For the sake of my children and posterity is it that I hereby undertake the task of noting down the various and often wonderful ways through which the Lord in his loving kindness and tender mercy has led me and mine.
My birthplace was Borselle, Province of Zeeland, Netherlands, born January 11, 1834 being the youngest of my parents’ family, who were also born at the same place, my father Christian Den Herder on January 31, 1796 and my mother Cornelia De Jonge on January 3, 1794. Father’s occupation while in the Netherlands was butchering and working on the dikes along the Schelde river. Both belonged to the Reformed or State Church of the Netherlands, they with many others for conscience sake separated from the State Church and formed into a society first called De Afgescheiden Kerk, later called De Christian Reformed Church.; the principal cause of that revival was the Spirit of God blowing mightily among the “dry bones’ of the formal church of the Netherlands, blessing wonderfully the reading of old Orthodox sermons and the labors of evangelists and of a few earnest ministers who also cast their lot with the new society of Christians. Many conversions were taking place among both old and young; some suddenly, some gradually; among the former were my dear mother, a brother and sister whose hearts and mouths were overflowing with the love of their Lord and Saviour. Others were more gradually convicted and led to the true light. The result of that separation however caused in many instances a break between old friends, even between relatives, to such an extent that laboring people working for men or firms that remained on the side of the State church which were most everywhere in overwhelming majority, were by a boycott put out of their jobs; but their motives being of a spiritual and not a temporal character, God in his overruling providence provided for those who put their trust for time and eternity in Him; no oppression, suffering or boycott and mockery could withdraw them from following the dictates of their consciences; both young and old had to endure that treatment, but they submissively endured it for Christ’s sake whom they loved and served in simplicity of heart. Among the pious ministers which the Lord raised up for them in the Province of Zeeland were the Revs. C. Vander Meulen, Gardiner, Steketee and others; great distances were traveled on Sundays to hear them and the Lord blessed their labors abundantly. Religious meetings on Sundays were held twice on each Sabbath either under the leadership of a minister or by some elder reading a sermon from the orthodox sermonbook of the 16th or 17th century, but as usual the holy sacraments were only administered by a regularly ordained minister; during the first of those years services had often to be held in private houses or in barns until the congregations were strong enough to build themselves a house of worship. I attended in my early youth many such meetings. Of two of those sermons I have still a recollection, the one preached by Dr. A.C. Van Realte on the words of Ps. 119 “ I am a Stranger upon this earth, hide not thy statutes from me” and the other by Rev. C Gardiner on the words from Prov. 21 vs 20 “ My son give me thine heart”. Never to be forgotten were the days and years when those times of refreshing from the Lord took place, and the fruits were lasting. Now such was the religious atmosphere of my early youth, which could not but have a blessed influence upon several young hearts and minds, as it also did on mine. And yet as a child among the children and a boy among the boys I enjoyed life, though, thanks be to God, never in the rough cursing and swearing as others, and both in school and catechism I always tried to, and often did excel others in my studies; poverty and mockery caused by our changed religious connections could not dampen my ambition for knowledge, and yet for reason of the limited means of my parents I had to leave the public school at the age of twelve years which I had advanced to and finished the eight grade; in consequence thereof during my last year’s stay in the Netherlands and also the first year’s stay in America , because we had no school building or teachers here, I had no literary education except what I picked up of the English language. Yet the emigration in those years and the settling in the wild Michigan forests taught me perhaps more than any other schooling ever could have imparted to me. I had also during those childhood days and years learned by experience that even young life was a struggle, but also the wonderful great blessing to have a pious praying dear mother as a guide though those deceitful years. Her earnest praying and pleading for my eternal salvation while I was still very young, on a quiet forenoon when she took me lovingly by the hand to a chair and kneeled down, I will never forget. Nor can I forget how sick I was with smallpox, nor how unjustly I was kicked by an assistant teacher to the dunce corner of the schoolroom, nor how I was in my ninth year nearly stung to death by a nest of wild bees called yellow jackets, which happened on my way home with a small pail of milk, on a narrow path with a ditch on both sides, those bees had had a nest in one side of that ditch; with me was a man also with his milk pail; some boys ahead of us had been throwing pieces of clay on the nest of bees so that they were mad and fierce; but in order to get home one had to pass by or through them, the result was that both of us were overtaken by them. He was strong and courageous enough to hurry through them, but I fell down screaming, their poisonous stings entering everywhere on my face, neck and hands, causing such pain that I got up again and also ran homeward for dear life as fast as I could for about half a mile; on my arrival at home several bees were still clinging to me. Soon of course my face and hands were badly swollen and for a while caused me great pain, but I got home alive, and my dear mother and the doctor soon relieved me of the worst pain. Another little incident was that while two of us youngsters on approach of Easter were, according to custom in that vicinity in those days, going the rounds among the farmers for a few eggs, we came to one farm where a fierce dog chained to its kennel broke loose and came running at us, which happily the kind Mrs. of the place noticed and opened the front door for us for escape. We were just in time inside, but the few eggs which we already had in our pouches were all broken. We, however, were saved from the jaws of the hound not only, but this kind woman provided us with about as many eggs as we had lost and so we departed with glad and thankful hearts. Those are about all the special incidents of my early youth up to the age of ten which I can remember.
The next ten years were of a more serious and different character;
and the experiences were all as so many warnings, lessons and preparations
for the future, which was often a very puzzling dream to me both as to
my temporal and spiritual future. The first very serious affliction
we with others had to pass through was that God in his inscrutable providence
to quite an extent broke the staff of life for the laboring class in the
Netherlands by the potato rot that to a great extent destroyed the
crops for several years resulting nearly into a famine, for potatoes were
the principal article of food for the laboring class. The calamity
was noticed both by church and state and steps by them were taken
to ameliorate the conditions by free contributions and State support, for
which purposes societies were organized both for the collection and
the distribution of the collected means in all villages and cities.
The contributions consisted chiefly in farm produce from the farmers and
in other articles of food from the State. Once a week a committee
sat in different localities for the distribution to those in want, but
although it was to quite an extent a great relief, yet for the many that
never had thought of having to go as paupers for such contributions it
was a wonderful humiliating task, so that in several instances the parents
sent one of their children for the share of the family, which task
was also laid upon me, and which I ever afterwards looked back upon as
the lowliest period in my whole lifetime; and yet it was an honest way
which the Lord in His providence opened to the indigent class for their
sustenance during those trialsome days.
Meats of any kind were not at all included in the distribution of provisions; meats were in fact only obtainable by the rich and well-to-do class, for wages were very low and prices of meat and butter very high. That condition lasted for us until our departure for North America; for others that stayed in the Netherlands it lasted much longer. Happily was the condition of our family under all those depressing circumstances such that we never had to suffer of hunger, summer nor winter; The Lord provided and we were thankful and hopeful, for reason too that in the winter between 1846 and 1847 a glimmer of hope appeared through the agitation in the Netherlands of an emigration to some other more prosperous country. Some thought of Australia, others South Africa, others South America and again others of the United States of North America. To all those lands some of our Holland people had from time to time already emigrated, and corresponded with their friends in the Netherlands.
Meetings were held in various places of the Netherlands among those inclined to emigrate, for the purpose of unitedly choosing if possible the most desirable country to move to; they being nearly all members of the Christian Reformed Church, so after due consideration the United States of America was selected, that being the country where all could worship God freely according to the dictates of their consciences, in which privilege we were restricted and also abused in the Netherlands; so that not only the general decline in social circumstances but also the general abuse and ridicule heaped upon us on account of our religious convictions and standpoint taken were the principal motives of our people for locating elsewhere and both of which objects we happily attained; the latter forthwith on our arrival in this country, but the former very gradually for the subduing of the Michigan forests was a long hard and gradual struggle and process.
But what could the moving away of so many Christian friends help us. My parents had not at all the means to undertake such a far and expensive journey, which was also the case of several families of our village; and besides that the Elder of our church also decided to go; he being a very well-to-do farmer employing constantly several heads of families by working on his farm and also being a true Christian leader in our congregation he was a strong support both in a social and religious way, so that his departure would make things much worse than they had hitherto been for us; he had property worth about $75,000.00, his name, Jannoe Vande Luyster, was known in our place by every one, by both rich and poor as a noble true hearted generous man; many beggars which are so numerous in many parts of the Netherlands always found an overnight lodging at his farm if they applied, so, as stated above his departure would make our condition worse. And he himself recognized that as well. Then what did he do? Like Jacob of old he wrestled with his God in prayer for light on this serious subject; and the Lord convinced him that it was his duty to stay with his people or take as many of them along as desired to go with him as far as he was able to do so. He revealed his severe struggle and final conclusion to his dear wife, asking her advice and desire in the matter. She had at first been opposed to moving away to an unknown country, for their financial circumstances did not call for such a risk, and yet the prospect to place their seven now already grown up children in connection with the religious abuse they also had to bear from the world, had made her quite submissive, noticing also the earnest consecration of her husband’s purpose. So she stated that she would willingly submit to whatever course he took in this serious problem; they soon decided however to take the last mentioned step, that is to leave their fatherland, go to North America with all of their children and taking along as many of their indigent church people as they could, if willing, and thus doing trust the Lord for the future.
Soon thereafter with that resolution in his mind he came to see also my parents, they in turn were very much surprised to hear their Elder Vande Luyster making such an unexpected and surprising proposition. Father was forthwith inclined, but stated our utter inability to contribute anything to that expensive journey, and it being wintertime when chance for earning wages was very slim, beside some store debt for groceries he was increasing during the winter months which were to be paid by the opening of Spring and could not think of moving away before every debt was paid. He, Vande Luyster, replied that if they, my parents, were willing he would see to it that no debt remained unpaid before leaving and that he would advance the whole expense and cost of the journey beside the said mentioned debts upon a written promise that they would pay it back to him with annual use as soon as they were able to do so, either sooner or later. Our family to be thus provided consisted of six persons, that is mother, father, three sons and one daughter. I was the youngest. One of my sisters was married and came two years later, and my other unmarried sister came at the same time with us as a help in the large family of Jan Steketee which also came hither with us. Consequently my parents accepted; that was January, 1847.
Then came the time for preparation; this breaking up of our attachment to our dear birthplace and the separation of the many dear friends of our youth however did not take place without many tears nor without earnest prayers to God. All household goods not needed for the journey must be disposed of, either sold or given away. We never knew that we had so many friends until the time of parting to a strange country thousand of miles distant, expecting never to meet again in this world. And I well remember with how much satisfaction ( I hardly knew why) I left our home and village which took place April 3, 1847. At noon we, that is father, mother, my sister Neelte and I, together with our guide Jannes Vane Luyster with his wife and their two youngest daughters Janna and Maatje took passage on a small “Vletters Schuitje” (sailing boat) across the river Schelde to Breskens, to be joined with other friends and relatives to leave the following Monday per larger sailing vessel a “Tjalk” for Antwerp; at which city we expected to meet the rest of our families and many others to take passage for the City of New York. We all safely arrived at Antwerp, where we were detained for several days while the holds of the ships were brought in order for our passage.
Very strange and romantic to me was that little trip and stay in that large city as I had never traveled before, but as a boy I enjoyed it, tho I hardly knew what we were doing or where going except the name New York and North America, which none of our people had ever visited. After fully a week’s stay at Antwerp one of the ships “The Wilhelm Von Wolgast” was ready on which we under the leadership of Mr. Jan Steketee, with others, took passage. Vande Luyster with others started two weeks later in the other ship, both were three masted schooners or vessels.
Prayerfully we committed ourselves to the guidance and care of our heavenly Father. The second day from this our start through the Schelde we passed our dear old birthplace Borselle where on the dike many saluted us by waving of handkerchiefs and hats and of course we too bid them the last farewell. Soon we entered the English Channel, which we found very rough, causing seasickness to a great part of us emigrants, happily not to my father or me, but we were in the boat and had to take whatever happened. The next day the Island of Wright was the last we saw of Europe. Thence by strong contrary winds we were for days and weeks driven in a southwesterly direction until we were nearly under the meridian, where the heat of the sun scorched the skin of the children’s arms and many took their nights rest on the deck of the ship. Then a northwesterly course was taken until at last land came in sight which was a very joyous event; soon the pilot came aboard to guide us into the harbor, but no, instead of being near New York we were near Charleston, S.C. so the pilot forthwith changed our course for New York which took us again several days. At last however after sixty-three days sailing we came in sight of Staten Island New York. This was a real fine sight, and soon we anchored in the New York harbor for inspection and landed at Castle Garden the next day, June 15. After the usual medical inspection; happily no one of our number had to be quarantined, my oldest sister Joanna however had a badly sprained ankle so that she had to be supported in walking, by my brother John and another good friend, in the transfer from the ship to a scow at another dock, from which dock we were taken up the Hudson River per river steamer to Albany, together with several other scows all as a school drawn by said boat.
Very little was by us noticed of said City of New York, for we had to follow our leader like a herd follows the shepherd; the trip up the river however was grand for in the Netherlands we never saw any high hills or mountains, and here on both sides of the river our eyes rested on the beautiful green hills and mountains, and at a couple of places between said cities our boat laid on for a few hours which gave us the happy chance to climb up the hills to pick the wild but very luscious wild strawberries. Another great change we experienced was that from the time of our arrival at New York we said farewell to the food of hardtack and other ships victuals. The accommodations on said scow for night rest were only fit for animals and not at all for human beings; but we stood the degradation. On Sunday morning we arrived at Troy where our baggage was weighed and examined, and thence transferred across the river to a canal boat at Albany. The accommodations thereon were also unsatisfactory, and yet we were provided with good food, plenty of room and a chance during the eleven days of trip thereon to step from said boat to walk afoot along the canal; for the two horses drawing the boat could only walk the whole way; beside stopping at several locks we passed through. For us boys was that part of the journey most pleasant.
On our arrival at Buffalo we were transferred to a steamboat to take thence all the way to Chicago via Lake Erie, St. Clare, Huron and Lake Michigan. We had happily calm weather all the way on that boat and the best food, but if our leader Mr. J. Steketee who with his family occupied a cabin near the smokestack of the boat had not been watchful, we might have perished on the way, the boat catching at three different times fire near the smokestack. At Chicago we stopped a couple of days, and were then per sailing vessel, again with very poor accommodations and contrary wind and rough lake carried to Black Lake ( Macadam Bay) where we arrived in the afternoon the following day, that is July 14. The mouth of the Bay however was too shallow for our vessel to enter, consequently we anchored near shore, but we had hardly time to take off the women and children when a severe thunderstorm came up which necessitated the captain to lift anchor and turn into the open lake and we, the youngsters with our mothers took refuge in a large roughly built shanty which had been put up there for a refuge for just such instances. We happily had arrived and were in a dry and safe place, but what had become of the men aboard the vessel? They had taken a northerly course and entered Grand Haven Harbor safely. A few of their number came forthwith in the early morning along the shore south till they arrived afoot in the forenoon at the mouth of Black Lake where we met each other again with gladsome and thankful hearts. But, how, without food. We had not taken any from the vessel. Here, however, was again some provision made, near the mouth of the Bay lived in a small log hut a small family just for the purpose of guiding arriving immigrants as we were, but all the provision they could supply us with was only some flour and bacon for such a hungry crowd. No yeast was obtainable. What next. In a pail flour was by our mothers mixed with water into dough, a spider and baking pan of said family used, some wood gathered, a fire built and as the old Israelitish, unleavened bread or cakes were baked both evening and morning which satisfied our hunger and thus encouraged thanking and praising God for his loving kindness in having us thus far graciously led and preserved, we prepared for the last trip to the city of Holland. A scow had been provided for us with room enough for our number, but the only means of propelling the scow was by long pikepoles, along the south shore of the Bay, and though it was a slow process yet we arrived late in the afternoon at what was then already named Stad Holland consisting of three or four cheaply built frame huts and half a dozen log cabins. In one of the former which was already occupied by four families our family with two other families were placed. That was on the 17th day of July. Soon we made the very unpleasant discovery however that one of the occupants who had arrived there two weeks previous with Van Luyster’s party, Cornelia De Wys, had a severe attack of the small pox, which however was not so dangerous for our family as for the others, for reason that we had in the Netherlands all had that malady, but others did suffer by it, happily however not any of our number died of it. Here we only stayed temporarily, about four weeks until a place was selected in the dense forest for a permanent home. While there however we noticed that the aborigine Indians had a settlement of about fifty families about two miles from where we had arrived; they were however a peaceable lot and lived of hunting and fishing . A strange sight for us was also to see so many hogs running quietly about. A few of our people thinking they belonged to nobody in particular began to appropriate them for themselves for food, which the Indians found out and went to Rev. A.C. Van Raalte who was known as the leader of us emigrants and made complaint to him; who forthwith traced out the guilty parties, but seeing it was done in ignorance they settled for a small price. Here also for the first time we learned to utilize dried leaves as feathers for our beds. Provisions were brought in from Grand Haven, and while there our baggage which had been carried thither by our arrival at the mouth of Black Lake, also arrived as well as the rest of our men that stayed with the baggage among that number was also my father. A few days thereafter Rev. C. Vander Meulen also arrived with some emigrants and a few days later also Rev. Ympa with several families so that a number of families were obliged to live in booths, which though a protection against sun and wind was not so against heavy showers of rain; so that we all were very anxious for a home of our own and in a few weeks many moved easterly into the dreary dark forests of Michigan in this vicinity. Our future home was by our leader J. Vande Luyster selected 20 acres in Section 17 of the township later named Zeeland in Ottawa County, Michigan on which we settled on August 15 of that year. A load of lumber, about 300 feet had the day previous been delivered there by ox team, which we forthwith set up in a / shaped hut with blankets at either end as doors , consequently no protection at all against wild animals, which were afterwards sometimes seen at a distance, for they were very shy. Our next step was to clear up a suitable place to build a log cabin which was also forthwith undertaken, but all was very strange work for us, for the only log cabins ever seen by us before was at the place of our arrival at Holland, and no one near to show us how to build; consequently it was not a magnificent structure but sufficient to be a home for us poor emigrants, who were exceedingly thankful to God that we had a home at last, be it ever so humble. Its outside walls were of logs 8 to 12 inches in diameter, the roof of basswood bark shingles, and the floors of split basswood planks. The size of the hut was 16 x 24 ft. with side walls of about 12 ft. high, and in order to protect us against the cold and rain coming through the spaces between the logs moss of trees, of which there was an abundance was pushed in and made such a cabin cozy and warm even in wintertime. Until we had a cookstove our baking and cooking was done under a rough shed outside. Our foodstuffs at first came from the neighboring place Holland, but soon parties from Grandville brought in with ox teams all we needed or could pay for. That was not only for us, for every day after our arrival one or two families of our emigrants settled in the forest roundabout us on tracts of 10-20-40 or 80 acres of wild land. As a matter of course the first two years we could raise no crops whatever except in the second year small patches of potatoes; the means by which we were enabled to purchase the needed food was by clearing land for those emigrants that had some financial means left after their arrival or by going out to work in neighboring places as Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Kalamazoo, etc. and thus we slowly proceeded and God in his mercy from his abundance supplied in all our wants.
The physical condition of our family on our arrival in the forests was quite poorly. My eldest sister Joanna who was about 22 years of age and had lingered for quite awhile died in peace in the month of December and my brother John and I suffered badly from diarrhea, as a result of the unhealthy surface water which we had to drink as we had as yet no wells of any depth, but we both were after awhile fully restored to health. In those unpleasant sickly weeks, wherein neither sun, moon nor stars could cheer us on our way for reason of the impenetrable forests round about and above us, it was by times a severe test to our trust and faith, and yet happily hope for the future kept us tugging and battling against the giant Philistines of the Michigan woods, who slowly but surely retreated before the battle axes of the valiant emigrant soldiers.
One of the principle disappointments and drawbacks to me was that for a stretch of two years my chance for education was cut off and that in the very years in which my mind was hungering for both literary and spiritual education; a good foundation for the former was laid till my twelfth year in the primary school at our birthplace and for the latter by my dear parents and the catechetical instruction, which latter fortunately continued, and in all of which I always strived to excel others of my age. Rev. C. Vander Meulen was in that respect truly a father to me, both by his earnest evangelical preaching and at catechism by his fatherly advice and warnings as well to me as to others. Instructive religious books were and still are an enjoyment. Novels were never to my taste. Only two winters after our arrival had I a chance to attend school by day, later, off and on, also evening school under the able instructor Robert R.N.De Bruyn; for the rest what I did attain was under the kindly leading of Providence self education. So thanks be ever to my heavenly guide. He led me by his gracious hand, and when I sometimes stumbled and fell by withdrawing my hand from His, He is his mercy sought me and raised me up again, and thus happily being kept from dark and shameful ways of sins and shame, I spent my youthful pioneer days here in the Michigan forest. Only a few months now and then could I be persuaded to leave my home surroundings; for it seems I always found work nearby , though often very hard work, but anyway my youthful days were never to be forgotten happy days and years under healthy Christian influence at home.
And now a few incidents of my early pioneer life……. While thus settled in out new “Castle”?, cabin, I mean, our old friend and neighbor C. Boosman with wife and youthful daughter Jannetje of about 12 years came to live with us that first winter until they had built themselves a home. During that time his sickly wife died, so he and his young daughter stayed with us, and my dear mother was her guide during their stay with us.
It was evident that we all as menfolks needed instruction in the manner of cutting trees and in a great variety of other ways, so it happened that our leader Vande Luyster on a certain Sunday brought us an African boarder to instruct us. We were however much surprised to have to put up with a negro boarder with a skeleton of a horse; no pasture for the poor animal was anywhere near; only the leaves of trees and a bushel of corn in the ear was all he had for the poor animal. Consequently in a few weeks the creature died of hunger, but the negro did well in instructing us in the warfare with the forest. He was a very quiet man, but we were glad to see him move away after a few weeks’ stay.
Of course, we were for a couple months without church building; emigrants however moving into the forest at and around where latter village Zeeland was planted and they nearly all being a strongly religious people convened for religious services first under the thick shade of the hemlock and other trees, with trees also for our seats and a lumber wagon for a pulpit, from which Rev. C Vander Meulen who by that time had followed us also into the woods delivered many an encouraging sermon. In case of rainy or stormy weather we met at the commodious log cabin of Deacon Jan Wabeke until our temporary log church building was finished, which building was a few months later also used for school purposes, after our first school teacher as an emigrant also arrived among us; and a noble and able Christian young man he was, having also already acquired so much knowledge of the English language so that he was able to teach in both languages, and he himself being an earnest Christian and all the children being from Christian parents taught and conducted the school in that spirit; I write this from my own experience. Upon such solid foundation stones ( our leaders, to wit;- Vande Luyster, Rev. Vander Meulen, R, De Bruyn and others) who built upon the precious cornerstone Jesus Christ. The structure of our Zeeland religious and social building was started, truly a blessing both for young and old, for just as well then as now, we all were much in need of faithful guides and inspiring encouragements, for financial circumstances were dark and for many of us discouraging; And the natures of both young and old were pretty much the same as at present, only grace could subdue, so then as now, and happily that mighty grace of God inspired many a faithful despondent heart to cheer and singing, even in the darkest nights of adversity and isolation.
And now with a retrospect at the nearly seventy years flown by, comes the serious question what kind of success, if any, had we in that building process, and what kind of stones if any we are adding to the erection of that noble, enduring and still unfinished structure; and as one of the fellow builders during all these years, the question comes, what have I added to its erection and ornamentation. Certainly not all what I might and should have done. And when I look around me in our surroundings I begin to fear that the statement made in the Book o Judges, Chapter 2 vs 10 may become applicable to our times and people.
But now returning again to the years of our first settlement in these Michigan woods. Now were the days of my youth spent from the time of our starting in the forests in the fall of 1847. During my young unmarried life is till 1856 in tiresome mental labor mostly with the ax in clearing up land for ourselves and for others at 50 cents a day, in peeling hemlock bark, in splitting fence rails and whiteoak barrel staves, all of which was constantly my occupation in wintertime and in summertime burning up all kinds of trees, the logs as well as the branches, except very few species of trees as pine, oak and whitewood which soon became marketable for lumber, etc. After clearing up came the severe job of breaking up the virgin soil all matted through and through with roots and with stumps where the trees had stood, which breaking up or plowing for the first time was invariably done by oxteams and was hard and tiresome for the driver as for the oxen. Then came the planting and sowing, cultivating and mowing, all of which with the crude implements at that time in use made the evenings and nights for both man and beast precious, and many a one that was in the laborious struggle and by misdirected of the ax and in various other ways like myself badly hurt and some crippled for life and some even accidentally killed; and as to convenience of travel to neighboring cities or places, there were none; any travel at all which were by times obliged to do was either afoot or per ox or horse team with springless lumberwagons, and many of us young people and even a number of married men were obliged to go out for work for support of the home family and parents; so I was for about six months in all, first about six weeks at Grandville with a young farmer; here again the Lord had wonderfully provided for me a godfearing young married couple. They treated me very kindly there ( at Grandville) and I heard for the first time a sermon in English from a Methodist minister from 2 Cor. vs 10 and although I could not understand the whole, yet enough so as to impress me very strongly noticing also that he spoke with the same earnestness and simplicity as our beloved pastor Rev. C. Vander Meulen; and both that and the true Christian life of the family I stayed with taught me a very useful lesson, namely, that God had his dear children as well among the Americans surrounding us as among our own people though their characteristics in many ways differed from ours. Then before winter came I returned home again to work with ax and saw for 50 cents per day, and to satisfy my hunger and thirst by principally Johnny cake or cornbread for our food beside plenty of potatoes and pork and beef and for our drink, rye, wheat or peas coffee, beside surface water; but we got used to all that and lived perfectly satisfied and happy, to such an extent that our leaders continued to invite their friends in the Netherlands to come over and share with us the sweet freedom and the many good things in connection with the Christian brotherhood we enjoyed and as we looked at it, the hopeful prospects for the future; beside that our ministers were true shepherds of their flocks and the elders of whom there were quite a goodly number, in keeping the church under proper discipline; there were so many elders in our Zeeland church that the consistory as a whole considered it desirable that their number should be decreased to eight which was done by the resignation of each one of them and thereupon immediate election by the whole congregation of eight as agreed upon; all of which was done in a true Christian spirit without apparent friction, which was surprising, taking into consideration that they came from various provinces of the Netherlands with their different trainings, characteristics, and dialects, the last of which was one reason why we, then the young people, so soon assumed the English language in our conversation, for those Netherland dialects from the different provinces are so very different that it is difficult to understand one another. The Holland language as such was however for a while taught in our public schools and spoken at the homes and at all the meetings so that even till now 68 years after our first settling the Holland language in a number of churches is still used, especially for the sake of the oldest settlers that had neglected the English language for the sake of the many emigrants that from year to year kept arriving among us. At our public schools, however, the Holland language is no longer taught and a number of churches have adopted the English language exclusively.
And now once more returning to the days of my young manhood; my constant ambition to master the English language and still staying among our people gave me an advantage in a literary way above many other younger and older, so that at the age of twenty years I was called to teach the primary school at Vriesland, which I accepted. This was for the winter term; after that term expired, the newly organized school district of Beaverdam hired me for three months summer term; after which Vriesland wanted my services both for the coming winter and summer terms without vacation, and to teach both the Holland and the English languages, which I continued for five years in succession, part of which was paid me from the regular school tax and the balance by free contributions from the parents. However, when the Civil War broke out and as result thereof the cost of living climbed steadily higher I asked for a higher salary when my year’s term again expired; and as we could not agree upon the rate of wages I declined not knowing however what to start in and for that reason our family doctor had advised on account of my feeble health, to quit school work, being constantly overcrowded with scholars, from 5 to 100 in both languages thus impairing my nervous system. I did not try that work anymore, but from the time I started teaching until the time I left off various important things had happened to me. The first important step was that I could say farewell to the very cheap and very hard manual labor with ax and saw, etc. and thus occupied also a more honorable position and yet so young and so poorly equipped in my estimation. The second was that when I became twenty-one years of age I began to look for a life companion which was realized on May 20, 1856 with my dear selected choice Adriana Klaasen who had about a year previous thereto arrived from the Netherlands with Uncle and Aunt Dirk C. De Pree and wife Moie Mie ( Auntje Mae), who had raised her up from infancy; the main cause of my early marriage at age 22 years was that my parents lived in Zeeland, that is four miles west of Vriesland where I was teaching, and as the roads in those years were very bad, so that I could be home only on Sundays so that those combined circumstances made us to take that step in my early manhood. She was of the same age with the same financial means as I, that is to say, not any, except our limited wages but both of us had a sound body full of ambition and trust in God for the future. She had had the same serious Christian education as I for her aunty was a very pious goodhearted lady; and thus commending ourselves to the mercy and care of our heavenly guide who thus far so graciously had led and provided us we took the very serious step and became man and wife; and we were just in those happy and promising early years of our marriage that the Civil War broke out and I could not afford to continue the work of teaching for the wages they had been paying me. In those first five years of our married life the first affliction that overcame us was a severe sickness of pleurisy which brought me very near to the gates of Death. God however graciously spared my life. It was however a severe blow in the second year of our married life, a loss of several weeks wages and a $30.00 doctor’s bill on top of it; and yet we pressed courageously on thankful that the Lord had spared our lives. During these said first five years three dear children were born to us furnishing both pleasure and business, the last especially for the mother. Within that time the first year of our married life I got the appointment of Notary Public which yielded me additional income by drawing up legal papers. Beside that I was favored by the people of the whole township in that same year by electing me to the office of township clerk and for a number of years in n succession yielding an annual income of $75.00 to $100.00, and so in various ways our people seemed to trust me and giving me opportunity to earn a good and honest income so that I could build me a house on a lot which I had bought west of the Vriesland church and whereas my parents were unable to pay the interest or principal to our old leader J. Vande Luyster upon a mortgage which they had given for purchase price and cost of our fare, etc. from the Netherlands till our arrival here, I with the approval of my brothers and sisters bought their twenty acre farm assuming to pay the mortgage and giving them a lifelease with all of the income of the place as long as their lives were spared together, which mortgage after a few years I fully paid and thus my dear parents were released from all financial responsibility; and we enjoyed ourselves in a very busy life. I in my various undertakings and my dear wife in taking care of the family which also gradually increased, and which work she consistently did for a long while alone except when special help was unavoidable. It was about the close of my work as teacher of Vriesland school that my dearly beloved mother died on the 26th day of June A.D. 1862 aged 68 ½ years, of liver complaint; that loss to us the children was keenly felt for she had ever been a pleasant and tenderly loving mother, pious in her exemplary life and confession and ever pleasant for us all and to those that knew her, and never shamed to confess her dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Consequently the loss was very great to our dear father at his declining years and to us her children. To her it was an indescribable gain to be forever released from pain and misery, and to be in company with the glorified throng above. At her deathbed she could not hide her gratitude to God that she had good reason to believe that her dear husband and every one of her children would erelong be with her where parting would be no more.
And now one more reference to the first years of my maturity. One of the greatest struggles from my 17th year and upward till nearly 20 was the question of confessing my faith publicly for I knew my inward convictions and desires very often called me to the duty to take a positive stand, but my youthful inclinations of character withheld me constantly not only but the supposition that a person ought to know the time and circumstances of his conversion and be able and willing to impart the circumstances to others, besides the old accuser. vis. the king of darkness, constantly warned me to refrain and postpone to take that step until I was a fit person to become a member of the church; and thus previous time sped on until I was nineteen years of age, which might have been postponed even longer if under the providence of God a certain accident had not befallen me, namely of being shot accidentally by a friend on the celebration of the 4th of July, 1853 while in the dark. We as a jolly crowd of boys were discharging our firearms when he carelessly in raising his revolver and pulling the trigger too soon shot me squarely in the face so that the full charge of powder struck me on the forehead, eyes and cheeks, which blinded me for a few days at the same time giving me time and real cause for serious reflection knowing that I had repeatedly quenched the Holy Spirit which was so often trying to convince me to obey His loving call by “come to me and I will give you rest for my yoke is easy and my burden in light” – the result thereof was a complete surrender to the Lord and to his service and a public confession of faith with others, before the consistory. I then rejoiced and felt that in Him we can become “ more than conquerors” over our spiritual enemy, and go our way in peace, for I had humbly confessed before Him my many sins but especially that which I considered the greatest of all; -- the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit so long, and although that old enemy was not annihilated utterly, yet I had now learned to trust my Lord and Saviour through the constant struggle against our mortal enemies. And thus from thence on the Lord renewed his loving kindness to me in numerous ways. I soon recovered from that 4th of July shock, never to be forgotten.
In that same year came to me the invitation by the Revc.. C. Vander Meulen and A.C. Van Raalte to enter the Holland Academy with the object in view to study for the ministry or to become a foreign missionary. I forthwith told them that I was not a fit person to undertake such a task and beside that my parents were not in condition to render me any financial help, not only, but that they needed my income for their support as they both became aged and feeble; so they left me for the present but afterward Rev. Vander Meulen kept urging me; yet my dread for that nine years study and for such a serious purpose as I was now already nearly 20 years of age made me fully decide to positively decline that invitation. And fortunately soon thereafter the Lord opened another way for me to be of use in His vineyard, namely, first as teacher in the public school, then also as Sunday School teacher and later for at least thirty years as elder in the Zeeland First Reformed Church until weakness and age prevented me. Consequently I was satisfied with the work to which I was constantly called to perform, the one great dissatisfaction for and to me was the imperfect manner in which I so constantly performed those responsible duties; yet the continual call of our church people urged me to give myself willingly to the task and various duties assigned to me. Seven or eight times I had to attend General Synod of our Reformed Church, and while there important committee duties were generally assigned to me, once they elected me to be a member of the Board of Foreign Missions, for which I declined on account of my very busy occupation of my banking business at home, and thus I continued to work with joy in the vineyard of the Lord, especially too as elder in our local church, Zeeland, until at the age of 75 years my constitution broke down to such an extent that I felt obliged to lay down my official church work; for it was not only that church matters called for my attention to some extent but the very crowded business I was constantly occupied with, both as Banker which I had started into in the year 1878, and grew continually every year, bedside the Notary Public work and the various other political duties to which I was from time to time called to perform, from the duties of Township Clerk and Supervisor to that of State Senator and even Elector for the election of a President and Vice President of the United States in 1876, and beside that the settling of many estates of deceased persons.
In the year 1901 I decided to change my private banking occupation into an incorporated State Bank to be known as the Zeeland State Bank, of which I was and still am the elected President and my son Christian J. as Cashier with five others as Directors and with so many more stockholders as we would approve of. This gave me a great relief, and has in the past fifteen years grown to the amount of a million and a half in resources, requiring constant employment of four Assistants to the Cashier.
In the meantime whenever my health permitted I continued to assist in the Sunday School work, even until the present time (1916) when called upon.
But in glancing back over those many busy and toilsome years I had to come from time to time to the unpleasant experience that it was not all prosperity and success in my public life and undertakings, a few of which I will try to mention, namely:--
On the 11th day of January, 1864 I had entered the fourth period of ten years of my life; during the first four years thereof nothing very serious happened. Our children had increased to six, namely five girls and a little boy; beside that an old aunty of my wife Maria Klaasen De Pree, had after the death of her husband come to live with us, as she had no children and by whom my dear wife had been brought up from early childhood until the time of our marriage, and most happily we enjoyed that busy life together; she as an earnest pious old though pleasant lady helped to teach and train our dear children in the fear an admonition of the Lord like Timothy’s grandmother Lois of old, and which was highly appreciated as well by the children as by us their parents.
It was in the month of July and August 1868 that all of our children except the youngest were taken down with the measles from which however they gradually recovered; But in the second week of October a far more serious malady attacked our children, namely, diphtheria; very soon four of our little girls came down with us; We had no idea that it was so epidemic and dangerous as it soon proved to be not only for the children, but very soon our old Aunty was severely attacked by it to such a degree that she died of it in four days’ time. She was happily prepared to leave us for the glorious realms above and thus passed away calm and peacefully on October 16. This was a severe shock for us and to our dear children, three of whom were then already suffering of that sickness. Only three days later our dear oldest daughter Cornelia who also had gradually grown worse; she was very calm and patient to the last and conscious to the last, which came on October 19th; she had always been a bright and happy little maiden. Music was her greatest joy and was loved by all, and she confessed to love her dear Lord and Saviour. With a broken heart and tearful eyes we all with a sweet tender kiss separated and bid her a loving goodbye, and thus she closed her eyes and passed away to a better home above; but our hearts were sad, despondent and confused. It was so hard to say Amen to what our heavenly Father did in leading us through this deep valley for three more were still affected with that disease. Happily with one of them the poison passed down into her legs and worked out in sores so that she soon got over it; and the other two we supposed were nicely improving but Alas! Our little girl Johanna of 8 years old who was the special darling sister of Katie who so recently died, woke up in a disturbed mental condition and told her mother after a little while that she had had such a very wonderful dream, and that she too would die today. Her mother of course did not take that statement seriously for to all appearance she was nicely improving and strong enough to walk around in the house, tho feeble and lingering; a couple of hours later while an unusual griping pain made her to cry, she repeated to her Ma that today she too was going to die and would be with her dear sister Katie. Her mother told her not to talk that way, but those pains through her whole system increased in severity and in spells so that her mother sent for me, and home I went. Then after another such spell in which she cried out in pain she said “ Oh Dear Papa and Mama I love you so, and I pity you so very much for surely I will have to leave you today. Then I shall be free from sorrow and pain and be with Jesus and with Katie and Moie Mie;” Then after half an hour such severe spell would again attack her, with soon again subsided when she would say “God is good” and begin to tell how all the holy people and the angels sing in heaven “ Holy, Holy is the Lord, God of Hosts”. My partner in the store business came in to see her; he cared not about religion, otherwise a kind and pleasant man; after kindly greeting her she said to him: Say Douwe, do you love my dear Saviour too?” At first he could not answer , then he said to her “Do you love Jesus so?” “Surely I do” she replied “And I shall very soon see him and my dear Moie Mie and dear sister Katie”. She could say no more for another severe spell overtook her; but he told me afterward that this question of her from such a full well meaning heart was the severest sting to his conscience he had ever experienced. Gradually the fits of pain became more and more intolerable and oftener. Yet between these spells she still remained conscious and very calm, speaking as rational about the love of God towards her as any grownup person in the brightest hopes for the future could do. But we became utterly hopeless as to her recovery and could not hide our tears, when she would again try to comfort us with glad hope and expectation of meeting us again in that glorious place, never to part again. We had sent tidings to my relatives at Zeeland and to my brother Marinus who also lived at Vriesland, so that they also came to witness our circumstances. My brother Marinus kindly talked with her yet and earnestly prayed to God for us all. About 10 o’clock P.M. it became evident that she was approaching the end of her struggle , her hands and feet became cold, and rubbing with brandy which I applied as I was sitting on her bed was of no avail; then about 11 o’clock the last fierce struggle came, so that she screamed out “ My heart breaks”. Before that last severe struggle she had taken very affectionate leave with a kiss and embrace from each one of us, first her Pa and Ma, then her sisters Mary, Josina and Christina and then her little one year old infant brother Christian J.. She very affectionately kissed and embraced him saying “Goodbye my dear little tot, you will also love my dear Lord Jesus, will you not?” and when that last death struggle subsided she kindly and lovingly looked at us for a few moments, raised with a holy smile her hand upward and raised finger pointing heavenward and without uttering a sound anymore, she fell asleep in Jesus, and her spirit was with the Lord where she is now waiting us. That was October 23. And though deep sorrow overwhelmed us, we were comforted by the thought that now she was safe in the arms of Jesus and relieved forever from all pain and sorrow by Him who said, “ Let the children come unto me for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” But the angel of death had still another death warrant for us. Another stroke was awaiting us, for on the following November 5, 1868 our dear little girl Josina aged 6 ½ years had to leave us; the same terrible disease had also taken hold of her. We had some hope that she might recover for her throat was apparently healed, but the poison of the sickness had taken such hold of her system that first her bowels were affected, and after a few days it moved to her spine, so that we had to carry her ( in the house) from place to place; she was otherwise before this change in fairly well condition being up and around but now helpless as to her lower limbs; so for another week we lived in hopes of saving her though badly crippled; but that was decreed otherwise, for thirteen days after the death of her sissie Johanna, while she was sitting in her little chair and her mother with her in the house, and I at my work at the store an unexpected errand came to me to come home at once. And so I went and found my dear wife drowned in tears sitting on a chair with the lifeless child on her lap. That was the severest shock of all for me, it being the third of our children and so suddenly. No words can describe or express the sorrow and grief that filled our hearts; I took the lifeless body from my wife’s lap, ran up and down through the house with it for mind was wholly upset. I could not and yet I had to surrender the darling child, until God in his great mercy quieted that boisterous heart of mine by the uplifting and consoling words of Asaph of old, “ When my heart and my flesh fainteth then God is the Rock of my strength and my portion forever”, so that I could quietly lay down the darling entrusting her into the hands of my Covenant God who doeth all things well; and thus my dear wife and I were both quiet and submissive, though full of sorrow and grief. The dear child while sitting apparently content in her little chair with her dear mother nearby suddenly gave a slight groan, her head falling to the side, gave up the ghost and passed away; her mother noticed it and took her right up the best she could; however, she soon noticed that her spirit had departed but kept her on her lap till I arrived. And thus were three of our dear children and our beloved Auntie carried out of our home in the short space of four weeks; and though these severe afflictions taught us precious lessons which will ever be remembered, yet for a long while our hearts were often bowed down with grief and sorrow with the answerable question “why”, but Elihu (see Job 33 vs. 13) teaches us not to strive with God in our afflictions; and so we do hope and pray that we may humbly submit and as obedient children following Him through whatever dark valleys He may lead us though this life for His grace will be sufficient through every trial and bereavement; and so in our quiet moments we even felt thankful to God that as parents our lives were spared not only, but also the lives of three of our children. One young daughter Christina who was then five years of age and also suffered of that serious disease, but with her the poison in her system had passed down into her legs causing bad boils, which as the doctor said saved her; and Mary and our infant child Christian were both happily spared from the attack of that sickness.
About a year thereafter our store partnership with D. Wiersma expired, and we dissolved. Then I bought out Hermanus Koning who had a store nearer to our house and there I started in with the same business alone, and moved our dwelling house to that store building, and carried on the business with success. Then on election day on April 1869 the people of our township promoted me from Township Clerk, which office I had held for thirteen years to Supervisor to succeed J.G. Van Hees, who had held that office for a number of years; consequently now the responsibility of the store business with its buying and selling produce as butter and eggs and teaming it to Grand Rapids through all kinds of bad roads, and in connection with the store also with care of the post office of Vriesland and the often busy Notary work beside now the responsible position of Supervisor made it over busy for me so that often I had to employ help, especially for teaming the produce to Grand Rapids and taking back a load of groceries to replenish my stock of goods; such a trip took fully two days, and usually once every week. But I was healthy and in the strongest time of my age and so was my dear wife. We always were very busy and enjoyed life together, though grief often still filled our hearts on account of the loss of our dear children, but after a little while another little girl arrived again, namely on March 20, 1870, whom we named Cornelia Johanna after the oldest of our children that had left us. Then in the fall of 1871 the railroad from Grand Rapids to Holland was being built and speculation began to spring up. Mr. H. Keppel of Zeeland had in mind to build a gristmill at that place and persuaded Mr. Wopke Van Haitsma to go in with him and they two came to me and wanted me as their partner which after due consideration I consented to do if I could dispose of my property in Vriesland, for which very soon as opportunity came. I sold out the whole to Mr. Henry Bosch who had in October fled from neighboring place Holland for the fire which had destroyed the greater part of that place, so we moved back to Zeeland in November 1871 after we had lived in Vriesland for fifteen years. We had by that time realized about $5,000.00. We were both of us saving and the Lord had blessed our endeavors. We never spent our hard earned savings in extravagance. My dear wife was without a hired girl until 1869 when I began the store for myself. And for me those trips to Grand Rapids with produce through all kinds of weather and very bad roads taking two long days will ever be remembered as that made us willing to go to Zeeland and Zeeland was not a strange place to us, yet it took quite a while again to acquire the number of intimate friends we had left behind in Vriesland. We there joined the Reformed Church again by letter from Vriesland and in May 1872 I was appointed Superintendent of the School which was then organized which office I held until 1901 when I resigned on account of age and ill health.
We formed a copartnership under the name of Keppel, Haitsma and Herder. We built a mill of little over $20,000.00. The managing part of buying and selling outside and bookkeeping was entrusted to me; each of us three however were inexperienced in that business, and as usual the acquisition of that experience was not without discouragement and sometimes severe loss, so that Van Hiatsma soon gave up and sold out his interest therein to Keppel and myself. Then we took in as our partner Mr. P. Vanden Bosch an experienced miller for grinding, otherwise not a businessman. On account of my overcrowded work I had to resign for my office as Supervisor.
In the fall of 1872 we bought the house and lot which we still occupy. On September 1, 1873 our youngest son George J. was born and on that day I was elected one of the five Trustees of our Zeeland School District, and chosen Director in which capacity I served off and on for several years until I declined reelection.
The third decade of my life having ended, the fourth thereof began in a very serious way, namely, that the people of our church elected me on January 1, 1874 for one of their elders. I was then about forty years of age. Certainly our good Zeeland people thought more of my fitness for that great task than I did. All the other elders were able and pious men of from 15 to 25 years older than I was. On Sundays sitting among those aged men and fathers I felt out of place; and although my ambition and intentions were well enough, yet I felt so insignificant for that great and responsible position and my very crowding business at the mill as salesman which required such traveling, and as bookkeeper and cashier, made it impossible for me to give it the needed attention so that after two years service a successor elder was elected.
In the latter part of 1874 I suffered a quite severe attack of pneumonia which left my lungs in a weak condition, yet through the grace of God my life was also spared this time. Also in 1874 soon after our settling again at Zeeland I noticed the careless and dilapidated condition of the cemetery and its approaches. On seeing some of the leading people here they requested me to organize a Corporation in which I succeeded. We bought additional grounds, laid out the same and proceeded with success and in which committee I have constantly served as secretary as I do yet.
In the spring of 1875 the Board of Supervisors elected me as one of the Commissioners of the Poor for Ottawa County, in which capacity I served only about six months and resigned for want of time and other reasons.
In the summer of 1876 my name was at the Republican State Convention placed for one of the eleven electors of the State to cast the vote for President and Vice President of the United States, to which office I was in November duly elected, and in December at the meeting of the Electoral College at Lansing cast my vote for Hayes and Wheeler. The political strife between the two main parties was very hot and as a whole evenly divided. The result of the November election had shown that at the very best figuring just 185 Republican and 184 Democratic electors had been chosen in all the states; some states even doubtful as to the number of 185 Republicans. And therefore the electoral colleges of the different states were very closely watched. If only a single one of the 185 votes out of all the Republican States had played the traitor by casting his vote for the Democratic nominees the whole country would have come in conflict as in the Civil War. But each had every one of the Electors proved faithful to his trust and party. That, however, was not the end of my connection with this presidential election. Complaints were made by Democrats against a few of those elected as being unqualified to vote for those high offices. Change was preferred against me too by eager Democrats also. The County records were looked up to see whether I had been naturalized. As it happened the Democratic committee could find no trace of my naturalization papers. In the month of February 1877 I was subpoened to Washington to appear before the Congressional investigating Committee to prove my Citizenship if I could. Political feeling at session of Congress ran high and wild. The Democratic side of that committee was very anxious to get at me. I went alone to Washington with my papers, calm and anxious to get there, for I knew I was all right. After a day and night’s journey I arrived, went to the hotel where U.S. Senator Thomas W. Ferry was staying. He was then acting Vice President of the U.S. as Speaker of the Senate, the Vice President having died. His brother E.P. Ferry was also staying at Washington. He had been looking for me and soon found me and led me to see his brother, both of whom I knew personally as both were from Grand Haven. The Senator ( or Acting Vice President) was anxious to see my papers, which I showed to him, and found them perfect of course, but he said those papers were not safe in my pockets while at Washington and requested me to leave them with him in his safe until the time that I should be called up to appear before the investigating committee of Congress, which I gladly did. Soon after my accusers, anxious Democrats, called on me too and wanted to see what papers I had, if any, but I had none to show them. My instructions by Senator Ferry were to keep entirely mum about my papers , He furnished me day after day admittance tickets to the Senate room and to Congress on the floor and for the galleries. During the week or ten days that I had to wait I had ample opportunity to see everything of interest in Washington. The Congressman of our District, Mr. Waterman, also introduced me to President Grant at the White House who gave me a hearty handshake. I felt small of course, but the kindness and openness of both the President and our good Congressman made me feel easy for making the proper answers to their inquiries. Senator Ferry introduced me also to the Secretary of State, the Hon. Mr. Chandler. He was a very pleasant and talkative man. The brother of Senator Ferry showed me around the City with a fine rig, so that my stay at Washington was not at all tedious. At two different days they had left in my bedroom very beautiful bouquets. Soon my time came to appear before the large and august investigating Committee. Senator (Vice President) Ferry went with me into the room and introduced me so that there was no question about my identity. Several questions were asked as to my election to the office of Presidential Elector from the State of Michigan. Soon the leading question came whether I was a Citizen of the United States which I replied to in the affirmative. Then came the question where I was born and how long I had been in the United States and whether my father was a citizen. I gave them the proper information and told them that my father had taken his full papers before I was eighteen years old. Then I produced my father’s papers of citizenship. They then, that is the Democrats, began to call in question of my age in regard to my father’s papers. Some even wanted to have my aged father subpoened to appear. I told them that I thought I could convince them that was not necessary. “Well do it, if you can” was the short reply of one. I said “all right”. Then I showed them my own full papers which I had taken out as soon as I was 21 years of age, with the special purpose in mind that I might need it in the future. The president of the Committee took it and examined it, passed it over to the other side. Then all at once the Republican side began to cheer and on the other side were long faces. Then my testimony and evidence was at once accepted as sufficient. But the next day the opposite party had track of another flaw in my authority to act as Elector. They claimed that I was still Postmaster ( which I had been at Vriesland for a few years before coming to Zeeland) and a Postmaster is a U.S. in a U.S. office and no U.S. Officer could be an Elector. It was a surprise for me, for I had fully settled with the 3rd Ast. P.M. General before leaving Vriesland, but I had no evidence. But Senator Ferry said we will go to the P.O. Department and trace your settlement which we did, and the Postmaster General was subpoened to produce papers in evidence that I was no longer Postmaster and had not been for the last two years. Consequently my vote for Hayes and Wheeler could not be set aside at all, but was declared legal and I was at liberty to return home at any time I wished to do so. I stayed, however, until the other doubtful votes of other states had all been disposed of and Hayes and Wheeler declared elected President and Vice President of the United States.
While at Washington in that terrible political storm, there appeared still a quite refreshing incident for me. It was edifying and unexpected for me to see every morning that Political Congress and Senate opened with prayer, but more so when Senator Ferry invited me to attend church ( Presbyterian) with him the Sunday forenoon while I was there and to notice that it was communion day not only, but that a number of nine young people were confirmed at their confession and the solemn manner and the very appropriate service by the minister made me feel at home and to especially think of home, how they were just at that very day and hour rejoicing in the same services not only, but rejoicing that a number of about forty had confessed their faith in their Lord and Saviour. That made me long for home with a strong desire notwithstanding I felt that even there my heart was overflowing with joy and thankfulness to God, so that I could from a full heart join in singing “ Praise the Lord, O my Soul”. If ever, it was then and there that I became fully convinced that the Lord is not bound to any special place of denomination .
To come in personal contact with such incidents, creates in a person who is not too bigoted, a wider and more charitable idea and feeling to our fellow Christians that may differ from us in some respects. Then we notice that his Church is One, whenever Jesus Christ is preached as the atoning Saviour for poor sinners. I then went home rejoicing; fully pleased and satisfied with the results of what I had seen and heard and participated in, both in a political and religious way. That was the very best paying political office I ever had, not from financial point of view but otherwise; and I still thank God for that experience.
In October of 1876 I had also the enjoyment of attending the American Exhibition at Philadelphia. I stayed there ten days, and having never before visited any great exhibition I found the whole amazingly grand. A couple Hollanders of Grand Rapids, namely Kotvis and Witman were my companions. On Sundays the exposition was closed. And even there also among the great excitement of the many thousands a time and place of sacred rest could easily be found especially on Sundays. One of the never to be forgotten sermons was preached in the large auditorium of the hotel where we boarded. From that city we returned home via Longbranch, N.Y. and enjoyed the ocean breeze for a day, then took in some of the sights in N.Y. City and from there we went straight home.
In the spring of 1878 I quit the milling business.
The partnership with Mr. Keppel was mutually dissolved. I had realized
in that business about $3,000.00 but noticed that heavy repairs were necessary
in order to keep up with the times, to which my partner could not agree
and hence the dissolution, and I was very glad indeed to get rid of it
as well, for I felt and noticed that in traveling for the purpose of getting
orders and especially for collection of moneys in the neighboring cities
and villages I was in great danger of getting robbed and getting hurt in
such attacks. Only once, however was an attempt made, namely at a place
called Whitehall. While stopping at the hotel
someone entered quietly my bedroom when I slept. I suddenly awoke however so that nothing was taken, except what change I had in my vest pocket, the rest I had hidden. How the person got into my room I know not. But afterwards I felt more afraid than I did before. But the Lord into whose hands I entrusted myself kept me from the evil one.
After being out of that business I took a vacation of a few months and then decided that an office as conveyancer and private banker should be started. In the former I was quite well posted having been in it ever since I became of age, but Banking was entirely new to me, but I started it in December 1878 at a small scale by selling exchange on Grand Rapids and on New York, taking in some deposits and doing a general collection business, enough for the place at that time. My income was for the first few years rather limited, but kept constantly increasing, and during all the years that I was at banking I have not had a single instance that depositors called in vain for their money.
On June 4, 1879 my dearly beloved brother Marinus died aged 55 years after having very efficiently served the church of Vriesland for about 25 years as elder and leaving a widow with ten children and with means for their support.
On November 25, 1880 I was again elected to the office of Elder of our First Reformed Church of Zeeland, to which office I was every other year constantly reelected and in which capacity I am still serving; then I was the youngest of the elders and now the oldest in office (now 1907).
The year following, that is 1881, was a very unfortunate year for our church of Zeeland. An epidemic of Anti freemasonry agitation struck all the Holland churches here in the West. Those that had formerly seceded from our churches beside those recently coming in from the old country and a few leaders in our own churches started the excitement with the lamentable result that the churches, also at Zeeland became entangled in a desperate local strife, not on account of the masons in our churches here in the West, but as was reported for those prominent church members in the East that belonged to secret orders, with the unhappy deplorable result that of our church here at Zeeland just about one third seceded, several of whom have since returned to their fold among us. But although I never belonged to an oathbound secret society and was not at all in sympathy with them, yet I did not feel at liberty to leave our church denomination for an evil which to my knowledge did not interfere either with our religious or political liberty or rights.
My aged father who for sometime had lived with my sister Neeltje died on the 7th day of May 1883 aged 87 years and 3 months. For several years of the latter part of his life he had become a confirmed Christian and as such he died in peace, leaving us four of his children, Jan, Jannetje, Neeltje and myself to mourn his demise.
Now as to my financial concerns: -- From that time on, that is from 1883, several attempts have been made to rob me of moneys as Banker. First, in the latter part of the year 1883 in the night time burglars broke into my banking office which I had upstairs in my frame store building. They drilled a hole through the top of the safe, dropped in powder which was exploded by a fuse, but the bolts of the two front doors yielded just enough it appears to escape or to let out the exploding powder without throwing open the doors. Whether it was repeated oftener than once I do now know, as nobody had heard the explosion, but in the morning the evidences were all there. The doors of the stairway were broken open, the safe drilled and still smoking inside and fuses on the floor. It appears they were not experts and had to leave disappointed. My safe however was spoiled so I bought a much larger one and what I supposed to be burglar proof. It taught me however how dangerous my position was in storing moneys, causing often a nervous uncertain feeling and also my dependence on the protecting hand of God. Sometime thereafter I noticed that Bankers in Iowa, where such robberies occurred oftener, had formed a mutual insurance company against such losses, with which I joined for my customers’ protection as well as for my own.
Then also in February 1882 I was deliberately cheated out of a sum of $1,000.00 by a stranger whose name was James Dougherty; through some forged notes, having names of several prominent responsible farmers of Vrieslad signed to the notes. I knew that he had been canvassing with some merchandise in that neighborhood. I also knew quite well the signatures of several of those farmers, so that upon examining the signatures to those notes I could have no suspicion. The manner in which the scoundrel had obtained the signature of those different farmers was by getting orders from them for a quantity of groceries which he had offered to them at a very low price and to paid by them only on delivery , each had signed his respective list for bill of groceries, which I did not know at that time, so took the notes for those signatures had been so exactly imitated that the farmers were themselves surprised to see their hand so exactly forged to those several notes. He came with the notes at the opening of the Bank in the morning. I carefully examined the notes, figured them up and found them to be about $1100.00. We agreed on a discount of 10% so that I paid him about $1,000.00 in cash. Without counting it himself he hastily pocketed it and went out to take the two horse cutter that stood waiting for him in front of my Bank and drove away Eastward. His hurry made me feel a little uneasy. After an hours time one of the Vriesland signers to the notes happened to call on me. I led the conversation very soon to the peddler and the notes and then forthwith I noticed that I had been deliberately cheated out of that amount of money, which of course made me feel indescribably miserable. I forthwith made complaints against him, but he had skipped. A constable was sent to arrest him, but the fellow was at least two hours ahead and with a smart team. In the afternoon the constable returned without his man. In the meantime dispatches had been sent by me to the sheriff of Ottawa County and others. He forthwith made earnest work of it to trace him. After a couple days detectives of Detroit had traced him unto Canada, where he was arrested, and imprisoned and where I with a couple of the men whose names had been forged had to appear before the court against him. He was there convicted, but appeal to higher court in Canada. It took several months before he was extradited from Canada into the U.S.. He was then placed in jail at Grand Haven awaiting his trial, where he was on jury trial found guilty and sentenced to eight years imprisonment at Jackson, after he had lingered in jail in Canada and at Grand Haven for already about a year in all, and after six years at Jackson he was released having through good behavior shortened his time there. A few months later I received a letter from an Attorney of Chicago asking whether I as inclined to settle that forgery matter with Daougherty. The cause of this was that I had only produced three of the notes in court for evidence and held the others back. He well knew that at any time he was liable to arrest for the others. He offered to settle by refunding me 25% of my money which I refused, informing him that only on payment of 50% thereof would I settle. After a while his attorney proposed to split the difference, which I refused to do, stating that only on payment of 50% would I consent, to which after a while he agreed. All the forged notes I held were then expressed to a prominent Chicago Bank to deliver them to his attorney on payment of the 50% and after that the Bank cancelled them as worthless, which was complied with, and I obtained about $500.00 back of my lost money of which I had never expected to see a cent anymore. One hundred dollars thereof I contributed right away to benevolent purposes.
In the night of October 11, 1898 expert burglars entered my bank again, first blew open the vault door and afterwards by Nitro glycerin or Agnomite exploded my big safe and burglar chest, which contained about $4,000.00. They were not detected, and no trace was found of them. Happily I was fully insured against such loss, but nevertheless it gave a severe shock to my nervous system. As can be imagined the depositors felt very much excited not knowing of my insurance, but as soon as they discovered my and their safety in that respect, it resulted in a greater confidence than ever before, but it made me feel all the same very uneasy for the future. I then bought a Mosler screw door safe which was considered the safest of any kind, costing about $1100.00, which with its contents I kept insured again, so that I had no financial loss by the robbery to fear as I thought.
Just about two years later in the night of October 3, 1900 burglars again entered the bank, smashed the vault door and made a desperate attempt at that screw door safe. They succeeded in blowing off a few plates of the screw door, but had to give up in despair. Explosions had been heard by a few, but out of fear no one dared to disturb them and so the robbers had to leave without spoil. The safe, however, was so much damaged that I had to get a new one, which the Insurance Company paid for, as well as for all the other damage done to vault, etc.. The contents of the safe were obtained by sending for an expert of the Safe Company, who got out the rest of the screw door after a while. And although I knew that I had no loss to sustain by it, yet the thought of how my honest business was a target for those low and desperate characters hurt me and had its influence on my nervous system.
Having mentioned the different robberies and attempts to rob, I return to other matters.
In the year 1886 my health became poor and yet I was from all sides crowded with business, which I could not well delegate to others, so I concluded to give up some of my work, namely, that of Township Clerk, Director of our public school and that of fire insurance agent. But in the year 1889 I was again wanted to step in a strange harness. A county convention was held at Grand Haven for the purpose of electing candidates for County officers, etc.. I was not present at that convention but late in the afternoon I was called up by phone by leaders of the convention asking me to become candidate for the office of State Senator. That was wholly unexpected so that at first I declined, but they urged me to accept, which I did at last, and the result was that in November of that year I was elected to that honorable office, so very strange to me, however.
On the first of January, 1890 I left for Lansing
and served during the session of that year so that about for six months
I was most of the time away from home and my work. I entrusted my
banking business to my son-in-law A. LaHuis; however, came home every Saturday
until Monday. Although the office of State Senator was an honorable
position yet I lost more money than I gained by it, but it was good schooling
for me again and often I enjoyed it. The following term I was again
a candidate but was with many others
snowed under by the Democratic landslide. This ended my political career for good, as to aspiring for any office whatever.
Then while carrying on in connection with my banking business, which I ever continued, also mercantile business with my son-in-law A. LaHuis as partner in a new brick building which we had put up about the year 1887, another adversity was my lot. It was in the night of October 3rd that the fire bell sounded giving the alarm that there was a fire, and which happened to be our new store, full or dry goods, groceries and produce. The fire had taken such a start and our water system at that time so very defective could not extinguish it, and although the building and stock was well insured, yet not at all of its full value. The result was that we suffered quite a loss by it, and although I forthwith rebuilt again I had not the courage to enter into the store business again but rented the building to my son-in-law A. LaHuis who still occupies it. We have never been able to find out the cause of the fire. It may have been incendiary but it may also have been caused by defective wiring, having just then put in a burglar alarm by connecting electric wires with the house of A. LaHuis. It was another drawback to me under the providence of God. No matter what the cause may have been, I looked upon it again as the hand of God that called me to trust in Him only.
At the time of rebuilding the new store I also built along the east side a brick building for my banking business which constantly increased and in which I employed my son Christian J. as my helper and all went well for a while again. Nevertheless the old gristmill stood as a constant menace just across the street, either to go up in fire and endangering our position or by its old boiler exploding which might happen at any time and which laid with its front just facing my bank building so that we felt ourselves more or less constantly in danger, and our fear was not without reason, but we got somewhat used to it. On August 26, 1896 however the often looked for accident happened. It was about 10 o’clock A.M. and I had just left the bank for home where my son George was working while my son Chris was at the bank and as it happened he saw his son Jay on the street and called him into the bank to order him to do something; both stood inside with the door closed, Chris standing near the door against the partition wall and Jay resting his back against the inside of the iron pillar in front of the buildings, when all of a sudden there came a fearful crash and clap which by its conclusion threw Jay down and nearly Chris too, but all was over when they realized what had happened and both were, thank God, safe and unhurt. The boiler had burst and was shot across the street into the furniture store of Van Hees just adjoining the bank building on the East side, but a heavy beam of 10 x 10 and 12 feet long was shot through the front plate glass into the banking office, smashing the railing and cracking the heavy iron pillar on which the front rested and against which Jay was leaning, besides several sticks of cordwood from the fire room of the mill were thrown into the Bank all in a moment of time. All Zeeland was astir, and astonished. I heard the clap while at home and forthwith understood its meaning. George and I ran across lots as fast as we could, but while approaching Main St. I collapsed. In my imagination I saw my dear son Christian crushed to death by that fearful boiler. We came to the street by way of the house of J. Hieftje and by the sudden anxious look toward the Bank I saw the boiler nearly entirely in what I supposed to be the Bank building, that shock to my frail system I will never forget. I laid down crying until George cried out “Pa, there is Chris, in front of the Bank”. That revived me, and then the joy of embracing my dear son which I had counted among the dead not only, but crushed and mutilated, and there he was sound and well and there was his dear son Jay which was in the same danger, and also unhurt.
The Lord had saved and protected them and covered them as with His almighty hand, to what purpose? The whole affair of that explosion was next to miraculous, for I had left the Bank only a few minutes previous to it. Chris could have chosen no safer place if he had known that the accident were going to happen, so did his little boy Jay, and our little Grandchild May LaHuis had just passed the street in front of the engine room and was still so near at the time that her face and clothing was covered with dirt and dust of the explosion. The engineer who was in the boiler room at the time, which room was entirely demolished, was not fatally hurt though for quite a while unconscious and in critical condition , and no member of his body was either broken nor badly cut. And no one of those that were in the mill at that time were hurt; and although many during that hour of the day constantly passing in front of the mill on the street, yet no one was hurt there at that very moment. Many might have been killed or annihilated, but God in his good providence prevented it and saved us from sorrow and mourning.
I began to feel however that through all these
different penetrating circumstances my nervous system began to suffer in
connection with my climbing years and not overstrong constitution, having
been repeatedly troubled with lumbago, two times with attacks of pneumonia,
two times with Lagripp and up to my 50th year often troubled with severe
headaches and in addition hereto being constantly overcrowded with responsible
work both in temporal and religious matters, so that I concluded to give
up also the responsibility of running my bank alone by changing it into
a State Bank under a Board of Directors, with my son Chris as its Cashier
which was started on January 1, 1900. On October 10 of that year
my sister Jannetje died aged 74 years.
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