INDIAN CASTLE CHURCH
By Joyce Berry
Indian Castle Church was dedicated in mid-June 1770, 230 years ago. It was built in
1769. Traditionally, Father's Day is the time for the Redmen Celebration at
the church. This year, the Redmen Celebration took place, but no "Indians" came
and certainly no one in costume, so the long tradition is apparently fading
into oblivion, which is a sad note. This time of year, we like to reflect on
Indian Castle Church or the Castle Church as it is called locally. Rather than
report facts which are oft repeated about the church, here are some little known
things about this beautiful church which has silently kept watch over the Mohawk
Valley for so many years.
After the Revolutionary
War was lost to the Indians, they left for Canada and the thrifty German farmers
took over the church rather than let it be idle. Many changes were made to the
building over the years, it was modernized and turned; the entrance was changed
many times, the steeple was changed and yes a little over twenty years ago it
was set on fire. But one thing remained that the public can't see, the original
church bell remains in the belfry. Herein lies a little tale. One thing the
Indians really loved about the little church was the bell, it was a real novelty
to them and they felt it belonged to them. Several times after the Revolutionary
War, the Indians returned and tried to steal the bell they prized, but according
to local tradition, even though they tried to move the bell after dark, they
forgot to silence the clapper. In a quiet countryside, the sound of the bell
was unmistakable and a call to action. The bell was retrieved by the local farmers
and put the bell back where it belonged. Another story says that they were caught
trying to steal the bell but this time the Indians dumped the bell into the
river where it was later retrieved. There doesn't seem to be a picture of this
old bell. Maybe someday a brave person will climb a ladder and take a picture.
questions about viewing the church records, no records seemed to be available
for the Indian Castle Church members, births, deaths, marriages, etc. No records
appeared of the people who faithfully attended and worshiped there. Just some
stones in the churchyard; some old stones, some new stones and minutes of the
various cemetery and association meetings were about all that was left. But
some of the church records were found in an unexpected place. While preparing
the records of St. John's Reformed Church for posting on the internet, entries
for "Canajoharie Castle and Danube" were sprinkled here and there in the records.
At last, here were some of the missing church records! How natural for the minister
serving the church to record the statistics in his "Home" church registry. The
first minister for St. John's, Dominie John Henry Dysslin, also served the Indian
Castle Church. For a period of years, it was part of the German Reformed Church
along with St. John's Reformed Church in St. Johnsville. The churches shared
a "Collegiate" relationship (a form of church government, such as Marble Collegiate
Church) during this period of time.
(Prior to February
11, 1829, St. John's was of the independent German Reformed body, though served
by a member of the Classis of Montgomery, Dutch Reformed Church. W.N.P. Dailey
History of Montgomery Classis, RCA.)
The St. John's
minister also served St. Paul's at Manheim for a time. Often the minister would
preach in St. John's, take a ride across the river in a dangerous skiff to Indian
Castle and then go back across the river to evening services at Manheim. It
was a busy life and a hard one.
Church was off the beaten path and at times joined another denomination, ever
hopeful to become part of a thriving organization and thus grow themselves.
At a later time in the mid 1800's Indian Castle again looked to St. John's for
pastoral services and the records resume in St. John's registry. There simply
was not enough population in the area to support a minister, even Sir William
Johnson complained about not being able to secure the services of a minister
to serve his mission church even though he spent $1,142.75 of his own money
to erect such a handsome edifice.
All the records
from Dominie Dysslin are written in old fashioned German script and are interesting.
Every few pages, an entry in the baptism section is written upside down. The
good dominie physically turned the book upside down and wrote an entry and then
turned the book right again and recorded more entries. Finally it was apparent
these were illegitimate children being recorded. In that day, mom and pop made
do and when the preacher came around, they would have the children baptized
and be married. The good dominie was protesting in his own way about the state
of affairs. History can hold a few surprises for us!
The cemetery in
the back of the church is still being used and burials take place to this day.
It is suspected that to the west side of the church where the overgrowth has
gotten thick, an older cemetery is located. Probably some Indians and early
settlers are buried in that spot. A future project for the Indian Castle Church
Restoration and Preservation Society is to clear the area. The society is a
group of dedicated and loyal people who are busy raising money for the church
and do restoration projects. Recently new carpeting was laid so that future
brides won't snag their long dresses on the wooden floor. For further details,
check the Indian Castle web site: http://stjohnsville.com/indiancastle.htm