath 21st century glitz and glamour, New York City and its environs hosts more history than most might be aware of.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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