Early History of Trinity Church Athens

Joseph Prentiss
The Early History of
Trinity Church

Athens, N. Y.

Nellie McKnight
April 9th, 1934

Original manuscript located at the Vedder Library. Retyped by Arlene Goodwin 

Joseph Prentiss was rector of Trinity Church, Athens, from the first Sunday in October, 1806, until Sept. 26th, 1831.

Trinity Church was organized April 19th, 1806, in the School House in Loonenburgh, (Upper Village). Divine Service had been performed two Sundays preceding and the meeting was held in accordance with the Laws of the State of New York. At that meeting the following officers were elected:

                        Delluana Buckus,   Warden
Edward Hinman     Warden 

                        Simeon Franklin,     Vestryman
                       Abraham Van Buskirk,  Jr.,    Vestryman
                       Henry Ritter,    Vestryman
John Thos. Netterville ,  Vestryman
John T. Lacy,    Vestryman
                      Henry White,   Vestryman
Aaron Reed,    Vestryman
                       Henry Wells, Jr.,  Vestryman 

These gentlemen had received a letter, dated April 12th, 1806, from Rev. B. Judd, rector of Christ Church, Hudson, introducing to them “Mr. Joseph Prentiss, the Young Gentlemen whose name I mentioned to you as a candidate in our Church, who wishes to confer with you upon the subject of the charge of your Church, etc.”

At a meeting of the Vestry held at the Scholl House Aug. 20th, 1806, it was voted to give out of the interest arising from the funds of Trinity Church the sum of $200 to Mr. Joseph Prentiss as “a compensation for officiating in the ministry in the Village of Athens in the Episcopal Society for the space of one year from the first Sunday in October, 1806, two-thirds of the time.”

This offer evidently was accepted without delay by Mr. Prentiss, and on Sept. 26th, 1806, he was appointed a delegate to the Episcopal Convention of the State of New York to be held in the City of New York on the 7th day of October next, from Trinity Church, Athens, the Church to pay two-thirds of his expenses, Coxsackie to pay the other third.  He was assured, however, that Trinity Church would stand for the whole amount in case Coxsackie did not do its share.

Mr. Prentiss was given a certificate for ordination by the Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity Church on Sept. 26th, 1807. This was addressed to the members of the Standing Committee of the Protestant Episcopal Church, New York, and stated that “Mr. Joseph Prentiss, for some time resident among us, hath lived piously, soberly and honestly and hath not, so far as we know and believe, written, taught or held anything contrary to the doctrine or discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church.”  In another document of the same date the Standing Committee is assured that when the candidate is admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons Trinity Church will receive his as its own minister and in connection with Christ Church, Coxsackie,  he will be given a decent support.

In accordance with this request, Mr. Prentiss was made Deacon by Bishop Moore at the Convention held in New York City in the autumn of 1807. In the records he is thereafter called “Rev.” Joseph Prentiss instead of “Mr.” Joseph Prentiss.

A year later, at the request of Trinity Church, he was ordained to the Holy Orders of Priest, with the promise to the Standing Committee that, in connection with Christ Church of Coxsackie, he would be given a comfortable support.  The certificate making this request in dated Sept. 24th, 1808.

In the plans for the support of Mr. Prentiss is revealed the close tie which existed for years between Trinity Church and the Lutheran Church at Athens, which was organized in 1703, but which, at the time of the organization of Trinity Church, was unable to support a settled pastor.

A “Memorial to Trinity Church, New York,” from the officers of Trinity Church, Athens, in 1808, gives some interesting information. It says, among other things, that at the time of organization of Trinity Church, Athens, there were but 6 or 8 families in the Village who were Episcopalians; that only by the friendship of some gentlemen of other denominations were “the Memorialists” able to make up a sufficient numbers of Church officers to become an incorporate body;” since when time they have permanently attached themselves to the Episcopal Church.” The Memorial Further states that by the active exertion of one of its members the Church had been left an income of about $150 a year; that $100 had been raised by private subscription;  that a Church was organized at Coxsackie nearly at the same time and under similar circumstances; that being destitute of funds they could raise but $100 for the support of a Clergyman between the two congregations, the Lutheran congregation in Athens, being part of the time destitute and feeling friendly toward the Episcopal Church, and  being solicitous that we should retain the Clergyman whom we now have”  had very liberally added to his stipend $50 annually and “freely opened their Church for our accommodation”, and that the Lutherans “are attached to our communion”, so much so that it was hoped that the period was not far distant when they should permanently attach themselves and their funds to Trinity Church. The Memorialists then go to the heart of the matter and ask for aid that they may continue the work of the Church in Athens and be relieved to some extent of their great financial burden, While the reply to this appeal is not given in the records, reference is afterward made to the sum of $125 received from Trinity Church, New York, for a period of several years.

At no time during Joseph Prentiss’ ministry in Athens were his services confined entirely to Trinity Church, due to the inability of the Church to pay him a salary sufficient for his support.  Until 1813, when contributed $150 a year towards his salary, services up to that time being held in the old Lutheran Church building, erected in 1724 and demolished in 1853, to give place to the present Lutheran Church edifice. In 1813, in order to place Mr. Prentiss’ salary on a permanent basis, and act was passed by the New York State Legislature making it legal for the trustees of the Lutheran Church to apply the whole or part of the income derived form rent of glebe lands and other property to Mr. Prentiss’ support. This resulted in a contract made glebe rents and the use and profits of unleased lots as long a he should remain in the ministry in Athens. In 1827 a dispute over this arrangement arose, terminating in a law suit between the trustees – John C. Van Hoesen, John F. Tolle and Jeremiah Out – and Mr. Prentiss. This case was tried in the Supreme Court and in 1829 both sides agreed to a settlement.  (See Supreme Court Records, County Clerk’s Office, Catskill).

After the erection of the new Church in 1811, officers of Trinity Church set aside four pews for the exclusive use of the Lutherans and a former pastor of the Lutheran Church, the Rev. Frederick H. Quitman, D. D., was invited to preach in Trinity Church whenever he returned to Athens, which he did from time to time, speaking to his audience in the Dutch language. To this close connection between the two churches, which continued until Mr. Prentiss moved to Catskill in 1831, can undoubtedly be traced the gift of a lot on which a new rectory was built in 1836, the donor being Albert Van Loon, great-grandson of the Albertus Van Loon who, with his brothers Jan & Matthias deeded the glebe lands to the Lutheran Church more than one hundred years before.  It is interesting to note that the rectory built in 1836 is now the parsonage of the Lutheran Church.

It is not known how long Mr. Prentiss continued his ministrations at Coxsackie, but his work there had evidently ceased by 1812, as in September of that year Trinity Church, New York, is asked by the Vestry of Trinity Church, Athens, to give to the Athens Church the $125 formerly donated yearly to the Churches at Coxsackie and Athens.

In 1815 Mr. Prentiss became rector of St. Luke’s Church, Catskill, dividing his preaching and parish work between the Catskill and Athens Churches, although retaining his residence in Athens. In 1818 St. Luke’s offered him $600 a year if he would move to Catskill.  This offer he refused, Trinity Church promising him $450 and guaranteeing $150 from the Lutheran Church, if he would remain in Athens.  Again, in 1825, St. Luke’s attempted to have Mr. Prentiss remove to Catskill and serve that parish exclusively, offering him a larger salary and other inducements.  Trinity Church considered this action by St. Luke’s “as unfriendly and Samuel Hamilton, Esq. visited some friends of the Athens Church in Coxsackie and reported the result of this visit as follows:”   I went to Coxsackie and had an interview with several of our friends, who stated that they would guarantee to make up the sum of Two Hundred Dollars annually, provided that Mr. Prentiss would officiate at that place one Sunday afternoon in a fortnight when weather and traveling was good, And that there was a great prospect of organizing a society there, which would increase in number and resources.”  To this sum Athens was willing to add $600 a year, including the aid derived from the Lutheran society. Mr. Prentiss did not accept this offer, but St. Luke’s again came around to accepting part-time service from him, agreeing that divine worship be held in Athens and Catskill on Sunday mornings and afternoons alternately.  For this Trinity Church was to pay Mr. Prentiss $300 a year.

In spite of these attempts to keep Mr. Prentiss as rector of Trinity Church, on Sept. 26th, 1831, after twenty-five years’ service, he resigned and went to Catskill, where he continued at St. Luke’s until his resignation in 1835.

That Mr. Prentiss was rector of Christ Church, Hudson, for nearly three years, is not indicated in the Vestry Minutes Book, but an entry in the back of the Parish Register shows this to be a fact. The entry, in his hand-writing, reads as follows:  “Began to supply the parish at Hudson on the last Sunday of Sept. 1811 – was absent the first Sunday (in) Oct. – from which time my service with them may be considered as commencing.” ---April 1,st, 1814. Resigned the rectorship; of the parish in Hudson but continued to officiate there till the last of the month, when I received a call from the parish in Catskill. $500 per year half the time if I reside in Catskill village - $375 for the same time, remaining where I am.  I accept the latter.  Mr. H. Croswell supplies the Church in Hudson.”

With the organization of Trinity Church in 1806 and the hiring of Joseph Prentiss, then a young man of 27, as its rector, its Vestry and members sought to materialize the plan of John C. Voogd, outlined in his will, dated July 6th, 1802 and becoming operative by his death a short time thereafter, for erecting a church building, within a reasonable time after his death.  For this purpose he left $2500, a certain amount of the residue of his estate for the support of a clergyman.  Much of what Voogd owned consisted of real estate, mortgages, etc., estimated in 1807 to amount to $4155.39 ever and above the $1500 for the new church, this of course being the portion of his estate accruing to Trinity parish. In passing it is interesting to note that beside vacant lots, the real estate included “The House Henry Ritter lives in and Parsonage.”  Voogd’s farm of which these were a part lay on the side of Union Hill, his own house, and old stone structure, being situated on the South side of the street leading up the hill.  The property, including this house was sold to Simon Newton Dexter in 1809, but received back by the church in 1817.

In spite of the efforts of the rector and vestry the church was not built until 1813. The liquidation of the estate of Mr. Voogd was a tedious affair and it was with difficulty that any large sums in subscriptions could be obtained.  Trinity Church, New York, was again appealed to for aid.  In 1811 a letter was sent to the New York Church, inquiring the state of the Memorial and asking if any amount had been granted for the purpose stated.  After two years this request was granted and the sum of $3000 was received as a donation from that source.  With this as a basis, $1921 was raised from an advanced sale of pews in the new church, which with private contributions enabled the Vestry to meet the estimated cost $6500 or $7000. In 1810 Abraham Van Buskirk, Jr., Henry White and Isaac Northrup were appointed as committee to procure a plan for a church, to be erected on a lot fronting on Montgomery Street, for which $250 had been paid to its owner, Thomas Spencer. (It is on this site that the residence of Mr. Fred Miller, Franklin Street – then Montgomery Street – now stands.)  Rueben Sanderson was adopted.  The total amount paid him, according to a contract made with him for building the church, was $579.99. In a running account with him is found, under date of July 12th, 1813, and entry of expense for a cheese bought of B. A. Howland at  $2.88 and a barrel of beer for $8.25. Capt. Sanderson no doubt used these refreshments at the church-raising earlier in the summer.  Apropos of Capt. Sanderson it has been learned that he lived in Catskill before he moved to Athens; that he was there a member of St. Luke’s, and that he was probably buried in the old cemetery back of the Athens Rural Cemetery, where the top of a stone protrudes, from the soil with the inscription to “Mrs. Sally Sanderson, wife of Capt. Reuben Sanderson.” Her husband no doubt lies by her side in a now unmarked grave.

The new church was consecrated Sept. 16th event in the Bishop’s own handwriting and bearing his official seal being pasted in the church records for that year.

The will of John G. Voogd stipulated  that his remains should be interred under the pulpit of the church to be erected, in a vault suitable for  the purpose.  Under date of June 22, 1814 an entry in the treasurer’s account reads, “Paid for removing remains of Mr. Voogd $4.” For some reason the request in the will was evidently not properly carried out, for as late as 1853 Nathan Clark was constitute as committee “to have the remains of John G. Voogd looked after and see that they are properly re-interred in some suitable place under the body of the church.” This was done and a tablet to his memory placed in the vestry room. After the erection of the new church in the lower village and before the sale of the old church (a little over fifty years ago) the body of the old man was again removed, this time to a spot in Mt. Hope Cemetery. From the fact that his body rested under the church for so many years arose the belief, shared by many children and some of their superstitious elders, that the church was haunted.  Groans were supposed to issue from that church at night and, if it was especially dark, his ghost appeared at the windows or was seen walking around the grounds, under the large willow trees surrounding it.

In September 1815 it was decided to procure a bell for the new Church, but only after an attempt to have the Village Trustees buy a bell, hang it in the Church belfry and ring it, as occasion required, to call people to religious service or to a fire, as the case might be.  This was perhaps a natural course to pursue, as several prominent men served on both the Village Board and Trinity Church Vestry.  At a meeting of the Village Trustees held March 26, 1814, a resolution was presented that the Trustees procure a bell of suitable size, not to exceed in price $750, and that the same be hung in the steeple of the new Episcopal Church, there to remain until a public building could be erected in the village, in which the case the bell was to be removed or retained by the Church, by refunding its original cost to the Village.  At a later meeting of the Village Board, Joseph Groom, President, refused to put the motion and the record say that “he took his Hatt and left the Board without adjournment.”  The effort to secure a bell in this manner failing, on Sept. 14, 1815 the Vestry of Trinity Church appointed Abraham Van Buskirk, Jr., John Thomas Netterville and Samuel Haight, Esq. a committee to confer with Benjamin Hanks & Son to cast a bell for the Church, complete in every way, and to erect the bell in the church.  Just how much this bell cost is not known, but it was duly installed and in December of the same year the Vestry resolved that it be rung at the hours and as often as the bell in the Episcopal Church in Hudson, is rung by the Sexton.” As the sound of bells carries easily over the river, the result no doubt was a one of “sweet bells jangled, harsh and out of tune.”

In the year of 1819 the first organ was installed in the Church, largely through the efforts of the Rev. Joseph Prentiss. In October of that year the vestry resolved  “that a suitable organ be purchased and that a subscription be circulated for the expenses.”  A few months later the Vestry settled with Mr. Prentiss from money advanced to him to help pay for the organ, it being evident that the financing of the project was left to him. (In 1848 this organ was referred to as being badly out of repair; for several years it had been much out of order and for six months it had been useless.  In that year a new organ was purchased by popular subscription, a list of those contributing being enrolled in the church records. This is the organ now in use in the church building which replaced the old church fifty off years ago.)

At least part of the time Mr. Prentiss lived in Athens he occupied a house on the north side of Union Hill, where later the earth was dug away for brickyard purposes.  In 1809 two small bedrooms were added to the house and two years later a barn was built on the parsonage lots for the convenience of the rector.  Mr. Prentiss’ fondness for this property, with its sweeping view of the Hudson River and the hills to the East, was shown by his attempts at various times to purchase it from the Church. In 1826 he bought the Benjamin Haxton the small farm at the South end of the village, known for years as the Sprague place, where he probably moved from the what is the records is called “the house on the hill.” The year before he died he sold this property to George Griffin of New York City.

Joseph Prentiss was born April 2nd, 1779. He died January 7th, 1835. Where he was born, who his parents were and where he received his education is not revealed in any available source of information.  It is known that he was killed by the overturning of a stage  coach near Coxsackie.  The altar, desk and pulpit of St. Luke’s, Catskill, were draped in black for 30 days as a testimonial to the high esteem in St. Luke’s and later a memorial window.  Mrs. Peter Hubbell, Mr. Prentiss’ daughter, gave a handsome baptismal font in his memory and in addition bequeathed to St. Luke’s $3000.

We know that Mr. Prentiss' wife’s name was Sarah and that they had at least four children. Trinity Church register records their baptisms as follows:  Ann Van Buskirk, March 25th, 1810; Abby Jane, Aug. 9th, 1812 (born July 6th, 1812); Henry Hobart, Sept. 16, 1814, (Born Aug. 22, 1814), and Sarah Louisa, June 4th, 1817 (born May 11th, 1817).  One of these daughters married Henry K. Sanger and another Peter Hubbell.

Joseph Prentiss’ popularity both as a man and as a clergyman, as evidenced by his long ministry in Athens and Catskill and his occasional services in Coxsackie and Hudson, is well described in “Sketches of Catskill” by James D. Pinckney, published in 1863. Mr. Pinckney says: “I closed my last sketch by leaving the members of the Masonic fraternity listening to an address by the Rev. Joseph Prentiss.  This clergyman will be remembered by many inhabitants of Catskill, as perhaps, the most eloquent divine who ever occupied the desk of that church.  It is doubtful if whether any Rector ever received such a measure of love as his parishioners bestowed on him; and it is equally doubtful whether any Rector so well merited the unbounded affections of his people.  Frequently, even at this day, I meet some fellow townsmen, or school-mate, and it is seldom that our conversation does not revert to the goof old days of our youth, and among the pleasant memories of those days, that of Mr. Prentiss is the most prominent and enduring.” 

Some indication of Mr. Prentiss' activities as a clergyman is given by the Parish Register of Trinity Church, kept in his own handwriting up to the year 1825. In that time 838 baptisms 236 funerals and 210 marriages are recorded.  Marriages fees, called “premiums, are invariably recorded and range form 75 cents to $50. In one instance the premium is given as nothing, but the words “to be paid in Clams”, is written above the entry.

In the early records of Trinity Church are found many side-lights on the customs and traditions of Joseph Prentiss’ time. One of these is an entry of Aug. 21, 1812 reading “Voted to pay Mr. Ebenezer King the sum of $3.57 ½ for the use of room for the singing school of the past winter.” This refers to King’ schoolhouse, at the north-east corner of Franklin and Market Streets and now the residence of Erastus E. Brady.  As early as 1808, the Church (meaning the Lutheran, then used by both congregations) was decorated with greens at Christmas, the sexton being directed to see to the matter. A picturesque method of indicating time is used by the Church Clerk, Henry Wells, in his minutes of December, 1814, when he states that a meeting of the Vestry will be held at the residence of Rev. Jos. Prentiss on Wednesday “at early Candle light.” Burial customs are indicated by a resolution passed by the Vestry in 1812, requesting the Village Trustees to purchase “a Pawl and a Beir” for carrying the dead of the village generally. This request was not carried out until Nov. 30th, 1814, when the trustees ordered the secretary to the Village Board (Henry Wells, one with Henry Wells the Church Clerk) to procure “a suitable black velvet Pawl for the use of the Village inhabitants and cause the same to be deposited at the house of Jacob Bogardus or Nathan Clark as may be practicable.” That gifts were common at funerals is shown by a statement of Mr. Prentiss that he and Dr. Root were presented with scarfs at the funeral of James Burns, Nov. 5, 1807. Thus both clergyman and family physician were remembered for their ministrations to the deceased. In the will of John G. Voogd, benefactor of Trinity Church, provision was made for a gold mourning ring for each of the executors, Ambrose Spencer and Henry Ritter; also for decent and suitable suits of mourning. Mr. Voogd’s estate inventoried seven slaves and he directs in his will that “all of them who are grown shall be given suits of mourning,” Another side-light of the times is given in the Church Treasurer’s accounts for the years 1813-14. Entries are made in the old Colonial money system – pounds, shillings and pence.  The gift of Trinity Church, New York, is entered as 1200 pounds, later to be changed to $3000, the legal pound of New York currency being the equivalent of two and a half dollars. 

The history of Joseph Prentiss, with its background of church and community life, give a clear picture of the early times of Athens and vicinity, although for full rounding out further research is necessary. This may be done as new source material opens up from time to time in unexpected quarters.

Rectors of Trinity Church

Rev. Joseph Prentiss—August 22, 1806-September 26, 1831
Rev. John Grigg—June 13,1832- April 1, 1835
Rev. Lewis Thibou, Jr.—July 16, 1835-April 1838
Rev. John Dowdney, Jr.—October 16,1838-September 1840
Rev. Thomas Mallaby—November 27, 1840-November 22, 1845
Rev. Norman C. Stoughton—June 15, 1847-April 19, 1852
Rev. Jonathan Coe—July 27,1852-April 25,1866
Rev. Josiah E. Johnson—September 13,18660-August 8, 1875
Rev. James Wilkins Stewart—October 1, 1875-July 20, 1893
Rev. John G. Fawcett—December 3, 1893-December 8, 1896
Rev. William A. Masker, Jr.—May 24, 1897-May 30, 1901
Rev. Henry H. Pittman—August 1, 1901-March 1, 1904
Rev. Charles Brassington Mee—May 1, 1904-February 1, 1907
Rev. Walter Scott Cleland—June 30, 1907-July 28, 1911
Rev. Hobart B. Whitney—January 1, 1912-December 31, 1931
Rev. Delber W. Clark—January 1, 1932-November 27, 1938
Rev. Ernest M. Hoyt—March 1939-June 28, 1942
Rev. Dr. F. Allen Sisco—November 19, 1942-1950
Rev. Rev. Clifford Andrews All Saints 1950-Dec 31, 1975
Rev. Geoffrey A. Boland—Sept. 1, 1976-Feb 1981

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