Missionary's wife held strong feelings about early Holland 
Caption Reads: 
FAMILY: The Rev. George Smith, his wife, Arvilla, and their daughters about 1852. Smith led the Ottawa from Holland to Grand Traverse Bay in 1849 after cultural conflicts arose with the Dutch settlers.
Special to The Sentinel 

Recently the Holland Museum had a packed audience for a program meant to commemorate the departure of the Ottawa (the Native Americans called themselves Odawa) Indians and the Rev. George Smith family from the Old Wing Mission 150 years ago. The evening provided insight from various points of view including that of Arvilla Smith, Smith's Vermont-born wife whose words reflect a life of hardship and sacrifice as the wife of a Congregational missionary to the Ottawa for more than a decade in the Macatawa region.

The mission, built in 1844-45 replacing the Smith's log cabin, still stands on 40th Street, a half-mile east of Waverly Road, and is a private residence. My thanks to Bill Van Appledorn for gathering and editing this material. Smith's complete writings are available in the museum collection at the Joint Archives.

On accepting her husband's appointment to help Waukazoo's (descendants of the chief prefer Wakazoo) people (1837):

"I fought a fierce battle, for my future among the Indians looked dark and lonely. Could I fight against God's work? No, I was ready for sacrifice. Mr. Smith's work henceforth would and should be the elevation of the oppressed and downtrodden people, who were calling for his help, and for God's word. I put my trust in Him who leadeth the way, and prayed for strength. We bid adieu to our loved home and Christian friends ... not daring to look back."

Reaching their new home (1838):

"Mr. Smith loaded our goods in two boats, an old scow and a skiff. It was late at night when we were landed for a three mile walk through the wild forest with no lantern. I had a piece of birch bark in my pocket and this I lighted. Mr. Smith was loaded down with beds and bedding, and I was obliged to carry my little ones while George, my eldest, trudged behind with the bravery of a man. My strength gave way several times with the children crying. We reached home. I said home, but what a home! A pile of logs! The doors were cut out, but none put in, no windows, and the ground was our fireplace. A cold November rain set in. The river had overflowed its banks and nearly everything that could float had gone with the current; wash  tubs, pails, groceries, and a sackful of flour was ready-made dough and  merely needed cooking. We had to eat it or starve. Our tables went without  for two months."

"His everlasting arms were around us ... and if we were not shielded  from suffering, we were given everlasting strength to bear our years of sorrow, for our dear little ones to the number of four, we laid under the shade in the garden. One taken away, seemed to me like the angel of our household. She was but 3 years old and devoted to the deepest piety, she sang all the hymns we sang in the family and her voice was like a bird. Her little words reached many hearts. She sang during her last moments. I stood weeping over her and she said: "Mama don't cry, I'm going to Jesus."

Moving to Old Wing Mission and the Hollanders come (1846-7):

"Mr. Van Raalte became an established member of our family. I had his washing in addition to my own families, and was soon so overworked that I was but a shadow myself. Mr. Smith had to roam the woods through the deep snow, and sometimes had to drag the Dominie (Van Raalte) home, and into the house would come the wailing cry, 'Oh, Mrs. Smith, I can no more.'" More families arrived, and "we found that we must be in submission to them. There was no alternative but a sacrifice of all regular hours of eating or sleeping."

A bitter animosity sprang up between the Indians and the Hollanders:

"The Indians began selling land and packing up for the north ... to a place where Dutchmen couldn't find. The Chief came to me with an earnest appeal. ... 'Your husband loves us and he is like our brother and you a sister. Where can we find anyone that will do for us as you have done? You won't say no, sister?' I told him I would go where my husband felt it his duty to go. What a hardship again, and my children pining for society! After all the suffering and privation of social privileges to again drag them into the wilderness and deprive them of what was dear as life. The sorrow of leaving my beautiful home and the graves of my children was great.

"We occupied our home at the Old Wing until the spring of '49, and then came the great sacrifice ... our removal to Grand Traverse Bay."

Departure from Holland:

"On June 1, 1849, we boarded the 25-ton schooner Hiram Merrill, destined to take us on our move to Grand Traverse. My husband Mr. Smith was determined to continue work with the Indians ... he felt it was his duty to go. I felt weak, sickened to know that we were again leaving civilization with our children. The new settlers didn't think we're too smart, shutting our children out from civilized society, knowing that we'll recede as the Indians advance."

"Our schooner was anchored out in Black Lake. Rev. Van Raalte and Dr. Wyckoff (from Albany) came aboard with us. Dr. Wyckoff made appropriate remarks and gave a prayer. Then they boarded a small boat and left us. Mr. Smith and I were deeply affected, and as the small boat left the schooner, they struck up a psalm, which as the distance increased between us the melody died away. When we were out of hearing distance, each party waved a white kerchief as parting signals."

 "The light wind moved our schooner away from our settlement, and we were inclined to be serious with heavy hearts. We cleared the mouth of Black Lake. It was a cruel parting, tears blurring our eyes as we made our final glimpse back. Our boat hugged the shore, and there was no sign of life until Manistee, where a mill was being built."

"After an experience of head winds and pouring rain, we were at last anchored in the peaceful lovely waters of Grand Traverse Bay, two weeks from the time we left Black Lake. Our new colony was appropriately named Wakazooville."

Alisa Crawford is director of education at Holland Museum.

Copyright 1999. The Holland Sentinel. 

Originally Published in The Holland Sentinel
Sunday, August 29, 1999 
Reprinted on this page with permission from the Holland Sentinel
Go to the Ottawa County, Michigan USGenWeb Volunteer Project Index Page
Read about Albertus Van Raalte and some of the "Early Days" of his settlement (links to other web pages)

The Oldest Tombstone in Pilgrim Home Cemetery

    An 1845 marker is the oldest one in the Holland area.

    In 2005 the stone was repaired and placed upright with a bronze plaque added showing its history.  A short ceremony was held to dedicate the stone. 

    This stone marks the graves of five of the seven children of the Reverend George N. Smith and his wife, Arvilla.   Esther Eliza "Ettie" Smith was three years old and there were four infant siblings buried here as well.  Rev. Smith came to the area in 1839 to work with the Indians.  He started the Old Wing Mission on a large tract of land (1,369 acres).  The grave site was moved to the Pilgrim Home Cemetery from the Old Wing Mission.  This mission was located on Point Superior where the Marigold Lodge is located to day.

    Albertus VanRaalte and his followers stayed with the Smith family when they first arrived in 1847.  Soon after the Ottawa tribe and the Smiths moved north.  The Old Wing Mission was located on 40th Avenue 1/2 mile east of Waverly Road.  The current owners are restoring the mission.

This page was created on Wednesday, 1 September 1999