The year was 1633. New Netherland was a fledgling territory, the Dutch Republic’s first attempt at colonization in the New World. Decades earlier, explorer Henry Hudson was hired by the Dutch East India Company to find a northern passage to Asia, but he inadvertently encountered much more. On his return voyage, he brushed the coast of North America, first at Newfoundland, Canada, and then at Cape Cod. He told the Dutch of the fertile land with inhabitants who were open to the trade of lucrative items like furs, and the Dutch began to see a great economic opportunity in the New World. They wanted to establish themselves before another European power such as England or France could gain a monopoly on territory in the Americas. Soon they established New Netherland in modern-day New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware. The official religion of the territory was Dutch Reformed Christianity, but the story of how the first church was formed is a bit unorthodox.
Everardus Bogardus (what a name!) was an ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church who received the order to become the religious leader of New Amsterdam. Arriving in the colony, his first plan of action was to build its first church. (The colony had already become known for various “immoral behaviors,” and Bogardus hoped to change that.) But most of the buildings in the colony were small, wooden houses, which wouldn’t provide enough space or the right atmosphere for a place of worship, and he was having some difficulty raising enough money to build the type of stone church that he imagined. Wondering how to proceed, Bogardus took an opportunity and ran with it: his daughter happened to be getting married around that time, and he offered to host the event, ensuring that there was to be plenty of ale and spirits available to the guests. The evening of the wedding, Bogardus petitioned the guests in their drunken state to donate to the building of the new church, which turned out to be just the solution he needed. They gave very generously, trying to outdo one another in who could give the most. The next morning, many of them regretted having pledged so much money, but since they had had agreed to do so, Bogardus held them to their promise, and the church was finally built. That it was built because of the drunkenness of the townspeople is a spectacular irony, but Bogardus certainly knew how to get things done.