Almost every one knows that the area of West Michigan known as the
Holland Colony was originally settled
by Albertus Van Raalte, but we don't all know about all the men who came here before Van Raalte or of those
who helped him. This following account is about one such man. The information was sent to me by the Great-Great-Great-Grandson of Alexander: Jeffrey Hartgerink, and was written by his father Ronald Hartgerink, who he says deserves most of the credit for collecting all the information.
Please read on and enjoy!
The following letter was written in 1846 by Alexander Hartgerink,
a young school teacher from Neede,
Gelderland, a province in the Netherlands, acting as a prospector for the Dutch pioneers in America. In
September of the same year Van Raalte sailed for the United States.
Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio
May 3, 1846
To the Rev. Brummelkamp and Van Raalte, Arnhem
Much Beloved Brethren in our Lord Jesus Christ:
Under the guidance of Providence I arrived here in the latter part of October, 1845. At one time on the journey my faith almost failed, but the Lord came to my rescue at the right time. On the ship I had the good fortune to meet two friends in the Lord. I live very happy; consequently my situation may be likened to that of the Samaritan lepers who entered the Syrian camp. I cannot well wait until the end of the year to send you good tidings. (Note: Mr. Hartgerink had to spend a year investigating things, before he reported conditions. He was sent at general expense.)
This land is blessed by God naturally, civilly, and spiritually. The soil is nearly everywhere clay, located in a warm climate; and wheat and other products grow here in abundance; horses, cows, swine, geese, sheep, etc., are in fine condition and cheap, except the first named which cost as much as those in the Netherlands. Grass is of the best and in abundance; accordingly there is much butter, cheese, and meat. Honey is also abundant. Cattle range all the year round at large without being herded. The most pastures are commons. The owners of cultivated properties must fence them. I have not yet seen other than wheaten bread. The wages of tradesmen, as well as of the unskilled laborers are good. When snow, rain, or frost do not interfere, they range from six to eight shillings per day. A shilling equals 31 1/2 cents Dutch. The past winter lasted longer and was more severe than usual; from the first of December until the last of March.
Board costs here 14 shillings per week, altho, as is reported, there are places at which not more than 1 1/2 dollars is paid. A dollar contains eight shillings. The boarding houses are excellent. I have a private room, receive three times a day sweetened coffee or tea, bread, butter, meat, fish, potatoes, vegetables, and since Easter, many eggs. However, a family of three or four can live on those fourteen shillings. One can get along on less than this if the family manages well and has no outsiders. Beer, cider, and other liquors also abound. Of wood there is, so to say, a superabundance, for it has to be furred in clearing the land.
You cannot imagine how beautiful this country looks in summer and in autumn. Commerce and shipping, both internal and foreign, thrive abundantly. There are many inland seas, rivers, canals, railroads, etc. The mills and many other industries are better than in the Netherlands. Feathers are cheap; two shillings per pound. The price of clothing is about the same as in the Netherlands, except that of broadcloth, which is much higher priced here. These quotations are sufficient, methings, as samples of material things.
As regards civil affairs, this is a democracy. All its officials, from the lowest to the highest, are chosen by the citizens. Any one in this country, having been owner of property for five years, is citizen and voter, and is eligible to the highest office. The President is chosen for a term of four years and may then be re-elected for another four years. The governors of the various states are chosen similarly, as well as all the other officials. There is no nobility here, but in a certain sense, equality and freedom. The taxes are low, mainly because much land belongs either to the general government or to the particular states, and is sold.
All kinds of sects enjoy liberty here, provided they do not interfere with the government. Each sect enjoys likewise the liberty to run schools at their own expense, and to teach therein what suits them. Besides this, one has the liberty to preach to any nationality found here. No denomination receives support from the state. All are regarded as equals. There are schools giving instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, etc., in English; these are supported by the state.
There are also many pious people in this country, especially amount the Methodists. This denomination, English in origin, has labored much among the immigrants and with notable success; consequently many German Methodist churches are found here that publish a paper in Cincinnati, of which I have been a reader since January, and in which I find everything conforming to our old articles of faith, except, as it seems, on the point of election. They also have a good system of order and discipline. I read the paper with much satisfaction. They are very zealous and sacrifice much for Christ's kingdom. I usually attend the Methodist services, also partook of the longed-for Lord's Supper with them on March 20 ult., notwithstanding I am far from understanding it all. There is also a German sister church here, where I first attended. There the preaching suited me in general, but the formal prayers, as well as their views regarding the sacraments do not suit me. There I first desired to partake of the Lord's Supper but the minister refused to administer it to me on the grounds of my views concerning it, and I could not accept it if taken in conformity with his views. Neither do the Lutherans agree at all with us on the doctrine of election. Barring this, I have had much social intercourse with that man.
My advice to the seceders in the Netherlands, in case they have not obtained or cannot obtain liberty of conscience in the matter of educating their children, is to come to this country prepared to found a colony with ministers, churches, schools, and everything. There is good opportunity here not far from the city, across the river, where varieties of good land can be purchased, which up to now has not cost more than 1 1/2, 2, 3 or 4 dollars per acre. As acre equals about 3 shepels, old Dutch measure.
Possibly there may be a rise in price, because they are building a good road from this city to that locality, but when that road is finished, the land there will be worth more, for much business is done in this city, and the settlers there can bring their produce better to market. It need not be said, the settlement of a colony costs much money. Land must be bought; it must be cleared but part of the wood can be used in building the houses and some can be sold in the city; houses must be built, cattle purchased and provisions bought until one has raised his own. German and Swiss do it this way; I have even read that a number of German Jews intend to pursue this plan. Many colonies are planted in Wisconsin, located northwest from here, where, according to reports, the land is fertile and the climate also salubrious. In such case, it will be best for the seceders to send somebody ahead who can speak English, or German at least, to find a locality and make a contract of sale for the land. In case such a plan does materialize, it will be desirable to build a seminary there in the future, to train men for the ministry among the Germans, for the Netherlanders coming afterward, and for another population still living here, called Inseln (Indians). I have also discovered that there is a German Reformed denomination in this country agreeing in spirit with the seceders in the Netherlands; the most of their churches, I believe, are found in Pennsylvania. They also have a seminary at Mercersbury, Pa, one of whose faculty is Prof. Schaaf, who was brought there through the influence of one of the Krummachers.
Now I must close, with the advice to the seceders in the Netherlands to acknowledge the Lord in all their ways. And after wishing you and them an abundance of the Lord's blessing and favor, I remain after greetings,
Your loving brother in Christ,
P.S. I request all of you to pray for me. Greetings to all my friends in Arnhem and its vicinity. Please acquaint them with the substance of this letter. My address in the United States of North America is found at the heading of this letter and at the close. In case a few individuals or families have decided to come, my advice is not to let them go immediately as far as this place. I am farther than 200 hours (three miles equals 1 hour) from New York. Where ever they may land, whether in New York, Boston, Baltimore, or New Orleans, the landing is always safe and plenty Germans can be found ready to volunteer their services. I advise them to stay at the first place where they can find work; it is easy to move along. There is in this country an abundance of opportunity for transportation, and at a cheap rate. An aged man from Massachusetts, directly northeast of New York, told me that board can be obtained there for one dollar per week, and the wages of a laborer one dollar per day. I was told, likewise, by a reliable man, that in Cincinnati board costs but 10 to 12 shillings per week, and the wages paid in the slaughter houses, in winter, are one dollar a day.
It is not yet certain that I shall stay here, but arrangements have been made through a good friend here who will forward the letters sent to me. In case you write to me, do not fail to mention how church matters stand. I must also acquaint you with the fact that nearly all the strangers arriving here or in more southerly or westerly regions, suffer first from a lingering hot and cold fever, usually in summer.
Possibly war will arise between this country and England in dispute about Oregon, a region lying west from here, on the Pacific Ocean. You probably have read about it in the papers. In the Supreme legislatures of this country, besides equity and justice, the Word of God is also regarded as a basis for their actions. They also have preaching and prayers there. These are some of the things mentioned in the papers which I read.
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