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An Interesting Reminisence of Old Times in Brooklyn.

The death of one of our very oldest and best known citizens, and the introducer of Free Masonry on Long Island, at the advanced age of 83 years, after an experience and growth coeval with Brooklyn itself, extending through more than three quarters of a century, seems to call for something more than is given by the four or five lines composed in the list of deaths. In that list, in Brooklyn papers, it is already recorded that Mr. Andrew Demarest,1 died at the close of last week, and that his funeral was held, attended by the Masons, &c., on Monday afternoon last, 6th inst., from his house in Poplar lar​ street. We sieze​ the occasion to make a little more elaborate mention of this venerable citizen.

The experience of Mr. Demarest with reference to the Brooklyn of former days, "most of which he saw, and part of which he was," would have made a highly interesting contribution, to our local history. He has seen the growth of the town, from a little scattered hamlet clustering around the "old ferry," advancing with steady increase, until it has become one of the finest and wealthiest cities of the world. He was familiar in his earlier years with the soldiers and actors in the Revolutionary War, had touched the hand of Washington himself on one of his visits here, and had lived among men who took an active part in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.2 We have often conversed with Mr. D on these these​ topics, and listened to his relations of old times.

As our space forbids us to devote more than a limited portion to the subject, we cannot here present our readers even with an abstract of the various interesting reminiscences of Brooklyn connected with Mr. Demarest's life in our midst. We will however relate one, as a sample of many with which his mind was stored, from his past career. It is connected with the demolition of the old round or octagon Dutch Church that stood in what is now near the heart of our city, in the middle of the road, now our broad and beautiful Fulton avenue, near Duffield street.3 This was a famous old church, built some years before the Revolutionary war; the services were in Dutch, under the form and tenents​ of the regular home establishment in Holland. The people of Brooklyn used to import their ministers from there.

This curious old Dutch Church had, we believe, a thatched roof, of a steep conical shape; and under its shelter the farmers of Midwont, Amersfort, (Flatbush, Flatlands, &c.) and of Brooklyn, and even visitors coming over from Manhattan Island, used to gather on the Sabbath days, and worship with genuine devotion. It had detached burying grounds connected with it; and a few vaults, after the old European fashion, were either adjoining or under the church itself. We remember seeing one of the little clusters of graves, a family group of three still visible even as late as sixteen or eighteen years ago, carefully fenced in by the side of the road, nearly opposite the residence of Samuel Fleet;4 which group formerly belonged to those connected with this old Church.

Of the tearing down and removal of this old church, Mr. Demarest once gave us a very interesting account, for he was present at it. The demolition took place in the early part of the present century, some fifty-five or sixty years since, or thereabout. One of the most vivid incidents of the occasion was the following. After the superstructure of the ancient edifice had been mostly removed, as they were tearing away one of the stone vaults and had opened it, they came upon the remains of one who immediately attracted all the attention of the curious crowd, and which on being more carefully examined, proved to be the body of a major in the British army, buried with his full uniform on, and his sword by his side. Among the additional crowd gathered by the news circulating round the neighborhood and who came to see these remains, was an aged lady of the Duffield family,5 who identified them as the body that she had herself seen buried, in haste there, upon one of the days of the battle of Brooklyn (Aug. 1776.) The officer had fallen into our hands, a prisoner, mortally wounded, and dying suddenly, was interred in this church with as much respect to his rank as it was possible to show.

The lady alluded to gave on the spot a minute account of the brief incidents of his burial, and identified him as the person then and there exhumed by the tearing up of the old church and its vaults. Mr. Demarest was present, and we have this little incident, therefore, from his own lips.

Our readers may, perhaps, be further willing to learn that this old church was torn down, to give place to larger and more substantial house, of dark unhewn grey stone, the building of which was shifted from the old locality above alluded, and put on what is now Joralemon street, near Court. This latter Dutch Reformed building we remember very well, and have sat under, and within its ministerings often. In time, it too gave place, and was also torn down, to make room for the present white marble church which, modern and brilliantly youthful as it looks, compared with the former edifices, is the regular descendant and heir of the old church with the thatched roof, that stood in the middle of the wide road just above, and was the scene of the anecdote we have related in connection with the death of Mr. Demarest.

Of the latter gentleman, all of our elder citizens are well aware of the sterling character he preserved through his long life. Nor ought we finish this notice of Mr. D., without mentioning another well known Brooklyn worthy, long his friend and comrade. It seems but a few days ago that we saw Mr. Demarest's small form, accompanied by that other small and ancient one, Mr. William Hartshorne,6 slowly wending their way together up Fulton street, with spectacles on nose, and canes in hand—friends and companions of sixty years' standing. Though devoid of fame, or any special genius, as the two quiet and genuine old men were, they seem on grounds of steady and quiet merit, to be worthy, at any rate, some brief mention and chronicle at departure.


1. Whitman also wrote about Andrew Demarest and the demolition of the old Dutch church in his "Brooklyniana No. 10" (February 8, 1862). [back]

2. The Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights (New York, August 27, 1776), was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. British General William Howe defeated American General George Washington. Despite their defeat, the American troops' subsequent escape from Long Island without being attacked was a surprising success. [back]

3. The first Dutch Church in Brooklyn was built in 1666 and demolished in 1766, the same year a new one was built. The second building was removed in 1807, and it is likely this demolition that Demarest witnessed. [back]

4. Samuel Fleet (1786–1864) was a wealthy farmer and property owner in Brooklyn who made his fortune buying land during the War of 1812. [back]

5. John Duffield, a Revolutionary War surgeon from Pennsylvania, became one of Brooklyn's first physicians and was the first in a series of famous Duffields. Duffield street was built through the family property while the home still stood; the estate burned down in 1857. [back]

6. William Hartshorne was a printer and mentor to Walt Whitman. For more on their relationship, see Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: the Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 34–35. Whitman wrote about Hartshorne in "Brooklyniana, No. 6" and in the Specimen Days essay "Printing Office—Old Brooklyn," which was reprinted in Complete Prose Works [back]

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