In 1664, Governor Winthrop of the English Colony of Massachusetts sent a letter and a fleet of warships to the Dutch Governor of Manhattan, Peter Stuyvesant. The letter demanded that Stuyvesant hand the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam over to England. What happened and how, is an interesting story; but the end of it is that the Dutch colony became an English colony and New Amsterdam renamed New York, after the Duke of York to whom it was intended as a birthday present.
Though it was not immediately clear that New York would remain an English colony, once it was, several families of Puritan farmers set out from the then-Connecticut settlement of Rye to make a home here. The Native tribes who had a temporary village along what is now North Broadway and who welcomed the families called the place Quarropas, meaning “white marshes” or “white plains.” It was customary at that time that when a certain number of families were settled a church would be built. So on May 27, 1714 Mr. John Frost donated the land on which we worship today to the Rev. Christopher Bridges so that a sanctuary could be built to the glory of God. Some years later several of the leading families in the area (Purdy, Hatfield, Budd, Hart, etc.) joined together to donate land adjacent to this building so that there would not only be a Presbyterian Burying Ground but an open cemetery to serve the entire town.
Think about this: Because of the gift of John Frost and these seven families there has been a worshiping community of Presbyterians in White Plains for almost 300 years, bringing our own particular approach to education, democratic practice, and social mission to this region of colonial America and an ever-changing nation. Our members were outspoken and active supporters of our nation’s independence. A governor of New York who later served as vice-president of our country was raised here. We wrestled with our consciences and economic interests on the eve of the Civil War, welcomed generations of new immigrants in worship and fellowship, supported overseas missionaries in China and India, Cuba and Colombia, were active in relief efforts during a century of war, and have embraced the multicultural identity of our city. We are advocates for economic, racial and environmental justice.
Knowing more about parts of our own congregation’s 300 year history reminds us that God entrusts to every generation the power and the responsibility to promote human freedom and dignity. And in this time and this place, our decisions about what we stand for, who we welcome, what we are ready to risk and sacrifice and join, are our legacy as much as the stones of this building or the markers in the cemetery. We have, for example, made a pledge to future generations 30 years and 300 years from now that we will live responsibly on God’s earth and dedicate ourselves to correcting those natural, corporate and human systems that have placed our planet in such precarity, and that we will raise the youngest generation of Christians to do likewise.