Nicholas van Rensselaer (born in Amsterdam in 1636; died in Albany, New York, in 1678) was a Reformed Church clergyman.


He was the fourth son of Kiliaen van Rensselaer, the first patroon of Rensselaerswyck. He was liberally educated in Holland, and studied theology there, but began a tour of Europe before taking his degree. In Brussels he met Charles II of England, who was then in exile. Van Rensselaer predicted to him that he would be restored to the throne. He subsequently went to England as chaplain to the Dutch embassy, and the king, recognizing him and recollecting his prediction, gave him a gold snuff box with his likeness in the lid. After the Dutch ambassador left Great Britain, Van Rensselaer was licensed by Charles to preach to the Dutch congregation at Westminster, was ordained a deacon in the English church, and appointed lecturer at St. Margaret's, Lothbury.

When Edmund Andros was commissioned governor of the New Netherlands, in 1674, Van Rensselaer accompanied him to North America, bearing a letter of recommendation from the Duke of York, in which he requested that Van Rensselaer be placed in charge of one of the Dutch churches in New York or Albany when there should be a vacancy. He became colleague pastor of the church in Albany shortly after his arrival, and in September 1675, was invited by the governor to preach in the Dutch church in New York. However, the pastor, William Van Nieuwenhuysen, absented himself from the service, and forbade Van Rensselaer's baptizing any children that might be presented for that ordinance.

Van Nieuwenhuysen rejected Van Rensselaer's ordination as not being in conformity with the order of the Dutch churches, nor with the terms of the treaty. Van Rensselaer referred the matter to the governor and council, and the trial was considered of much importance by both the church and the civil authorities, since it involved their privileges and rights, as defined in the articles under which the province was surrendered to the English. Nieuwenhuysen and his consistory presented a written answer, which was rather in justification of the former's conduct toward Van Rensselaer than a formal answer to the question why he should not be allowed to preach. The matter was passed over, and Van Rensselaer returned to his charge in Albany.

But in 1676 he was thrown into prison, “for some dubious words spoken in a sermon,” Jacob Leisler and Jacob Milburne making the complaint. He appealed to the governor and council, and gave a bond of 1,500 guilders to prosecute the matter to the end. Leisler failed to furnish the bond that was required of him, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and the churches and people were thrown into a ferment. At last a court was held at Albany, before which Van Rensselaer and Nieuwenhuysen appeared with papers and witnesses. After a review of the whole case, they were told by order of the governor “to be reconciled according to Christian love and duty.” They answered, “With all our hearts,” and the court ordered the parties to “forgive and forget,” and that Leisler and Jacob Milburne pay the whole costs, since they gave occasion for the differences.

Van Rensselaer again resumed his charge, but a year later he was refused a seat among the elders. It was resolved that he have a suitable one behind the magistrates, but in 1677 he was deposed by the governor, “on account,” say the Reformed Church authorities, “of his scandalous life”; but this is not substantiated by unprejudiced witnesses.

He left no children. His wife, Alida, was the daughter of Philip Schuyler, and subsequently married Robert Livingston.

Fictitious biographies

Appletons' Cyclopædia is notorious for including an estimated 200 biographies of fictitious persons.[1]


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