Minute for History #2
Today we have the second in our series of Minutes for History, from the work of the Archives Committee. The Archives Committee would especially like to thank those who have dug up some historic documents for us – we hope to feature some of those in upcoming presentations. This morning we’d like to share with you another historic document that we’ve catalogued. This one is from 1783. You can see two views of it in your bulletin. On one side of the page is a reduced version of the entire document unfolded. The other contains the beginning of the text that is in English, in actual size. It is a little hard to read, so I will read the letter to you.
To all Christian People, Greeting
Whereas the Dutch reformed congregation of N. Millstone in the County of Somerset and State of New jersey, has been much Distressed by the late Distructive War, the inhabitants plundered of their property, their Church in part Destroyed & Rendered Useless, And Whereas Said Congregation is by Such Sufferings Rendered in a manner incapable of repairing their Church, We the Subscribers, Elders & Deacons of the Congregation aforesaid, find ourselves under the Disagreeable Necessity of applying for Assistance to the brethren of our Profession and Especially to those whom a kind Providence has protected against similar distress, who from pure motives of sympathy, we trust, will be induced to charity & Benevolence, and in order to promote this our purpose we have appointed and authorized our Pastor the Rev. Solomon Freligh, Capt. Cornelius Lott, & Peter Dismars to present this our application to Such of our brethren as they from personal acquaintance or Recommendation may Deem Persons of benevolent Disposition, and to assure them from us that their Donations will be received with gratitude, and their Names perpetuated on the Records of our Church as Examples of Generosity. By their humble Servants,
On the back someone has written:
Monies solicited from Long Island, to assist in repairing the church
This remarkable letter is written in brown ink, on a quite large folded piece of parchment. On one half are these words I’ve just read, in English. On the other side of the fold is the same message, written in the original Dutch. On the bottom of one half of the large sheet, the paper is extended by means of three red wax seals that hold on a second piece of paper with a large water mark. This may have acted as a sort of envelope or cover to protect the letter when it was folded up. On the reverse side of the large paper is a long list of names and amounts of money given. Many of the names are familiar to us: Suydam, Remsen, Staats, Hageman, Vanderbilt. The whole thing reminds me almost exactly of a completed CROP Walk envelope that the children use to collect money from us every fall. It shows the need for donations, the names of those who wanted to give, and the amounts that they pledged.
This document is significant in one way because it shows the ties our congregation had to the churches on Long Island in the 18th century. The pastor mentioned in the document, Solomon Froeligh, fled from the war in Long Island to New Jersey and became pastor of our church from 1780 to 1786. It is so nice that this connection is still a strong one, in that the churches of Long Island sent us Pastor Froeligh in the 18th century, and Pastor Mueller in the 21st century.
Even more significant, though, is the testimony this letter gives us about how world-changing events like the Revolutionary War touched the lives of ordinary people here in Millstone. In 1777 the British burned our original church building, damaging it badly. It was repaired to some extent in 1779, and was used throughout the war as a hospital for wounded soldiers by both the British and the Americans -- at different times! The war left the economy of the village badly damaged, and the residents plundered and distressed. By 1783, they had to ask for help from outside. The evident success of the effort is enumerated on the inside, with pledges from 64 individuals, enough to repair the old building to have it last until 1828, when this much larger church was built. Our congregation was part of a network of Reformed churches in this area -- Dutch Protestants who came to the new world seeking economic opportunities and religious freedom. They formed this congregation while New Jersey was just a colony. The war that turned New Jersey from a colony to a state swept right through this little town and left a lot of damage in its wake. It is good for us to remember how far back our congregation’s history goes – much farther back, even, than this pretty, ancient building in which we worship today. As a people, we are even older than this space around us.