Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

New Amsterdam Funeral Customs


Funeral Customs

That the funeral customs in New Amsterdam were quite different in the early days from what they are now is clearly shown by the records of the times. The following is from a church record which gives the account of a funeral of one who had been supported by the church and was buried at its expense. Among the items of expense are the following: "Two Half Vats of good beer, 6 bottles of rum, 5 gallons of Madeira wine. Tobacco, pipes, sugar." Surely those people who fear that the world is growing worse must find some comfort in such accounts. The enemies of Dominie Bogardus declared that he was often drunk both at church and elsewhere, and it is greatly to be feared that they were right about the matter. Ministers' salaries came in part from "excise" on wine, beer, and spirits.

Deaths were announced by the tolling of the church bell. No one attended a funeral unless invited to do so. The funeral inviter, who might be the schoolmaster, or the chorister, or the bell-ringer, or the grave-digger (sometimes the same person filled all these offices), attired in a full mourning suit of black, called on all the relatives and friends of the deceased and notified them of the death, and the day and hour of the funeral. From the death of a person to the time of the funeral it was the custom to have someone, usually the intimate friends of the deceased, watch the dead body through the night. The watchers were liberally provided with food, liquor, pipes and tobacco.

Both men and women attended the funerals, but only the men followed the corpse to the grave. A Dutch funeral was a very expensive affair. The guests were furnished with liquor and tobacco, and the bearers were given gloves, scarfs, and mourning rings. The expense varied, of course, with the means of the family. It is said that the funeral of the first wife of Stephen Van Rensselaer cost twenty thousand dollars. All the tenants of the great estate were entertained for several days. Two thousand linen scarfs were given to those in attendance.

 AHGP New York



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