HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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WHY DUTCH EMIGRANTS TURNED TO AMERICA
SUCH was the condition of things in The Netherlands that thousands of people lived from hand to mouth, the prey of poverty and hunger, stupefied by the hopelessness of securing the necessities of life, and barely enabled through the gifts of the well-to-do to drag out their wretched lives. At the same time many of these unfortunate persons were hopeful and eager to find a place where they might obtain a livelihood, lead quiet lives of honesty and godliness, and educate their children in the principles of religion without let or hindrance. The leaders of the Separatists looked forward to a life of freedom in a land where man would not have to wait for work but where work awaited man, where people would not rub elbows by reason of the density of population, and where God's creation would welcome the coming of man.(33)
When social forces such as these, mostly beyond human control, began to operate with increasing power the Dutch people were not slow to recognize the truth that emigration was absolutely necessary. The seriousness of the situation dawned upon all thinking men -especially upon state officials, who feared that unless the stream of emigration could be directed toward the Dutch colonies their country would suffer an enormous drain of capital and human lives. Accordingly the attention of prospective emigrants was called to the Dutch East Indies - chiefly to the advantages of the rich island of Java, "that paradise of the world, the pearl in Holland's crown".
The religion of the Dissenters, however, was responsible for turning the balance in favor of some other land. To them Java was as a closed door. Beside the fear of an unhealthful, climate towered the certainty of legislation hostile to their Christian principles and ideals. Moreover, could poor men afford the expense of transportation thither and could they feel assured of getting land or work in Java? State officials, men of learning, and men of business from several parts of the country were summoned to an important conference at Amsterdam to discuss the whole emigration movement. The Separatist leaders were asked why they should not remain Netherlanders under the House of Orange by removing to the colonies just as the people of the British Isles found homes in the English colonies. Two Separatist ministers appealed to the government to direct the flood of emigration toward Java by promises of civil and religious liberty. But the attempt to secure a free Christian colony in Java produced only idle expectations.(34)
Then it was that the people turned their eyes away from the East toward the United States of North America, a land of freedom and rich blessings where they hoped to find in its unsettled interior some spot adaptable to agriculture and thus rescue themselves from the miseries of a decadent state. To the discontented, ambitious Hollander was presented the picture of a real land of promise, where all things would smile at him and be prepared, as it were, to aid him. It was said that "after an ocean passage of trifling expense the Netherlander may find work to do as soon as he sets foot on shore; he may buy land for a few florins per acre; and feel secure and free among a people of Dutch, German and English birth, who will rejoice to see him come to increase the nation's wealth." Asserting that they could vouch for the truthfulness of this picture, as based on the positive assurances and experiences of friends already in America, the Separatist clergyman-pamphleteers openly declared that they would not hesitate to rob Holland of her best citizens by helping them on their way to America.
Of the people and government of the United States, Scholte, who was destined to lead hundreds of his countrymen to the State of Iowa, at an early date cherished a highly favorable opinion, which he expressed as follows
There I shall certainly meet with the same wickedness which troubles me here; yet I shall find also opportunity to work. There I shall certainly find the same, if not still greater, evidence of unbelief and superstition; but I shall also find a constitutional provision which does not bind my hands in the use of the 'Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; there I can fight for what I believe without being disobedient to the magistrates and authorities ordained by God. There I shall find among men the same zeal to obtain this world's goods; but I shall not find the same impulse to get the better of one another, for competition is open to all; I shall not find the same desire to reduce the wages of labor, nor the same inducement to avoid taxation, nor the same peevishness and groaning about the burden of taxation.
There I shall find no Minister of Public Worship, for the separation of Church and State is a fact. There I shall not need to contribute to the support of pastors whose teachings I abhor. I shall find no school commissions nor school supervisors who prohibit the use of the Bible in schools and hinder the organization of special schools, for education is really free. I shall find there the descendants of earlier inhabitants of Holland, among whom the piety of our forefathers still lives, and who are now prepared to give advice and aid to Hollanders who are forced to come to them.(35)
Scholte, however, never claimed to be a refugee from the oppression of the Old World. He Left Europe because the social, religious, and political condition of his native country was such that, according to his conviction, he could not with any reasonable hope of success work for the actual benefit of honest and industrious fellowmen. Very many members of Scholte's emigrant association felt certain that they and their children would sink from the middle class and end their lives as paupers, if they remained in Holland.
Later emigration to America was in no small degree due to a cause which has always operated in inducing people to abandon their European homes. After a period of residence in America, Hollanders, elated by reason of their prosperity and general change of fortune, very naturally reported their delight to friends and relatives in the fatherland, strongly urging them to come and share their good luck instead of suffering from want in Holland. They wrote of higher wages, fertile soil, cheapness of the necessities of life, abundance of cheap land, and of many other advantages. If one's wages for a day's work in America equalled a week's earnings in Holland, surely it was worth while to leave that unfortunate country. Such favorable reports as these were largely instrumental in turning the attention of Hollanders to the New World as the one great land of opportunity.(36)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(33) Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 40, 42; and van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 20, 33, 34.
(34) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part I, p. 23; and van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 16-23, 35. With regard to Java, the author of the latter pamphlet wrote as follows "May this emigration movement open the Government's eyes to granting full liberty in civil and ecclesiastical affairs, both in regard to schools and churches, so that our colonies may be rendered accessible to those who wish to go. Let an endeavor be made to send thither so many of our inhabitants as dare not think of going to America from a lack of money to cover travelling expenses. . . . The Government can easily advance to them the cost of food on the journey, equipment and first expenses on arrival, while the transportation of thousands should be costless, because nearly 150 vessels return to Java empty every year. Furthermore, just think of converting millions of Javanese to Christianity! But how can the thousands who are ready afford to pay the price? Let the Government do something before it is too late."
(35) Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 40-43. The
land which satisfied the wishes of the Separatists was then little known
in Europe: "In those days America appeared to lie outside the
world, and the journey thither demanded a farewell, such as reminded one
of a death-bed scene. Emigrants were then still looked upon as moral
outcasts: mostly persons who were in bad odor, who had been `shipped
away' by friends and relatives."
(36) Van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 14, 24, 37, 42, 4351; Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 40, 41; and The Pella Gazette, June 5, 1856.
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