Baron_von_SteubenAfter the War for Independence, Baron Von Steuben remained in America and served the church faithfully as an elder. Following is an abridged history that appeared in the November 16, 1881, Messenger, which draws upon a contemporary news account from the New York Evening Post of October 22 of that same year. The German Reformed were overwhelmingly supportive of the Colonial cause, as evidenced by the story that follows.
In the rear of what is now Nassau street, before 1750, was the noted brewhouse of Rip Van Dam, and in this place the old German Palatines and their descendants, who had come over in 1710 ‘were wont to gather and over tankards of beer recall memories of the Pfaltz, or of the famous Schloss of Heidelberg. The brewery lost its custom in time, and was changed to a theatre, but was repurchased in 1755 by the Germans who could not understand the Dutch language and did not like the anti-Calvinistic views of the Lutherans in regard to the Lord’s Supper. The first pastor was Rev. Rosencrantz, who with his flock, was driven by the Indians from the Mohawk Valley and who gave great satisfaction until the rural congregation, returning to their homes, called him back. The next pastor was a Domine Kalls, who was called for a year, but who showed such an irritable temper that the congregation was glad to get rid of him at that time….’
“…the Consistory of Heidelberg […] sent them a young man named John Michael Kern, of Manhelm in the Palatinate, and a student of the University of Heidelberg. Through his influence the congregation placed itself under the Classis of Amsterdam, Holland, and became Dutch Reformed in 1764….
“…About 1771, the Low Dutch Church in America was agitated on the question of its independence from Amsterdam, and in that year assumed authority for itself. The church in Nassau street – the little Calvin Church as it was then called – also at the same time showed signs of freeing itself from the Low Dutch organization. In 1772, Domine Kern, from failing health, resigned his pastorate, and took charge of a German Presbyterian congregation on the Walikill in Orange County (now the village of Montgomery). Among the members were the well-known names of Rockafellar, Decker, Brookstader, and others, who as the Revolution approached, adopted the Patriot cause. But Domine Kern was a royalist; and thus one morning he found outside his door a very broad hint – a staff, a pair of shoes and a loaf of bread. Thereupon, he went to Halifax….
“In 1776, the Rev. Mr. Gebhard was the pastor until driven off by the British. His congregation was scattered by the war, but a few remained, and by their influence with some Hessian officers they managed to save their church from desecration.
“There are no records during the war, but soon after the Revolution the Dutch Reformed Church began again to look after this little flock in Nassau street and to invite their reunion. The German Calvinists refused, deciding to remain independent. In 1784, they reorganized under the State act, and purchased fourteen lots on Forsyth street, between Canal and Hester. At this time Baron Von Steuben was one of the leading members of the congregation together with Colonel Weissenfels and other Revolutionary veterans. Rev. Phillip Milledoler became the pastor and remained with the church for ten years, beloved by all.”
The occasion for the article in the Evening Post was the visit to America of the German relatives of Baron Steuben to commemorate his role in the Battle of Yorktown. Following the Yorktown ceremonies, the family traveled to New York to visit the Reformed church building then located at 131 Norfolk street where, following his death, a memorial plaque had been dedicated by those who had served alongside the General in the War for Independence. The inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of
Knight of the Order
Aid-de-Camp to Frederick the Great, King of Prussia
Major-General and Inspector-General in the Revolutionary War.
Esteemed, respected and supported by Washington, he gave military skill and discipline to the citizen soldiers who—fulfilling the decrees of Heaven —achieved the Independence of the
manners of the Baron were graced by the most noble feeling of the heart. His hand “open as day to
melting charity” closed only in the strong grasp of death.
This Memorial is inscribed by an American who had the honor to be his Aid-de-Camp, the happiness to be his Friend.