Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte

See also – Journey to Michigan

Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte was born in Wanneperveen, Overisel, the Netherlands, on 17 Oct 1811. His father was Albertus Van Raalte, a minister in the state church of the Netherlands.

He went to the University of Leyden to study medicine, but in 1833 decided to study for the ministry. In 1836, he became a minister in the Church of the Seceders when he was refused entry into the ministry of the state church. In that same year, he married Christina De Moen, who was born 30 Jan 1815, in Leiden. He served various churches in the Netherlands, including those in Ommen and Arnhem, until 1846.

Because of persecution, he and his followers decided to emigrate to America. In September, 1846, Van Raalte, his wife, and five children set sail on the Southerner for New York with 53 members of his congregation. They decided to settle in the area at the head of Black Lake, now the site of Holland, Michigan. He was the spiritual and political leader of the colony and was instrumental in the founding of Hope College but, primarily, he was the pastor of the community. One of the first buildings erected in 1847 was the log church. The economy of the group soon became a major concern of Van Raalte. He purchase several thousand acres in the name of the association. As more colonists arrived they purchased lots for homes and land to farm. He was active in the development of the Holland Harbor and he lobbied in Lansing and Washington for appropriation for the harbor.

Van Raalte no only developed public schools with strong local controls but helped lay the foundations for the Pioneer school, later called the Holland Academy, and later developed into Hope College.

His vision of developing a Christian community governed by Christian principles was shattered in 1850. Holland Township became the basic unit of government. Although his ideal of Christian control was lost, he still had much influence in politics and in land ownership. He was still the pastor of the only church, member of the district school board, guiding light of the Academy, principal landowner, and a businessman with major property holdings.

Strife and dissension killed the original ideals envisioned partly due to Van Raalte’s personality and part to the small spiritedness of some of the Dutch settlers. By 1856 Van Raalte thought of leaving the colony as he received a call from the church in Pella, Iowa but declined it.

Poor health as minister caused his resignation in 1867, in 1871 his wife died and the city of Holland was destroyed by fire. He encouraged the settlers to rebuild the city of Holland. He died in 1876 after a lingering illness.

Journey to Michigan

Albertus van Raalte had different opinions about religions early on and because of that, he was never officially made a minister by the state church in the Netherlands. He joined the club of Scholte, another reverend with different religious ideas. That club was called the "Afgescheidenen", the "Reformed". Founded in 1834, they broke away from the "Hervormde Staatskerk", the Reformed State Church.

Van Raalte and Brummelkamp (a contractor who appointed himself a reverend) started "The Foundations of the Union of Christians for the Dutch Emigration to the United States in North America". In 1846 they wrote the pamphlet "Emigration, or Why Do We Promote the Emigration to North America and Not to Java?" The answer was that the journey to the island of Java, a Dutch colony in the Pacific, was more expensive and that the Dutch governor there could take away their religious freedom.

During the autumn of 1846, Reverend Albertus Christiaan van Raalte and 101 followers dared the journey of 4,000 miles to New York. Van Raalte had some money with him, which was collected by his communion to buy a piece of land to settle on. The journey took an average 33 days, but because of what little money they had, they could not afford the fastest travel and the trip was 54 days, from October 2 until November 17.

Many people in New York stared at them because they were wearing their national costumes and wooden shoes most of the time. The Dutch Americans were very helpful, which surprised the immigrants. The hadn’t expected there would be any Americans who spoke Dutch.

Originally Van Raalte wanted to go to Wisconsin as he had heard good stories concerning the Dutch emigrants in that state. They traveled over the Hudson River to Albany, New York and than toward Buffalo. There was a severe frost which caused Lake Erie to freeze early. They crossed to Detroit, Michigan and they wintered there. Van Raalte did more research for good places to found a village. Michigan had just become a state in 1837 so there was a lot land not yet cultivated. Finally, they decided to found a place in West Michigan. It cost $1.25 per acre and they bought a piece of land at the mouth of the Black River (now Macatawa) which flowed into Lake Michigan. It could be used as a harbor. There were very few inhabitants – mostly Native Americans, missionaries and woodsmen.

They were dreaming about wealth, etc., but they didn’t think about disasters and other problems. This experiment was unique because the Americans thought that most immigrants went to the big cities. Van Raalte and his colony surprised them.

Transcriber: ES
Created:11 April 2007