HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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A BEE-HIVE READY FOR SWARMING
"PELLA and vicinity already [in 1854] showed signs of much competition, and yet there still lay extensive areas which the plow had never touched. Armed with the imagination of a Munchausen, one would not have wagered the prophecy that scarcely fifteen years later the land would be over-populated according to the American's way of thinking, and the bee-hive would be ready for swarming."
These are the words of a gentleman who left Holland in 1854 and made his home at Pella. The constant arrival of fresh accessions of Hollanders and Americans since 1847 had so increased the population of the Pella colony that many persons began to think of emigration to some spot farther west. In 1856 a citizen who was particularly concerned with the lot of the Hollanders advised the establishment of a Dutch settlement in some less crowded portion of Iowa.(111)
In the year 1860 Henry Hospers, an influential citizen of Pella, had occasion to spend a few weeks at St. Joseph, Missouri, where he saw hundreds of people crossing the Missouri River and emigrating in loaded wagons to seek homes in eastern Nebraska. He observed "that all who had the nerve to settle upon the prairie found what they so eagerly desired"; and on his return to Pella he discussed with many men the possibility of migrating to Nebraska. Indeed, plans were made to raise money with which to purchase land, but nothing was done at this time.
Nevertheless, the need for emigration became more pressing as time went on. During the years 1867 and 1868 Jelle Pelmulder, a Frieslander by birth, took up the emigration plan with zeal and earnestness, entered into correspondence with land officers, obtained much information, and in every way "with Frisian thoroughness gave the emigration ball a fresh start ". He has been called the originator of the plan to purchase land for a colony in northwestern Iowa.(112)
That the colonization fever was rapidly spreading throughout the Pella colony is evidenced by the fact that after the formation of an emigrant association the forty-four members appointed a committee of three to visit Texas, while a second association focused its attention upon Kansas. The three committeemen sent out to investigate the Lone Star State fell into the hands of a trickster at New Orleans, were relieved of their money, and returned to Pella with only a long tale of woe for their trouble. A few families succumbed to the Kansas enthusiasm, invested their money in that drouth-ridden land, and many returned to their Pella homes thoroughly disappointed. Others went to Oregon and Nebraska with the same result.(113)
Although there may have been some consideration of the subject of emigration during the year 1868, it was not until the month of March, 1869, that public meetings were held at Pella, and largely attended, for the purpose of discussing colonization in northwestern Iowa. Henry John van der Waa, deciding that land prices and rents at Pella were too high, had written to a land agent at Storm Lake, and being informed that there were homesteads enough for himself and all his friends, he at once decided to sell his Pella property. With that idea in mind he went to the office of Henry Hospers to have auction bills printed. When Hospers learned what his friend intended to do, he wrote to the agent at Storm Lake. Upon receipt of a favorable reply he read the letter to van der Waa, with the result that they called a meeting to be held a few weeks later "for the purpose of starting a colony." (114)
This simple incident led to combined action on the part of those who were dissatisfied with conditions at Pella. Most enlightening in all matters pertaining to emigration was Pella's Weekblad, edited by Henry Hospers. Through the columns of this paper the movement was well advertised from the first. At the fourth public meeting in Pella the following resolution met with unanimous approval:
The first step towards emigration, therefore, came at a time when the Hollanders had lived in Marion County just twenty-two years. This part of the State of Iowa was beginning to be overcrowded; and it is a fact worthy of note that the population of Marion County has been stationary since 1870. It is true that all available lands had not yet been occupied: indeed, hundreds of acres still lay untouched. But the movement to secure more abundant and cheaper land sprang from the greed of Marion County's land speculators, who had placed a prohibitive price upon their land.
Some years later an observer wrote that the Pella colony was favorably situated, the soil was extremely fertile, and beneath the surface lay rich and accessible coal mines. He added:
By the year 1869 those who were children in 1847 had arrived at a marriagable age. Young men who desired to own farm estates of their own saw the way practically closed to them in Marion County. They disliked the prospect of holding farms at high rents with no assurance that they would ever save enough to enable them to buy land for themselves. As the heads of growing families, how could they and their children ever advance in the world when high rents and high prices obstructed the path? Hence many Pella farmers were driven to look elsewhere, eager to apply their limited means and willing hands to the cultivation of cheaper soil.(116)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(111) De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895, p. 8, where Mr. John Nollen signs himself "X"; and De Hollanders in Iowa, pp. 166, 167.
(112) De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895, p. 2. Henry Hospers writes on the emigration from Pella to Sioux County. See also The Sioux County Herald, July 6, 1876.
(113) Pella's Weekblad, January 5, 19, and February 16, 1869; and De Volksvriend, July 23, 1874. The committee consisted of M. van Bennett, K. van Klootwijk, and W. J. Kornegoor.
(114) See H. J. van der Waa's story in The Alton Democrat, September 3, 1.910. W. S. Harlan, a land-agent at Sac City, advertised lands near Storm Lake in Pella 's Weekblad, January 26, 1869.
(115) Pella's Weekblad, April 27, 1869.
(116) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis,
Part III, p. 61; De Volksvriend, June 25, 1874, and September 19,
1895; and The Alton Democrat, September 3, 1910.
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