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.