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Early Staten Island Churches

For the benefit of all descendants of the Swaim-Tysen Family, we felt it would be of historical value to include herein what information we can, concerning the earliest churches on Staten Island, as members of the early churches were attended by the family. Therefore, we are extracting such information as is contained in Leng & Davis' book - "Staten Island and Its People" and from the "History of Richmond County." The underscoring is ours to point out important passages.

These passages contain historical information relative to the "French" or Huguenot church, references to St. Andrew's Episcopal church, the Presbyterian Church and the Dutch Reformed Church. We would direct the reader's attention to the information concerning "The Ancient Baptismal Record of the Early Dutch Church of Staten Island. The following is from pages 43 and 434 of "Staten Island and Its People":

"Clasis on September 14, 1696: "He and mot of is church members were surprised by a band of French and Indians, and all were massacred. The Dominie's head was split open (by a tomahawk) and his body burned up to the shoulders."

From the Ecclesiastical Records, State of New York, we find the next minister to visit Staten Island was Rev Rudolphus Varick. His letter of September 9, 1686, to the Clasis of Amsterdam contained the following: "Upon the removal of Domine Tesschemacker to Schenectady, the people of Staten Island have requested me to serve the Lord's Supper for them four times a year. This I have consented to do.: In the same letter he states that he sailed from Amsterdam in March and arrived in the beginning of July 1686. He was pastor in Long Island, 1686-94 (E.R. State N.Y. 922, 935, 944, 949). We find further in page 970: Synod of New Holland, July 26, 1689, Varick's letter of September 30, 1688, mentions: "He still conducted services at Hackensack. There were also two other places where he preached twice a year and administered the sacraments." Varick came to Staten Island twice a year during 1686 to 1690. He stopped administering the Lord's Supper in 1690. (pp. 1048, 1053).

Following the departure of Petros Tesschenmacker we find the beginnings of the French congregation on Staten Island. Baird's Huguenot Emigration to America II:400, there is the following translation of a Latin letter from Pierre Daille, pastor of the French Church in New York to Increase Mather reading: "July, 1686, Vandenbosch has snitched away to himself two parts of our church (which reside in the country) which before his arrival was intimately joined together." This has been interpreted to refer to Laurentius Vanden Bosch and the foundation of the French congregation on Staten Island (Eccles. Records, NY, pp 947, 948).

For nearly fifty years thereafter this congregation continued and for about half that time was the only church on Staten Island. Unfortunately its records have disappeared and our meagre knowledge of its early history is derived from such mention of it as has been preserved in other records. In 1693 the French Congregation on Staten Island subscribed 3pounds for the relief of slaves in Salle. Vanden Bosch did not apparently long remain as pastor; he had trouble with Henricus Selyns, Dutch pastor in New York, was suspended, and went to Maryland. According to Corwin (p. 401), Rev. Pierre Daille then preached occasionally on Staten Island. By 1695, when Miller's "New York considered" was written its author records Rev. David de Bonrepos as the minister of the French Church, the only church on the Island, with a congregation of thirty-six French, forty English and forty-four Dutch. De Bonrepos possibly came to Staten Island from New Rochelle as early as 1693 and died here in 1734, after a successful career, evidently highly esteemed. In 1698 the congregation received a deed from John Belvealle, Sr. and Hester Belvealle of land at green Ridge which is the earliest ecclesiastical deed Mr. Delaven has found. It conveyed one acre "laid out on the south & by east side of the bridge" one-half on the south side of the highway the other half on the north side. the highway referred to is now the Arthur Kill Road, which however, runs more to the north now than it did at the time of the French church in 1698. The site seems certainly to have been near the long barn on Mr. White's farm, described on Bromley's Atlas, 1917, as Blocks 1519 and 1520, plate 38, Vol. 2. There is now no remnant of the church or the graveyard surrounding it visible; but in 1865 Gabriel P. Dissosway wrote: "I have often visited the venerable spot and all that remains to mark the sacred place is a single broken gravestone." Bayles (p. 94) gives as the only inscriptions remaining: "Teunis Van Pelt, died 1765, aged 65 years; Mary, his wife died 1762, aged 59 years; and two others, dated 1784 without names." Bayles' information came from unpublished notes of Charles E. Anthony, written about 1850, thus antedating Dissosway, though published later.

The baptismal records of the French Congregation would be of genealogical importance but they, are unfortunately, lost. That they existed is shown by the vind made by Mr. Vosburgh in the Samuel Jones papers of shown copies of records of 1696, 1710 and 1714, executed by Henry Latourette in 1758. There is a record of transfer of membership of Pieter Lockman from French Church, Staten Island, to Dutch church, New York, on Aug 31, 1697.

To complete the history, so far as is known, of this church of the seventeenth century, we may anticipate the events which concerned it in the following century. It lost its English members when the Church of St. Andrews was built in 1712, though for seven years it had been used by the English on Sunday afternoons. It lost the support of the Dutch."

It can be seen from the foregoing, that there were "forty-four" (44) Dutch families that made up part of the congregation of the "French-Huguenot" Church on Staten Island. It also can be seen, as we have alluded to in the original text, that children of these families were baptized in the French Church, but as stated, those baptismal records were lost. We also have no doubts, but that many members of the Swaim-Tysen family were married in the French church, but no one knows what became of those records.

The following is from page 443 of Leng & Davis' "Staten Island and Its People" and pertains to the Presbyterian Churches:

"Presbyterian Churches -- In the year 1729 Jacques Cortelyou gave to Nathaniel Britton, Sr., and James Carman, elders, and Nathaniel Britton Jr. and Edward Jones, deacons of the Presbyterian Society, a piece of land at Stony Brook, fifty feet long and fifty feet broad, upon which a public meeting house has been erected, upon the condition that Jacques Cortelyou, Hendrick Van Lawa, Gozen Adriaenz (who in 1738 was elder of the Dutch Reformed Church on Staten Island), Rem van der Beck and Jacob Vander Bilt should have the use and privilege of the meeting house." (Liber D. p. 149).

Associated with Britton and Jones in the Presbyterian Society were James Carman and Nathaniel Britton, Jr. The close connection between the English Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed congregations which began thus early, continued for more than a century. It may even be traced back to an earlier date than 1729, for we have already shown that English, Dutch and French were united in 1695 in the French congregation and that among the qualifications of Drisius was his ability to preach Calvinist doctrine in three languages.

The following is from the "History of Richmond county (Staten Island) and is contained n pages 368 and 269, and is entitled "The Ancient Baptismal Record of the Early Dutch Church":

"This book, beginning in 1696, and containing apparently a complete record of the baptisms of the early Dutch church on Staten Island for a period of more than half a century is still in existence, being now in the keeping of the consistory of the Dutch Reformed church at Port Richmond. This venerable and valuable relic several years ago fell into bad company and became degraded to the level of common garret rubbish. While in this condition, and just as it was about to be consigned to a bonfire by those who had no knowledge of its value, it was rescued from destruction by Mr. Alfred de Groot, who promptly placed in in the hands of its proper custodians. Its records contain valuable genealogical data touching almost every old family of the island and many others. It is written in Dutch, and is no considerable defaced by time and wear and much of it quite difficult to read. Those who would consult it also find a still great difficulty in the utter absence of any order of arrangement, so that to surely find whether a desired name is contained in it or not, the whole book must be gone through. These obstacles united render the record practically a "sealed book," except to those who have the ability to read faded Dutch manuscript, and the time and patience to search through such a long list to find the names they wish to see. Believing that the service of unlocking this sealed treasure will be appreciated by those who may have occasion to refer to it, we have transcribed the entire list as far as it has any genealogical significance, and have arranged the entries all in the alphabetic order of the surnames of the fathers.

The custom prevailed of baptizing children at a very tender age. In the early years of the record occasionally the date of birth is given together with the date of baptism, as in the following entry: (He then listed the birth-baptismal record of Elizabeth, daughter of Cornelius Tysen (Swaim) of 28 May 1705.

In the early records it will be noticed the mother's name is not given. In most cases two "getuyen" or witnesses names appear in connection with each baptism, though in some only one appears, and in others not at all."

We have to be grateful to the early historians who researched all of the foregoing, which sheds some light on conditions that existed in those early days of our family's history on Staten Island. The foregoing cites examples of records that would have been destroyed except for the foresight of an individual who realized their value to history and had them preserved. The recourse of the first Baptist Church of Staten Island were found in a trash can and retrieved and given to the SI Historical Society. We have included the baptismal records, marriage records, etc., of Staten Island that pertain to members of the family, as a part of this Supplement.


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