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Iowa Letters: Dutch Immigrants on the American Frontier

Johan Stellingwerff

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

Editor's Preface
Foreword by H. A. Howeler
Chapter 1 Emigration: Background and Context
-- Immigrants Forewarned
-- Amsterdam Background
-- The Scholte Club
-- Scholte Followers in Amsterdam
-- The Wormser "Society"
-- Emigration
-- (Wormser Letters 1-16, Budde Letters 1-5)
Chapter 3 The Optimism of Jan and Hendrik Hospers (Hospers Letters 1-65)
Chapter 4 The Disappointment of Andries N. Wormser (Wormser Letters 17-37)
The Emigrants of 1849 (Hospers Letter 22, Wormser Letters 38-49, Budde Letters 6-7)
The In-Between Years, 1835-1861 (Wormser Letters 50-61, Budde Letters 8-25)
The Later Years, 1861-1873 (Wormser Letters 62-88, Budde Letters 26-61)
Chapter 8 In Memoriam: D. A. Budde, J. A. Wormser, and H. P. Scholte
Pella and Amsterdam
List of Letters
Stellingwerff Biography

It is True
C. Rijnsdorp

'Tis true, there is
poisonous hatred in the green hell of primitive forests,
absence of God in the mist banks of the sea,
blinding of eyes in icy snowstorms,
Wrath in avalanches thundering down the mountains.
But in midsummer,
above the endless, green prairies,
by the lightning of departing rain clouds,
there is renewal after the crushing storm,
grace recovered in millions of glimmerings upon the grasses.
And over the earth is displayed
the fragile bow,
clad in the colors of morning.
And so trekking farmers and pioneers move on
to places even more remote.
Not to return again erelong
to speak idle words in a great city,
but to let the tall prairie grasses
wave over their forgotten graves some day.
They sought God's countenance in His creation,
understood the call of the earth
and responded with the silent fidelity of their lives.
And therefore God loved them
and blessed them with a peace
that surpasses all civilization.*


Amsterdam map 1860
Johan A. Wormser, Sr. family
Henricus Hoveker
Rev. Hendrik P. and Sara Scholte
Isaac Da Costa
Rev. Johannes P. Hasebroek
Budde family gravestone
H.G. Overkamp
Rev. Isaac N. Wyckoff
Otto G. Heldring
Netherlands Steamboat Company advertisement
Rev. A. J. Betten
A. Wigny
Frans Le Cocq, Sr. log cabin interior
Peter Lubberden
Jansje Wormser
1848 Uprising on the Dam, Amsterdam
Map of Gorinchem region (Zuid Holland)
Hendrik (Henry) Hospers
Rotterdam harbor 1847
Immigrant ship Maastroom
Log cabin of O. H. Viersen
Pella panorama 1848
Lake Prairie Township map 1848
Hendrik Hospers' sketch of lots 1847
Scholte home, Pella
Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer
Rev. Jan de Liefde
Rev. Anthony Brummelkamp
Rev. Simon van Velzen
Rev. Carl A. E. Schwartz
Scottish Missionary Church, Amsterdam
House "Postwijk," Amsterdam
Map locating Budde farm, Burlington
Widow Johanna J. Zeelt
Paris revolution of 1848
Pella panorama 1849
Frans Le Cocq, Sr.
Jan Hospers
A.E. Dudok Bousquet
Willem Lubberden
J.A. Wormser's booklet Infant Baptism
Rev. Peter J. Oggel
D. A. Budde letterhead, Burlington panorama
Scholte Church, Pella
Johan A. Wormser, Jr.
Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte
Floris Adriaan van Hall
Rev. Hendrik P. Scholte, 1860s
Christina Maria Budde-Stomp
Diedrich A. Budde
Jansje Wustenhoff-Wormser
Isaac Overkamp
Johan A. Wormser, Sr.

Editor's Preface

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.

The 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 Burlington, and their letters urged family and friends to join them. These are typical "bacon letters" [spekbrieven].

Andries 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 Amsterdam after six months. Wormser's missives provide a rare example of anti-America letters. During his brief time in Iowa, Andries wrote strong letters home recommending that all but the very desperate stay put in the Netherlands. He condemned immigrant leaders bitterly for hoodwinking their followers, and he castigated settlers like the Buddes, who would encourage family and friends to come to an early grave in Iowa or Michigan. This was a self-serving effort, Wormser explained. "I recall very well reading letters when we were still at home, and if the content was not what we would have liked it to be, we attributed that to despondency. Later on you realize that it just is not possible to go back, and then you start writing more favorable accounts in order to entice family and friends"(Wormser Letter 30).

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 Pella bookseller, Jan Berkhout, and his wife similarly criticized Scholte and offered a jaundiced view of the immigrant experience in four letters in the collection. "Everyone toils in the earth like a mole to keep his head above water [mixed metaphor!] and still they cannot make it, not counting a few exceptions. If on the Lord's Day we had found here what we had been missing for so long in Holland, then I think we could have been reconciled to America. But the calling and commissioning to the office of the ministry is denied here. Scholte is willing to preach now and then, but nothing beyond that." Berkhout's wife noted that we "do not dare to tell the truth" in letters to Holland. She added: "All women here are slaves rather than queens of the forest" (Wormser Letter 43).

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.

The second half of Stellingwerff's book contains a long series of letters exchanged between Diedrich and Christina Budde in Burlington, Iowa, and Johan Wormser and his wife in Amsterdam. The Buddes were Ost Frisians who had lived in Amsterdam for many years before immigrating to America, where they became close friends with the Wormsers in the Christian Seceded Church. The letters were exchanged over a span of twenty-five years, from 1847 to 1873. While the Wormsers kept the Buddes informed about their old friends and struggles in the Amsterdam congregation, the Buddes recount the loneliness and hardships of opening a farm on the Iowa frontier and the difficulties of keeping their Dutch Reformed faith alive in an American setting. The Buddes helped establish a Reformed Church in Burlington, where Diedrich frequently led the worship services and taught catechism. But most Dutch immigrants went to Pella, and the Burlington congregation had to close. The Buddes then joined a German Reformed congregation.

The 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 Iowa. Despite the difficulties, the Buddes remained unfailingly optimistic, unlike the pessimistic Andries Wormser. The Buddes had the true American spirit. Diedrich was industrious, trustworthy, and generous, and Christina knew that the children would benefit from their sacrifices. God had led them thus far and he would continue to carry them. This couple is an example of devout Christians whose faith guided and sustained them in one crisis after another.

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.

Stellingwerff's 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 Netherlands and in AmericaPella pioneer families such as the Buddes, Berkhouts, Hospers, and Wormsers, were city-bred folks who had to make a sudden adjustment to the harsh conditions of the Iowa frontier. These Amsterdammers left a six hundred-year-old city of 200,000 inhabitants, with well established institutions, to settle in a country barely seventy years old and a state that had come into existence that very year, 1846.

Interestingly, the Wormser, Budde, and Scholte families were originally all Lutherans from Germany who had settled in Amsterdam, where they joined the Restored Evangelical Lutheran Church, a vital, free church movement. During the religious revival known as the Rhveil, which began in the 1820s, these families joined the Hervormde Kerk and then, following the Afscheiding (Secession) of 1834, they became Calvinist Seceders, subject to government persecution with the rest. Indeed, Scholte's magazine, The Reformation, is filled with reports of church services broken up by police or soldiers, the quartering of troops in parishioners' homes, and expulsions and sheriff's sales of property to satisfy the heavy fines.

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 New York shortly after he arrived, outlines his thinking about the merits of Iowa over Illinois for the planned Dutch colony. Scholte here also mentions offhandedly that Van Raalte intended to link up with the Reformed Church in America, centered in New York and New Jersey. This was fully three years before Van Raalte actually took this controversial step and long before his own correspondence gives any hint of such intentions.

Scholte's August 1848 letter describes the formation of the government in Pella, his role as justice of the peace and school inspector, and the development of infant industries. In this letter Scholte takes a swipe at Van Raalte for blatantly recruiting new immigrants to Michigan at the expense of Pella. In his letter of January 1849, Scholte implores a rich widow in Amsterdam to lend him $8,000 to avoid personal bankruptcy in a land deal involving the Des Moines River lands for which the state was demanding payment" (Wormser Letter 29).

Van Raalte's brief letter of January 1848 from Allegan, Michigan, to Wormser reveals a growing sense of confidence that the Holland colony would survive. Van Raalte confesses:

"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).

Van Raalte's lengthy letter of March 1864 to the Reverend Johannes H. Donner in the Netherlands is eye opening. It was written from Pella while Van Raalte was mentoring the First Reformed Church in the calling of Donner to serve as its pastor. In the letter to Donner, Van Raalte excoriated Scholte for creating in Pella a "Babel of religious confusion." For years I have been deeply concerned about Pella," Van Raalte noted. "I was aware that God's people were being shamefully destroyed here, and that the worship of God, and the godly orientation of the congregation, was being completely banished from the consciences of the people.... For years we Johan A. Wormser, Sr. had to let them muddle along, and Pella was a slander on the name of God and a disgrace to the people of the Netherlands." If Donner accepted the call, all this would change for the better. And, he said, Donner need not fear Scholte. Most people were cured of these "speculative, quaint new ideas, and people began to thirst for a spiritual, godly ministry [of the Word].... That lion of the street is dead, as dead as a worm.... He has lost all esteem among Americans and Hollanders.... Scholte will leave be leaving Pella sooner or later, if only he can succeed in disposing of his properties. May God still grant him a resurrection from the dead" (Wormser Letter 60). Needless to add, these erstwhile friends and associates in the Seceder church movement in the Netherlands had long parted company in America.

Van Raalte's assessment of Scholte's situation in Pella is confirmed in the letters of others. We learn from Diedrich Budde as early as January 1848, barely six months after Pella's founding, that Scholte refused to organize a church, believing someone else should take the initiative. Many children could not be baptized as a result. A year after the church was finally organized, Scholte was suspended from the pulpit by the congregation. He was preaching premillenial sermons about the imminent return of Jesus and allowing laymen to teach and dispense the sacraments. Said Jan Berkhout, "No father is seen or even taken into account when a child is being baptized. You only see the mother, as if she were a whore. She stands there with her child, and without addressing a word to the mother either before or after [the baptismal rite], the speaker comes up to the mother and baptizes [the infant] in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. That's it" (Wormser Letter 39). Berkhout further complained that because of Scholte's actions in church and in business life, the "Hollanders are not highly regarded in America, and Rev. Scholte and his gang have finally dealt them the deathblow" (Wormser Letter 27).

The colonists also criticized the lavish home Scholte built on the square in Pella, when everyone else lived in squalid huts and dugouts with roofs of straw. But the biggest cause of grumbling was Scholte's delay in giving a timely financial accounting of his land dealings on behalf of the colonists. When he did so after several years, that festering boil was finally lanced.

Some rumors that circulated in the Netherlands about Pella are laughable. In July 1849 an Amsterdammer reported that a "rumor arrived to the effect that Pella had been attacked by the Indians, that it had been plundered and burned, and that a Holland woman had perished in the flames" (Wormser Letter 37). Of course, nothing of the kind ever happened. Although not always flattering, these letters provide a firsthand picture of daily life, farming, travel, church worship, politics, and almost every aspect of pioneering among the Iowa Dutch immigrants. Since Henry Lucas's Dutch Immigrant Memoirs virtually ignored the Pella colony, and because other primary documents are few, Stellingwerff's book is all the more important. This rare collection of immigrant letters gives Pella its due. The letters are also the last essential primary source concerning the 1840s Seceder immigration to America that had remained inaccessable to American readers.


H.A. Howeler

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 Iowa have been located, nor are copies of the letter abstracts extant in the Wormser Archive. [Jan Peter Verhave, another descendent, has these letters in his possession, some sixty in number, and they are included in this volume. Ed.] Thanks to the initiative and sleuthing of Dr. J. Stellingwerff, who also had the opportunity to visit Iowa during a study trip to Canada and the United States in 1974, the publication of the letters was enriched by many new important collections. These include twenty letters of Hendrik Hospers and a diary of his father, Jan Hospers.

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 Amsterdam emigrants, the condition of his health surely was not his last reason for his decision to remain in Amsterdam. The critical letters from his brother, A. N. Wormser, who for a considerable period was an eyewitness to the hard life of the emigrants, constituted still another warning. The long sea journey on a ship packed to the hilt, under primitive conditions as far as comfort, hygiene, food, and drink were concerned, alone could have been fatal for a patient like Wormser. He was used to a quiet, comfortable life and had no reason to emigrate. After doing office work for years, he was unsuited for physical labor. However, by remaining in Amsterdam, Wormser could provide important assistance to his kindred spirits in Iowa. And that he did.

Wormser became the confidant of a number of Amsterdam emigrants. They provided him not only with detailed reports of their state of mind and what they had encountered in their difficult life as pioneers, but they also requested his assistance in the acquisition and sending of all kinds of necessities for everyday life in home, garden, barn, and business, things that they either could not purchase in Iowa or only at very high prices. In his efforts on behalf of the Amsterdam emigrants as regards money and business matters, Wormser employed the services of the famous banking house, Hope & Co.

It is likely that some letters that Wormser received from Iowa were written with the intention that he should also let others read them as circular letters within a limited circle. The only son of Wormser Sr., his namesake Johan Adam Wormser Jr. (1845-1916), inherited the collection of letters from his father and augmented it with many written documents, including letters from the estate of his father-in-law, Henricus Hoveker (1807-1889), and manuscripts from Dr. Abraham Kuyper. The eldest daughter of Hoveker was named Catharina Johanna; in 1869 she married Wormser Jr. The couple had ten children, four of whom died at an early age; four sons and two daughters reached the age of maturity. The oldest girl was named Catharina Johanna after her mother. Through her marriage in 1894 with Casper Andries Hvwelaar, she became the mother of this writer in 1899. She died in 1945, a few days after the liberation, and in accordance with her last request she wore an orange ribbon [for the House of Orange] on her deathbed on May 5.

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.

The Amsterdam emigrants with whom Wormser Sr. corresponded addressed their letters to his home located in the old downtown street of Amsterdam known as the Oudezijds Voorburgwal near the Pijlsteeg. The painting shows the interior of the room, where in all likelihood the letters from Iowa were read and answered. I still recall the inkstand on the low chest of drawers, since I have seen it used by my grandfather.

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 Iowa and the Netherlands. As a result, the letters are now much more clearly within the purview of modern readers. In the reports of their experiences in Iowa, the letter writers repeatedly refer to American customs and practices. As sympathetic witnesses they tell about the good things that they observed in their new environment, but they also express criticism. In the letters we hear the voices of women as well as those of men, and rightly so, for their work in the home and family surely demanded no less effort and care than the men gave to their professions. It seems to me that the letters are not without importance for our knowledge of daily life around 1850 in what was then the western border area of the United States.

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 Iowa's past.

Written in the Nursing Home of the Johannite Foundation Theodotion, Laren, Noord Holland, July 1973.


Iowa Letters consists of 150 letters written by Dutch immigrants about life on the prairies of Iowa during the years 1846-1873 and sixty letters of reply from relatives and friends in the Netherlands. The letters describe the journey, the difficult beginning of settling on still uncultivated land, their family life, and the spiritual support in their church fellowship. Of course, the immigrants took with them a large piece of their past from the Netherlands, so that past and future are woven together in these letters. The documents of the histories of these ordinary yet enterprising people were passed on in their authentic form, but they have now been translated into the language of the land where they settled.

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 children in Amsterdam. They saved the letters and eventually, by a happy coincidence, Johan Wormser's great grandson, H. A. Howeler, director of the library in the Free University [Vrije Universitiet] of Amsterdam, entrusted them to his successor, Johannes Stellingwerff, with the request to preserve and publish them. The letters inspired me to establish the Historisch Documentatiecentrum voor het Nederlands Protestantisme, where the originals reside today in the Hoveker-Wormser Archive. Dr. Jan Pieter Verhave recently donated some sixty additional letters to the collection, mostly penned by Johan and Janke Wormser and their children to the Budde family in Iowa. These letters from the Amsterdam Wormsers are translated and published here for the first time and provide responses to the Buddes, as well as provide a picture of family and religious activities of Seceders who remained in the mother country.

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 Pella, Iowa, and Holland, Michigan, colonies. Both were remarkably strong figures who led the Afgescheidenen [Seceders] in their break with the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk in 1834, believing that it had deserted the old confessions of the Synod of Dort. It was Scholte who promoted the independence movement. In contrast to Van Raalte, his unbridled urge for liberty made it difficult for him to work with others. He could lead, but to implement established rules was not easy. He labored in his own congregation in Pella, which was opposed to joining any kind of denomination. He stood alone even though he led others.

Scholte, however, is not the main character in this book. Most of the letters consist of correspondence between the Buddes, Berkhouts, and Andries Wormser in Iowa and Johan Wormser, process server in Amsterdam, and his wife, Janke. Andries was Johan's older brother, who in late 1848 immigrated to Pella but returned disappointed six months later. All the families were mutual friends and founding members of the Christian Seceded Church in Amsterdam, but none were closer in heart and mind than the Johan Wormser and Diedrich Budde families.

What struck me most in this research was the fact that the emigrants came from a large city such as Amsterdam. In connection with the Secession of 1834 and their emigration to North America, we think first of rural villages in the provinces of Zeeland, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe, Friesland, and Groningen. If Amsterdam is absent from the picture, then an important link is missing. I hope that this publication will clarify the relationship between Amsterdam and the Secession and between Amsterdam and the emigration of 1847 to America.

This book is important for American immigration history. The town of Pella still maintains a Dutch character, which is also the case in some other settlements in that state. The immigration to Iowa, furthermore, cannot be seen separately from the simultaneous immigration to Michigan, preceded by the immigration to New York and New Jersey two centuries before, and followed by the immigration to Canada, especially after 1945.

The letter series are labeled in the book according to the recipients. That is, the "Wormser Letters" are the letters from Iowa received by the family in Amsterdam; and conversely, the "Budde Letters" are those from the Netherlands received by the Budde family in Iowa. The third set of letters, designated the "Hospers Letters," are those of Hendrik Hospers, a native of the province of Zuid Holland, penned from Pella to his parental family to aid in their subsequent immigration. These letters are in the archives of Central College in Pella. Hospers rose to become mayor of Pella, and he later established a number of settlements in northwest Iowa, one town bearing his name. The twenty-one letters of Andries Wormser recount the disappointments of an immigrant who found life on the Iowa prairies unbearable and returned to the homeland. Remigrating was rare among the Dutch, and less than 5 percent did so in the nineteenth century.

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 province of Ontario, Canada, and the states of Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and New York between September 18 and October 17, 1974. The cost of this research trip for the publication of these letters was jointly underwritten by the organization for Zuiver-Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek at Rijswijk and the Board of Directors of the Free University of Amsterdam. Institutions that were especially helpful included Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Hope College, Holland, Michigan; Central College, Pella, Iowa; Northwestern College, Orange City, Iowa; and Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa. I owe a special word of thanks to Dr. Elton J. Bruins in Holland, Michigan, and, in Pella, Iowa, to Glen Andreas and his wife, Verna, and Mrs. Hendrika Hospers. All those who gave permission to reproduce illustrations, I sincerely thank for their cooperation. In particular, I think of the pleasant responses from Albany and the Municipal Archives at Amsterdam.

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 Groningen on December 5, 1924, son of Jan Stellingwerff, teacher, and Wissiena Bugel. He was the oldest of nine children, of whom four emigrated to Canada. He attended a Christian high school in Groningen, and, after the Second World War, he studied civil engineering at the Delft Polytechnic University [Technische Hoogeschool]. He received his doctorate there June 24, 1959, with a dissertation entitled Werkelijkheid en grondmotief bij Vincent Willem van Gogh. Employed first by N. V. Philips and then by the municipal government in Eindhoven, he was named acting librarian for the newly formed Technical University in Eindhoven. He became the librarian of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1960, a post he held for twenty-seven years, until the end of 1987. He reorganized the library, supervised the removal to a new campus of its holdings scattered in various locations in downtown Amsterdam, and began the automation of the library.

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, kenner van Japan, koopman en diplomaat, is in press.]

* C. Rijnsdorp, "Balkon op de wereld." [Balcony on the World], Christelijk Perspectief 21 (1973): 47-48.