The Lutheran Church: A Brief History 1663


  Article Tools

Print This Page

E-mail This Page To A Friend

Some of the early settlers in New York City were German and Dutch Lutherans, and they had an old church edifice near the "Fort," at the Battery, in very early days, though we have but a few fragments of their history. In the Dutch records of the Secretary of State, it is stated that a Church of the Augsburg confession was established in New York, and also a Lutheran Church, in the year 1663, but we have no further information on the subject.

 In the same records it is stated that the Rev. Jacob Fabricus, a Lutheran minister at New York, was twice fined for misdemeanors, once in the year 1663, and again in 1674. It is not known what these misdemeanors were, but, in 1675, he was forbidden to preach any more in the province. The Rev. Barnardus Arentius succeeded Mr. Fabricus, but it is not known how long he remained, nor who succeeded him.

In 1702, a small stone building was erected on the corner of Rector street and Broadway, and was continued as a Lutheran Church until the Revolutionary war, about which time, there being more Germans than Hollanders belonging to the congregation, one-half of the services were performed in German, and one half in Low Dutch. The names of the several ministers who officiated cannot now be ascertained. At the great fire in New York, in Sept, 1776, this Church edifice was burnt, and not rebuilt by the Lutherans. The ground remained unoccupied until 1805, when it was sold to the Episcopalians, and "Grace Church" erected on the spot.

Some years previous tot he burning of the old church, in the year 1751, another Lutheran Congregation was formed, and a small building erected in the northerly termination of Cliff Street, then called "Skinner Street," not far from the place now occupied by Mr. Hull, as a soap manufactory. Here they remained six years, and then, in 1767, put up a very substantial stone building, on the corner of Frankfort and William street, known as the "Swamp Church." This building is still standing, the oldest church edifice in the city, and is now occupied by the colored Presbyterians. After the peace, when order was restored to the city, in 1784, the remnant of the old church in Rector street united themselves and their property with the "Swamp Church," and the Rev. John Christopher Kunze, D.D. became the stated pastor. Dr. Kunze continued his labors usefully and acceptably, preaching in the German language only, until his death, which took place July 24th 1807, at the age of 63, having sustained the pastoral office in New York, for twenty three years. The Rev. F.W. Geissenhainer, D.D., succeeded Dr. Kunze, officiating in the German language entirely, until 1814. At this time some dispute arose respecting the introduction of the English language, and Dr. Geissenhainer removed to Pennsylvania, and the Rev. F.C. Schaeffer was called to officiate in German in the morning, and in English in the afternoon and evening and this arrangement continued for about seven years, when he left the old church, and formed an independent English congregation in Walker street. When this took place Dr. Geissenhainer was recalled, and continued to officiate in German in the "Swamp Church," as before, until the building was sold tot he colored Presbyterians, and after that he preached in Walker street until his death, in 1838.

Mr. Schaeffer, as stated above, removed to St. Matthew's Church in Walker street, near Broadway, in 1821, preaching in English only; but in a few years the congregation became so involved in debt that they sold the church at auction, in 1826, and removed to St. James' Church in Orange street, near Hester street, where Mr. Schaeffer shortly after died. He was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Strobel, and he in the autumn of 1841, by the Rev. Charles Martin, the present minister. Soon after Mr. Martin was settled, the congregation abandoned the old place of worship, which was taken down, and one of the public school-houses erected on the spot. The Church retired to the "Coliseum Hall," on Broadway, and immediately commenced the erection of a substantial brick edifice, measuring 75 feet by 60, at a cost of $11,000. It stands on Mulberry street, between Grand and Broome streets. It is nearly completed. The style of the Church is the "English Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. James."

When St. Matthew's Church was sold in 1826, as before stated, it was purchased by an individual, who sold it in a few days after to the German congregation of the "Swamp Church." Having thus two houses of worship, an attempt was made to form as English Lutheran congregation in St. Matthew's Church, while preaching in the German language was continued in the Swamp Church; and to effect this, the Rev. F.W. Geissenhainer, Jr., was called to officiate in the English language in St. Matthew's Church his father remaining with the German congregation in the "Swamp Church." But the experiment did not succeed well, and after about four years the Swamp Church was sold, as before stated, and the German congregation removed to St. Matthew's Church, the service being conducted interchangeably in German and English. This arrangement continued a few years, when, the English congregation dwindling away, the service in German was introduced entire. On the death of Dr. Geissenhainer, in 1838, the Rev. C.F.E. Stohlman was elected as his successor, to officiate in the German language, and has continued to labor with increasing success to the present day.

In 1842, Mr. Geissenhainer, Jr., resigned his charge in St. Matthew's Church, and commenced a new enterprise in the Sixth Avenue. A house of worship was erected at the corner of Fifteenth street, and a congregation gathered there. It is styled "The Evangelical Lutheran Church."

German Reformed Church

From a very early date there were two adverse parties in the German Reformed Church, one a Lutheran party, and the other a Calvinistic party; the former standing alone, and the latter standing in connection with the Reformed Dutch Church. We style them the Lutheran and Calvinistic parties merely for distinction's sake, though they both claim to be the "German Reformed Church." The sketch of this last party is given under the head of the Reformed Dutch Church." The controversy between the parties became more severe from about the year 1805, and at length, in 1834, the Lutherans obtained possession of the house of worship in Forsyth street, and the Rev. Lewis Smith, who was a Lutheran by profession, was their minister. He officiated until his death, which took place in 1837. The legal question respecting the house was decided by the Vice Chancellor in favor of the Lutherans, and, in 1838, the Rev. Edward Meyer became pastor, and continued to officiate about three years, when he resigned his charge, and was succeeded, in November, 1842, by the Rev. Lewis Miller. In the spring of 1844, the Chancellor reversed the decision before made, and the Lutherans gave up the house of worship, and retired to Columbia Hall on Grand street. In Jan, 1846, by a decision of the Court of Errors, this church again took possession of the house of worship in Forsyth street, where they remain. there are about two hundred members in communion. Mr. Miller is still their minister, and is himself in connection with the Lutheran Synod. He officiates in the German language only.

"Old Lutheran Church."

Such is the designation of a church gathered in the eastern part of the city by the labors of the Rev. Mr. Brohm, about the year 1842. They met at first in a small room on Stanton street, corner of Essex street, where they remained about two years. They then removed to a hall on Columbia street, near Houston street, where they still remain. The congregation is small. Mr. Brohm is still their minister. The services are conducted in the German language.

Lutheran Churches in the City

St. Matthew's Church........1751........Walker street.

St. James's Church...........1821........Mulberry street

German Reformed Lutheran Church..............1834........Forsyth street

Evangelical Lutheran Church.......................1842........Columbia Street

First Lutheran Church.......1663........became extinct 1784

NOTE: Did you find this information helpful to your research? Please post your comment to  the Message Board.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Lutheran Church: A Brief History 1663
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A History of the Churches of all Denominations in the City of New York; from the First Settlement to the year 1850; New York: E. French, 1850.
Time & Date Stamp: