Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Peter Stryker

. . . The Reverend Peter Stryker of Second River . . .
It would seem that we have not been good keepers of our village history, thus little remains of the early written record and even less in the way of images of our earliest citizens. What I have uncovered, and wish to share with you, is an engraving of The Reverend Peter Stryker, Pastor of the Second River Dutch Reformed Church as he appeared in 1794. This is one of the earliest images of a citizen of our village.

Rev. Stryker was the spiritual leader of the community from October of 1794 until October of 1809. Originally, Rev. Stryker was pastor of the church in Staten Island. Of such good repute was he, that the villagers were determined to bring him to Second River. In 1790, the community prevailed upon Mr. Abraham Speer to make the journey to Staten Island with the intent of inducing Rev. Stryker to move here. This first attempt was unsuccessful. But our villagers were a resolute people who in 1794 renewed their efforts and were this time successful.

Among his many accomplishments during fifteen years in the community, Rev. Stryker was the first to give his sermons in the English language; previously Dutch was the language of common use. His abilities were fully tested when he became responsible for the rebuilding of the church structure. On the 22nd of May in 1804 a violent tornado tore down the steeple and left the building unfit for use. The villagers were a frugal people but prosperous so that by 1807, under the guidance of Rev. Stryker, a new church building was completed.
It was during his tenure, in June of 1797, that the grand old Village of Second River was renamed and became the Town of Belleville. And so it was that the Rev. Peter Stryker was a leading citizen of both the old village and the new town. The War for Independence had ended more than a decade ago; both the town and the church had recovered from its effects. Now it seemed that things could only get better; and they did.

However, in 1809, the good Reverend choose to answer the call of another church. He became pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Amboy. Much beloved was he in our community and much dismayed were the good folks here at his leaving. The villagers persisted in persuading him to return. Next year, in 1810, he acquiesced, returning to Second River for an additional two years. In 1812, for reasons of health, he retired. In a manuscript left by one of his sons, it is said that he was advised by his physicians to “take a long journey on horseback.” In our last view of the Reverend Peter Stryker, we see him riding off into the sunset, seeking peace of mind.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Second River’s First Born

In a town as old as this one, it can be a real challenge to determine who was the first person born here. Records are sparse when they exist at all. In fact, for the first twenty-three years of the settlement’s existence, there were no records kept here at all. Yes, this is work for a hard-nosed historian-detective . . . ahem . . . ok., I have a candidate to offer.

The historical evidence that has been uncovered at present, favors a first settlement date of 1674 for our village. A detailed explanation of the settlement date is a topic for another essay, but it has to do with the terms and conditions of the treaty ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War. However, the Dutch Reformed Church, keeper of vital records in the 17th century, was founded in Second River in 1697. For those years in between, records of vital statistics were kept in Bergen (Jersey City). This is where the good folks of The Village of Second River, Dutch as they were, had to go to receive Divine Rites in those days. It is from scouring these ancient records that we find our candidate. Future historian-detectives may one day demonstrate otherwise, but for now I offer you this one:

It’s a Girl !

Elisabeth Merselis was born in The Village of Second River on March 3, 1682. Her parents were Merselis Pierterse and Pieterje van der voorst. She was baptized in the church at Bergen on April 18, 1682. The witnesses were Pieter Merselis and Hillitje Jans.

We hear of her again when, at the age of nineteen, she marries Adriaen A. Post at Bergen Dutch Reformed Church. The ceremony was held on April 21, 1701. At this time she moved to Bergen where her husband lived. We further learn that she had five children; Garret, Claertje, Adriaen, Marcelus and Elisabeth.

It seems that we just missed her 325th birthday. Perhaps next year we can celebrate Elisabeth Merselis Day on March 3rd !


Have you visited Cherry Blossom Village yet ? -

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