Eilardus Westerlo
Stefan Bielinski

The last European-born domine, Eilardus Westerlo was Albany's patriot minister during the American Revolution.

Born near Groningen, the Netherlands in October 1738, Eilardus was the son of Reverend Isaac Westerlo - domine of the Reformed church of Denekamp. He was the eldest son in a large minister's family but lost his mother Hildegont Reiners died following the birth of a son, when Eilardus was twelve. Despite limited family rewources, young Westerlo was groomed to follow his father in the clergy and graduated from the University of Groningen in 1760. He came to America in that year to become pastor of the Albany Dutch Reformed Church.

Arriving in Albany just past his twenty-second birthday at the end of October, Westerlo's long tenure in the only position he ever held mirrored his own transition from the formality of a European education and ecclesastical background to that of a more spirited and practical leader of a large and diffused congregation of "plain and experienced Christians." From the beginning, his commitment to the task made Westerlo a respected member of the Albany community. During the early 1770s, he became an active supporter of the "Plan of Union" adopted in America to heal a doctrinal rift within the Dutch Reformed Church. From his Albany base, he reached out to budding Reformed congregations across Albany County.

In July 1775, he married Catherine Livingston - the young widow of patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer II. Already well-connected in the Albany community, that union elevated the then thirty-six-year old cleric to the top rung of the community's social ladder. For the next decade, the Van Rensselaer Manor House served as Westerlo's parsonage as well. By 1783, the marriage had produced three children including a prominent son.

From the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, Domine Westerlo was considered a warm supporter of the American cause - offering daily prayers for safety and victory and also ministering directly to the troops. He conducted a church school and trained a number of future clerics. Interested in secular as well as theological education, in 1779 he was named one of the trustees of the short-lived Clinton College. Westerlo preached primarily in his native Dutch. But, by 1782, he held an English-language service for the benefit of his American-born parishioners as well.

With the end of the war and the coming of age of Catherine's son, Stephen, the Westerlos moved back to Albany to the Market Street parsonage the domine occupied for the rest of his life. By that time, his health had begun to fail. In 1787, Brooklyn-born John Bassett was made associate pastor and preached in English. Housebound, Westerlo still maintained an active correspondence with some of the leading clerics of his day.

Domine Westerlo died in December 1790. He was scarcely fifty-two-years-old and the last of the Dutch-speaking domines. His three-decade tenure stands as the longest in church history. The Albany County "hilltown" of "Westerlo" was named for him in 1815. Westerlo Street in Albany's South End also commemorates his illustrious career.



the people of colonial Albany The life of Eilardus Westerlo is CAP biography number 6867. This profile is derived chiefly from community-based resources.

The latest and most comprehensive work on his life is translator Rob A. Nabourn's biographical edition of Westerlo's Memoirs. Based on the domine's Dutch language instructions to his children and parishioners, it is immensely useful to us and is highly recommended. See also, Howard G. Hageman, "Albany's Dutch Pope," De Halve Maen 58:4 (1095); Robert S. Alexander, Albany's First Church and Its Role in the Growth of the City (Albany, 1988), 131-51, and a summary of Nabourn's previous work on Westerlo entitled "Eilardus Westerlo on Hermanus Meijer's Call to Caughnawaga," in From De Halve Maen to KLM: 400 Years of Dutch-American Exchange edited by Margriet Bruijn Lacy, Charles Gehring, and Jenneke Oosterhoff (Münster, 2008), 149-58. He is the subject of a number of brief Internet biographies as well.

Plan of Union: For more on this, see the memorial of Westerlo's friend, Reverend John H. Livingston.

His obituary appeared in the Albany Gazette on December 26, 1790: "Rev. Eilardus Westerlo, senior pastor of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, died aged 53, in the thirty-first year of his ministry. He was greatly respected for his piety and learning, and his funeral was attended by a large concourse of the people of the city and neighboring towns, who followed his remains to the vault of the Van Rensselaer family, where he was interred."

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first posted: 8/28/01; last revised 11/4/13