The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America

“The End of His Days”,
page 6 of 10

An account of Albany, written by a traveller thereto in 1789, showed the continued existence of these funeral customs. It runs thus:—

“Their funeral customs are equally singular. None attend them without a previous invitation. At the appointed hour they meet at the neighboring houses or stoops until the corpse is brought out. Ten or twelve persons are appointed to take the bier altogether, and are not relieved. The clerk then desires the gentlemen (for ladies never walk to the grave, nor even attend the funeral unless a near relation) to fall into the procession. They go to the grave and return to the house of mourning in the same order. Here the tables are handsomely set and furnished with cold and spiced wine, tobacco and pipes, and candles, paper, etc., to light them. The house of mourning is soon converted into a house of feasting.”

In New York we find old citizens leaving directions in their wills that their funeral shall be conducted in “the old Dutch fashion,” not liking the comparatively simpler modern modes.

The customs were nearly the same in English families. At the funeral of Hon. Rufus King at Jamaica, Long Island, in 1827, which was held upon an exceptionally hot day in April, silver salvers holding decanters of wine and spirits, glasses and cigars, were constantly passed, both indoors and out, where many stood waiting the bearing of the coffin to the grave.

The transition of the funeral customs of ante-Revolutionary days into those of our own may partially be learned from this account written in 1858 by Rev. Peter Van Pelt, telling Domine Schoonmaker’s method of conducting a funeral in the year 1819:

“The deceased had, many years before, provided and laid away the materials for his own coffin. This one was of the best seasoned and smoothest boards and beautifully grained. As I entered the room I observed the coffin elevated on a table in one corner. The Domine, abstracted and grave, was seated at the upper end; and around in solemn silence, the venerable and hoary-headed friends of the deceased. A simple recognition or a half-audible inquiry as one after another arrived was all that passed. Directly the sexton, followed by a servant, made his appearance with glasses and decanters. Wine was handed to each. Some declined; others drank a solitary glass. This ended, again the sexton presented himself with pipes and tobacco. The Domine smoked his pipe and a few followed his example.


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