St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Amsterdam traces its history to events set in motion by Queen Anne of England 300 years ago on the American frontier. The work Queen Anne authorized in the Mohawk Valley could be regarded as the Church of England’s first organized missionary endeavor.
Roman Catholic Jesuits from France had been in the area since the 1600s. Three of them were killed by Mohawks at Auriesville and are now Roman Catholic saints. One Mohawk convert, Kateri Tekakwitha, is to be made a Roman Catholic saint this year.
Five leaders of the Mohawk nation in 1702 asked the governor of colonial New York to get a message to Queen Anne that she be “a good mother” and send someone to teach religion. The first Anglican priest arrived that year. In 1712, four Mohawk chiefs went to England and the English decided to translate the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into the Mohawk language and build a chapel in America.
The queen paid for the chapel, which opened on Oct. 25, 1712, inside Fort Hunter, named for the colonial governor and built at the confluence of the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River. Queen Anne provided altar cloths, communion silver and prayer books for the 24-foot-square structure.
Mohawks and colonists who supported England were forced to relocate to Canada during the American Revolution. After the war, Queen Anne’s Chapel was used sporadically. Historian W. Max Reid quoted a 1790 journal that reported the chapel was in wretched condition. The chapel was demolished in 1820 and sold for $750 to make way for the Erie Canal.
After the canal was built, a good place to be in the area was growing Port Jackson on the canal, now the South Side of Amsterdam. St. Ann’s of Port Jackson was organized in 1835 and a church was built in 1837 on Center Street.
By 1848, however, St. Ann’s was in decline and its rector, the Rev. A.N. Littlejohn, wrote that if the parish had a future, it would be on the north side of the river in Amsterdam.
In a St. Ann’s history, the Rev. George DeMille said that in the 1840s, there was an influx of immigrants from Yorkshire and Lancashire in England. These immigrants worked in Amsterdam’s mills and became parishioners at St. Ann’s. Over the years there were even Welsh speakers who were part of St. Ann’s.
The present St. Ann’s building was consecrated in 1851 on Division Street. It was expanded in 1888. M. Annie Trapnell, who went on to found the Century Club, said, “The interior of the [expanded] church is indeed a fair place.”
St. Ann’s and Second Presbyterian in the 19th and 20th centuries were the churches where many of Amsterdam’s prominent citizens worshipped. St. Ann’s in particular was known for music. Among the music directors were carpet mill executive Reginald Harris, who also directed the Mohawk Mills Chorus, and Otto Miller, who led the Amsterdam Little Symphony in the 1950s. The Rev. William Orr, who served as rector for 26 years until his death in 1961, played organ and piano, started a girls’ choir and strengthened the men’s choir.
In 1984, St. Ann’s renewed ties with descendants of its original Mohawk Indian parishioners. Members of Tyendinaga parish among the Mohawks in Canada frequently exchange visits with the congregation of St. Ann’s in Amsterdam. The current rector of St. Ann’s is the Rev. Neal Longe.
The first of several events to celebrate St. Ann’s 300th anniversary is a strawberry festival at the church at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 22. Historian Peter Betz, who grew up as a church member, will speak.
Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.