“Rev.” Peter Turck in New York

Religion played a large role in the lives of many—but by no means all—19th-century Americans. This was certainly true for Mary (Turck) Clark’s father, Peter Turck (1798-1872). In a number of ways, Peter Turck’s changing relationship to religion is a unique, personal story, but is also a story that encompasses many strands of the religious experience of this formative period in American history.

The Dutch-American heritage

Previously, we looked at Peter’s 1798 DRC baptismal record. Most, if not all, of his siblings were baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in various Columbia County, New York, churches. And as far as I have been able to discover, almost all of Peter Turck’s ancestors were baptized in and members of the DRC in early New Holland and New York, all the way back to the original Turck immigrant, Paulus Jacobsz. Turk (~1635-1703), who came to New Amsterdam (later New York City) before 1660. So how did someone with such long and deep family ties to the Reformed Church—such as Peter Turck—become “an ardent preacher of the Baptist faith”?1

The Second Great Awakening

The Dutch Reformed Church was not the only Christian denomination in the Hudson River valley during Peter Turck’s early years. While a large percentage of the area’s residents were of Dutch and DRC heritage, the valley had many Anglo- and German-Americans as well. All were served by various Protestant denominations including the Baptist, Lutheran and Protestant Episcopal churches, and the Society of Friends. More significantly, Peter Turck’s youth also coincided with the Second Great Awakening of religious fervor in America.

Dubourg, M., Engraver, and Jacques Gérard Milbert. Anabaptist ceremony in N. America / J. Milbert del. ; M. Dubourg sculp., ca. 1819. https://www.loc.gov/item/95504527/ Showing full-immersion adult baptism circa 1819, somewhere in North America. Peter Turck’s own baptism—and the baptisms he performed as a pastor—probably looked much like this. Click to open larger image in new window.

The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival during the early 19th century in the United States. The Second Great Awakening, which spread religion through revivals and emotional preaching, sparked a number of reform movements. […] The Great Awakening notably altered the religious climate in the American colonies. Ordinary people were encouraged to make a personal connection with God, instead of relying on a minister. Newer denominations, such as Methodists and Baptists, grew quickly. While the movement unified the colonies and boosted church growth, experts say it also caused division between those who supported it and those who rejected it. […] New religious movements emerged during the Second Great Awakening, such as Adventism, Dispensationalism, and the Latter Day Saint movement.

Source and more information

Peter Turck and the Baptist faith

It is not clear when Peter Turck felt the call to join the Baptist faith. To date, I have not found any online records documenting Peter’s conversion, adult baptism, or marriage, nor baptismal records for any of Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck’s children.2 However, since Baptists like Peter did not practice infant baptism, this might indicate that the Turcks had become Baptists by the time their first child, Mary, was born in 1821. And, with no child baptisms, we expect that there would be no baptismal records.

There are a few later Wisconsin sources that refer to Peter Turck as an “Anabaptist.” Most sources simply refer to him as a Baptist. We know that Peter was not descended from an historically Anabaptist family, though his part of New York state probably had more than a few Anabaptist communities. Later sources suggest that Peter spoke English, Dutch, and probably some German; his English may have been noticeably accented. It’s possible that his Wisconsin neighbors assumed he was of German/Anabaptist ancestry and therefore sometimes called him an Anabaptist. It’s also likely that most of Turck’s Wisconsin neighbors did not make much of a distinction between the terms anyway.3

Rev. Peter Turck in Wayne County, 1830s

The only sources we have documenting Peter Turck’s work as a Baptist preacher—before his arrival in Wisconsin Territory in 1837—are several brief mentions in W. H. Macintosh’s book 1789-1877; History of Wayne County, New York ; with Illustrations, Etc. Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign & Everts, 1877. Let’s transcribe these paragraphs, put them in something like chronological order, and see what they tell us about Peter Turck’s evolving 1830s ministry, and perhaps its relationship to Turck’s land transactions (as discussed here, here, here and in upcoming posts).

The Second Baptist Church of Walworth (July, 1832 – 183?)

Macintosh’s History of Wayne County records Peter Turck as—apparently—the founding pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Walworth.

The Second Baptist Church of Walworth was formed July 12, 1832, by Elder R. Powell. Members at this organization were Deacon Bancroft, Miss Palmer, Dr. L. D. and Mrs. Ward, Deacon and Sophia McLouth, Benjamin and Mrs. Mason, Freeman and Arilla Wood, Ben­jamin and Mrs. Wood, R. Wood, Mrs. Agnes Crandall, Mrs. Linden Burr, Gideon Hackett and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, James and Mercy Rice, Asil and Rhoda Hoyt. Barney Corey, Lewis and Margaret Potter. Early assemblage was at the Methodist church. The present church edifice was erected in 1834, and dedicated in September of that year. It is of stone, and with lot has a value of seven thousand dollars. There is a membership [c. 1877] of one hundred and thirty-four. The pastors have been Revs. Peter Turk, Harley Miner, William Murray, […]

page 187

If this list of pastors is in chronological order, then Peter Turck was the first pastor of this congregation, starting as early as July 12, 1832. The location, in nearby Walworth, was probably pretty convenient for the Turck family in the early 1830s. It is not known when Peter Turck left this pastorate; it must have been before the family left for Wisconsin in mid-1837.

The First Baptist Church of Walworth (aft. 1832 – 183?)

The History of Wayne County also mentions Peter Turck as one of the pastors of another church in neighboring Walworth, the First Baptist Church.

The First Baptist Church of Walworth was organized in 1815, by Rev. Jeremiah Irons, with fourteen members. Among the number were Stephen and Mrs. Bancroft,, Nathan and Dolly Palmer, Abner and Lucretia Rawson, George Smith, Titus Gillett, Jonathan Post, and Hubbard Crittenden. The first meetings were held in a school-house. The first pastor, Rev. Daniel Palmer, commenced his work in 1816. The present church edifice was erected in 1832, and, having undergone extensive repairs, is still occupied [as of 1877] as the place of worship. The house, which is of stone, was dedicated on January 8, 1833, by Rev. Daniel Palmer, whose successors have been Revs. Joseph Gould, Joseph Maltby, Eber Carpenter, Martin Miner, Samuel Davidson, Peter Turk, […]

page 186

The exact dates of Peter Turck’s tenure at the First Baptist Church of Walworth are not known. If the list of pastors from this history is in chronological order, Turck’s pastorate came after the stone church was built in early 1833, and following the subsequent pastorates of five other preachers. For the moment, we can only say that Turck served the First Baptist Church of Walworth beginning no earlier than 1833, possibly starting year or two later, and finishing not later than his departure for Wisconsin in mid-1837.

The Macedon Baptist Church (February, 1835 – September 1836)

The initial organization of this church is worth noting, as the names of several founding members—notably Porter and Spear—also appear in some of Peter Turck’s Wayne County land deeds. Peter Turck’s 1835-1836 pastorate was in the Town of Macedon, just a few miles west of Palmyra. But story of the Macedon Baptist Church—and its historic building—begins earlier, in Palmyra.

The Macedon Baptist Church was organized in 1800, as the First Baptist church of Palmyra. There were nineteen original members, viz.: Wm. Rogers, Lemuel and Ruth Spear, Noah and Ruth Porter, Benjamin Wood, James and Hannah Fuller, James and Sarah Parshall, Abner Hill, Bartimeus Packard, James Rogers, Abraham Spear, William Jones, Polly Baker, Elizabeth Jones, M. Wood, and Joseph Case. The first deacons were Noah Porter and Lemuel Spear; meetings at Webb Harwood’s until 1806. A framed church was built in that year, in size thirty-five hy forty­-five feet. The first pastor of whom we have any account was Rev. Jeremiah Irons, who became pastor in 1804, and served seventeen years […]

page 119

Rev. Irons was followed by a succession of five other pastors between 1821 and 1835. And in February, 1835, Palmyra’s First Baptist Church divided. Part of the congregation remained in Palmyra, under the name of Palmyra Baptist Church. The other part of the congregation

[…] became the Macedon Baptist church, and held the books and the property.4 The first pastor of the Macedon church, after the division, was Rev. Peter Turk. Under his labors the house of worship was rebuilt and rededicated. Ile closed his pastorate September, 1836.

page 119

For the moment, that is all the information I have about Peter Turck’s activities as a pastor in the towns of Palmyra and Macedon, Wayne County, New York. There may be much more to learn about his time in Wayne County if the relevant records survive (and if I ever have the time and resources to track them down).

Until next time, stay safe. Be well.



  1. History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated, Chicago, 1881, p 547.
  2. There are many repositories of historical Baptist documents, but I have not had a chance to access relevant records that may still exist in archives.
  3. Click the links for more details on the similarities and differences between Anabaptists and Baptists. It’s not clear how much Peter Turck knew about the origins, nuances, and distinctions between the various Baptist sects. As was the case for many preachers of his time, there is no evidence that he had any formal training for the ministry. There is a consensus in the sources that “Rev. Turck” believed in the full-immersion, adult baptism of those seeking salvation.
  4. And when they say “held the books and the property,” they weren’t kidding. The new Macedon Baptist Church also kept ownership of the 1806 frame church, originally erected in Palmyra. In early 1835, Peter Turck and his Macedon Baptist congregation disassembled the Palmyra church building, moved it to Macedon, and rebuilt and rededicated it. The building still stands and is still used for worship by the Macedon Baptist congregation.

3 thoughts on ““Rev.” Peter Turck in New York

  1. If there were no child baptisms, were there adult baptisms? Would those records be in the various churches?


    • Good questions. There certainly were adult baptisms, as this was (and is) a central tenet in Baptist theology. In fact, Peter Turck’s own adult baptism probably looked a lot like the one in the illustration for this post: congregation gathered at the river, pastor preaching, and an assistant in the river, supporting the about-to-be immersed believer.

      Record keeping is a more complicated issue. Baptists (and Anabaptists) have been around for many centuries and, generally speaking, each congregation/church governs itself. Baptist self-governance extended to the organization and financing of each church, the selection of the pastor for each church and the keeping of church records. But since Baptists do not have the kind of centralized governance and hierarchy of some other religious denominations (for example, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians or, to a certain extent, Dutch Reformed Church), their records tend to be kept—if they are kept—at a local level. I would also expect the contents of Baptist records to vary from congregation to congregation and decade to decade.

      There are collections of historical baptist records. Online indexes suggest that quite a few New York state Baptist records can be found in archives and microfilm collections at places like Cornell University and the American Baptist Historical Society, but I’ve not been able to consult those yet. Alas.


  2. Pingback: RBOH: The Turck family’s Palmyra, 1825 | Clark House Historian

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