Iowa Letters: Dutch Immigrants on the American Frontier
Robert P. Swierenga, editor
Walter Lagerwey, translator
Revised translation of Amsterdamse Emigranten: onbekende brieven uit de prairie van Iowa, 1846-1873. Edited by Johan Stellingwerff. Published by Buijten & Schipperheijn, 1975. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It is True
'Tis true, there is
Amsterdam map 1860
The Dutch American Historical Commission (DAHC), in cooperation with the Commission on History of the Reformed Church in America and the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, is pleased to provide this expanded English-language edition of Johan Stellingwerff's Amsterdamse Emigranten: onbekende brieven uit de prairie van Iowa, 1846-1873, published in 1976 by the firm of Buijten & Schipperheijn of Amsterdam. This English edition takes its place in the venerable Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, under the editorship of the Reverend Dr. Donald J. Bruggink, and with the Eerdmans Company imprint.
The DAHC is a consortium of four West Michigan institutions: Hope, Western Theological Seminary, Calvin College, and Calvin Theological Seminary. The purpose of the commission is to encourage, coordinate, and support the publication of crucial historical works concerning Dutch immigration to America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Early in 1999 the commission undertook its most ambitious project yetthe translation and publication of Stellingwerff's massive tome of nearly four hundred pages, together with some sixty illustrations and photographs that enhanced the text. Dr. Walter Lagerwey, professor emeritus of Dutch Language, Literature, and Culture at Calvin College, willingly undertook the task of translating the text, with the assistance of Stellingwerff himself, who cooperated fully in every aspect of the project. Lagerwey's skill at capturing the meaning of the text, even when the words are archaic or obscure, is a tribute to his mastery of both his native and adopted languages. Christina Van Regenmorter, a Hope College English major, assisted in editing the text; her care for detail made this a better book. Finishing editorial touches were from the able hand of Laurie Baron. Jan Niemeijer provided timely advice concerning publication rights, which made this book possible.
The original edition of 1976 contained 110 letters penned during the first twenty-five years of the Pella emigration, 1846-1873. The 88 Wormser family letters are in the Hoveker-Wormser Collection at the Historical Documentation Center for Dutch Protestantism, Vrijeuniversiteit [Free University] Library, Amsterdam. The 22 Hospers family letters are in the Archives of Central College in Pella. After this project was well underway, I learned of two additional caches of letters. One is 62 letters from the Wormser family in Amsterdam to the Diedrich and Christina Budde family in Burlington Iowa (labeled the "Budde letters") in the possession of Dr. Jan Peter Verhave, professor of parasitic diseases in the Catholic University of Nijmegen. These Budde letters, which are expected to be added to the Hoveker-Wormser Collection, are responses to the letters Wormser sent from Amsterdam to his coreligionists in Iowa.
Dr. Verhave graciously donated an exact copy of the Budde letters, and, after a careful review and evaluation, it was decided to have Professor Lagerwey translate them and include them in this English edition. The sixty-two Budde family letters are interspersed in chronological order among the eighty-eight Wormser family letters. Professor Verhave published a history on the Wormser family of Amsterdam, entitled Afgescheiden en wedergekeerd: het leven van J.A. Wormser en zijn gezin [Secession and Return: The Life of J.A. Wormser and his Family], (Heerenveen: Uitgeverij Groen, 2000), which complements the Iowa story told here.
The second set is forty-four letters, largely from the pen of Jan and Hendrika Hospers in the Netherlands to their son Hendrik in Pella, 1847-1849, which are in the Henry Hospers Papers in the Northwestern College Library in Orange City, Iowa. Nico Plomp of the National Bureau for Genealogy in The Hague called our attention to this rich collection, which include replies from his parents to the letters Hendrik sent to the homeland from Pella. Dr. Daniel Daily, director of the Northwestern College Library, graciously provided copies of the collection. Unfortunately, original manuscripts can be found for only five of the additional manuscripts, all of which as late as 1930s were in the possession of Mr. A.P. Kuyper of Pella. Walter Lagerwey translated the five letters. For the remaining thirty-nine letters, I used a typed translation by the Reverend Gerrit Hendrik Hospers (1864-1949), a son of Hendrik Hospers, who was fluent in the language and familiar with family lore. These letters are indicated by an asterisk, e.g., Hospers 1*. Comments that Gerrit Hospers occasionally interspersed in the text are included in brackets, followed by his name. Again, for readers of the 1976 Dutch edition, the numbers assigned to the twenty-two Hospers letters are here indicated in brackets. Stellingwerff copied these letters at the Central College Archives while on a research trip to North America in 1974.
Crucial financial support for this book was provided by the Peter H. and E. Lucille Gaass Kuyper Foundation of Pella, Iowa, directed by Mary Van Zante. The foundation's $10,000 matching grant was augmented by contributions from Ralph and Elaine Jaarsma of Jaarsma Bakery in Pella, and from Hope College and Calvin College.
The commission chose to republish Amsterdam Emigrants because it is one of the most important primary works dealing with the origins of the emigration of Christian Seceders from the Netherlands to the American midwestern colonies. Documents relating to Pella's history have been slighted unduly in the published works on Dutch immigration. Because of the language barrier, these important immigrant letters remained inaccessible to their descendants. Now they and all future generations can read the story of the founding and settlement of Pella in the very words of the pioneers themselves.
The foreword by H.A. Howeler and Stellingwerff's preface explain the origins of the letters. All were penned by prominent members of the Christian Seceded Church, largely from Amsterdam, some of whom immigrated to Iowa in 1846-1849. The Seceders had left the national Hervormde Kerk beginning in 1834, in hopes of founding a purer church that warmed the hearts of believers as well as stimulated their minds. The national church, state-managed and influenced by the "new thought" of the French Enlightenment, attempted to quash the secession by force. But the effort failed, at great cost to the national social fabric, and Seceders streamed to America by the thousands for religious freedom and economic betterment.
Hoveker's great grandfather was a bookseller in Amsterdam who in 1837 became the publisher of Hendrik P. Scholte's religious journal, De Reformatie [The Reformation], the magazine of the Christian Seceded Church in the Netherlands. Johan Adam Wormser, a legal functionary, was an intimate friend of the Christian political leader Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, the intellectual Jewish convert Isaac Da Costa, and many Seceder ministers. Wormser used his base in Amsterdam to help the immigrants in Iowa establish themselves. On request, he sent goods for the home and farm that were scarce and expensive in frontier Iowa.
The Hoveker-Wormser Collection also includes several letters each from the primary immigrant leaders, H.P. Scholte and A.C. Van Raalte. Stellingwerff is a great grandson of Hoveker and Wormser, and he inherited all these America letters and gave them to the Free University Library, of which he was then the director. By merging these documents from both sides of the Atlantic, Stellingwerff provides, as it were, a two-way international conversation about the founding of Pella.
letters give both American and Netherlandic perspectives on the key issue in
the minds of the immigrants themselves and of their relatives in Holland, that is, was
immigration a wise decision or a major mistake. In the early days this was an open question. The Buddes, for example, were positive about
their decision to settle in
Wormser and family, however, had such a sour experience two of their children
died from scarlet fever within a month that the family returned to
Despite his pessimistic outlook, Andries Wormser was a perceptive observer of frontier Iowa. He gave detailed descriptions of early farm implements, crops, livestock, and buildings. He was a realist, little given to the spiritual reflection and pietism that characterized most Seceders. While things "make a deep impression on you initially, it wears off and starts boring you," he lamented. When difficulties befell the immigrants, Andries blamed the dominies, especially Van Raalte and Scholte, for leading them out of a homeland "where everything is well ordered and beautiful and come here to a wasteland" (Wormser Letter 30).
The carping letters of Andries Wormser and Jan Berkhout are quite remarkable because they are so unusual. Indeed, I know of few other immigrant letter collections that convey such a negative tone as theirs. Herbert Brinks had no such letters in his book, Dutch American Voices. Yet, their unhappy experience was very typical; only Wormser's decision to remigrate was atypical. The best estimates are that fewer than 5 percent of Dutch immigrants remigrated in the nineteenth century. Most could not afford to return, even if they desperately wanted to do so.
In sharp contrast are the optimistic letters of Jan (John) and son Hendrik (Henry) Hospers, and the travel diary kept by Jan Hospers. They are upbeat and positive, reflecting the same pionnering spirit as the Buddes, in sharp contrast to Andries Wormser's missives. Henry Hospers came to Pella in the first wave in 1847, and John Hospers arrived two years later, coming on the same ship as A.E. Dudok Bosquet, A.C. Kuyper, and Jacob Maasdam. Both father and son became leaders in the Pella church and community. Henry opened a real estate office and practiced law. In 1861 the father and son, with eight others, purchased Scholte's defunct Pella Gazette and launched the Dutch language newspaper, Pella's Weekblad. Henry served as mayor of Pella from 1867 to 1871 and then became the leader of Pella's daughter colony in Sioux County. The town of Hospers testifies to his business acumen as a real estate promoter and politician.
second half of Stellingwerff's book contains a long series of letters exchanged
between Diedrich and Christina Budde in
Budde letters tell of ordinary day-to-day life in the nineteenth century and
the struggles against physical deterioration, contagious diseases, and the
death of children. Christina's letters provide a woman's view of life as an
immigrant in early
If the Buddes were typical pietists, so were the Wormsers and almost all of the correspondents in this book. A deep and abiding faith in God's providence was a hallmark of the Seceders of 1834. Whatever the trial and loss, they saw it as a sign of God's benevolent care, even when they could not understand his purposes. The letters are replete with expressions of simple trust that modern readers will find quite astonishing. Yet, this was the idiom of religious expression among the Dutch Reformed Seceders.
book reveals the central role of the Amsterdam Seceders in nurturing the new
denomination, and it sheds much light on the interrelationships among the
Seceder leaders in the
the Wormser, Budde, and Scholte families were originally all Lutherans from
But Scholte, Wormser, and Hoveker were too independent minded to stay with the new Seceded denomination. Within a short time Scholte was deposed, and Wormser and Hoveker became independents, worshiping in house churches apart from any denominational structure. Clearly, these thrice seceders took their religious life seriously. In the 1860s, however, Wormser and Hoveker tired of the internecine squabbles among the seceders and returned to the Hervormde Kerk.
The six Scholte
letters and two Van Raalte letters published by Stellingwerff are very
important sources. Scholte's letter of
May 1847, written from
August 1848 letter describes the formation of the government in
Raalte's brief letter of January 1848 from
"When I look back on this past year, then I feel a sense of gratitude in my soul.... God has heard my cries.... He has helped and planted an entire people thus far for three years. I feared that I would go to the grave having accomplished nothing at all, and now I stand amazed that God has granted me my wish with such a strong arm" (Wormser Letter 10).
Raalte's lengthy letter of March 1864 to the Reverend Johannes H. Donner in the
Raalte's assessment of Scholte's situation in
colonists also criticized the lavish home Scholte built on the square in
rumors that circulated in the
papers left by the Amsterdam process server and publicist Johan Adam Wormser
(1807-1862) include at least sixty letters that were addressed to him and
others in his immediate circle by Amsterdam Secessionists who had emigrated in
1846 or later, principally to Burlington and Pella in the state of Iowa. After
Wormser's death on November 1, 1862, his widow, Janke van der Ven (1810-1871),
maintained contact with the emigrants until her death. Her oldest daughter, Jansje, also
participated in the correspondence. She was a friend of several emigrant
children, including Sara Scholte, daughter of the Rev. H. P. Scholte, whose
letter of December 29, 1873, concludes the collection (Wormser Letter 88). To my knowledge, none of the letters of Johan
and Janke Wormser to
The death of Wormser was the loss of an energetic and gifted kindred spirit to the Secessionists, one who was known for his journalistic contributions in the defense of their principles and their rights. He was also highly regarded in the Riveil circles. Isaac Da Costa admired him for his intellect and character. For years Wormser had been a close friend and militant partner of [Guilluame] Groen van Prinsterer, who even called him his privy councilor. As his son informs us later in a publication, Wormser suffered terribly from chronic gout, beginning about 1840; especially his left hand and right foot were seriously affected by the painful malady. Having to stay in bed for weeks at a time, he would do his daily writing on a board with a pencil, until the fever returned again. A Bible always lay close at hand.
If Wormser occasionally might have
considered joining the
became the confidant of a number of
is likely that some letters that Wormser received from
Through the estate of my mother I came into possession of the letter collection of Hoveker and of Wormser Sr., my two great grandfathers, plus what my grandfather Wormser Jr. had added. I have designated this collection as the Hoveker-Wormser Archive, and under that name I have made it available as a permanent loan to the Free University of Amsterdam. The archive consists of about thirteen hundred letters and other documents.
I have a lovely painted portrait of my grandmother, Catharina Johanna Hoveker, which portrays her as a young girl in a light blue dress. She was a small woman with a vigorous spirit and a strong will. The maker of the painting is unknown to me. The same is true for the painting, of which a photograph is included in this book. It [The painting] was made on the occasion of the silver wedding anniversary of J. A. Wormser Sr. and Janke van der Ven, May 7, 1859. Experts who have restored and cleaned the painting have ascertained that it is not signed or identified in any way. They gave several reasons why they considered it to be a good painting; both the plan and its execution attest to the skill of the painter. He has grouped the silver wedding couple, the four daughters and the son and heir, with the little dog, about a round table upon which lies an opened Bible that is the focal point of the action. Wormser Sr. is reading and apparently reflecting with his family about a passage from the Old Testament and is questioning his then thirteen-year-old son. The little dog also shows its interest, which is one of the humorous features of the painting.
As far as I have been able to determine, the portraits of the family members are excellent. Two of them I met often and knew very well, largely through frequent stays with them in my later adolescent years. They are the oldest daughter, Jansje, who is sitting to the right of her father, and Wormser Jr., the basis for whose later solid grounding in the Bible was laid early on by his father, as is evident in the portrait. When I owned rabbits in my younger years and a pair of rabbits had been born, I asked my grandfather, who was staying with us, to give nice names to the pair. He reflected a moment and then said: "Just name them Muppin and Huppin after two sons of Benjamin." The sons of Benjamin are listed in Numbers 26:38ff. In the Dutch Statenbijbel [the Dutch equivalent of the King James Bible, translated between 1619 and 1637], they are Bela, Asbel, Ahiram, Sephupharn, Hupham. The name Huppin may be a playful derivative from Hupham. The Dutch word huppelen means to hop or skip. And so Huppin could be a nice name for a rabbit, with biblical antecedents even, and if you call one Huppin why not the other Muppin!
Jansje Wormser had a very attractive appearance; she was always meticulously dressed and, despite all the ironic sternness in her judgments of people and conditions, things about which she spoke in a very entertaining manner, she was friendly in her conduct. Her special attachment to her younger brother is captured movingly in her facial expression within the portrait. The accuracy of the artist in portraying his objects realistically may be evident from the following. In the painting Jansje holds her hands together in front of her on the table, the left hand with the index and middle fingers outstretched, the right hand partially visible. About fifty years later I often saw my aunt, Jans W|stendorff-Wormser, sitting in exactly the same position when we both lived in Velp and she was about eighty years old. At the time, a glasses case was never absent from her right hand, while she sat quietly at the table talking or listening, just as in the painting.
Dr. Stellingwerff has fulfilled a long-standing wish of mine by publishing in their entirety the "American" letters that are present in the Hoveker Wormser Archive. For this I am very much indebted to him, especially because it was his desire to continue and complete the work that I could no longer do because of an incurable muscle disease that rendered me an invalid.
After granting my request to assume responsibility
for the publication of the letters, Stellingwerff got to work with admirable
acumen and proficiency, following his own way in securing the necessary,
largely new collections from
I hope that the appearance of his
book will provide Dr. Stellingwerff lasting satisfaction and that many people
will listen to the Dutch voices coming from
Written in the Nursing Home of the Johannite Foundation Theodotion, Laren, Noord Holland, July 1973.
Letters consists of 150 letters written by Dutch immigrants about life on
the prairies of
The 150 letters, all originally
published in Amsterdamse Emigranten, provide a description of the emigrant
families of Diedrich Arnold Budde and Mrs. Christian Maria Budde-Stomp,
Johannes Berkhout and Mrs. G. Berkhout-Smit, Hendrik Hospers, and Andries
Nicholas Wormser and Mrs. Maria Wormser-Portengen. All, except twenty-one Hospers letters, were
sent to Johan Adam Wormser and Mrs. Janke Wormser-van der Ven and their
The men who took the initiative as
immigrant leaders were the Reverends Hendrik Pieter Scholte and Albertus
Christiaan Van Raalte, the founders, respectively, in 1847 of the
Scholte, however, is not the main
character in this book. Most of the
letters consist of correspondence between the Buddes, Berkhouts, and Andries
What struck me most in this
research was the fact that the emigrants came from a large city such as
This book is important for American
immigration history. The town of
The letter series are labeled in the
book according to the recipients.
That is, the "Wormser Letters" are the letters from
The letters are grouped by chapters, adhering to the chronological order wherever possible. Each chapter begins with a brief explanation of the historical context of that set (or subset) of letters. The letters in the Hospers collection are divided into two parts and interspersed among the letters in the Wormser collection, as are the letters in the Budde collection, retaining, as much as possible, the chronological sequence. Each of the letters in the respective Wormser, Hospers, and Budde collections are identified by sequential numbering. Letters were added from other publications or archives when that seemed desirable either for clarification or enrichment.
I visited the
In the last century the rules for punctuation and the use of capital letters were different from what they are now. Some correspondents, especially Mrs. C. M. Budde-Stomp, made scarcely any use of periods and commas. Sentences often run together in a stream of consciousness style. To make the letters more readable, periods and commas were inserted and capital letters added to introduce new sentences. The numerous capital letters within the text, many of which are lower case letters write large, are mostly changed to lower case.
[Johannes Stellingwerff was born in
His publications are in the areas of
philosophy and history. In 1959, he and
a number of students initiated the publication of the commemorative volume, Perspectief, for the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the Vereniging voor
Calvinistische Wijsbegeerte [Society for Calvinist Philosophy]. This was followed by the series, Christelijk Perspectief, of which he
edited twenty-six volumes. In 1999 he
published Inzicht in Virtual Reality: een
media-filosofie als reisgids voor het landschap van de geest. His latest book, Doeff van Deshima,
* C. Rijnsdorp, "Balkon op de wereld." [Balcony on the World], Christelijk Perspectief 21 (1973): 47-48.