The Story of New Netherland/Chapter 5
The career of the first Domine, or reverend pastor, in New Netherland, shows how rich life was under the risen sun of the Dutch Republic, then the land of opportunity. Whether in the army, navy, merchant marine, trade, diplomacy, law, medicine, or theology, there was not only sure promotion for the alert and diligent, but a fair chance of advancement to "everybody that was anybody."
The Reverend Jonas Michaelius, or, in plain Dutch, Michel, was born in 1577, and was educated in Holland's public schools. When twenty-three years old he went to the great University of Leyden, then in its lion-like youth, and matriculated September 6, 1600. He was a student at the same time with Jacob Cats and Vossius. He received his beroep, or call, to two villages in North Holland, and was settled as pastor at Hem, from 1612 to 1614, on a salary of seventy-five guilders, or thirty dollars. Then he took himself a wife, who bore him three daughters.
Though now but a place of six or seven hundred people Hem has an interesting history. Its story during feudalism, its elevation to the rank of a city with citizen-rights, magistracy, and government, its part in the bread-and-cheese riots of 1492 and the fine imposed upon, it therefor, the documents relating to its disputes and arbitrations with other cities, its coöperation during the war for freedom, without money or price, to fortify the city of Hoorn against the Spaniards, and its independence of manorial rights make very interesting subjects of study to mediævalists.
The young parson did not fear adventures by land or sea. When, in 1624, Admiral Piet Hein took Brazil, Michaelius went out to be minister of the Dutch church at Bahia, or San Salvador. The Portuguese recaptured the place next year, and Domine Michaelius then became chaplain of the fort in Guinea. He came back to Holland in 1627. On two continents, South America and Africa, he learned to know all sorts, conditions, and characters of men of many colors. One of his voyages was made with a man, then first mate, who later as captain took him to America. Michaelius had "roamed about with him a great deal, even lodged in the same hut, but never knew that he was such a brute and drunkard." After a stormy voyage, the Domine, his three little daughters, and their mother arrived on Manhattan, January 24, 1628.
The hardships were too much for the Domine’s wife. She died after being in the new country only a few weeks, and her body filled one of the first graves in the little cemetery. The poor widower mourned piteously, "without her society and assistance," when thus left with motherless children in a wild land, but he set bravely at work to bury his sorrows in scholarly toil and sweet human ministrations.
Coming from a land flowing with milk and cream, and rich in fruits and vegetables, cheese and eggs, the parson found these articles on Manhattan were rare and high-priced. At first, he and his little family had to live on ship's rations, beans, gray peas, barley, and stock fish. All this was different from the fare on the bountiful tables of Holland. The coming winter seemed hard enough. The fur business was dull, for the Iroquois from the north were ravaging the land of the Mohican Indians. Splendid American oak and hickory timber was being cut and carried back to the Fatherland, but ships were few. A windmill was in course of erection, to saw the wood, and the gristmill was already in operation. Brick-making had begun, but skilled labor was lacking. Oyster shells for lime were abundant, and both land and water were full of food.
These great heaps of shells were like the sweepings of the mint, for they were what was left over after the squaws had broken out the blue eye spots from the clam shells and the tops of the univalves, to make Indian money or wampum. In those ancient accumulations one rarely finds a perfect shell. The squaws were surprised to see such refuse burnt to make good white lime.
Michaelius concludes a long inventory of the resources of the New Netherland by saying, "The country is good and pleasant, the climate is healthy, notwithstanding the sudden changes of cold and heat. The sun is very warm, the winter is strong and severe, and continues fully as long as in our country." Plenty of furs and fuel were needed. "The best remedy is not to spare the wood, of which there is enough, and to cover one’s self with rough skins, which can be easily obtained."
This first Dutch pastor, like his American successors and his brethren at home, was always addressed as "Domine," which means master or rector. Our dictionaries have been corrupted by the Scotch method of spelling "dominie," which was unknown in the records or in American English until the New York Dutch were swamped as to numbers by British emigrants. This form of address, "Domine," was, and is, respectful, affectionate, and honorable. One American printer, who recently mixed up the "stickit minister's" title with that of his Divine Master, thus misprinted the Vulgate Scriptures, "Dominie Quo Vadis"! The Dutch domines in America were university graduates in almost every instance, and most of them were gentlemen of high breeding and scholarship. Dominie means a schoolmaster, and in this form is not a Dutch word. It is always Domine in the records of Patria.
Without desiring to be a busybody, Michaelius gave his opinion as to what ought to be done to make the Manhattan settlement a model one. He asked from home for copies of the Acts of the Synod, "both the special one relating to this region and those which were provincial and national."
Having been in Africa, he could judge fairly well concerning certain of the red man's deficiencies, but his theological prejudices, being those of his age, rendered him hardly able to appraise fairly the Indian's moral worth. He was not well impressed with the first families of America as represented by the Algonquin Indians, whom he found "entirely savage and wild, strangers to all decency, yea, uncivil and stupid as garden poles." And indeed as compared with the Iroquois, who were much more advanced in social, political, and economical life, the Manhattan savages were rather low in the scale of humanity. The men of the inland woods considered the river Indians south of them as fit objects for contempt and vengeance.
The intercourse between the white and the red men was carried on by signs. Most of the Dutch children and some adults picked up a certain amount of the Indian language, but they could not understand the savages when talking among themselves. The Domine's heart yearned for the little folks in the woods. "It would be well, then, to leave the parents as they are, and begin with the children who are still young."
The widower had difficulty with his housekeeping, for his daughters were quite young and maid servants were few indeed. Already there were African slaves from Angola and the mouth of the Congo, — "thievish, lazy, and useless trash."
His first letter reveals thus very early the one great trial which vexed the matrons of New Netherland most severely in the colony's early days. The lack of good domestic help did not arise because no housemaids came from Holland, for, in fact, the rosy-checked girls and women of marriageable age crossed the Atlantic in considerable numbers, but usually at the expense of their mistresses. The stipulation was made that they should repay the cost of their passage, if they left the service of their patrons before a definite period. Yet, almost as soon as they landed, the maids were courted by young Dutchmen who were doing well and wanted wives. Among the colonial documents extant are those of Dutch ladies who had brought over young women as servants, and who were in a surprisingly short time left to do their own work. The ladies complained because some Jan, Dirck, or Claes wanted their Trintje, Annetje, or Alida, for his bride. They demanded from the would-be bridegrooms the money they had paid out for the maidens' passage. Neither Indians nor the first negro slaves made good servants, but later a better class of blacks came in and did well in household service.
At the first opportunity Domine Michaelius, having visited the people in their bark houses and reed huts, proposed to organize a church. For his deacons he chose Governor Minuit and Captain Krol from up the river at Fort Orange.
The Dutch were not at all behind the founders of Massachusetts or Virginia in worship, while they were ahead of them in completed church life. The first fully organized Reformed, or Protestant, Church in America began on Manhattan in 1628. By this is meant not merely a place of worship, as at Jamestown, nor part of the congregation with lay elders, as at Plymouth, but the full corporation, with salaried minister, board of officers, and communicants forming a congregation, — members in good standing, bringing letters from the churches in the home land, or uniting on confession of faith. Such was the first Dutch church in North America, and such there was not in Virginia or Massachusetts. This association of adults, already baptized in the Christian faith and uniting together as pastor and officers, met every Sabbath for divine worship, scriptural instruction, the use and enjoyment of the sacraments, and the propagation of the faith. They were banded together under the forms of order, doctrine, and discipline of the National Reformed Church of the Netherlands for spiritual culture, the dispensing of charity, help of the poor, comfort to the bereaved, and consolation to the sick. For the present, "the Church in the Fort" was gathered in the loft of the horse mill.
One of the first houses of industry which the Dutch Jack built in his new country was for the grinding of grain into meal. The flour barrels still to be seen on the city’s coat of arms, though added afterwards, tell a tale of one of the first industries (and one of the later monopolies) on Manhattan. A circular trough or track was dug in the ground, its bottom floored with brick, and a huge millstone was made to roll in this trough, the wheel grinding the grain to meal. One end of the long axle was fixed in an upright pole for a spindle, and a horse, hitched to the farther end, made his monotonous round. Later, iron-hooped burr millstones made in the southern Netherlands turned out fine flour. When these no longer served their purpose, they were "cast out and trodden under foot of man," serving as paving-stones.
The horse mill, located in the rear of what is now Nos. 20 and 28 South William Street, was a two-storied affair, and was occupied by the parson or precentor and worshipers on Sundays. On the first floor were the mill and accommodation for man and beast. On the second floor were the bags of flour. Here, amid these supplies of food for the body, the Dutch people met to prevent spiritual famine and feed their souls with heavenly bread. A carpenter could easily put together the timber for a pulpit, on which the fore-reader could read a sermon and the creed, offer a prayer from the liturgy, and start the psalm tune, or the Domine preach and pray. Here were sung the uplifting Hebrew psalms, done into mother-speech and set to the tones of the long-drawn Gregorian chant, as in dear Patria. Here were read the grand sentences, with their rich cadences of Calvin's "Form for the Administration of the Lord's Supper," the heart of which beats in the words, "We seek our life out of ourselves in God."
All important is the history of "the Reformed Church in America," because the highest Dutch social life was closely associated with the Church, and was from the first found in its largest and fullest form in the congregations. The Church nourished a spirit of democracy, besides maintaining the schools and culture after the English conquered New Netherland and the royal governors abolished the public schools. Then the Church, from its pastors, precentors, and educated men, had to furnish and support teachers for the girls and boys. The Reformed Dutch Church was the seedbed for the sprouting of American and Continental, as opposed to aristocratic British notions. The language, customs, traditions, and best inheritances of Patria lingered longest, and are to-day found most notably in the Reformed churches in the East and West of our country. When New Netherland ceased to be, the Dutch Church and people still remained a potent element in the making of the American man and the world's grandest political structure.