The First Reformed Church of Fishkill (or to use the official corporate name, First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Fishkill Town) was founded in 1716, and construction of the first sanctuary began in 1725. No one knows when the first burial took place, but the oldest stone now standing in the churchyard is dated 1737. Between 1785 and 1795 the sanctuary was enlarged, covering over most of the Brett family plot, which had been adjacent to the west end of the old sanctuary. On the east side of the churchyard, a private family plot belonging to the Rapalje/Cotheal family was taken over by the church around 1900. In 1963 the present education building was constructed, and the stones of graves located where it now stands were moved to other positions in the churchyard.
The oldest stones are brown or red sandstone, with some of those having inscriptions in Dutch. The next oldest are of white marble of varying quality. The "newest" (roughly late 19th or early 20th century) are of granite. Because of the age and physical condition of the stones, the church requests that you refrain from chalking, rubbing, water spraying or any other reproduction method that involves physical contact with the stones.
Information was copied from the tombstones themselves. In addition, the following books were consulted: Old Gravestones of Dutchess County, by J. Wilson Poucher, who copied inscriptions in 1914; Tombstone Inscriptions from the Churchyard of the First Reformed Dutch Church of Fishkill Village, Dutchess County, NY, written in 1882 by E. W. Van Voorhis; and A Grave Matter, written by Laura Roosa in 1906. All three of these books are available in the church office and at Blodgett Memorial Library , 37 Main St., Fishkill. In addition, some handwritten notes were consulted. These were written in a copy of E. W. Van Voorhis' book that originally belonged to Mrs. Dr. Howell White, (Elizabeth Matilda Cotheal, 1858‑1924, granddaughter of Richard Rapalje, 1764‑1825). It then belonged to her daughter, Mrs. Royal Gay (Helena White, 1895‑1983), who gave the book to the Fishkill Village Historian, Margaret Somers (1918‑1984), who in turn gave the book to Blodgett Memorial Library's Local History Collection. The notes are in three different handwritings, presumably belonging to the three different owners. Because of their relationships to many of the people whom are buried in the churchyard it was decided to include their notes.
A note on dates. Many of the early stones give dates written as, for example, 1737/8. This is because prior to 1752 two different calendars were in use, Julian (ecclesiastical) and Gregorian (civil). In the ecclesiastical year, New Year's Day was March 25th, rather than January 1st. So events that occurred between January 1 and March 25 prior to 1752 were sometimes written using both years.
Antonia F. Houston
Local History Librarian
Blodgett Memorial Library