Pastors and congregants of Katsbaan Reformed Church have a long history of supporting battles for freedom and justice even before there was a Union. A walk through the cemetery finds numerous graves of those who fought in the Revolutionary War as part of Snyder’s Regiment, the Ulster Company Regiment, and Pawling’s Militia. Pastors would sermonize from the pulpit of the small church about the evils of British rule in the colonies and proudly send off congregants to fight to throw off the yoke of that oppression, according to Janice Trevail, who put together a history of the church for its website, www.katsbaanchurch.org.
All those who went off to fight in the Revolutionary War returned safely to Saugerties to continue their lives as farmers, merchants, and quarry workers, as did the numerous church members who fought in the first and second World Wars whose final resting place is the Katsbaan Cemetery.
All, save Dederick.
As his name would suggest, Dederick, a native of Saugerties, was of German descent as were most of the congregation of the Katsbaan Reformed Church on Old Kings Highway and as many are today.
Established in 1710, the Katsbaan church was founded by the Palatines, who settled in the West Camp section of the town.
By the early 1700s, the people who inhabited the area that would become the nation of Germany had seen decades of war. Several invasions by French troops during the Nine Years War and the War of Spanish Succession had devastated cities and caused economic hardship. The toll was especially high in the area between the Rhine River and French border, known as the Rhineland-Palatinate region. Extremely difficult winters and poor harvests leading to famines only exacerbated the problem for this group, and in 1708, more than 13,000 emigrated to England to pursue Queen Anne’s promise of free land in America.
The first few hundred immigrants were welcomed, and given housing, food, and supplies by a number of wealthy Englishmen. Soon though, the masses of Palatine refugees arriving overwhelmed England’s ability to provide for them, and political leaders began to plan for their dispersal.
Nearly 3,000 Palatines were offered passage to New York, which they would have to work off by harvesting pitch, tar, and hemp for the Queen’s naval stores, and 2,227 arrived in New York, eventually settling into five communities on either side of the Hudson River.
As the numbers in the camps grew, Dutch pastors, who were part of the large settlements in New York and Kingston, came to the Hudson Valley to organize churches. In fact, according to Katsbaan Pastor James Alley, the Katsbaan Church is an offshoot of the Dutch Reformed Church in Kingston.
Though established in 1710, it wasn’t until 1731 that the Palatines and Dutch settlers built Katsbaan Church, according to Trevail.
“The land on which it stands was leased in perpetuity on March 1, 1731 by the trustees of the Kingston Commons at an annual rental of three peppercorns per annum if demanded,” Trevail said.
The church was later incorporated in 1796 and was called “The Minister, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Church of Kaatsbaan in the town of Kingston, Ulster County.”
The church is made of stone. The rear outside wall contains several stones bearing the initials of the church’s builders.
In 1816, the walls of the church were raised and a gallery was added. It was further expanded, more or less to its present state, in 1867.
Unlike the church of the 1800s, which boasted a large congregation, today the church has less than 80 members and on any given Sunday hosts about 30 congregants for services. But though the congregation may be small, Alley said they are enthusiastic and work hard to keep the church vibrant and relevant.
Despite the small congregation, necessary repairs are done regularly on the church by inmates on work release from the Ulster County jail, Alley said.
And, the Women’s Aid Society plays an important role keeping the church a vital part of the community with suppers and flea markets, Alley said.
“We may be 300 years old, but we are like an old tree, where new growth can still be found,” Alley said.