HISTORY OF ST. PAUL’S EV. LUTHERAN CHURCH
The roots of the congregation of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran
Church are historically intertwined in our Palatine heritage and the early
Palatine emigration of 1708 and 1709. The ship loads of emigrants from
the Rhenish or Lower Palatinate of Germany bordering France made the
arduous trek to America by way of England when a series of circumstances
compelled literally thousands of the native peoples from Darmstadt and
Nuremburg, Spires, Worms, and the Alsace to participate in an exodus of
unprecented proportions for that time in history.
Historian Walter Knittle has researched the Palatine emigrations
and discovered that the large German immigrations that brought settlers
to the Hudson Valley were caused by the devastations of war, and
extraordinarily severe winter, religious quarrels, and a desire for land
denied many of the poor in the Palatinate.
The end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 left the people of the
Palatinate beaten down by the repeated military devastations and plund-
ering of French armies.
As if the ravages of war were not cruel enough, nature also
added to the people’s misery with an unkind prank at the end of the winter
of 1708. Beginning in October, the cold was intense and by November
firewood would not burn in the open air. By January wine and spirits
froze solid and birds on the wing fell dead from exposure.
To complicate matters further, the region had been functioning
since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 under the principle of “Cui us regio,
ei us religio”. The commonly accepted practice was the religion of the
ruler should be the religion of the people. The three legally recognized
churches were Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed. In 1709, the ruler of
the Palatinate was John William, Duke of Newburg, a Catholic.
While open religious persecutions were not widely documented
among the Palatine emigrants, religious tensions were a major factor in
many Germans leaving for England. One historical source makes
reference to the Reverand Joshua Kocherthal being rendered homeless
by an edict issued by Louis XIV in 1707 ordering the evacuation in three
days time of over 500.000 Protestants from the Palatinate valleys border-
ing France. Rev. Kocherthal had, in 1706, made a trip to England to learn
about the conditions of the English-American Colonies. When he returned
to Germany, he wrote a booklet describing the Colonies and the settlement
possibilities, particularly in the Carolinas. The information was based on
English records and the claims of land agents. The thoughts of land,
freedom, and prosperity made Pastor Kocherthal’s booklet
very popular with his fellow Palatinates.
These handbooks for Germans called the “Golden Book” recommended
that Germans leave the Palatinate and were much in demand as they
encouraged the people to go to England where they could qualify to be sent
as settlers to the American colonies with the promise of forty acres of land
for each family. “Queen Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, died
on October 28, 1708 to the unspeakable grief of the Queen. Prince George
was of German stock, a Lutheran, and had brought many of his countrymen
and co-religionists to London. It probably softened the Queen’s grief to act
as the gracious benefactress of the oppressed co-religionists
of her departed husband.”
In 1709, the Reverend Kocherthal settled sixty-one Palatines, including
his wife Sibylla, and their children, in what is now Newburgh on the west bank
of the Hudson River. He returned to Europe after the death of Governor Lovelace
and, sometime in January of 1710 left England with 2814 more emigrants, a
German minister John Frederick Haeger, and the new English magistrate,
Governor Robert Hunter. The surviving emigrants arrived in New York City
in mid-June. 446 had died on the voyage; 250 more died while camped on Nutten
Island (now Governor’s Island) during the summer; some 400 widows,
single women, and orphans were left in New York City,
while some 1,900 came tothis area.
Two hundred and sixty of the newly arrived Palatines were settled here
in the “West Camp”: Newtown (now West Camp), Georgetown (now Smith’s
Landing), and Elizabethtown (now Evesport) and the others were settled across
the river in the “East Camp” (Queensbury, Annsbury, Haysbury, and Hunterstown)
which we know today as the area around Germantown.
Reverend Joshua Kocherthal was minister to the Lutheran Germans in
both camps while Reverend John Haeger ministered to the German Reformed.
Haeger had been re-ordained by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in
hopes of converting German emigrants to the Church of England which proved
an unsuccessful venture.
Kochertahl built a church at Newtown in the “West Camp” while Haeger
at the same time built a school at Queensbury in the “East Camp”. Haeger did
obtain a license from Governor Hunter to build a church as well, but the project
lagged for several years. In the meantime, the church at West Camp became
a ‘union’ church owned and occupied jointly by
the German Lutherans and the German Reformed.
Kocherthal and Haeger each ministered on both sides of the Hudson
as well as outlying area as far distant as
Albany and Newburgh ~ preaching
and administering Holy Communion in rotations
from congregation to congregation.
The church at West Camp was organized by the Palatines who arrived
in October 1710. The first recorded service of worship at West Camp
took place on June 3, 1711.
To repay the English Crown for their passage to the American colonies,
the new settlers were to sustain themselves on a grant of 7 acres of land while
attempting to harvest tar, pitch, turpentine, and resin (Naval stores needed for
the English Navy) from the pine trees in the valley. By the summer of 1712, it
was clear that this project was a failure. Many of the Palatinate Germans left
the Hudson River Valley for the Schoharie Valley, some went to New Jersey
and to Pennsylvania in search of land to farm.
Pastor Kocherthal died in 1719 and was buried beside his wife on land
he owned in West Camp. His wife Sibylla, died Dec. 16 1713. In 1898, their
remains were interred under the present church and their grave marker was
mounted as a wall plaque in the entry of St. Paul’s.
The pastoral duties for Lutherans was taken up in a wide regional
ministry by the Reverend Justus Falckner until 1723. Pastor Falckner was
the first Lutheran minister ordained in America and is the author of the hymn,
‘Rise, O Children of Salvation’, still sung in Lutheran congregations.
In 1725, the Reverend Wilhelm Berkenmeyer continued the ministry
and was married to Kocherthal’s daughter, Benigna Sibylla.
By this time, growing tensions arose within the “Camp” community
as both the Lutherans and the Reformed felt strongly about maintaining
their religious traditions. By December 1726 the Lutherans in “West Camp”
were reduced to services being held for preaching and Holy Communion
only twice a year as one of ten places of worship served by Berkenmeyer.
For regular worship many of the Palatines were congregating without a
minister and availing themselves of the services of a Reformed lay reader.
On March 1, 1731, an acre of land on each side of the “Old King’s
Road” was leased for the building of a Reformed Church at Katsbaan. It
seemed fitting to the local population that the Lutherans of West Camp help
to build the church at Katsbaan due to the numerous Lutheran/Reformed
marriages that existed among the Palatines.
The two groups worshipped together there as they previously
had in Newtown until 1736 when the Lutherans removed themselves
again to the “West Camp” because the Dutch insisted that no Lutheran
hymns be sung, and that the lay reader not teach the Lutheran Catechism
to the Lutheran children.
Probably, the most interesting development in the past century, was
the effort from 1950 to 1954 in sponsoring approximately 300 emigrants from
the Baltic states in eastern Europe. History seems to come full circle with the
immigration of another group of Europeans seeking freedom and prosperity.
Though many of the families moved away form this area after being established
in this country, their arrival here and their involvement remains an interesting
part of the history of the congregation.
The present church was constructed in 1871, and the interior was
renovated in 1960, our 250th year. In 2010, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran
Church will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the organization of our church.
In the past, three men from this congregation have become Lutheran pastors.
On July 5, 2008, Paul Wayne Benjamin of our congregation was ordained
as a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America after graduation
from Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary in May of 2008. Paul
accepted a call to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Blissfield, Michigan. Pastor
Benjamin is the fourth person from St. Paul’s to enter the Lutheran ministry.
Our current pastor, The Rev. Paul C. Walley, was Campus Pastor
at SUNY New Paltz for 36 years prior to his retirement in 2007. Pastor Walley,
a graduate of Wagner College and Gettysburg Seminary,
as well as Penn State University, has been our minister
since 1994, leadimg us in worship and mission
through our 300th anniversary as a congregation.
It was held on Sunday, October 17th, 2010,
with a special worship service at 10:30 A.M.
Bishop Robert A. Rimbo of the Metro New York Synod
was our Preacher for the celebration which
was followed by a dinner in our Fellowship Hall.
Pastor Walley's retirement on June 1st will be marked
by the Sunday worship service on May 31st, 10:30 a.m. for
the Festival of the Holy Trinity.
He has served as our Interim Pastor for 21+ years.
A catered luncheon in his honor will be held in
the Fellowship Hall after the worship. All are welcome.
We wish Pastor Walley well in his retirement!
He will be available as a Supply Pastor starting in September
for churches in our Hudson Conference.
Starting on Sunday, June 7th, at 11 a.m.,
we welcome Pastor Paul Britton
as our Supply Pastor.
Everyone is invited to worshiip with us
and get to know our new Pastor
along with his wife, Margaret!