Correspondence from America, Rev. Gideon Schaats, June 27, 1657

Historical Context
Ministers were considered an important part of the Dutch community. Colonial inhabitants viewed the minister as a representation of their culture. He stood as a leader in the church and the colony and held a multitude of duties and responsbilities. Among these many responsibilities, ministers would deliver the sermon, administer baptism and communion, take care of the spiritual and physical needs of the members, and discipline members for violating the laws of the Bible. He was expected to be humble, modest, godly, intelligent, articulate, and eloquent.

Gideon Schaats arrived in New Netherland in 1652 as the newly appointed minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Beverwijk. He was a former school master who had decided to become a minister. When he arrived in 1652, he had a church membership of 130 inhabitants. By 1660, his membership had risen to 200. Under his leadership, a poorhouse was built and funded by the church. Dominee Schaats died in 1694 and was buried in the churchyard.
Essential Question
What role did ministers play in the colony?
Check for Understanding
Describe the role of the minister and the problems he discusses.
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Correspondence from America (Rev. Gideon Schaats) , Other, AGSRCA_AmsterdamCorr_B1_N38
Document Description
Correspondence from America written by Rev. Gideon Schaats, paster at Rensselaerswyck, June 27, 1657.
  1. What is the purpose of this letter?
  2. Who is Gideon Schaats?
  3. How does he describe the colonists?
  4. What is the overall tone of this letter?
  1. Venema, Janny. (2003). Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the Amerian Frontier,1652-1664.          State University of New York Press: Albany, NY.
Correspondence from America.

1657, June 27th.  

Rev. Gideon Schaats to Rev. DomineLaurentius.  

The Peace of Christ!

Very Dear Father and Brother in Christ, DomineLaurentius:—  

In the beginning of November, last year, (1656,) in conjunction with DomineMegapolensis, I wrote to you at the request of the Rev. Classis, concerning the state of the church in general, in this country, and in particular about myself, with the designof having the same communicated to the Rev. Brethren. But, as we have learned that the ship "Otter ", by which we sent our letters, -was lost on the coast of England, and as we have received no answers to them, we now repeat the information.

About the church and congregation here: Much could be said of the indiscreet walk of many. There are many hearers, but not much saving fruit. The place increases, but when the wind is from the South, the people, who carry on trade, by which this place alone exists, pass away like grass growing on the (meadow.) We have here about one hundred and thirty members, most of whom I found here. I think that I have received about thirty. May God sanctify them! But we have been also considerably deceived by certain ones, so that on account of their inconsistent walk, although with but little assistance, I have been obliged to suspend them from the Lord's Table. The people are rather reckless; many remain away from the Lord's Table for a kernel of oats, (the slightest reason); disputes often arise on account of trade. But they ought never to be left without a preacher, as there are sometimes between three and four hundred at church, notwithstanding the distance some have to travel; and if they were all well inclined, there might be an audience of six hundred, besides the merchants, who frequent the place during the summer; but the taverns and villainous houses have many visitors. The colonists have not more than fourteen or fifteen country places (farms); the Company has around the fort a "Factory" village of one hundred and twenty houses, if not more, and others are springing up daily; a small new church has been located in the heart of this village, Beaverwyck, where by God's grace I now preach. But inasmuch as most of the people are under the Company, Rensselaer neither will nor can continue me after my term expires. This, according to the last agreement made, will be on the 24th of July, 1657. [A marginal note in the same hand writing says: This contract was made on the 20thof September 1656 or thereabouts, at which time he was already intending to resign.] Then I shall be free from my duties here.  I wrote about this in my last letter. This matter gives me a great deal to think about, and the uncertainties cause me much trouble. I am free from van Rensselaer, or will be; but not a word was said by the officers of the Company about my salary, before I received my discharge. No preacher has ever yet been appointed here by the Company, and the Company says that the congregation must pay the preacher. But they (the people?) prefer to gamble away, or lose in bets, a ton of beer at twenty; three or twenty four guilders, or some other liquor. I will say nothing against the better class; but of these there are too few to make up the salary. The Company's people are not very liberal, as may be seen in the case of DominePolheymius, preacher at Flatbush, whom the poor farmers pay in scanty salary. On the whole, frequently I do not know what to do; nor can I tell what my final resolutions shall be. Perhaps when I am free, I shall be pleased to make use of that freedom in the coming spring, 1658, and travel with my children to the Fatherland. Here they learn nothing but rudeness, instead of useful things. This journey is desirable especially for my sons, each of whom is fit now to undertake something to his liking. In the meanwhile, and at the request of the Consistory here, I shall not cease to do my duty, until the time that you and the Rev. Brethren can do something for me in this matter. If the Company, which made the first beginnings at this place, would also make a beginning in the appointment of a preacher, then let them also provide for him, as they do for the preacher at New Amsterdam. The work here is very hard for one minister, while they have two at the Manhattans; and because above the Jlinades such a dearth is felt; for victuals are three times more easily procured at the Minades, as the English live in that neighborhood, and they are also on the sea. The salary of the old preacher there who keeps house is- two thousand guilders, including his house rent; and besides he has free fuel, which here we have not. Fire wood costs us about two hundred guilders, for which the price at the Minades is hardly one hundred and fifty. This is because of the difficulty in hauling it from the woods. Neither is there any house for the preacher here. All the houses are occupied, so that there are none to rent. Everybody must build for himself, and at great expense, for everything is four times as dear as in the Fatherland; as for example carpenters wages, and everything pertaining to building. The houses here cost a great deal. A decent domicile cannot be rented for less than four hundred to four hundred and fifty guilders, while Rensselaer will not allow me more than two hundred guilders for rent; and the congregation is not willing to build me a house. But a Poor-house has been established here, and, God be praised, as there are yet very few poor people here, I have made arrangements with the deacons, and lived therein until now. The Brethren must therefore take care, that no preacher is sent here, and that I am not ordered to remain here, without being decently treated, as other ministers are. Nevertheless, I fare so well, that I would not care to leave my congregation, if I had only means to send my sons, one after the other, to the Fatherland. But I am already very much behind. I might indeed sell all my movable property, which I brought here, and then all would go well, if I could immediately start on my travels; and if my wife, who has not yet succumbed, had traded a little more, without which we would have been still more miserable. I often take my God as witness, that we have never lived luxuriously, and I do not wish to. We have lived more simply than any other minister, and yet how different is my condition, in this respect, from the common inhabitants here. I thank God for what he gives; only I find myself conscientiously compelled to write this, that the dear Brethren might see to it, that no other brother be misled into these parts, as I have been. The Rensselaer knew, that the ministers were not to be returned home at their own expense, but that was concealed from me in my contract. It was mentioned in the contract of the other minister, (Megupolensis), made by the late pious Killian Van Rensselaer, with several other conditions favorable to him, but too long to repeat here. I have myself read them in the contract. I had forgotten to say, that there is no protector norprecentor here, which duties I have had to fill. All this is information for the Brethren, for them to act upon. At the request of the Classis I communicate this to you, hoping that you will inform them thereof. In closing, I commend you and your dear wife and children, with the best wishes of my family, to the grace of God, and remain, this 27th of June, 1657, of Your Reverence, the humble laborer in the work of God.

Gideon Schaats,

Pastor at Rensselaerswyck