Dutch Colonial Homes in America

Church and Sunday in Old New York,
page 9 of 16

Elizabeth Van Es had two Bibles with silver clasps, two Psalm-books, and two Catechisms. These books were somewhat dingily printed, in old Dutch, on coarse but durable paper; the music was on every page beside the words. The notes of music were square, heavily printed, rough-hewn, angular notes,— “like stones in the walls of a churchyard,” says Longfellow of the Psalm-book of the Pilgrims. The metrical version of the Psalms was simple and impressive, and is certainly better literary work in Dutch than is the Bay Psalm-book in English.

The services in these churches were long. They were opened by reading and singing conducted by the voorleezer or voorzanger, —that general-utility man who was usually precentor, schoolmaster, bell-ringer, sexton, grave-digger, and often town-clerk. As ordered by the Assembly of XIX., in 1645, he “tuned the psalm; “and during the first singing the domine entered, and, pausing for few moments, sometimes kneeling at the foot of the pulpit-stairs, in silent prayer, he soon ascended to his platform of state. The psalms were given out to the congregation through the medium of a large hanging-board with movable printed slips, and this was in the charge of the voorleezer. Of course the powers of this church functionary varied in different towns. In all he seems to have had charge of the turning of the hour-glass which stood near the pulpit in sight of the domine. In Kingston, where the pulpit was high, he thrust up to the preacher the notices stuck in the end of a cleft stick. In this town, at the time of the Revolution, he was also paid two shillings per annum by each family to go around and knock loudly on the door each Sunday morning to warn that it was service-time. In some towns he was permitted to give three sharp raps of warning with his staff on the pulpit when the hour-glass had run out a second time, — thus shutting off the sermon. The voorleezer is scarcely an obsolete church-officer to-day. In 1865 died the last Albany voorleezer, and the Flatbush voorleezer is well remembered and beloved.

The clerk in New Amsterdam was a marked personage on Sunday. After he had summoned the congregation by the sound of drum or bell, he ceremoniously formed a pompous little procession of his underlings, and, heading the line, he carried with their assistance the cushions from the City Hall to the church, to furnish comfortably the “Magistrate’s Pew,” in which the burgomasters and schepens sat.


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