Colonial Encounters in a Native American Landscape

“The End of His Days”,
page 7 of 10

The custom has become obsolete, and it is well that it has. When the whiffs of smoke had ceased to curl around the head of the Domine, he arose with evident feeling, and in a quiet subdued tone, made a short but apparently impressive address. I judged solely by his appearance and manner; for although boasting a Holland descent, it was to me an unknown tongue. A short prayer concluded the service; and then the sexton taking the lead, followed the Domine, doctor, and pallbearers with white scarfs and black gloves. The corpse and long procession of friends and neighbors proceeded to the churchyard.”

Not only were materials for the coffin secured and made ready during the lifetime, but often a shroud was made and kept for use. Instances have been known where a shroud was laid by unused for so many years that it became too yellow and discolored to use at all, and was replaced by another. Sometimes a new unlaundered shirt was laid aside for years to use as a doed-hemde. Two curious superstitions were rife in some localities, especially on Long Island; one was the careful covering of all the mirrors in the house, from the time of the death till after the funeral; the other the pathetically picturesque “telling the bees.” Whittier’s gentle rhyme on the subject has made familiar to modern readers the custom of “telling the bees of one, gone on the journey we all must go.”

Both an English and Dutch funeral fashion was the serving to the attendants of the funeral of funeral-cakes. In New York and New Netherland these were a distinctive kind of koeckje known as doed-koecks, literally dead-cakes. An old receipt for their manufacture is thus given by Mrs. Ferris: “Fourteen pounds of flour, six pounds of sugar, five pounds of butter, one quart of water, two teaspoonfuls of pearlash, two teaspoonfuls of salt, one ounce of Caraway seed. Cut in thick dishes four inches in diameter.” They were, therefore, in substance much like our New Year’s cakes. Sometimes they were marked with the initials of the deceased person; and often they were carried home and kept for years as a memento of the dead, — perhaps of the pleasures of the funeral. One baker in Albany made a specialty of these cakes, but often they were baked at home. Sometimes two of these doed-koecks were sent with a bottle of wine and a pair of gloves as a summons to the funeral.


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