HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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HENRY HOSPERS AND IMMIGRATION TO SIOUX COUNTY
THE choice of a site f or the new Dutch colony was well advertised by Henry Hospers in his family newspaper, Pella's Weekblad, which counted many readers among the Hollanders of Wisconsin and Michigan and through Dutch newspapers in those States and various other exchanges reached hundreds of people not only in America but also in The Netherlands.
Henry Hospers was but a youth of seventeen years when he arrived in Iowa with Scholte's first large body of Dutch immigrants. His rise upon the western frontier of the New World was typically American. Beginning as one of Pella's first schoolmasters, he next obtained the practical experience of a surveyor and then became land-agent and notary public with a prosperous business. The panic of 1857 placed him in dire straits and difficulties - only his broad knowledge of men and conditions, together with stamina and will-power, enabled him to rise above misfortune. He founded. the first Dutch newspaper in Pella, was editor for nearly ten years; and he served also as mayor of Pella from 1867 to 1871. As a candidate for county surveyor in 1856 and for State Representative in 1869 he suffered defeat at the polls. It was while he occupied the mayor's chair that the State Board of Immigration commissioned him to go to The Netherlands to promote Dutch immigration to Iowa.
Of this mission Hospers rendered a full report in which
he stated by way of preface that though he was commissioned in July he did
not leave for Europe until the middle of October, 1.870, because there was
imminent danger that The Netherlands might become involved in the
Franco-Prussian War. Soon after his arrival at Rotterdam on the third day
of November he opened an office in the village of Hoog Blokland in the
province of Zuid Holland, and immediately caused advertisements to be
inserted in the chief newspapers published at Amsterdam, Rotterdam,
Haarlem, Hensden, Kampen, and Leeuwar
The advertisement, translated from the Dutch, read as follows:
When these advertisements appeared in the newspapers of Holland, letters began to pour in from all the provinces, filled with inquiries about Iowa lands. To answer all questions properly would have necessitated the assistance of several clerks. Hospers, therefore, composed and published a pamphlet of eight pages, entitled: "Iowa: Shall I emigrate to America? Practically answered by a Hollander who has resided for twenty-four years in one of the best States in the Union." One thousand of these pamphlets were printed and mailed to inquirers free of charge throughout The Netherlands.
Except Saturdays, when he remained at his office to read and answer letters, and Sundays, Hospers spent all of the time from the 28th of November, 1870, until the 11th day of January, 1871, traveling through The Netherlands and personally meeting scores of people according to appointments previously made. Thus, he held five conferences at Gorinchem, four at Rotterdam, three at Amsterdam, two at Utrecht and Heerenveen, and others at Genderen, 's Hertogenbosch, Dordrecht, Klundert, Axel, Leeuwarden, Dronrijp, and other places. He reported that every imaginable sort of question was put to him and that "most of these conferences were prolonged till after midnight".
In his message to the Board of Immigration in March, 1871, Hospers wrote:
Shortly after Hospers returned to Pella he resigned his mayorship and in May, 1871, he left the city to cast in his fortunes with the Sioux County colony which he had been so instrumental in founding. He became at once the leading spirit among the pioneer farmers of Holland and Nassau townships, a position which lie held almost until his death in 1901. He continued to be the chief promoter of the settlement of Sioux County lands. As notary public, counsellor at law, member of the county board of supervisors, and insurance and land agent, he stood out as the leader in the official and business life of the young settlement of Hollanders.
The State of Iowa had thus taken an active share in urging the best class of European emigrants to buy its fertile acres. No better man than Hospers could have been selected to attract attention to the large unoccupied areas in Iowa. Pamphlets on the resources of Iowa, printed by legislative authority in the Dutch language, especially conduced to the attainment of this purpose. An early result was that many Hollanders forsook Wisconsin in the years 1870 and 1871 to undertake the life of pioneers in Sioux County. Indeed, the coming of Hollanders and perhaps of a few Americans increased the population, estimated at one hundred and ten in 1869, to five hundred and seventy-six in 1870.(132)
While much was done to promote immigration to the Dutch colony through the medium of Pella's Weekblad (with which Hospers remained on intimate terms after his departure from Pella), and indirectly through other Dutch newspapers in America, the reports of men who were pleased with the Dutch colonies in America must also have had considerable influence. The Rev. Dr. Cohen Stuart, delegate from The Netherlands to the Evangelical Alliance at New York, was induced by Henry Hospers to visit Orange City before his return to Holland. This gentleman afterwards drew on his experiences in Sioux County and declared at a special meeting that emigration to America was good for America's uncultivated, fertile fields, and good for Holland: the man who remained in Holland would have more air to breathe, and the man of industry, perseverance, and probity who went to America would enjoy there a comparative measure of prosperity. He urged further that Holland should get into closer touch with the inhabitants of Dutch settlements in America.(133)
In the year 1874 Hospers began the publication of a Dutch newspaper at Orange City. He frankly declared to the world that he would not have done so if "the good God had not placed here 500 families of people who, though living for the most part in mean huts, are yet without a care and own a very rich and fertile soil, so plentiful that a thousand more Dutch families could be enjoying this gift of God." And he asked: "Would it not be uncharitable to conceal the advantages which we enjoy here, not to reveal that this is a place where many ambitious Christian Netherlanders may provide their children an independent living? And to contradict and expose to public contempt the many misrepresentations which covetous speculators have circulated in Holland: see there a reason why we have the courage to issue a `Volksvriendje' [Little Friend of the People]."
It was, therefore, to attract the attention of emigrants to this magnificent spot on God's earth and to advertise its advantages far and wide that Hospers sent his little newspaper into the world. De Volksvriend at once filled a want, because the editor received numerous letters of inquiry from Holland every week asking him to answer the question: " Where shall I settle?" Hospers sent copies of the first issue to various newspapers in Holland and elsewhere, requesting the editors to read and copy his editorials in the interest of emigration to America, also assuring them that he would send references as to his responsibility to show that confidence might be reposed in what he wrote.
Hospers recommended that the colonists of Orange City should organize a "Citizen's Club", as the Dutch of Holland, Michigan, had done to aid the emigration movement in The Netherlands and to protect and promote the interests of immigrants. In every issue of his paper he advertised thousands of acres of Sioux County land.(134)
In 1875 there appeared from the press in Holland a small book compiled by a Dutch resident of Iowa. The writer designed it as a contribution to enable emigrants to understand political and economic conditions in the United States and especially in Iowa. He declared that experience had taught him repeatedly "how little trust can be placed in most reports on North America, and how the truth is most often sacrificed to the unscrupulous desire to encourage immigration and promote the country's welfare without thought or concern whether such colored and exaggerated pictures should render hundreds of families miserable for life."
The same writer alleged that the American press and even State Boards of Immigration used all sorts of lawful and unlawful means to attain their ends, and were no better than the railroad projectors who flooded the European money markets with fine-sounding promises which sooner or later proved to be worthless. "For my part," he declared, "the longer I live here, the more regard I come to entertain for my countrymen, and I myself have learned too well how many disappointments and deceptions one is exposed to, not to do my duty." In conclusion he said: "Therefore, when I make a mistake, I do so in good faith, and to be able to say this conscientiously is surely no daily occurrence in this country."
This writer came into correspondence with Henry Hospers who invited him to visit the Dutch colony. He did so, and found it necessary to give an accurate and complete account of the Hollanders in Iowa. He was positively convinced, he says, "that in all of North America there is no place where the Holland emigrant has better chances to succeed and is less exposed to disappointment or deception than in flourishing Orange City." (135)
In 1875 Henry Hospers caused advertisements relative to Sioux County lands to be inserted in several Dutch newspapers, and in order to leave no doubt as to his trustworthiness and responsibility he also presented affidavits signed by two county officers, a minister, and a doctor. A characteristic of all the letters which Hospers received from Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Holland in reply to these advertisements was the unmistakable desire of the writers to' leave their homes and find better ones elsewhere. Hollanders were so closely packed in the larger cities such as Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Kalamazoo, Chicago, Milwaukee, Rochester, New York, and Paterson, the prices of land were so high, and money was so scarce during hard times not only among farmers but also among townspeople, that an outlet had to be found. Hundreds were ambitious to do better for themselves and their children. To them Orange City, Iowa, was offered as an excellent opportunity: land was advertised at from five dollars to twenty dollars per acre on easy terms, and special attention was called to the proximity of a railroad, an advantage of which, it was pointed out, the first Dutch inhabitants of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pella had been deprived for many years.(136)
In September, 1875, a committee of six men from Michigan inspected northern Sioux County and southern Lyon County. They returned well satisfied with their visit to this beautiful district. The Orange City colony far surpassed their wildest expectations, for it had railroad connections with St. Paul, Sioux City, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, and New Orleans. Hospers thereupon urged all prospective emigrants to send similar committees of trustworthy men, and he prophesied that they could come to but one conclusion: "We are coming ! The half has not been told us! " Throughout these years Hospers spared no trouble or expense to enlarge the Dutch colony and promote its prosperity.(137)
Shortly after the Michigan men had visited northwestern Iowa to secure land for a colony, Hospers declared that within twelve years Sioux County would be the most populous Holland settlement in the United States, and he also informed the public that steps had been taken to buy twenty-five thousand acres of land for another colony. In fact, ten thousand acres were purchased near Doon, just across the northern boundary of Sioux County, and were occupied by Michigan emigrants in the spring of 1876. A number also settled at Beloit in Lyon County. Simon Kuyper journeyed to Michigan in February to interest the Dutch in emigration. Judging from letters of inquiry Hospers expected a large accession of Hollanders in March, 1876, from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, and Minnesota. In response to numerous inquiries he announced his intention to buy sixteen sections of land in the Rock River valley, in the northwestern part of the county. He received a letter also from certain Hollanders who were tired of living among the Mormons in Utah.(138)
Thus in every possible way Henry Hospers exerted himself to attract his Dutch compatriots to the settlement which claimed Orange City as the center of its community life - he made its name and fame known among all the Hollanders of America and Europe. For years reports of its excellent advantages as an agricultural region continued to be circulated, and their truth could not be disputed. But despite all this tireless industry and perseverance on the part of the leader of the colony another agency for a series of years robbed the promoter, his neighbors, and the colony of the prosperity which they merited.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(130) These newspapers were: De Heraut, Het Nieuws van den Dag, Provincials Friesche Courant, De Wehsten, De Bazuin, Hensdensche Courant, Haarlemmer Courant, and Nieuwe Rotterdamnsche Courant. Early in the year 1870 there had appeared in the Provinciale Friesche Courant an article on Sioux County by Jelle Pelmulder. - See Pella's Weekblad, April 2, 1870.
(131) For the complete report of Hospers' journey to Europe, see Legislative Documents (Iowa), 1872, Vol. II, No. 27. The pamphlet mentioned in the report is entitled "Iowa: the Home for Immigrants".
(132) De Volksvriend, October 28, 1875; Iowa Historical and Comparative Census, 1836-1880, p. 198; and Pella's Weekblad, August 16, 1871, where there is an Orange City news item to the effect that numerous families had arrived from Alto, Wisconsin.
(133) Dr. Cohen Stuart's remarks were reported in the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant and reprinted in De Volksvriend, July 23, 1874, and in the Iowa State Register, October 31, 1873.
(134) See the first number of De
Volksvriend, issued on the 18th of June, 1874. A cultivated farm of 80
acres, one-quarter of a mile from Orange City was offered for $25 per
acre, and a prairie farm of 120 acres near East Orange station was
advertised for $11 per acre.
(135) The little book from which the writer quotes so extensively is Dr. A. F. H. de Lespinasse's Iowa, pp. 7, 8, 102, 104.
(136) De Volksvriend, August 25, 1875.
(137) De Volksvriend, September 30, November 11, December 9, 1875, and March 30, 1876; and Pella's Weekblad, October 7, 1875.
(138) De Volksvriend, November 18, 1875, and March 9, 16, 30, 18.76; and The Sioux County Herald, January 27, February 17, and April 13, 1876. The Herald contained the following item of news: "Mr. G. van Schelvin, editor of the Holland City News purchased two tiers of sections and returned to Michigan to put things in shape for the colony to move on the line of march to Sioux County. . . . The farmers around Holland will sell their property and come. " Later it was reported that two Michigan parties had purchased additional land: " Should the present weather last, we may look for some of the parties here in three or four weeks. A few are anxious to locate near Orange City."
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