HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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FROM BALTIMORE TO ST. LOUIS IN 1847
AS PRESIDENT of the Utrecht emigrant association Scholte preceded his flock to America, landing at Boston two or three weeks before the little fleet of sailing-vessels entered the harbor of Baltimore. He visited Albany, New York City, and Washington in search of all kinds of information that might be useful and necessary in determining where the proposed colony of Hollanders should be established, and of his experiences in eastern States he later wrote a de tailed account.(45)
It was a part of Scholte's work to investigate the best means of inland transportation for the Hollanders who were coming. He was thus enabled to come into touch with a class of persons all too common at that period in the history of immigration to the United States. These "kidnappers and deceivers", like bands of hungry wolves, stormed each incoming ship of European emigrants. In their scheming attempts to gain the foreigner's confidence, they manifested the utmost concern in his welfare, warned him of the danger of falling into the snares of liars, and offered to conduct him to a good lodging place and to explain the best and cheapest mode of travel in America.
Every transportation office at American ports was said to have such men in its service. As a means of exploiting the purses of foreigners the system proved to be so insidious that Scholte could not confidently recommend a reliable office. He later urged emigrating Europeans to be prepared to speak English, and above all, to familiarize themselves with North American conditions before leaving their homes, so that they might personally study and investigate steamboat and railway connections in America.
Scholte naively observed that these "ronselaars" at American ports had become "so accustomed to see incoming ships filled with half-starved Irishmen or ill-smelling Germans that the rumor of the coming of so many Hollanders, with money in their pockets and clean looks besides, goaded their zeal anew to give chase after what people here have already quite generally learned to call 'willempjes'." Among the men whose appetite for these ten-florin gold pieces or "little Williams" had suddenly been whetted were many Hollanders who were acquainted with the personal history and circumstances of some of their oncoming countrymen or were informed by allies equally concerned in Holland. Scholte wrote from Iowa that one could form no adequate conception of this branch of industry in American harbors: "a man should almost be able to read their hearts if he wishes to be secure from paying toll in one form or another to this host of unofficial officers."
Aroused by what he had learned of the American commercial world in the ports, and especially at New York City, Scholte recognized the necessity of meeting the vessels which bore his followers; and when he received the glad tidings that one ship had reached its destination and later that the others were in sight, he hastened by rail to Baltimore where he "could rejoice in the safe arrival of those with whom I should henceforth live in common." (46)
Baltimore, then described as a large city with hundreds of ships anchored or moored in its harbor, and chickens, hogs, and cattle running loose upon its muddy streets, shocked the Hollanders who were accustomed to seeing orderly, well-kept highways in city and town and gravel roads throughout the country. Wearied by weeks of monotonous sailing, they expected to see a picture more attractive than that which presented itself at their introduction to "the land of promise". The journey overland they hoped would be more pleasant and more varied; but their first impressions were frankly disappointing. The sight of a bustling seaport with ill-kept streets and makeshift buildings unpleasantly checked any rising enthusiasm.
Americans had not in a long time seen foreigners who appeared so neat and brought so much property with them. Various newspapers reported the arrival of the Dutch emigrants; and some accounts "were so exaggerated that one would almost believe the treasures of Peru had been transported to the New World in the boxes and baskets and packs of these people from Holland, which gained strength in many places because the Hollanders usually had to exchange their gold money in order to pay for things." The latter circumstance was also instrumental many times in persuading Americans "to charge us more than they were accustomed to take from Irish or Germans."(47)
Early in June, 1847, the Hollanders commenced their journey from Baltimore into the American interior, finishing the first stage by rail as far as Columbia, Pennsylvania, a town which lay at the junction of two railroads and a canal. Indeed, people traveled from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh by what was then called the Pennsylvania Canal and Portage Railway - for the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Harrisburg was not begun until 1847 nor completed until 1854.
At Columbia the immigrants were packed "like herrings" into canal-boats and conveyed nearly two hundred miles up the beautiful valleys of the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers with their great wooded ridges and picturesque scenery to Hollidaysburg at the foot of the Alleghany Mountains. From there they had the unique experience of being "portaged" up the mountain slope: they were placed in cars, drawn up a series of inclined planes by stationary locomotives, and passing through a tunnel near the mountaintop, they were let down inclined planes on the western slope to Johnstown, a distance of nearly forty miles. Thence they continued by canal down the Conemaugh Valley f or over one hundred miles to Pittsburgh.(48)
Having arrived at Pittsburgh from beyond the Alleghanies, the Hollanders continued westward by a route equally historic, the Ohio River, which in those days was the principal means of communication between the East and the Mississippi Valley. Steamboat traffic on this river was then just at the beginning of its greatest prosperity. Through this so-called "Gateway to the West" the Hollanders reached the Mississippi River, which they ascended as far as St. Louis, having covered one thousand miles by steamboat.
Three weeks were consumed in this journey overland to St. Louis. Although the newcomers saw much wonderful scenery and marveled at young America's gigantic strides, they found American methods of travel very unpleasant and fatiguing. Mothers of large families of young children were driven almost frantic. Indeed, the hearts of all the immigrants were constantly filled with anxiety. Nearly three months of ceaseless motion on the journey from their homes in Holland to the American interior had severely tried their patience, and enough had happened "to extinguish their last spark of poetry."(49)
The immigrants were thankful to stop f or a breathing spell at St. Louis, for they deemed it best to wait until a site should be found for their colony. All received a glad welcome from the small band of countrymen who, had already passed several months in St. Louis. For so many people not enough dwellings were to be found at once; accordingly, wooden sheds were hastily constructed to accommodate them. Then early in July, 1847, in a "booming" frontier city of thirty thousand people, they set about to look for work, "wherein some who like to work were very successful, while others who had formed a picture of America like children have of Cocagne were less fortunate in finding what they did not seriously seek."
Of the eight hundred emigrants who left Holland twenty lost their lives upon the Atlantic, and four are said to have died on the journey from Baltimore. "At St. Louis, however, the number of deaths was larger. The unusual experiences of the trip, the cramped quarters at St. Louis, the extraordinary heat in that rapidly growing city, the irregular and careless consumption of food and drink, and the disregard by some of Dutch cleanliness caused illness and consequent death." (50)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
This account is contained in a pamphlet of sixty-three pages composed
and published in 1848, entitled Eene Stem uit Pella (A Voice from
Pella), and it consists of chapters on "The Preparation",
"The Settlement", and "Conclusion", several
appendices, and two small maps. - See the writer's translation in The
Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. IX, pp. 528-574.
(46) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 6, 7.
(47) It is said that besides articles and utensils for household use the emigrants brought all sorts of machinery, even heavy farm-wagons. "Beans and peas proved to be off most value in the following spring." - Van Stigt's Gesehiedenis, Part I, pp. 121., 122. See also Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 7, 8.
(48) So far as can be
ascertained, memory has not served van Stigt well when he writes of
"Columbus" and of a railroad as running from Harrisburg to
Johnstown. There was neither a "Columbus" nor a railroad in
1847. When van Stigt asserts that the Hollanders went to Harrisburg by
canal he must have meant "Hollidaysburg" because this was the
western terminus of the canal from Columbia. Furthermore, the easiest
and quickest route to Johnstown at that time was the natural passage-way
afforded by the valleys of the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers.
(49) Van Stigt's Gesehiedenis, Part I, pp. 122-124; and Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 8.
(50) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 8, 9; and Nollen's De Afscheiding, p. 48.
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