Old Bergen

Chapter XXXIX.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

THE church has always exercised special care of the poor, and the contributions for that purpose have been liberal. About 1675, the expense of the Poor Fund was so small proportionately, that there existed a considerable surplus. Whereupon, that the fund might not diminish, but rather show somewhat of an increase, the surplus was invested in cows, which were placed in the charge of responsible members of the congregation, at a yearly butter rent of twelve pounds of butter, or its equivalent in money. In 1679 the price of butter was so high that thirteen guilders and four stivers rent was received from one cow, something over $6, or an average price per pound of butter of over fifty cents.

After 1715, the deacons quit the butter business, and confined themselves to money-lending as a means of increasing the revenue; and we find that people for miles around came to Bergen to borrow money. This was given on proper bond, or on receipt and custody of sufficient personal property. The fund was also increased by collections taken at weddings, and on special occasions, such as birth-days, recovery from sickness, etc.

On Wednesday, November 6, 1678, Siebe Epkse (Banta) and Maritze Aryanse Sip, were united in marriage, in the Village of Bergen, by the voorleser; collection 2 florins, 19 stivers.
This entry occurs in the deacons' book, showing that collections for the poor were, sometimes at least, taken up at weddings. As the currency of the day was mostly in seawant or wampum, the receipts and expenditures were calculated from that standpoint. An English pound was worth forty florins, seawant; an American dollar was worth eight florins.

Another singular source of revenue was the renting of the pall. This was used to cover the coffin, and was owned by the consistory, and rented out as required on funeral occasions. The first pall was procured in 1678, and was used on the occasion of the burial of Engelbert Stuynhuysen, the cost of which is specified in the deacons' accounts, as follows:

10 El. of Black Cloth, at 24 g. per El., 240 guilders.
A linen cover to protect the pall, 14 guilders
Total, 254 guilders
An entry December 25, 1711, shows that the receipts for the use of the pall to that time amounted to 864 guilders and 17 stivers, or $352.40 of our money. We find, however, that notwithstanding the utmost care, the Deacons' Fund was at times subjected to losses; borrowers died bankrupt, and securities, as now, depreciated in value, and there is in the hands of the church treasurer a large amount of money of Colonial and Continental issue.

In the early days, as was usual in many rural communities, family burial plots were located in some convenient part of the farm, and the territory was dotted with the little enclosures, made sacred to the memory of the dead.

But soon after the custom was established of burying church members, especially, in close proximity to the church, which doubtless accounts for the existence of the old cemeteries at Tuers and Bergen Avenues and Vroom Street, as the old churches were located on these two plots; and it became the recognized custom to perform most of the burials there.

An itemized account of the expenses incurred at a burial in 1690, not only informs us of the cost of such ceremony, but suggests something of the customs of the day.

Coffin and spirits, 25 g., 10 St.
1/2 keg of Beer, 15 g., 16 st.
Flour and Milk, 6 g., 5 st.
Aanspreker, 19 g., 10 st.
Carting the goods, 3 g., 00 st.
Sundries, 15 g., 05 st.
Total, 85 g., 06 st.
The aanspreker was an official whose services were absolutely necessary, at all well regulated funerals in the Fatherland, and as the early settlers retained and followed closely the customs of the old country, a description of the duties devolving upon him will be found interesting. Of course, it could not be expected that the people of the little country village should follow every detail of all elaborate ceremonies, but such was teheir love of the old home, that they would not relinquish any of their old customs and habits, unless compelled thereto by the force of circumstances.
On the occasion of a death, the aanspreker was notified, and immediately appeared at the house of mourning. He there received his instructions, and thenceforth assumed complete charge of the whole affair, donning his official dress, which consisted of low shoes, black stockings, black knickerbockers, a black cutaway coat covered by a long, flowing black mantle, a white cravat or bands, and a queer-looking three-cornered hat or steek, from one corner of which, to the right, floated a long black crepe, like a streamer, while on the left corner a rosette had been pinned, showing the sex, and condition (married or single) of the deceased.

If the latter was very rich or prominent, sometimes ten or twenty aansprekers were employed in announcing his death, and one, usually an old servant of the family, went in the middle of the street, clothed in similar dress, walking along with head bowed, his face buried in a large mourning handkerchief, and led by two aansprekers, one on each side, while the others were making the announcement at the homes. At the time appointed for the funeral, the nearest relations first appeared and partook of some refreshments, generally consisting of a glass of beer or spirits, and smoking a long clay pipe.

After the arrival of all who were invited, the chief aanspreker spoke a few words of consolation, or offered up a prayer, after which the body was carried out on the bier, and was followed in accordance with these directions: 'The relations will please follow, according to rank, the younger members of the family coming first.' All the mourners and bearers were dressed in the same garb as the aansprekers, or else had rosettes pinned to their sleeves, or the lapels of their coats, the aansprekers wearing black or white gloves, according to the sex of the deceased, two of them heading the procession, while the others immediately followed the bearers.

As the procession wended its way to the cemetery, every one meeting the train stood still uncovered, and stood with bowed head until it had passed. At the grave, the chief aanspreker again spoke a few words, or offered a prayer, and after the burial, led the procession in the same order as before, back to the sterfhuis, or house of the deceased. Here beer or spirits, and food, had been prepared for them by the women, who as a rule, did not go to the cemetery. The long clay pipes with tobacco, were on the table, and the mourners ate, drank and smoked, in honor of the deceased. After a short interval, all except the immediate relations departed, and left the bereaved ones alone with their grief.

The requirements of church membership in the early days were positive, sometimes somewhat arbitrary, and discipline strict. Probably on account of the lack of civil courts, many matters considered the proper subjects of legal judicature, were then submitted to the consistory, and consequently, we find them dealing with ordinary crimes as well as with matters that might be considered as pertaining to spirituality.

They were rather intolerant in those days. Methodism and dancing were regarded with equal abhorrence, and subjected to the same punishment, viz., suspension from the church; while intemperance and other crimes were denounced, and the transgressors subjected to special discipline. In 1790 four regular meetings of the consistory were appointed for each year, and a fine or forfeit of two shillings was exacted from any member absenting himself without a good and reasonable excuse. In 1797, an additional resolution was adopted, which compelled those who did not punctually attend the ordinary meetings, to pay to the consistory the sum of one shilling for every hour elapsed after the time appointed. As the meetings were called for 2 p.m., it was possible, to receive considerable income from this source.