Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A.
by W.N.P. Dailey,
Recorder Press, Amsterdam, NY 1916
To which is added sketches of Mohawk Valley men and events of early days, the Iroquois, Palatines, Indian Missions, Tryon County, committee of Safety, Sir Wm. Johnson, Joseph Brant, Arendt Van Curler, Gen. Herkimer, Reformed Church in America, Doctrine and Progress, Revolutionary Residences, Etc.


Oneida county, in which Utica is situated and which was formed January 27, 1789, was the home of the Oneida Indians, the only tribe who remained friendly to the colonists, except a part of the Tuscaroras. The work of the Rev. Samuel Kirkland among them made this possible (cf Note on Indian Education, etc.). The earliest mention of Utica is in the Cosby Manor Patent, dated 1734, and, again, in the itinerary of a French spy, traveling in 1757 from Oswego to Schenectady. President Dwight of Yale passing thro Utica in 1798, speaks of it as a pretty village of fifty houses. Reference is also made to it in the "Story of Castorland." The Reformed Protestant Dutch church of Utica was organized in 1830. The first church organized in Oneida county was by the Congregationalists at New Hartford, the Presbyterians having formed one later (1786) at Whitesboro. With Reformed churches established so many years previously in the vicinity of Utica it is a cause of surprise that one was not founded here earlier. Soon after 1800 (Utica was incorporated as a village in 1798), a number of Dutch and German families settled at Deerfield, near Utica. The pastor at German Flatts, Rev. John P. Spinner, as well as Rev. Isaac Labagh and Rev. John F. Schermerhorn, missionaries of the domestic Board, made frequent visits to this field. The preaching was in the German and Dutch tongues, the services being held at first in the Deerfield Baptist church, then the old Utica Methodist meeting house, kindly loaned for this purpose. Up to 1825 Mr. Spinner came to Utica nearly every alternate Sunday. In the Reformed Church Magazine of January 28, 1828, is an account of a consistory meeting of the Collegiate church, New York City, held at the corner of Nassau and Amsterdam streets, at which the matter of organizing a church at Utica was discussed. Rev. John Ludlow of the First Church, Albany, and Secy. Schermerhorn, were the men who urged it. It was shown that a sum of $3,000 was available at Utica, and a lot worth $4,000. The Albany church had promised $3,000. It was thot that $10,000 was necessary to begin the work. We do not know the results of this meeting, but in the following years plans were consummated for the organization. The Broad Street church building was erected in 1830, and dedicated on June 3d. It cost $15,000. At the organization, late in October, there were thirty-nine members, while fifteen more united at the first communion This building was used until 1866. The first pastor of the church was Rev, George W. Bethune, who remained four years. He was installed November 7, 1830, and preached his farewell sermon June 29, 1834. The Utica church resulted from an unusual religious condition in the city, and was started by certain men and women of strong Calvinistic faith. Rev. Charles G. Finney had occupied the pulpit of the First Presbyterian church during the winter of 1827. While his influence was powerful, many questioned the methods he pursued, while they regarded much of the preaching as unscriptural. But rather than oppose what passed in those days for a revival, certain persons, principally Scotch, came together and formed the Utica Dutch church. The first officers were Abraham Varick and George M. Weaver, elders, and Nicholas G. Weaver and Richard Vaughan, deacons.

Dr. Bethune was the sort of Divie Bethune, one of the founders of Princeton Seminary, a publisher and distributor of free tracts and Bibles years before the founding of the societies for this purpose. He was born March 18, 1805, spent three years at Columbia, and graduated at Dickinson College (1823). He was a Princeton Seminary graduate of 1826. His first work was among the colored and poor people, and the sailors at Savannah, Ga. He came to the Utica church from Rhinebeck. His reasons for entering the ministry of the Reformed church, briefly, were these, "a preference for her order, equally removed from the democracy of Congregationalism, the monarchy of Episcopacy, and the oligarchy of Presbyterianism, she presents in her representative government, united to rotation in office, the purest republican constitution." He wrote that "he liked her liturgy, delighted in her sound doctrine, admired her spirit her ministers were a band of brethren children of the same beloved mother......who never meet but with joy, and never part but with tears and mutual benedictions a united, respected, influential body and they shall prosper who love her." Dr. Bethune's correspondence shows the marked opposition of the other local churches to the Dutch church at its organization, which was continued for some years. In his inaugural sermon we hear him making a sort of apology for the denomination. But it was the spirit of the man and those first members who won the day, for despite all scorn and ridicule, the Dutch church, under the leadership of their pastor, made a name and fame for itself. When the cholera visited Utica in 1832, Dr. Bethune was one of the two ministers who did not flee the city. Indeed he took one minister into his home and nursed him back to life. After pastorates at Philadelphia and Brooklyn, he went to the 21st St, Church of New York. He died while in this pastorate, at Florence, Italy, April 1862. He was the founder of the church at Alexandria Bay (cf). He gave his library of seven hundred volumes to New Brunswick Seminary. He was a scholarly man of sweet, rare character, whose contributions to Christian Hymnology constitute one of his chief claims to remembrance. President James K. Polk urged Dr. Bethune to accept the chair of Moral Philosophy at West Point, but he felt obliged to decline. Later he was selected to succeed Chancellor Frelinghuysen of the New York State University, but this honor also be declined to accept. A handsome marble mosaic of Dr. Bethune, once in the Third Church of Philadelphia, is now in the Sage library at New Brunswick.

The second pastor at Utica was Rev. Henry Mandeville (1834-1841). He was born in Kinderhook, and was a professor of Moral Philosophy at Hamilton College. He died in 1858 while pastor of the Presbyterian church at Mobile, Ala. Rev. John P. Knox was tile next pastor, coming from the Nassau Reformed church in 1841 and remaining thro 1844. He entered the ministry of the Presbyterian church later and died June 2, 1882. The Rev. Charles Wiley succeeded Dr. Knox, June 15, 1845, and remained ten years (1845-1854). Before coming to Utica he bad been pastor of the Northampton (Mass.) Congregational church. In 1849 the church had 225 members. After leaving Utica he became the President of the Milwaukee University, but again entered the active ministry and was pastor in the Geneva church in 1859, He edited a series of Latin Classics and wrote a volume on "Why I am not a Churchman." He died in December, 1878, at Orange, N. J. The fifth pastor at Utica was the Rev. George H. Fisher (1855-1860), who became one of the great preachers of the country. For six years he was secretary of the Domestic Missions Board. He died in 1872 while pastor of the church at Hackensack, N. J. For two years the church was supplied by Rev. Charles E. Knox, a tutor at Hamilton College, and, later and for thirty years President of the Bloomfield Theological Seminary, where a $65,000 Knox Hall was erected in 1914 to commemorate his work there. When Rev. Dr. Knox was asked to supply the pulpit he felt that the church ought to move up town and consented to supply on condition that he be permitted to raise the funds necessary to build in another section of the city. He raised $17,000 for this purpose. The Civil War proved an impediment to this project, but Dr. Knox's work paved the way for his successor to build. He died April 30, 1900. Rev. Ashbel G. Vermilye succeeded to the pastorate, coming to the church in 1863 and leaving in 1871, to become the pastor of the old First Dutch church in Schenectady. He was the son of Rev. T. E. Vermilye, at the time the senior pastor in the Collegiate church, New York City. He was born at Princeton, N. J. in 1822. Before coming to Utica he had had pastorates at Little Falls, N. Y. (Presbyterian) and Newburyport, Mass. For thirty years before his death in 1905, Dr. Vermilye was not in the active work, much of the time being spent abroad and in literary labors. It was during his pastorate that a new site was secured for the church at the corner of Genesee and Cornelia streets, where the second church was erected, being dedicated on May 3, 1868. This building was burned February 6, 1881, but rebuilt the following year. When Rev. Dr. Vermilye went to Schenectady he became the first pastor of the new church, the fifth erected, and preached his first sermon there on the day of its dedication, August 6, 1871.

In 1871 Rev. Isaac N. Hartley was installed pastor of the church and remained on the field nearly eighteen years, resigning in 1899, to enter the ministry of the Episcopal church. He died while rector at Great Barrington, Mass., in 1899. In 1880 Dr. Hartley wrote a semi-centennial history of the church. Rev. Oren Root, at the time Professor of Mathematics at Hamilton College, began supplying the pulpit in 1890. Later be was called to the pastorate and remained five years (1890-1894). Rev. Dr. Root (brother of U. S. Senator, Elihu Root) frequently supplied the Utica church pulpit when there were no pastors. He died August 26, 1907. The pastorate of Rev. Peter Crispell was of nine years duration (1894-1902). This was his second charge, his first being at Warwick, N. Y. Leaving Utica he went to Montgomery. In 1914 he retired from active work and is living at Newburgh. For some years the church seemed to be losing its grip in the community, but in the hour of its need, at the close of the pastorate of Mr. Crispell, Rev. Oren Root came back to it with generous and helpful service, and with the aid of the faithful few (found everywhere) saved the church to the denomination and the city, and prepared the way for the coming of the present pastor, Rev. Louis H. Holden, who was installed over the church October, 1904. The work done in the past decade has strengthened the organization and given the church a place of widespread influence in the religious life in the city. The present consistory are, Charles W. Weaver, Herbert F. Huntington, Joseph Hollingsworth, Edward Williams, Rov D. Barber, elders, and Frederick R. Drury, Floyd E. Ecker, Newton B. Hammon, Allen C. Hutchinson, and Roy C. Van DerBergh, deacons, while the board of trustees are, Herbert F. Huntington, Roy D. Barber, George DeForest, Newton B. Hammond, Joseph Hollingsworth, John W. MacLean, and Harry W. Roberts. The late Vice President Sherman was for years a trustee of this church.

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