Landverhuizers or The Immigrants

Landverhuizers or The Immigrants by Pieter J. Risseeuw. $25, $4 shipping and handling. Published 2008. 384 pages. Soft color cover. A historical novel, originally published as a trilogy, of Dutch immigration of the mid-nineteenth century. This English translation is made available for the first time by permission of the original publisher and supported by Netherland-America Foundation of New York. Originally published in Dutch in 1947, the novel discusses the trials and tribulations of immigration and the establishment of the Dutch churches and colonies in Iowa and Michigan.

Sheboygan County Historical Research Center
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If a picture is worth a thousand words, this book paints a very realistic picture of our cherished history that is worth ten good history lectures. An excellent book that is as enjoyable to read as it is informative. You will not finish this book without gaining a deeper appreciation for our heritage and a greater desire to hang on to what we have. Landverhuizers or The Immigrants by Pieter J. Risseeuw is the product of extensive collection and research into original letters and documents of those who left the Netherlands to escape the religious persecution of the Dutch Reformed Church as well as the growing problems of poverty. The author does an excellent job of tying a great deal of original letters, sermons, etc. together into a gripping story of the young people in their struggles with their faith, relationships, life and death.

I will not spoil the plot of the story which largely follows the hearts of two lovers, but wish to included some rather lengthy excerpts from the book to give some idea of the historical content of the book which begins in Arnem Netherlands.

Excerpts from Landverhuizers: The first night on the shore of Lake Michigan, pp 92-92

“I will always be afraid here.” Maria said, shivering. “Let’s go to sleep and then we will awaken in Amsterdam,” Anna said as she heaved a deep sigh. Before she realized it she had fallen asleep.

The youngsters tensely awaited the first streaks of dawn, unable to sleep. “What a lot of strange noises I hear,” Jacob Keppel whispered. “That’s the rustling of the pines and the screeching of the night owls—the woods are full of life, even at night,” Arjaan said as he heaped some more fuel on the fire.

In spite of herself, Janna fell asleep and dawn was already breaking when she opened her eyes and looked around in wonderment. At the still smoldering fire sat the men and women and children, wrapped in blankets, leaning against each other. Everywhere, as far as the eye could see were trees, trees and more trees with here and there a white cloth hanging from a branch.

One by one they got up and stretched their stiffened limbs. Between the trees they could now see the temporary shelters which had been constructed of branches, some of them with sheets in front of the openings. As it became lighter they saw more of them, some of them built against the trunks of trees. They also saw a few half-completed log houses. Felled trees were lying all over. In the distance they saw a couple of barracks. Now some of the inhabitants stuck their heads through the openings of their shelters, their sleeping caps still on their heads.

Shortly they began emerging from their makeshift shelters, walking slowly towards the travelers, talking in every conceivable Dutch dialect. The Van der Veens couldn’t even understand them since no one talked the language of the Amsterdamers. Anna thought, “What strange clothes these people are wearing—not at all what one would expect to see in a city!” She concluded that this was merely some sort of a landing place. Her husband was talking to one of the men who had crawled out of his leafy tent.

“Jacob! Jacob!” called Anna. Slowly he turned his head but, when he made no move to do her bidding, she arose stiffly and walked toward him. “Jacob,” she said, again, in a tone which admitted no argument, “I want you to go to the city immediately and rent a good house, preferably one near a running brook.”

The man with whom Jacob had been talking looked at her in amazement and, without saying a word, crawled into his shelter to tell his wife what he had just heard.

Van der Meulen and his wife made their way to Van Raalte’s home. When they met they shook hands and the women embraced, weeping. Although the day had hardly begun there was already a row of men seated on the felled trees in front of Van Raalte’s home, waiting to see him.

Van der Meulen had not told his wife that the Zeelanders, who had already been here a month, were still badly disorganized and did little more than grumble and complain. Since there was not enough room in the original settlement, they were still debating where they should go to settle. Arjaan and Willem Keppel had walked to one of the large barracks, but when they looked inside, saw nothing but utter confusion among the groups of men, women and children.

The morning air was cool. The giants of the forest spread their branches to the sky and the sun could not penetrate through the heavy foliage. The damp, cool air tickled Arjaan’s nostrils.

He had finally realized his ambition and here he was in the colony! He wasn’t disappointed—it was plainly evident that everything was still in the initial stages of development. A new life was about to begin for him—this was a new country and he was going to be a part of it—he could start at the beginning with the others! Nevertheless, there was one keen disappointment. No one had heard or seen anything of Uncle Lips and his family or Sara Weyer. Apparently they had gone with Scholte to Iowa.

About eleven o’clock Jacob Van der Veen, walking slowly, went back to his wife. He walked slowly because no one hurried here—the struggles with the forest had already decreased the tempo. “What did you find out?” she asked, tensely, “What did Van Raalte say? Have you been to the city and did you find a house?”

Jacob looked at her. He hardly had time to digest all that Van Raalte, without mincing words, had quickly told him. Looking Anna squarely in the eye, he said very slowly and emphatically: “Anna, this IS the city!”

Early church services in Holland, Michigan & the idea of a conditional covenant, p. 106

The services, lacking a church building, were held in the clearing in front of Van Raalte’s home, under the blue sky. When they arrived there was already a large crowd and the Keppels were amazed that there were so many people in the colony. It was hard to understand where they all came from—it seemed as if they had popped out of the ground.

Dominie Van Raalte and the elders came out of the Van Raalte home. He used a large, low stump as his pulpit—his wife sat near him with little Christine in her cradle. As Van Raalte pronounced the blessing the wind rustled in the tree tops. In these same woods where they had pitted their puny strength against the giants of the forest during the past week, they were now assembled to worship God. For most of the people in the colony Sundays were the high points in their lives.

Van Raalte prayed. The men stood up and all hearts and minds were joined in a spirit of humility, in confession of their sins and gratitude for the blessing they had been privileged to enjoy. Van Raalte prayed earnestly as he laid all his and his people’s troubles before God, prayed for the newcomers, the many who were ill and for those who had stayed in the fatherland.

The subject of his sermon lifted men’s minds from thoughts of earthly cares to concern for their spiritual condition. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh within you, both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure,” was the text he had chosen.

Arjaan listened carefully because so much was vague to him. He had always been taught to believe that conversion was entirely an act of God. But now Van Raalte was telling him and the others, just as he had done in Arnhem, that it also was up to the individual. The covenant of grace contained both a promise and a demand—a demand that man become converted and a promise that God would care for his beloved people.

A summer of fever and death, p. 122

Janna and Anna Van der Veen bought some meat and hurried home but Maria Bertro didn’t get to eat the soup they hurriedly prepared. Death had claimed her and the women looked on in shocked amazement when Bertro said, “Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast delivered her.” He hurried away to the home of Slag, the carpenter, to get a coffin.

The women stood beside Maria. Not much of her former beauty remained and Anna’s lips began to quiver. “Oh, you poor girl…you poor girl…” she kept mumbling, “to think that were we too late to bring you a little soup. What a terrible life you had with such a scoundrel as a husband…” She raised her angry eyes and added, “But he’ll get his just desserts, Maria, as sure as there’s a God in heaven!”

Bertro came back empty handed. The lumber for coffins was all gone and the men were too weak to go to Allegan for more. “Let the dead bury their dead,” he grumbled. Just what was meant he didn’t know, but he was at his wit’s end. He had the appearance of a living skeleton with his hollowed cheeks and unshaven face. With an ashen pallor of weariness on his features he stood viewing the corpse of his wife. In spite of her present appearance, he remembered the young body which had belonged to him—he remembered her beauty and embraces and then began to weep like a child.

Jacob Van der Veen entered. “Come Bertro, this can’t go on…” he said, “Do you have a sheet?” With no coffins available, this method of burial was becoming common. Together they sewed Maria’s body in a sheet and then went into the woods to find a suitable place for burial. They began digging and Van der Veen chopped through the roots, returning to the cabin after they had dug the shallow grave.

Willem didn’t offer to help. He was completely apathetic and had acquired a deep aversion to the hardships and the illnesses which they had to endure. He heard Bertro and Jacob stumbling around in the loft but it barely penetrated his consciousness. Maria’s body was carried down the steep steps with difficulty and it was worse than Jacob had thought it would be. He felt like a criminal removing the evidence of his crime and the terrible stench nauseated him.

Bertro was of very little help. In the careful and reverent way Jacob carried the body he tried to atone, in a measure, for the uncivilized burial of this woman who had loved life intensely and who had, in this wilderness, lain with open eyes dreaming of her earlier years in Amsterdam.

Before placing her in the grave, Jacob went down and carefully smoothed the uneven place. Bertro couldn’t help feeling a certain amount of awe for the manners of this worldling.

More on the trials and hardships of Holland, p. 126

There was less and less life in the colony. A period of terrific heat was followed by rains and Janna, who dragged herself about between spells of fever, hardly knew which was worse—the humid, oppressive heat with a constant yearning for a drink of cool clear water, or the steady rains which left everything damp and chilly and cast a melancholy gloom over everything.

At the last church services she had noticed how thin and emaciated the people were, their clothing hanging on their bodies like loose sacks and every heart filled with a dull lethargy. News of anyone dying hardly created any comment any more. It seemed as if everyone had reconciled himself to the fact that this was the end for all.

They had begun the colonization project with abundant faith but now it appeared that their reckless undertaking was to come to a tragic end. However, they were more concerned about whether they were prepared to meet their God than about anything else. Fear filled every heart concerning the sins which stood between them and God and one heard it expressed in every cabin and shack.

Louise Arnaud said, “Israel also had trials and hardships when they were led out of Egypt and we are richer than Israel. We have the Lord Jesus Christ.” This tall woman, dressed in her black jacket and white bonnet, hadn’t lost her indomitable courage. She was fiery and spoke grimly and plainly as she went through the colony nursing the ill.

Silently she watched the deserters. Not a day passed that some colonists did not leave for the other side of Lake Michigan—to Wisconsin or Chicago—away from the terrible forest and swamps where fevers raged and death threatened, spurred on by the irresistible instinct of self-preservation. Get away! Over the big lake to Wisconsin where the sun shone on the prairies.

Van Raalte, p. 128

Stubbornly he fought the forces which were trying to pull him down; the doubts which plagued him about the ultimate success of the colony—the picture of Scholte’s face with an expression of irony and self-satisfaction saying ‘I told you so’ as he sat high and dry on the Iowa Prairie.

When he went outside at ten o’clock, only a handful of people had showed up for services and only two elders were present.

“Let us begin the services.” Van Raalte said.

They sang a psalm but the usual volume and enthusiasm were lacking. Christien listened at the open window. She knew how much Albert was suffering but had been afraid to say anything—he was so touchy and quick-tempered. She listened to his clear voice as he read the Scriptures and then to his prayer. His prayer was earnest and pleading. All of the misery he had seen during the past weeks, the pressing needs of the sick, the spiritual needs of the colony, were laid before God’s throne.

Communion of the saints, p. 150

“Probably it’s a good thing we have had adversities,” Van der Meulen said, “Have you noticed how interested people are in their spiritual welfare?”

Of all the news which was received in the colony, the most shocking had been the report of the sinking of the Phoenix on Lake Michigan on Sunday, November 21st, with one hundred seventy-five Hollanders on board of whom one hundred twenty-seven were drowned. The few survivors had lost all their possessions and the city of Sheboygan had taken care of them.

“The repercussions of this tragedy will be felt most in the Netherlands,” Van Raalte said worriedly. All these adversities were enough to test one’s faith and again the inevitable question of ‘why’ popped up in his mind.

Thanks to Van Raalte’s urging, most of the colonists had completed their log cabins before the winter set in. But the first winter was rather mild and, even when the snows came, it still didn’t get very cold.

The church at Holland was almost completed. Van der Veen had provided a couple of large stoves. Benches were rough hewn affairs—there was hardly enough roof to keep dry and everyone was so taken up with his own problems that Van Raalte had difficulty in keeping the men working on its completion. He had noticed, a little jealously, that the church of the Zeelanders was better than theirs.

In his sermons he constantly stressed the necessity for communion of saints. No one rich and no one poor—that was his philosophy and he believed all should work for the common good. He had the love and respect of the believers who were his followers. Many Americans had predicted that the colonists would never be able to stick it out but those who had stayed alive now felt bound together with closer ties, even if they lacked practically everything. They had a sense of responsibility toward each other and shared their meager supplies. One had some salt pork, another some peas and still another might have some flour or coffee. Corn was the only item that was plentiful.

Doctrinal controversy, p. 156

Kneitijzer enjoyed spending his evenings at the Arnaud’s, usually managing to steer the conversation into religious channels. He was inclined to be critical of both Van Raalte and Scholte, saying that Scholte was an ecclesiastical freebooter and that Van Raalte wasn’t critical enough of the religious heresies of the day nor was the catechetical instruction given the youngsters satisfactory.

Progress in Holland, p. 172

Daylight lingered on this evening in June and the men decided to take a walk through the colony. Despite all the sickness and adversity of the past year, amazing progress had been made. They looked at Willem’s clearing and the crops which had been planted between the stumps.

“Just look at the lush growth of those potatoes,” said Willem “and how fine the corn, wheat and beans look. From the looks of the crops there won’t be a shortage of food in the colony this winter. I even have a couple of pigs and hope to own a cow next year.”

There were more than twenty houses built along Eighth Street and the straight lines of the street were plainly visible. Last year it had all been dense forest.

Joining with the Dutch Reformed Church of America, p. 193

On the morning of the 4th of June, 1849 the delegates met at the home of Van Raalte—the Holland Classis had come to meet the representative of the Dutch Reformed Church of America.

Van der Meulen and his elders, Van Hees and Van de Luyster; Ypma and his Friesians; Bolks from Overijsel; Kolvoort from Groningen; the men from Graafschap—all were present, dressed in their best black suits and silken caps.

One by one they shook Wyckoff’s hand and he remembered many of them as having stopped in Albany to meet him. “I want to see all your villages and your homes and farms,” he said, making a broad sweep with his arms. They had hoped he would.

He was soon busily engaged in conversation with Bolks. He had heard that Bolks and his people had stayed in Syracuse for a while.

“That’s right,” Bolks replied, “We left the Netherlands in August ‘47 but we heard bad reports about the Michigan colony and decided to spend the winter in Syracuse where our people found work. I was called as pastor to Graafschap so we decided to go there. It is just a year ago that we landed at the mouth of BlackLake. We couldn’t get together with the people of Graafschap so we decided to settle by ourselves and bought land nine miles southeast of Holland in Allegan County. There was good soil and we paid an average of two dollars per acre. Each one got forty acres and an acre of land in the village.”

Van Raalte now called the meeting to order. He offered a short but earnest prayer and then addressed his remarks to Wyckoff who, in spite of his advanced age, had braved the rigors of the trip to visit them, expressing his appreciation of the trouble Wyckoff had gone to in helping them as travelers in a strange land.

They all sat down and Wyckoff looked over his papers with a dignity befitting a representative of the Dutch Reformed Church which had been in existence in America for more than two centuries.

He spoke Dutch slowly and carefully. As a descendant of pioneers of the 17th century he felt a strong attachment to these people, but he now began to discuss the purpose for which this meeting had been called. They had come together to make a decision which would be of far-reaching importance to themselves and succeeding generations.

Wyckoff asked, “Which confession and which form of church government is followed by the churches which have left the Netherlands to come to Michigan and how far have they developed?”

Van Raalte answered, “We follow the confession of faith as drawn up by Guido de Bres, the five articles against the Armenians, the church government and order as stipulated in 1618-19—by the Synod of Dordt, and the Heidelberg Catechism. As far as development is concerned, there are representatives of six organized congregations present here.

There are also some small groups in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo and neighboring villages, These are served by the four preachers who are present here but, because of the great distances, the work is strenuous. The consistories meet as a Classis twice a year and the ministers get together four times a year for discussion of mutual problems.”

Wyckoff took notes as Van Raalte spoke and then, without any beating about the bush, asked the all-important second question.

“Do your churches wish to unite with the Dutch Reformed Church of America?” Van Raalte looked at his colleagues. They nodded that he should answer as they felt that that was his prerogative. General discussion would follow anyway. Van Raalte fully realized the gravity of the moment but spoke from the deepest convictions of his heart.

“We feel,” he said, “a very great need for the communion of saints and we all hate sectarianism. The eye cannot say to the hand nor the hand to the eye, ‘I have no need of you. We also consider it abominable to say, ‘I am holier than thou.’ For that reason we seek a union with God’s people, wherever they may be found, if they know and confess the way to salvation. But we prefer to unite with those churches who have the same confession of the same liturgy and the same form of government as our own and which stand ready at all times to defend God’s truths against heresy. We have never considered ourselves as anything but a part of the Dutch Reformed Church of America and wish to send our representatives to its meetings…”

On a trip from Pella to Waupun, Wisconsin, p. 209

A week later they boarded a steamer at Keokuk. Uncle Lips was wearing his best black suit and Sara was dressed in a green checked dress with a dark jacket and also wearing her bonnet. She attracted a lot of attention and was sorry she had worn her bonnet—all the American women went bareheaded.

What crowds of people! This was America where people were always on the move, never satisfied to remain firmly anchored in one spot, always ready to try their luck elsewhere. Sara enjoyed the sight of the colorful costumes of the various nationalities which were to be seen at any river port. Thousands from all nations were flocking to America.

At every opportunity, Uncle Lips would contact Hollanders. There was hardly a boat on any of the larger rivers of America which didn’t have one or more aboard. He talked to some who had been in Illinois and Wisconsin. Unfavorable reports about Van Raalte’s colony were still making the rounds and most agreed that Wisconsin, partly prairie and partly wooded, offered better opportunities than Michigan.

The next day after their arrival in Keokuk, Uncle Lips met a man who knew Sleyster and who was also on his way to Wisconsin. He agreed to help them. It seemed to Sara that they had traveled for months before they finally arrived at Waupun and saw Sleyster’s home. “How quiet it is here” she thought. The only audible sound was the murmuring of a small brook. Then she heard a woman’s voice. It was Johanna, singing one of the familiar Dutch psalms.

Slowly they climbed the hill to the house, already surrounded by trees. On all sides were bare acres—the grain already harvested.

Roelof Sleyster looked out of the window and saw the guests coming. “Looks like we have visitors,” he said. Johanna, who had been tending the baby, looked over his shoulder to see who it might be. “I believe I recognize them,” said Roelof, getting excited. “So do I,” said Johanna, as she quickly put down the baby and followed Roelof outside. “What an unexpected surprise!” Roelof said as they all shook hands. Talking excitedly, they went inside.

Doctrinal controversy in Holland, p. 237

The articles had engendered so much friction that the atmosphere in the ‘City’ of Holland was unbearable and for that reason Van Raalte felt that a couple of weeks in other surroundings would do him good.

With Van Raalte gone, the consistory found itself facing quite a problem but they decided to force the issue while Van Raalte was gone. The controversy had been going on since February and now it was May. No one knew who was responsible for the anonymous articles and Doesburg refused to tell. The elders, as overseers of the whole community, sided with Van Raalte because they felt that their authority was being badly undermined by the scurrilous articles. So they summoned the preachers Bolks and Ypma from the neighboring villages of Overijsel and Vriesland.

These men immediately called on Doesburg, hoping to achieve results by using a little diplomacy. They realized that Van Raalte was sometimes too autocratic even though he was strictly honorable. In his desire to guard his people against worldly influences he had driven them with a tight rein, resulting in many clashes.

Doesburg smiled when he heard some of the arguments which were presented and attempted to defend his own position.

“We must maintain the freedom of the press,” he averred, “Many of our readers are of the opinion that the consistory and Van Raalte wield too much power. According to the Church Regulations of Dordt, elders are not supposed to hold their office permanently but must retire after serving two years. They refuse to do so. This is not only contrary to church regulations but is also un-American. The people want more representation—they want a more democratic form of church government.” Doesburg spoke with conviction but knew what would follow. These men thought they held the keys of heaven and that their power was unbreakable.

“You have not kept your promise to sell your interest in the paper.” Dominie Bolks said. “We deem it necessary that Van Raalte have control of it. It must not take a critical, negative attitude but a positive one if it is to be of any benefit to the people. Without positive leadership people become the victims of mutual discord and misuse of the paper leads to destruction of all the good of preaching and of church government. Our purpose of establishing a Christian colony here is being placed in jeopardy. As a member in good standing in our denomination it is your duty not to do or say anything which may destroy the Church of God. Through your actions and words you are making yourself guilty of creating dissension and are barring yourself from the privilege of partaking of Holy Communion…”

Bolks looked squarely into Doesburg’s eyes, making Doesburg hesitate before answering.

“I am being sore pressed and must admit my guilt, brothers,” he finally said, “but I do not consider it my duty to mention any names.”

When Van Raalte returned to take up his pastoral duties, some smoldering embers remained but the unrest gradually died down. He was not vindictive by nature…

More on the controversy, p. 252

“Do you wish to have me continue to sell Baxter’s book?” he now asked.

“Yes, we would like to have you do so,” said Van Raalte. “Do you know that there are complaints about the book, dominie?” “Yes, I know about that. Some say that Baxter is Arminian in his philosophy,” Arjaan continued. “I suppose Krabshuis said that,” answered Van Raalte, sharply. He frowned and his face assumed that grim expression which people feared. “Not only he,” said Arjaan, “but others have made the same complaint.”

“Listen to me, Keppel! Baxter has always been considered an orthodox theologian and he still is, even if he is not in the good graces of the group which leans towards mysticism —those people who seem to enjoy living in false passivity. Baxter says—”Be careful—God wants you to actively seek and accept his offer of salvation. You can become converted if you make up your mind to do so. If our minds have become so depraved that only overpowering grace can change them; that is all the more reason why we should actively seek that grace!”

“May I ask you something, Dominie? I have read the book and enjoyed it. You know that I don’t hold with mysticism but can a man believe or not believe of his own free will?”

Van Raalte picked up the book before him.

“Listen Keppel,” he answered, “Baxter himself answers your question. If an enemy attack you or your children, do you sit back and say—’I have no free will and so cannot defend myself if God doesn’t give me the grace to do so?’ Of course you don’t! The doctrine of free will is not a simple one. We must never forget that God, to a great degree, has entrusted us with the working out of our own salvation. Baxter says rightly—’What a remorseful thought it will be for those who, through their own passivity, have deliberately kept themselves from God. Fear not, only believe, is a definite command.’ False pride causes man to hide behind his own inability. Man has no free will to do good. We believe that sin has depraved man’s will but do not forget, Keppel, that not for a single moment, are we excused from doing those things which God wants us to do. In the first place we must believe and also seek conversion.”

Arjaan didn’t answer. Silently he took his leave.

The need for Christian schools, p. 256

“I am going to give this call my prayerful consideration,” he said to Christien but she knew he was not only speaking to her. He was speaking to the congregation in Holland and to the whole Michigan colony. Having always been a strong proponent of parochial schools, the lack of interest on the part of his parishioners had always irritated him. Most people felt that as long as the Christian group could maintain their influence on the public district schools, they need not burden themselves with the costs of establishing and maintaining parochial schools. But Van Raalte was looking ahead. Very often his parishioners were too lackadaisical to attend school meetings and so see to it that church members were

elected to the school boards. Van Raalte saw the day coming when the influence of the church people on the public schools would diminish and then their children would be exposed to unorthodoxy.

His second peeve was the lack of interest shown in the Pioneer School for higher education, or, as it was called, the Holland Academy. The school had been established for the good of the entire Michigan colony but too often people regarded it as a school established primarily for the city of Holland and did not give it their support.