Story for the Week

24 January 1628 • Michaelius Sailed to America

On this day, 24 January 1628, Jonas Michaelius sailed for the New Netherlands (now the state of New York) accompanied by his wife and two of his children. The ten-week voyage was a nightmare. Storms battered the ship, food was poor, and quarters cramped. Much of the time, the captain was drunk and the sailors barely under control.

Marble Collegiate Church
Marble Collegiate Church at
the beginning of the 20th-century

Michaelius was the first Dutch Reformed “Domine” (minister) to serve in the New Netherlands. The services of this graduate of Leyden University were desperately needed. The colonists had been making do with “comforters of the sick.” These were men authorized to read Scriptures and sermons, hold prayers, and officiate marriages and baptisms with special permission.

Upon landing in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan), the forty-year-old pastor immediately organized a church above a grist mill and began holding services for New Amsterdam’s European inhabitants, about two hundred and seventy altogether. Fifty partook of the Lord’s Supper at the first meeting. These included both Walloons and Dutch. (Walloons were French-speaking Protestants.) The Church that he formed became known as the “Marble Collegiate Church”—today the oldest Protestant place of worship in New York City.

Michaelius’ wife (we do not know her name) died just seven weeks after the family’s arrival in the new world. Michaelius accepted the blow bravely: “The Lord has done it. I must bear it. And what reasons have I to object? For all things work together for good to them who love him … I pray the Lord that neither through this nor through any other trial I shall lose the courage I need so much in this ministry.”

Although he appointed the governor of the New Netherlands as an elder of the church, Michaelius did not always get along well with the colony’s leaders. In fact, he wrote a sharp report about them to his superiors. But in spite of this friction, scarcity of food, and poor living conditions, he remained with the colonists a year beyond his agreement, sailing back to the Netherlands in 1632.

Five years later the Dutch church recommended his return to the New Netherlands but colony leaders, remembering his earlier bad report on them, rejected the idea. After that, he disappeared from history. We do not know where he served or when he died.

Dan Graves

References:

  1. “Church of St. Esprit.” http://www.stespritnyc.net/history.html
  2. De Jong, Gerald F. The Dutch Reformed Church in the American Colonies. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.
  3. Jameson, J. F., editor. Narratives of New Netherland, 1609 – 1664. Original Narratives of Early American History. Barnes and Noble, 1959, 1909.
  4. Madey, Johannes. “Michaelius, Jonas.” Kirchenlexikon. www.bautz.de/bbkl/m/ michaelius_j.shtml
  5. “Michaelius, Jonas.” Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: Americana Corp., 1956.

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