Reformed Church of New Paltz


Following is the history of the Reformed Church of New Paltz, New York, as presented on its website:

Our congregation is proud of its 336 year history, but also deeply aware of our responsibility to continue to build upon the foundations created by earlier generations of Christians in New Paltz. The New Paltz Reformed Church traces its roots to 1683, five years after the settlement of the village by French-speaking Huguenots from northern France and Flanders who had left their homeland to find religious freedom and a livelihood in the Dutch-settled Hudson Valley. According to a translation of the earliest church record, on January 22 1683, “Mr. Pierre Daille, minister of the Word of God, arrived at New Paltz and preached twice on the following Sunday,” while proposing that the heads of families vote to select an elder and deacon to assist the minister. Worship was in French for 50 years, then in Dutch for some 70 years before English was adopted. (The change from French to Dutch to English can be traced in our church records, many of which are preserved in our document room.) In 1717 the Huguenots of New Paltz began a “stone house of prayer,” a plain building comparable to a Puritan meeting house. (Demolished in the 1770s, the House of Prayer was reconstructed by the local historical society in 1972.) A larger stone church was constructed in the early 1770s; its bell was cast by John Bailey of New York, maker of a battle sword for George Washington.

Our present church, a fine example of Greek Revival architecture with its four-column portico and two-stage clock and bell tower, was erected in 1839. The Rev. Douw van Olinda was instrumental in overseeing successful completion of the 1839 building; in 1833 he had had a prominent role in organizing and building the New Paltz Academy, ancestor of today’s SUNY New Paltz. Transepts and a shallow chancel with central pulpit were added in 1872. In 1952 the chancel was enlarged, and the pulpit shifted to the side, while the communion table was given central prominence. In the 1980s the present fine organ was purchased, and the long-lost Bailey bell recovered and installed near the chancel for acolytes to ring as the call to worship.
The first minister to reside in New Paltz, Stephen Goetschius, was of Swiss heritage and served our church from 1775 to 1796. The first manse built by the church for its ministers is a frame, Greek Revival house erected in 1848 and still standing on Huguenot Street. 1909 saw the completion of the current spacious manse with a pleasant front porch, complementing that of the church next door. Our Wullschleger Education Building, built in 1958, is named for Dominie Gerret J. Wullschleger, who served from 1931 to 1968, and includes classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, the Fireside Room suited for worship and social gatherings, and a spacious basement room currently well-used by our thrift shop, Twice Blessed.

Our church has been led by a succession of dedicated and talented pastors over its long history. They have had varied outlooks--in the 20th century one became a chaplain in World War I, another was a pacifist in World War II--but they are remembered as faithful leaders of their New Paltz flock.

---by William Rhoads

The Siege of La Rochelle

Cardinal Richelieu at the siege of La Rochelle, Henri-Paul Motte

Cardinal Richelieu at the siege of La Rochelle, Henri-Paul Motte

By the Edict of Nantes (1598), King Henry IV gave French Huguenots extensive rights. La Rochelle, situated on the Atlantic coast of France, became a Huguenot stronghold, and at that time, the second or third largest city in France, with over 30,000 inhabitants. However, the assassination of Henry IV in 1610, and the advent of Louis XIII under the regency of Marie de' Medici, marked a return to intense persecution. Louis XIII wished to suppress the Huguenots, and his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu, declared that to be the first priority.

In 1627 Royal forces began surrounding La Rochelle with an army of 7,000 soldiers, 600 horses and 24 cannons. Cardinal Richelieu acted as the commander of the besieging troops. Once hostilities started, engineers isolated the city with entrenchments 7 miles long, fortified by 11 forts and 18 redoubts. A seawall was built to block seaward access to the city. The surrounding fortifications were completed in 1628, manned with an army of 30,000. The residents of La Rochelle were surrounded and cut off from receiving food and vital supplies. They resisted surrender for 14 horrific months. During the siege, the population decreased from 27,000 to 5,000 due to casualties, famine, and disease.

To escape persecution, many Huguenots migrated to dozens of countries around the globe during the 16th-17th centuries. (Some went to the New World and founded the city of New Rochelle, New York.) And yet, the Reformed Faith of the Huguenots remains alive to this day in France! The Huguenot Fellowship exists to help support the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the French-speaking world, focusing on the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence, France (La Faculté Jean Calvin). Please consider becoming a friend and faithful partner through your prayers and regular contributions!

Paul Revere, an American Huguenot

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The “eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five” is a date familiar to Americans thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s stirring poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” This vivid recounting of the courageous night ride that gave the alert that British Regulars were marching on Lexington and Concord has thrilled readers for generations. The ensuing skirmishes, which forced a retreat of the British, are considered the first battles of the American Revolution.

Who was this Boston silversmith, the American patriot with the French-sounding last name? Paul Revere was the son of Apollos Rivoire, who was born in 1702, in Riocaud, in the Gironde valley, near Bordeaux. The family was French Huguenot, and because of the persecutions following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), many thousands of Huguenots were forced to flee to Protestant tolerant countries. The child Apollos was first sent for safety to an uncle on the island of Guernsey, but then the uncle paid for his nephew’s sea passage to Boston in the New World. Puritan New England was a welcome destination for the Huguenots escaping persecution. In 1735 most of Boston’s 14 established churches were Calvinist; one was French Reformed. Apollos turned 13 on that sea voyage, and was apprenticed to a master goldsmith where he became a skilled artisan, skills and training he eventually passed on to his son.

Apollos changed his name to Paul Revere (easier for English colonists to pronounce), and married Deborah Hitchborn, a 4th generation descendant of English forebears who had come from Lincolnshire in what is called the Great Puritan Migration. Thus both sides of the famous Paul Revere’s family were deeply rooted in Calvinist, reformed, independent thinking. And, it was said that Paul, the American patriot, “attended church ‘as regularly as the Sabbath came’” (David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride).

Paul Revere’s service to his country did not end with that midnight ride. He was a leader of the famous Boston Tea Party, and worked for the cause of liberty as a bold and much respected member of his community. The faith and courage of Paul’s Huguenot father, who crossed the Atlantic as a boy to build a new life on a new continent, was manifest in the life of his son, the American patriot Paul Revere.

David Hackett Fischer’s excellent Paul Revere’s Ride, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1994) is the source of much of this information, and gives a careful, well researched account of the man and the beginnings of the American Revolution.

Linda Boice

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