The 1740 Communion Cup
*If you have information or corrections on this subject, please email email@example.com. We are interested in creating a collective history of the congregation here at the website.
In 1831, (some histories say 1834*) the Dutch Reformed Church on St. Croix sold its building to the Lutheran Church and sent its original “1740” chalice to the Reformed Church on St. Thomas for safekeeping. In 1992, that cup was returned to the newly reconstituted St Croix Reformed Church and is used on our Communion Table.
Below is a close-up of the inscription and detail. The contrast has been adjusted to make it more visible here.
Only some original parts remain of the Dutch Reformed Church at Queen Cross and King Streets as it was extensively renovated by the Lutherans who brought with them much of the fine wood and furniture from the Steeple Church building down the street (which is now a US Park museum). At that time, the Steeple building had been damaged by hurricanes and was considered unsafe for the growing number of Lutherans. They renamed their new church “Lord God of Sabaoth.”
Why did the Dutch Reformed Church sell its building and disband in 1831?
We are investigating this and would appreciate any informed input.
The Dutch Reformed Church of history was highly identified with Dutch settlers, Dutch heritage, and most importantly, the Dutch language. Records of the Dutch Reformed Church of St. Thomas indicate that some 39 members were “dismissed” to the new colony on St. Croix sometime just prior to 1744. The St. Thomas church records don’t state “1740” because the original records were destroyed or lost prior to 1744 and the pastor added this prior history from recollection to a new book of records which was begun in 1744. It is assumed that these 39 likely founded the Dutch Reformed Church in Christiansted as several church deacons, —who’s names are found in the St Thomas book as having been dismissed to St. Croix, –are also some of the same names which are inscribed on the St. Croix church’s 1740 chalice.
(We are looking into the possibility that there already existed another Reformed congregation on St. Croix at the same time. Details to come.)
(if you have more, please post it using the ‘comments’ section below)
By the 1800’s Dutch populations were decreasing, in part, because of the rising dominance of the English and the English language on St. Croix, and shifting Dutch immigration patterns, including a big Dutch push into the United States. English became the lingua franca of St. Croix, whereas on St. Thomas, a larger Dutch population sustained the Dutch language dominance there a little bit longer. As trade and land dominance swung from the Dutch to the English on St. Croix (the Danes were never really numerical well-represented on St. Croix), one can imagine that fewer Crucians wished to associate themselves with such a highly nationalistic and increasingly “foreign” church (worshiping in Dutch, for example), or one beholden to the mother church back in the Netherlands (a problem also felt in the the States at this time) for certain approvals and ministerial appointments).
It isn’t a huge leap to imagine that as the descendants of those original 39 settlers sent over from St. Thomas to found the church became anglicized, they would have found other church homes in the Lutheran church (which was part of the Reformed family). Some but not all! …records of the St. Thomian Dutch Reformed Church describe a long period after a church fire where the congregation had no church or pastor, but the members wouldn’t go to other churches either!)
One cannot underestimate the impact of Emancipation Day 1848 on the psyche of the St. Croix land and slaveowners, many of whom were undoubtedly Dutch. Perhaps they saw it coming in the 1830’s as the debate was raging by then. Fear of slave revolt was real in the islands back then, and happened with enough frequency to cause periodic waves of white flight. Given the increased immigration of the Dutch to “the promised land” up north during this period, it’s not hard to imagine Dutch church families joining the movement.
The early 1800’s saw a period of tremendous Dutch immigration into the United States, fueled in part by a period of Dutch Reformed theological factionalism and fracturing. We should assume that factionalism found its way to St. Croix as well.
Dutch immigrant congregations also needed trained Dutch pastors. Pastors were assigned by the mother church in the Netherlands. And we know from various St. Thomian church records that such transitions created problems for local congregations. There were gaps in leadership due to theological disagreements, the availability of pastors, and an ocean that needed crossed.
Anglicization,emancipation, immigration, factionalism, and inconsistent pastoral leadership were problems faced by many churches in those days, and quite likely led to the Dutch Reformed Church on St. Croix disbanding, though we’re looking for more specifics on this.
One last observation: the Dutch Reformed were not considered great evangelizers of the slaves and other people of color in the Caribbean. In this respect they were not nearly as successful in growing as some of the other churches on island. And thus, unlike the continual and long-standing existence of Moravian churches on St. Croix, the Dutch version of the Reformed Church, for this and the other reasons stated here, simply died out.
*1831 or 1834? Some histories disagree on when the church was sold to the Lutherans. I believe the reason for the date discrepancy is that the Dutch congregation was disbanded in 1831, but that the building wasn’t sold to the Lutherans until 1834, renovations weren’t complete until 1834. Need to look into this.
Slave society in the Danish West Indies By N. A. T. Hall, B. W. Higman
Family quarrels in the Dutch Reformed churches in the nineteenth century By Robert P. Swierenga
A Historical Account of St. Thomas, W.I. By John P. Knox