Selyns, Henry

Selyns, Henry a (Dutch) Reformed minister, was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1636. He was regularly educated in one of the universities of that country for the ministry, and licensed by the Classis of Amsterdam as a proponent, or candidate, in 1659. In 1660 he accepted a call made by the Dutch West India Company, through the Classis of Amsterdam, to become the minister of the Dutch Church of Breukkelin (now Brooklyn) for four years. He was ordained in 1660 in Holland, and came to this country with Rev. Harmanus Blom, who was on his way to the Church of Kingston, N.Y. During his ministry at Brooklyn, Mr. Selyns, by special request of Gov. Stuyvesant, came over to New York and preached regularly on Sabbath evenings to the Negroes and other poor people, on his farm, or Bouwery, and on the present location of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue. His ministry at these places was very popular and useful. He returned to Holland at the close of his fourth year, ill 1664, and took charge of a congregation of poor folks who earned their bread by gathering turf. He was happy in serving them, and declined a pressing invitation in 1670 to come to New York as colleague of the aged pastor of the Collegiate Church, Johannes Megapolensis. The call was renewed and accepted by him in 1682. The period was critical for the Dutch Church, in consequence of the English ascendency in the province and the establishment of the State Church. "The Dutch were only tolerated, according to capitulation, as dissenters. The governors attempted to exercise arbitrary powers, but the people resisted. Dominie Selyns was fully alive to the importance of the subject, and was rejoiced at the arrival of Gov. Dongan in 1683, who allowed full liberty of conscience." An assembly of the people was soon called, which, among other matters, established the legal position of the denominations, allowing the churches to choose their own ministers. When Leisler usurped the governor's chair, Mr. Selyns was one of his most formidable opponents, and preached a jubilant sermon over his fall. This conduct divided his congregation, and his salary was partly withheld for years; but he held his ground tenaciously and triumphantly, until by the charter of May 11, 1696, he felt that the liberties of his Church were entirely secured. Not till then did he seek relief and a colleague in his large congregation. The Rev. Gualterus (Walter) Du Bois was called in 1699, and for fifty-five years "ministered before the Lord" in that one church. Mr. Selyns died July, 1701. He was the most eminent of the ministers who had yet come from Holland — prudent, sagacious, bold, earnest, of positive convictions, fearless of danger, a defender of the faith, and a peace maker. He was a successful minister of the Gospel, and had probably more to do in determining the position of the Reformed Dutch Church in America than almost any other man. In spirit towards other churches he was liberal, kindly, and catholic. He held friendly relations with the chief men of the state, and maintained correspondence with eminent literary men of the colonies, such as the Mathers and other notables. He was also a poet, versifying with equal ease in Latin and Dutch. Cotton Mather (in his Magnalia Christi Americana, 3, 41) says of him that "he had so nimble a faculty of putting his devout thoughts into verse that he signalized himself by the greatest frequency which perhaps ever man used of sending poems to all persons, in all places, on all occasions; and upon this, as well as upon greater accounts, was a David unto the flocks of our Lord in the wilderness." Murphy, Anthology of New Netherland, contains much of his life and poetry. See also De Witt, Hist. Discourse; Sprague, Annals of the Amer. Pulpit, vol. 9; Corwin, Manual of the Reformed Church, p. 213-217. (W.J.R.T.)

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