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The history of the Church of Christ in Hempstead may be said to have begun
in the year 1644, when the charter or patent for the town was obtained
from the Dutch Governor at New Amsterdam, William Kieft, granting to Robert
Fordham, John Stickland, John Ogden, John Carman, John Lawrence and Jonas
Wood, their associates and successors, full power and authority to build
a town, with fortifications, with temples to exercise the reformed religion,
to nominate magistrates, and establish courts. Many families who were already
associated together in Church fellowship immediately commenced coming across
the Sound from Stamford, Conn., and settled upon the newly granted territory.
From this beginning in 1644, the history of the Church may be divided into three distinct stages or periods. The first period lasted from the settlement of the town until the year 1704, during which time the management of the Church's affairs was ordered upon the lines of the Congregational or Independent Churches of New England.
The second stage of the Church's history commenced when in December, 1704, under authority of a law of the New York Provincial Assembly, passed in 1693 at the instigation of Governor Fletcher, constituting the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay as one parish, the new Governor, Lord Cornbury caused the Rev. John Thomas to be inducted over the parish, and put him in possession of the meeting house, the parsonage and the ministry lands. This was a period of sifting and separation, out of which grew two independent churches-the Presbyterian and the Church of England. This period terminated for the Presbyterians before 1722, when they had built for themselves a meeting house, and secured their own minister: and for the Episcopalians in 1734, when they likewise secured their own church building, and were organized under a charter from King George.
The third period of Church history is not yet ended, but after living side by side for two centuries, the two Churches, Presbyterian and Episcopal, are now more active, prosperous and useful than ever before.
There was, however, a preliminary period and a series of events greatly affecting the organization of the Church in Hempstead, which must not be ignored. The Rev. Richard Denton, its first pastor, was an Englishman who came from Halifax in Yorkshire in 163o. He had been educated in Cambridge University, where the principles of Presbyterianism had been instilled into his mind firmly and aggressively. For seven years thereafter he was the settled minister of Coley Chapel in Halifax. His inability to conform to the requirements of king and bishop drove him with thousands of other conscientious men to the shores of New England. At first he was settled at Watertown, Mass., as a teacher of the Church there. He was in Watertown in 1634. But, the firmness of his convictions-his democratic or Presbyterian opposition to the oligarchic rule of the New England Divines-again led him, in the year 1635, to depart from Watertown for the purpose of establishing a new settlement at Wethersfield in Connecticut. In this move he was joined by several of the Watertown planters. The names of six of the Watertown Church members are preserved in the Colonial records, four of whom are on the list of the Original Proprietors of Hempstead in 1647. The plantation of Wethersfield, of which Mr. Denton was the leader, as well as the minister of the Church, was prosperous, and its numbers greatly increased. But, in 1641, another conflict for democratic rule caused some twenty-five families, led by Mr. Denton, to make another move. This brought them to Stamford, within the boundaries of the Colony of New Haven. Of the twenty-five families who came with Denton to Stamford, the names of eighteen are found later in the Hempstead list of 1647.
Again at Stamford, Mr. Denton's uncompromising democracy, or Presbyterianism, came in conflict with the New Haven rules that none but church members should vote in town meetings.' In 1643, representatives were sent out to investigate the land and the conditions across the Sound, on Nassau Island, as it was then known, within the jurisdiction of the more liberal Dutch government. This resulted in their obtaining in the following year, from Governor Kieft, the patent for the town of Hempstead.
The settlers promptly formed a central community, which was called the "Town Spot," and which developed into what is now the village of Hempstead. There they constructed a "Fort," and the meeting house was built within it. As was the custom in New England, this meeting house was built upon the town's "common land," at the public expense, and as authorized by vote in the town meeting. It was used not merely as a place of worship on Sundays, but was also the place for holding town meetings, and for conducting the business of the magistrates. The minister was chosen by the town vote, and his salary was fixed and raised by a rate assessed upon all the inhabitants. It was, doubtless, in this little first meeting house that the first legislative Assembly of the Province of New York was held in 1665, called together by Col. Nickol, after Charles II had granted this territory to his brother, the Duke of York. This Assembly was composed of delegates from New York, from Westchester and the towns of Long Island. The celebrated code, known as the "Duke's Laws," was enacted here.
During the sixty years which constituted the first period of the history of Hempstead's Church, there were three ministers duly chosen and resident in the town. The first of these, the Rev. Richard Denton, who brought the people here, and exercised a large influence in the formative years of the settlement, remained with them until 1658, when he resigned. The last mention of Mr. Denton's name upon the Town books is on March 4, 1658, when a rate was made for the payment of his salary, at the rate of f174os. per quarter. Shortly afterwards he returned to England where he died in the year 1662.
The second minister to be installed here was the Rev. Jonah Fordham, a young man, son of Robert Fordham, whose name heads the list of grantees in the Kieft patent. The Rev. Jonah had probably spent some of his boyhood days in Hempstead. He was graduated at Harvard College in 1658, and was settled here as minister in 166o. His ministry was uneventful, if we may judge from the Town Records. Like his father, he seems to have had an inclination for practical affairs, for business and trade. He remained in Hempstead until the death of his father in Southampton in 1674, when he removed there, becoming his father's successor as the minister of the Southampton Church, and also the inheritor of his father's considerable worldly possessions.
The meeting house within the Fort answered its purposes during the ministries of both Messrs. Denton and Fordham: but, after the departure of the latter, the town decided to build a new meeting house, which was located more centrally, near the point where the roads came together from every direction to cross the Horse Brook-a point near the present St. George's Church. The first parsonage was also then built, on the lot where the present Episcopal rectory stands. Both of these were completed before the next settled minister, the Rev Jeremiah Hobart, brought his family here in 1683 from Topsfield, Mass. Mr. Hobart was of a prominent ministerial family: his father being the Rev. Peter Hobart of both Hingham, England, and Hingham, Mass. Mr. Hobart was graduated at Harvard College in 165o, and had considerable experience and reputation before being invited to Hempstead. Two of his brothers, Joshua and Gershom Hobart, presided respectively, for many years, over the Churches at Southold, L. I., and Groton, Mass. In Hempstead a generous subscription list was signed by the leading inhabitants, for Mr. Hobart's support, and he was installed amid much enthusiasm. From Hempstead, Mr. Hobart removed to Haddam, Conn., and was installed minister of that town on Nov. 14, 1700, where he so continued until his death on March 17, 1717, an aged man of 87 years. The departure of Mr. Hobart for Connecticut closes the first stage of Hempstead's church history, but the absence of church records leaves us with very scant knowledge of its social and family life.
The second stage in the history of the Hempstead Church was initiated by the Governor, Lord Cornbury, when he undertook to put into effect the law which had been enacted in 1693, under the influence of the then! Governor Fletcher, for unifying the form of church government throughout the territory of the Duke of York. By this law, the Churches already organized were constituted into four parishes, New York, Westchester, Jamaica and Hempstead, which latter included the adjoining town of Oyster Bay. This law contemplated the introduction of the Polity of the Church of England, but compromised on the form of Parish rule, by associating the town magistrates in authority with the wardens and vestrymen.
About that time there had also been organized in England a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The missionaries of this Society were available, and they were active in the Duke's Province. After the departure of Mr. Hobart, the Rev. Messrs. Vesey, Kieft and John Thomas appeared in Hempstead: and at length Lord Cornbury decided to exercise his legal authority. On the 27th of Dec., 1704, Rev. John Thomas was duly inducted into the office of minister of Hempstead parish, and his family were installed in the town parsonage. The record of this is found in a Latin minute in the New York Surrogate's office, among the records of Wills.
The townsmen had no voice in this selection, as they had been accustomed formerly to have, and for a while Mr. Thomas was not cordially welcomed. His ministry, of about twenty years, was a period of unrest, of sifting and separation. Although a majority, perhaps, of the parish were gradually won over by the tact and wisdom of Mr. Thomas, a large element of the determined Presbyterians were unreconcilable. The growing sect of Quakers, at and near Jericho, was also much augmented at this time. Almost all of our information about this period is derived from the reports of their labors which Mr. Thomas and his successor, Rev. Robert Jenney, sent home to the Venerable Gospel Society in London.
As the result of this dissatisfaction and division, there were developed in a few years two Church organizations, the Presbyterian and the Episcopal societies, each of them owning a house of worship, and each following the teachings of a leader of its own Faith. The Presbyterians had reached this goal in 1721, and St. George's Church obtained its charter in 1734.
The third stage of this history, as it relates to the Presbyterian branch of the Church, may be said to begin with the completion of their own meeting horse pccv1oas to the year 1722, which fact was reported by Mr. Thomas to the hone Society in April 1722. From that date to the present time their organization has been independent, and self-supporting, and designated specifically as a Presbyterian Church.
During this period of two hundred years, four church edifices have been in use. That of 1722, near the corner of the present Franklin and Jackson Streets, served until 1768. The second, built on Fulton Street in 1767, was totally destroyed by. fire in i8o3. The third, built in i8o4, was removed in 1846, and the fourth, the present structure, was erected in its place.
The first name handed down to us of the ministers who served the Presbyterian congregation after the division is that of the Rev. Joseph Lamb. He was a son of John Lamb of Stoning-ton, Conn., and was graduated in 1717 from the College of New Jersey, and licensed as a Presbyterian minister. His first work for a few years was probably at Hempstead, where he had an important influence in shaping the affairs of the Church. Afterwards, he was for many years the settled minister at Mattituck, L. I. In the absence of actual records, traditional dates are vague, indefinite and unsatisfactory. It seems, however, that it must have been during Mr. Lamb's time that this first Presbyterian meeting house was built.
The next minister, whose name is preserved as having rendered to this Church long and faithful service, was the Rev. Benjamin Woolsey, who was born in Jamaica in 1687, graduated from Yale College in 1709, and ordained pastor of the Congregational Church at Southold, L. I., in July 1720. He remained at Southold until 1736, when he resigned and removed to a farm on the shore of Long Island Sound, near Glen Cove, which had come into his possession through his wife, and to which he gave the name "Dosoris." There he remained until his death on Aug. 15, 1759. During most of the intervening time he was the stated minister of the Hempstead Church, riding over regularly from his home to conduct each Sunday service.
After Mr. Woolsey's death, the next minister whose name is given as having rendered continuous service to this Church was the Rev. Abraham Keteltas. He was a graduate of Yale College in 1752, and was ordained by the Presbytery of New York over the Church at Elizabethtown, N. J., in 1757. For several years, while he was living in Jamaica, he supplied the Hempstead Church. He was a versatile man, preaching with equal fluency in Dutch, French or English. In 1840, Stephen Gildersleeve, then a very old man, told of his remembrance of the old meeting house, and of Rev. Mr. Keteltas, "a loud spoken man," preaching in it. Mr. Keteltas was accustomed to preach on alternate Sundays in Hempstead and in New York.
In 1767, new life and interest came into the Church. A small plot of ground was obtained from Nehemiah Sammis, and a new and larger church was erected on Fulton Street, the site of their present house of worship. This greater interest and activity is also shown in the fact that on Nov. 4, 1767, Elders Daniel and William Smith appeared at a meeting of the Presbytery of Suffolk, which was held at Mattituck, in Southold, and desired that the Hempstead Church might be taken under the care of the Presbytery. This request was granted. Thereafter at repeated requests of the Hempstead Church, and until the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, the Presbytery sent the various pastors of the Long Island Churches, from time to time, to supply the pulpit. Among these ministers, the Rev. Joshua Hartt was a frequent visitor. During a greater portion of the war, the British soldiers were in occupation of the village. They took possession of the church building of the Presbyterians, and dismantled it. It was used as a riding school. During this time, the ordinary Church services were discontinued, and such meetings as could be held were held in private houses. Even the Presbytery of Suffolk was unable to hold any meeting between Oct., 1775, and April, 1784. After the restoration of Peace, the Rev. Joshua Hartt of Smithtown again frequently supplied the Hempstead pulpit.
In April, 1793, Elder Benjamin Fish appeared in the Presbytery and on behalf of the Church made application for liberty to invite Rev. John Davenport of the Dutchess Presbytery to be their'Stated Supply for one year. This was granted, and Mr. Davenport was a resident pastor until June, 1795, when he was dismissed by the Presbytery to Philadelphia.
In Aug., 1799, Rev. Joshua Hartt was again appointed by the Suffolk Presbytery as Stated Supply for the two Churches of Hempstead and Fresh Pond. Thereafter he preached very regularly in these Churches on alternate Sundays. He was a large and heavy man, and while he lived at Smithtown he was accustomed to ride on horseback to Hempstead to fulfill his fortnightly duties. Mr. Hartt was something of a physician, a lawyer and a land-surveyor, as well as a minister. He kept an account book, in which were recorded the marriages and baptisms which he performed, the funerals attended, the amounts of church collections, and his personal receipts for writing wills or deeds, for setting bones or prescribing physic, and for surveying land. The list of marriages and baptisms from this account book has already been printed in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, (Vol. XLII, pp. 128, 277). Many of the names in these lists belong to the Hempstead community. Some of them, but not all, are so designated. Mr. Hartt's services to the Hempstead congregation were suddenly terminated, when its church building was totally destroyed by fire on the 13th of April, 1803.
These records made by Mr. Hartt, in his personal account book, are the earliest known to be in existence, relating to the Presbyterian Church of Hempstead. Any records of the membership of the Church previous to its destruction, of its officers, of their official actions, of marriages, baptisms or deaths, have been missing since that calamity, and much information concerning church and family history is lost.
The destruction of their house of worship caused great discouragement to the Presbyterians for a time. But, it also proved to be a turning point in their affairs. A new and larger building was soon provided, on the same site, and considerable enthusiasm was aroused. Rev. William P. Kuypers was called to be their pastor, and was to give his whole time to this service. On the 5th of June, 1805, he was installed by the Presbytery of Suffolk. From that time, the Church has had a succession of resident ministers, without interruption, and its records have been preserved complete.
following is a list of the ministers of the Church since 1805.
Rev. William P. Kuypers 1805 -1810.
Rev. Josiah Andrews Stated Supply.
Rev. Samuel Robertson, Stated Supply
Rev. Charles Webster, I8I8-1837.
Rev. Sylvester Woodbridge, Jr., 1838-1849.
Rev. Charles W. Shields, 1849-1850.
Rev. Nathaniel C. Locke, 1850-1860.
Rev. J. J. A. Morgan, I860-1867.
Rev. James B. Finch, 1967-1875
Rev. Franklin Noble, 1875-I88o.
Rev. Fred E. Hopkins, 1881-1884.
Rev. Charles E. Dunn, 1884-1888.
Rev. John A. Davis, I890-1893.
Rev. Frank M. Kerr, 1894
The accompanying list of marriages by the pastors of the Presbytenan Church of Hempstead, L. I., covers the period from 1804 to 1894, and contains the records of and from Rev. William P. Kuypers to and including Rev. John A. Davis. The more recent marriages by Rev. Dr. Kerr, who is still the pastor are very numerous, but are not given at this time.
Marriage Index By Year
Baptism Index By Year
|Baptisms - 1805 - 1829|
|Baptisms - 1830 - 1893|
|Deaths - 1821 - 1890|