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51 The Preacher and the Trail of Tears

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Usually, the Tales of Blawenburg blog focuses on the history of Blawenburg. The focus of this tale is the Rev. John Schermerhorn, who preached at Blawenburg Church periodically in its first few years. His story is unsettling, because he was a moving force for the removal of Indians from their ancestral homes during the Trail of Tears in the late 1830s. When I learned of this tale, I felt that others should know it. I hope that it will make you pause and think about what happened then, and its import, even in our times.


On April 22, 1832, the Reformed Dutch Church at Blawenburg, as it was called at that time, held an afternoon worship service and invited Rev. John F. Schermerhorn to preach. Rev. Schermerhorn was a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary as well as the General Agent of the Dutch Reformed Church’s Mission Board. He had preached at Blawenburg previously, and he also preached in churches each Sunday for 10 months each year to raise money for mission programs. Well-credentialed and well-known, it was a special occasion for the church members and the new pastor, Rev. Henry Heermance, to have him preach.

Rev. John Freeman Schermerhorn

1785-1851


According to notes recorded in her Blawenburg Church journal, on that April afternoon, Elizabeth Van Zandt said that Rev. Schermerhorn challenged the rich not to trust in their riches, but to trust in God and to do good works with the wealth they had accrued. Presumably, giving money to missions was the underlying theme of his message.

A record of Rev. John F. Shermerhorn’s sermon at Blawenburg Church

on April 22, 1832

The Dutch Reformed Church was a Protestant denomination that was established during the Reformation, and it was the religion that Dutch settlers brought with them when they settled in America. The denomination was in the midst of turbulent disagreements over points of orthodoxy in the 1820s and 30s, and Rev. Shermerhorn was in the thick of it as General Agent of the General Synod. In June 1832, he was offered the opportunity to serve as General Agent again, but he declined the offer. There were some who thought it was because of the turbulence, but others knew that he had ambitious plans. He had been very active in politics, especially in the campaigns of President Andrew Jackson in 1828 and 1832.