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Published: May 19, 2011

Dutch Reformed Church

The established church of New Netherland, when the Dutch ruled present-day New York, from 1625 to 1664. A derivative of CALVINISM, the church was instrumental in helping establish the first schools in New York and supervising the licensing of the first teachers. The Dutch first landed in the New World in 1609 when English navigator Henry Hudson led a Dutch expedition that planted the Dutch flag on Manhattan Island and other points northward along what was later named the Hudson River. The first colonists did not arrive until 1614, when the Dutch West India Company dropped off small groups of mostly French-speaking Belgian families, or Walloons, at various points along the coastline of the new province. In 1628, Domine Jonas J. Michaelius arrived to assume the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church and instruct the young. In 1638, the Dutch West India Company sent schoolmaster Adam Roelantsen to New Amsterdam to open what some maintain is the oldest continually operating school in the New World, the ancestor institution of today’s COLLEGIATE SCHOOL.
Despite the advent of British rule in 1664, Dutch colonists were given full freedom of movement and the right to own property, and they spread across the farmlands of southern New York, eastern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, taking their church with them. By the early 1700s, the spirit of revivalism affecting other Protestant sects in North America gripped the Dutch Reformed Church, which not only proselytized whites, but sought converts among Indians.
Like other Protestant sects, the church split between “Old Light” conservatives and “New Light” liberals who sought to adapt church rituals to the practical needs of life in the New World. Fearing that Dutch pastors would join with Anglicans in establishing King’s College (later, COLUMBIA COLLEGE) and possibly unite the two religions, Reverend Theodore Frelinghuysen sought to open a traditional Dutch Reformed college to train young ministers. A conference of other ministers and elders in 1755, however, led to the opening of Queen’s College (later, Rutgers College), a more secular institution than Frelinghuysen had sought, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Queens charter called for “the education of youth in the learned languages, liberal and useful arts and sciences, and especially in divinity; preparing them for the [Dutch Reformed] ministry, and other good offices.”
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