French Reformed Protestant Church and
Rev. Louis Rou
The French Reformed Church dispute in New York regarding the unfair dismissal on September 20, 1724 of Minister Louis Rou by the Consistory of that church (headed by Mr. Moulinar) points out some interesting things:
1. The fact that Daniel Crommelin signed this petition suggests that he was still an active member of the French Reformed Church in 1724 - two months before his death in 1725. It was assumed that Daniel had become an Episcopalian in his latter years because he was buried at the Trinity Churchyard cemetery. But now it appears that he was permitted to be buried at Trinity despite his continued affiliation with the French Reformed Church.
2. Daniel died on March 2, 1725, barely two months after signing this Petition. He was aged 79 years. This controversy, then, was perhaps the last thing to trouble his mind.
3. Since Daniel's son, Charles, was married by Dominie G. Du Bois of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1706 to Anne Sinclair, it would appear that Daniel's ties to the French Reformed Church were stronger than any affiliation he might have had with the Dutch Reformed Church.
4. The signed Testimonial affixed to the Petition also gives an idea of the size of the French Church congregation and the names of those who would have been amongst Daniel Crommelin's closest friends.
5. The fact that the church opted to petition the 'state' in order to resolve an internal dispute (contrary to a biblical injunction not to seek remedial action outside of the church), plus the fact that a signed Act opposing the Consistory's action was set in motion only four days after Louis Rou was dismissed, indicates the fervor attached to this rash action by the Consistory. Clearly, affairs of a religious nature were not taken lightly by the expatriate Huguenots in the Province of New York.
6. It would appear that the Petition (below) was successful because Minister Louis Rou went on to have a notable career spanning some 40 years as minister of the French Reformed Church. These are some notes regarding Mr. Rou gleaned from another source.Louis Rou, who succeeded Dr. Laborie, was pastor of Saint-Esprit for the next 40 years until his death in 1750. He was an excellent scholar, he was widely respected, and he possessed a forceful personality. In addition to numerous volumes of learned sermons, all being of a length and complexity typical of the period, he also wrote poetry, both religious and secular. He is credited with having introduced the game of chess into the colonies. Thanks to his able leadership and the large number of Huguenots in New York, the parish thrived during much of his long ministry.
However, beginning around the 1730s, the membership of Saint-Esprit steadily declined for several reasons. Huguenot immigration to the American colonies, after the great influx during the period following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, dwindled to a small number. Louis XIV died in 1715 and his successors, while still not recognizing the practice of the Reformed religion, had no great zeal for persecuting it. French immigrants for reasons of conscience were few in the 18th century. Those Huguenots who came to America during the great immigration followed the familiar pattern of working hard, prospering, and assimilating rapidly. Many of them became distinguished in their communities and as they did so, other, larger churches eagerly sought their support and leadership. The lists of English and Dutch congregations in the 18th century are filled with Huguenot names. The children of the immigrants were no longer comfortable worshipping in the French language. Against these counter trends, Mr. Rou struggled with diminishing success. Revenues fell and were not enough to cover expenses. As the size of the congregation diminished, petty issues began to split the remaining elders and members. By the time of Mr. Rou's death in 1750 Saint-Esprit was in a very weakened state from what it had been.
There followed the most difficult period in the long history of the parish. Elders and parishioners quarreled constantly and often split into opposing factions. These squabbles became well-known in the general community and, even worse, in the Reformed churches of Europe. Because of this, and the precarious state of the parish finances, no qualified candidate would agree to come to New York as pastor from France or Switzerland. In the absence of a full-time pastor, a succession of lay readers tried to hold things together with little success. The strength of the congregation had so declined that by the time of the Revolutionary War, it had virtually disappeared. When the British invaded New York, they requisitioned the church building as a storehouse for arms and ammunition. Regular worship services ceased for almost 20 years.
"Saint-Esprit", the French Reformed Church on Pine Street, New York, built in 1704
Difficulties in the French Church
To His Excellency William Burnett Esq.
Captain General and Governor in Chief
of the Provinces of New York, New Jersey
and Territories therein Depending in America
and Vice Admiral of the same in council
The Humble Petition of Several members of the
French Reformed Protestant Church in the City of New York
in behalf of themselves and others of their Brethren.
That the said Church is unhappily divided by the fatal consequences of a certain document prepared and agreed upon on the 20th of September last, by the present Consistory thereof who, upon groundless assertions set forth therein, have discharged our worthy Minister Mr. Louis Rou from the Exercise of his Ministerial function in the said church, and deprived him of all the benefits he should reap thereby.
That your Petitioners and several others of their Brethren never consented to their Proceedings though some few were led into it by surprise having been told by the said Consistory that the Act they offered them to sign was for the Peace of the said Church, and indeed they otherwise could not know the contents thereof not being able to read them, and rather than the Peace of the Church, the reverse is true since we look upon all the steps they have taken against the said Mr. Rou to be without the least Colour of Justice whatsoever and contrary to the Rules and Discipline of the said Church of which your Petitioners don't doubt and which will become apparent to your Excellency when the same shall have the happiness to fall under your Excellency's consideration.
That your Petitioners all too sensibly touched with the disadvantages they lie under from the Misfortunes of their want of his Pastoral care over them, and whose Exemplary Piety and Instruction for upwards of fourteen years have rendered him exceedingly estimable to all who know him, and which cannot but be acknowledged by those who are Petitioners and also those who are giving Your Excellency this Trouble by siding with his assistant Mr. Moulinar, from whom both as a Brother and a Christian better offices might have been expected than to have found him the Penman of such document which are the Present motive of all our trouble, that your Petitioners beg leave to say to your Excellency that, if occasion should require it, they can provide proof to Your Excellency that the first right to the ministry of the said Church, and even to the Church itself, is wholly lodged in the said Mr. Rou as well as from the call of the said Consistory by the Act of General Assembly, and by the majority of the Church which appears in the Act of Opposition and Protestation made in his behalf, whereof a Copy is hereunto annexed.
That in order to put an End to these unhappy differences and that your Petitioners may enjoy those spiritual Comforts they have hitherto received from the Doctrine of the said Mr. Rou, your Petitioners apply to Your Excellency for relief in the premises and therefore they most humbly pray Your Excellency In your great Wisdom to take such measures for the protecting and reestablishing the said Mr. Rou to the free and peaceable Exercises of his ministerial function of the said Church and to the benefit thereof as may seem most Expedient to your Excellency, and that your Excellency's Endeavours therein may be successful, and your administration long and prosperous is the Earnest prayers of your Excellency's Petitioners.
Elias Pelletreau Jr
Jean ba Chan
Source: Ref. Page 360
Wittmeyer's book, Registers of the Births, [etc] Eglise Francoise in the " Historical Documents" section.
Act of Opposition and Protestation
(made by the French Church's Congregation)
(This Act or testimonial affixed to the above Petition bore witness to the sentiments of the majority of the French Church congregation in opposing the rash actions of the Consistory.)
of opposition to that which was passed on Sunday last, the 20th of September 1724, in the French Reformed Church of the City of New York, and signed afterwards by some members of the said church.
We, underwritten Members of the French Church in the City of New York, do hereby freely and sincerely declare that we disallow and reject that rash Act which was passed on Sunday last, the 20th of the month, in church in the presence of some Heads of Families then met together and afterwards signed by some others by virtue whereof they have pretended to dismiss and exclude Mr. Lewis Rou, our Minister, out of his office, that is to say, as it was verbally intimated to him the next day to acknowledge him no longer as a Minister of our church; to discharge him of all functions; to suppress his Salary; and to pay him nothing thereof for the future, etc.
We also hereby declare that we in no ways whatever consent to these proceedings which are contrary to the Rules of our Discipline, to the word of God and Equity etc., that we oppose ourselves to the said Act as much as lies in our power, and that notwithstanding the same, we acknowledge the said Mr. Rou for our true and lawful minister, who hath preached and officiated amongst us during more than fourteen years that he hath been here, with edification always leading an exemplary life.
In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and names. Done in New York, September 24, 1724
James Ballcreau [or Ballereau(?)]
John Vezlen [or Vevien]
John Vevien junr
Elias Chardavoine junr
Gabriel Le Boyteulx junr
Elias Pelletreau junr
Francis Baumier [or Baumler]
Jeremie La Touche
David Le Telier
Jean Le Chevalier
Anthony La Fonds
Samuel Bourdet junr
Here followeth the names of the widow, women, and others, Members of the same Church, which have signed the same Act:
Marie Anne Ablin
Susanne Magle Basset
Marquise le Boyteulx
Renee Mary Rou
Besides all these who have signed this Act there are a few other heads of family, or members of the said Church, who through fear, or policy, or some other worldly regard, have not thought fit to give an open testimony to the truth by signing this Act of the Consistory and who have on the contrary declared on several occasions that they did disapprove the rash resolution of those Gentlemen; so that there are many voices and suffrages as the others cannot claim.
And here are the names of those politick persons.
Peter Dennys Doctr
John Garreau Junr
I, the undersigned Lewis Rou, Minister of the Holy Gospel in the City of New York, do also protest in many particulars against the Act of the Consistory here mentioned, as being an unjust, violent and irregular proceeding, done against all manner of form, without any lawful reason, without a sufficient and competent Authority and even without having heard me; in short as being contrary to our discipline, and to the Word of God and equity.
Done at New York the 31st of December 1724
Minister of the French Church
Note regarding His Excellency William Burnett Esq.
Burnet was the son of Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury, and Mary Scott. He was born at the Hague in the Netherlands in March of 1688. He was the godson of William (later King William III) and Mary. He was an excellent but undisciplined scholar who entered Oxford at the age of 13, but was dismissed for disciplinary reasons. His later education came from private tutoring (including Isaac Newton as a tutor), and he was ultimately admitted to the bar.