The Dutch Dominie of the Catskills<br>By David Murdoch

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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In 1955 the First Presbyterian Church published a history and explained in detail that, “The withdrawal of members in 1861 to found the Second Presbyterian Church, was not due to any slavery issue.” Six years later (1961) the Second (now renamed the Lake Street Presbyterian Church) responded. “The historical events shaking the country in the early days of the Civil War had a significant effect upon the church life of Elmira, and those years saw the formation of at least two new churches. It is understood that during those years dissension rose in both Trinity Church and First Presbyterian Church over the question of slavery. A group from Trinity formed Grace Church, which met first on the present site of the Colonial Theater, and 116 members of First Presbyterian Church, with four other persons, formed what is now the Lake Street Presbyterian Church.”

Tracy Beadle, the strong voice, during the Murdoch years, among the Trustees of the First Presbyterian Church, seems to have always harbored doubts about the Rev. Dr. Murdoch. His voice and actions though reach us only through the written words of Rev. Murdoch. Peripherally we have two obituary accounts (1877) of Mr. Beadle and a few other references to add further information

It may finally come down to what you want to believe. This research illuminates the darkness but does not settle all questions. I think the greater probability is that he intended his descriptions of Blacks in The Dutch Dominie of the Catskills to be austere and unvarnished but not racist by the standards of the day. If his descriptions seem stark, even unfriendly he certainly painted Blacks into the picture he paints. He did not leave them out as was the common practice. And in painting that picture he tells as much about the attitudes of Whites as about his impressions of Blacks. He just did not definitively tell us his position. For that you are left to judge.

For myself, I’ve placed flowers on the Rev. Doctor’s grave. Others may decide to put flowers upon the grave of Tracy Beadle. Whatever your view, this is evidence of the power of the internet to reach back in time to reconstruct the past.

Click here for the Murdoch / Dutch Dominie table of contents.

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