HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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THE CHOICE OF A HOME IN IOWA
BEFORE the departure of Scholte and his association from Holland another leader of the Seceders, van Raalte, had established a Dutch settlement in the State of Michigan. Van Raalte wrote to his former fellow-countrymen in Europe that he preferred Michigan to Iowa or Wisconsin because his colony lay near the large cities of Milwaukee, Racine, and Chicago, and the Illinois Canal. It was therefore conveniently situated for eastern and southern markets; besides, railroads were spreading throughout the State, and the large areas of government forest land, though very cheap, were very valuable. Van Raalte further asserted that the climate farther south. was very unhealthful, and that upon the unanimous recommendation of trustworthy men he had been obliged to look away from Iowa to Michigan as his choice. As his reasons for selecting timber lands he urged that they were more healthful than fresh-plowed prairie, and demanded from people of small means smaller expenditures of money at the beginning, since they yielded lumber for houses and barns, abundance of work for many classes of artisans, good crops from the clearings, and rich grass for dairy farming.(52)
Van Raalte expressed a hope that his friend Scholte would also conduct his association to Michigan rather than to Iowa, where he felt convinced the Hollanders could not do so well. Indeed, when Scholte was at New York he received information from the little band of Hollanders at St. Louis that van Raalte had invited them to come to Michigan, but that after some correspondence and the inspection of other lands they had decided not to accept his invitation. Teunis Keppel, one of their number who had been appointed in Holland as a member of the committee to investigate various localities in the American interior, had made a trip to Michigan in order to make a personal examination and prepare a faithful report on conditions there.(53)
During the short time which he spent in cities of the East, before he joined his association at Baltimore, Scholte did not forget the colony founded by his colleague in the woods of Michigan. Indeed, he was forcibly reminded of it when collections of money were taken up in the churches of New York to enable the Michigan Hollanders to build a sawmill. Not only did Easterners not recommend to him the Dutch settlement of Michigan, but a friend who had journeyed from Wisconsin to see Michigan with his own eyes wrote to Scholte at Albany, alleging that he had been so unfavorably impressed that he returned at once to Wisconsin.(54)
Scholte turned his attention away from the Michigan colony as a desirable region because it lay too far north, because it was destitute of suitable roads and sufficient arable land on account of the dense growth of timber, and lastly because it lay too near the Indians and was too far removed from other settlements of whites. He expressed his conviction that the farmers who had spent their lives in the level haylands and grain-fields of Holland could not accustom themselves to the unusual battle with forests nor find pleasure in the constant presence of tree stumps in their meadows and cultivated fields. As early as May, 1847, Scholte had convinced himself that Iowa or a part of Illinois would be most suitable, but he judged "that a good locality is recommended by telling not what people may do there but what they have done and are doing".(55)
In coming to the conclusion that his colleague's site for a colony was ill-advised, Scholte assured the people that he did not wish to detract from the reports concerning the fertility of the soil in Michigan, nor from the value of the timber land, nor "from the pleasure of hearing the warble of birds in the cool shade of virgin forests"; but he had experienced enough of real life to know that stumps of trees were disagreeable obstacles to farmers. Besides, he felt certain "that the Hollanders who were coming to North America were more prosaic than poetic and consequently thought not so much of pleasing their eyes and ears as of buying suitable land for farms, the easier to cultivate, the better." He knew perfectly well that the farmers who made up the majority of his association were eager to own pastures for dairy purposes, to use plow and harrow on the soil, and not at all inclined "to prefer ax to spade or to become dealers in wood." And in answer to van Raalte's favorable report on the healthfulness of Michigan, Scholte averred that while he was reading some newspaper testimonials at New York advertising a certain kind of pills he came across a letter from the Michigan colony praising the pills and ordering more, and he thereby became "convinced that people there as everywhere else in the world had to wrestle with indisposition and disease!"(56)
The rumor of the coming of so many well-to-do Hollanders preceded Scholte, and no sooner had he reached America than he was stormed from all sides with offers of land so alluring that he was not surprised, he said, if unsuspecting foreigners fell into the snares prepared by speculators. But Scholte was not to be tricked. into jeopardizing the future peace and happiness of his followers. Consequently he went to the trouble of investigating as carefully as possible all the opportunities offered by various States. By means of letters of recommendation given him by the American consul in Holland and with the help of influential friends he was enabled to get abundant and reliable information. At Washington the government officials surprised him by their civility and general willingness to serve: they not only answered his questions, but "all free of cost" presented him with printed documents and later sent him a set of maps showing the location of saleable government lands.
Scholte declared that while he was gathering information in the older States he frequently heard the remark that it would be extremely difficult to find unoccupied lands for his people unless they were willing to be cut off from intercourse with all human beings except the Indians. He judged that the attention which they had directed toward the western States as a result of previous investigations conducted in Holland was excellent evidence of God's guidance.(57)
Not until the whole association had reached St. Louis was the last step taken to decide where the Hollanders should build their homes: a committee of investigation, consisting of Scholte, Isaac Overkamp, John Rietveld, Teunis Keppel, and Gerrit van der Pol, set out from St. Louis to select a suitable site for the settlement. There were extensive areas still open to occupation in the States of Iowa and Illinois, but they were so far removed from wood and water as to be quite ill adapted to foreigners unaccustomed to American pioneer ways. The committee of "spies", however, resolved to examine the Iowa lands first, and in case good lands were not available there to visit northern Illinois.(58)
The nearest saleable lands in southeastern Iowa lay in what was called "The Half-Breed Tract", established in 1824 by the United States government in Lee County for the half-breeds of the Sac and Fox Indians and later sold by them to other persons. Scholte had already conferred with the leading men of a New York land company which owned a large portion of this tract, with the result that he had become suspicious of their title. Accordingly, after making a close examination of the state of land titles, the committee was convinced that most of the possessors were not owners and that a purchase from them would only expose the Hollanders to the unpleasantness of law-suits.(59)
The committee thereupon resorted to the United States Land Office at Fairfield, Iowa, where unsold government lands could still be bought or "preempted" at $1.25 per acre. Scholte presented a letter of introduction to Ver Planck van Antwerp, a Knickerbocker who happened to be the government Receiver at the Fairfield office. Mr. van Antwerp showed the committee of Hollanders maps of Iowa indicating unsold lands. He also informed them that the best areas had already been occupied and that, although many of the first settlers had not yet paid the government, they were nevertheless protected in their rights because they had worked to bring their claims under cultivation.(60)
Scholte once more exhibited his qualities of leadership when he persuaded the members of the committee that instead of buying the land of settlers who had clear titles and who would, therefore, be loath to sell their farm's, except at very high prices, the Hollanders should buy out the pioneers who had. not yet secured clear titles to their claims. As Scholte had once before expressed it, "a good locality is recommended by telling not what people may do there, but what they have done and are doing".
While the other committeemen went to inspect the country around Fairfield and gain all possible information from the inhabitants, Scholte busied himself with maps in the Land Office. Incidentally he applied to Mr. van Antwerp to recommend a guide - some man who had dealt with American pioneers in the neighborhood and was therefore acquainted with them. Shortly afterward, while attending a child's funeral, Scholte met a Presbyterian minister, through whom he came to know a Baptist who had been engaged for nearly six years as a missionary preacher or circuit rider among the pioneers of southwestern Iowa. This man was Rev. M. J. Post.
When he learned who Scholte was and what he wanted, Mr. Post at once recommended two localities in Iowa as suitable for the proposed Dutch colony, and consented to act as a guide for the committee. On July 29, 1847, before any rumor of their plan could precede them, the committee and guide drove across country from Fairfield a distance of nearly seventy miles to the northeastern corner of Marion County. Scholte later gave the following report of the committee's operations:
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(52) See van Raalte's letter printed in a pamphlet published by A. Brummelkamp, Holland in Amerika, of De Hollandsche Kolonisatie in den Staat Michigan, pp. 8-23.
(53) Brummelkamp's Holland in Amerika, pp. 34, 35; and Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 5.
(54) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 3.
(55) Van Stigt's Gesehiedenis, Part I, p. 32.
(56) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 4, 5.
(57) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 2, 3, 14.
(58) In his Pioneers o f Marion County, p.
159, Donnell writes as follows: "Among other portions of this
continent at first favorably thought of, was Texas. But after obtaining
all the information that could be gathered, relating to its geography
and climate, it was decided to be too warm. Missouri was also had in
view, but the existence of slavery there forbade its choice as a
location. Finally Iowa, then the youngest sister in the family of
states, was chosen as the land of refuge."
(59) The right to these lands was settled in 1849 by a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court and later affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. -- See Gue's History of Iowa, Vol. I, pp. 169-172; and Greene's Iowa Reports, Vol. II, p. 15.
(60) Ver Planck van Antwerp was a Knickerbocker by birth, received his education at West Point Military Academy, became a government superintendent on the Cumberland Road, and later was sent by President Van Buren to Burlington, Iowa, to be Receiver of the Public Moneys. In December, 1841, he became an editor of The Iowa Capitol Reporter, a democratic newspaper at Iowa, City. his rancorous Whig opponents called him "My Lord Pomposity", "West Point dandy", "Our Noble Lord", and "Our Modern Caesar". See editorials in The Iowa City Standard for December, 1841, and an article in the Iowa Historical Record, 1891-93, pp. 426-429, where the writer says: "Van desired to be popular, was honest and faithful in all the trusts of his life, . . . but his style was more amusing than popular."
(61) For the sources consulted in preparing this chapter see Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 14-19; van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 9-17; and Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 49-51.
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