Zeeland Township

The settlement of Zeeland was due to the dissatisfaction of certain Hollanders with the laws of Holland concerning religious worship. Although the heart of Holland, or its higher intellect, is inclined to rationalism or unbelief, the common people are most fully imbued with the religious idea; and rank amongst the most truly religious. They are very scrupulous in their religious observances, and tenacious of their creed. With them their religion is the one great thing; and to interfere with the free exercise of their observances, is the greatest indignity-they cannot brook it. The people who constituted the Holland and Zeeland settlements were of this kind-people conscientiously religious, and willing, for religion, to leave their country, and to endure the hardship incident to a new settlement, to living among those speaking another language, to subduing the land and forcing from it a living.

They were buoyed by the hope that, after a few years of trial and labor, they might establish a colony-a fraternal, God, fearing community, which should center itself around the church. They contemplated a theocratic community, of which God should be ruler supreme, and the church its visible center.

With these feelings they left Holland, and settled themselves at Zeeland.

They were in a strange country. All was different from the land they left. They had been accustomed to the open field; here all was wood. To combat with that wood-to clear the ground- was labor entirely new. No one of them knew how to use that pioneer tool, the ax. It was sport to the Yankees to see the Dutchmen cut down a tree. By hacking all around they would finally get it down. Their cutting was more like beavers’ work than the work of woodmen.

But with all their lack of skill, they went to work on clear the land, in winter; piling and burning brush on the snow. The amount of labor they put forth to clear a small piece of land almost exceeds belief. To learn to chop was the one great thing. Van Raalte gave them the solemn warning--"You must learn to chop, or die!"

In the general settlement, settlers come straggling in, and each new comer is aided in the start by those who have got a footing. Again, the woodland settler understands his ax, and is prepared to dispute possession with the forest. Not so with these Hollanders. A community of them sat down in the woods together. All had their shelter to secure; all were to begin together, and all were unskilled in woodland labor. It is no wonder they suffered; it is no wonder that many, discouraged, dispersed themselves among the other people, and sought employment that was immediately remunerative. They went to Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, and all other places where work could be found. The girls sought employment in the houses,. And soon were found to be the best and most trusty servants.

The sawing of wood was soon monopolized by the men, as also the loading and unloading of vessels at the wharves. The Dutchmen became a digger on the railroads. He worked for small wages for the farmers, for his lack of skill made him at first but poor help. In all these ways they were living, and learning to live, in America.

One thing was soon proverbial-if a Dutchman got hold of a dollar, no one got the whole of it away from him; and that with which he parted, was compelled to do full service. It was a mystery how a Dutchman, earning seventy-five cents a day, would contrive to support a family, and in two or three years, have a house and lot from $25 to $50; but how from their scanty earnings, before they had acquired the skill and wages of American laborers, was a mystery. Nevertheless, the number of Dutchmen were few who in four years did not live in their houses; and houses, too earned since they came to America. It was no mystery to the Dutchman, but the Yankee could not solve it.

But we have digressed from Zeeland, following those who did not stay, as members of the sacred colony.

To be a little more particular, the persecution complained of, was what naturally arises from a State religion. Holland has its State religion; its preachers are commissioned by the State, and paid from the public revenue Dissent is not a crime; neither does it involve any political or eivil disability. No man was allowed to preach without State authority, under penalty of one hundred guilders for every sermon so delivered.

A movement began in 1834, among those who were dissatisfied with the dictations of the State in matters of religion. Seven clergymen revolted; preached independent of State dictation; were dropped by the State church, and started an independent denomination or church. Their names were H. Decock, H.P. Scholte, S. Van Velzen, H. Buddengk, E. Brumelkemp, F. Meerburg and ---Leedbeer. These were cast out in 1835. They banded themselves, and held their first Synod at Amsterdam, in March, 1836. By that Synod, Van Raalte was ordained at that meeting. He, at the time of the dropping of the afore-

Mentioned clergymen, was a candidate awaiting orders. He was cast out for his well-known sympathy with the seeeders.

The seeeders began in earnest to propagate their principles. The result is, that at the present day they are a strong body in Holland. But that is little to our purpose.

The seeders were almost at the joined by Cornelius Van Meuler, not then a clergyman, but a man looking forward to the office. He made himself active in establishing seeeding churches, and in 1839 was ordained; became pastor of a church at Rotterdam, and afterwards at Zeeland.

These active propagandists were at first under sever penalties. A 100 guilders was exacted for every sermon preached. These fines were paid by the people. But penalties only increased their zeal, and their success. After a time the State relented somewhat. Upon petition, a special license was given to each church, with the condition that it should support itself and its own poor. They still had to do their share in supporting the State church, and the poor of the country. This discrimination against them they thought oppressive. The spirit of many became restless. Beyond the sea they knew there was a land where religion was free. One and another, partly from religious discontent and partly with the hope of improved fortune, came to America.

In the minds of two of the leading spirits in the movement--Messrs. Scholte and Van Raalte--there was conceived the idea of gathering these expatriated people into colonies, where, centered around the churches, should be communities of Hollanders, where their cherished religion should be the great bond of union. With them the basal idea was a theocratic community.

With this idea, they came to America, to select locations for the colonies which they wished to establish. Van Raalte selected the location where now is the city of Holland, by Black Lake. This was in the winter of 1846-7. He then, by correspondence with people in Europe and America, rallied people around him, who in the spring and summer of 1847 settled there.

An impulse was thus given. Much was said of the Holland Colony, and it became a central idea. Hollanders flocked to Michigan. Some banded themselves under leaders, and settled in the vicinity of Holland. Others came to Grand Rapids or Grand Haven, and settled there. With all the central thought was the church. Wherever they located, whether in the villages or in the wilderness, they banded under spiritual leaders.

In 1847, about 400, under the spiritual leadership of the Rev. Mr. Vander Meuler, planted themselves in the forest at Zeeland.

Another colony of 200, under the Rev. Yupena established themselves at Vriesland.

South two miles from Vriesland, 150, without any one special head; but under the special leadership of Elders Opholt and Wiggers, began the colony of Drenthe.

Three hundred, led by the Rev. Mr. Bolks, started the colony of Overheisel, five miles south of Drenthe.

Draafschap, with 300 people, was planted, with Elder Nierke as leader.

These colonies were all established in the year 1847. As a Whole combined, they were called by the world outside, the "Holland Settlement."

It has been before said that religion was the central idea in these colonies; that each rallied around the church.

Planted in the wilderness, their first thought was the services of the Sabbath; but still, in the sheltering wood they assembled to worship God. At Zeeland, in the fall of their first arrival, they erected a log house of worship; a building 26X40 feet. There, with rude benches for seats, they worshiped for a year. They then, in the fall of 1848, put up a block house, 40X60, which served them until increasing wealth enabled them to build their present edifice.

That is the way people do, who believe in the religion they profess. These Hollanders believed with a simple faith, which to them was reality. Their spiritual leader was the Rev. Mr. Vander Meuler. It was his to speak words of cheer, and inspire their souls with hope. As "the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang with their anthems," they joined with him in their prayers of faith; and listened to hiss fatherly counsels.

When the hours to them looked dark, he showed them brilliant beams of light, and sustained their fainting souls. Ah, Dominie Vander Meuler, although you are now treading on the borders of the spirit land, and the monitions of age ominons of passing from time, your closing days are cheered by the results of the mission of your years of prime; the benedictions of thousands are on you, and your memory will not be lost.

The colonists at first, as soon as they could, put up houses, mostly of logs, some, however, erected buildings of boards, bringing them from Grand Haven by water.

Some had money; such kindly helped the others in securing their land. Among such is prominently to be noted Mr. E. Vander Leuser; one of those men who feel they have a mission--and that to help those who need help, and diffuse happiness. There a few such in the world. He left a splendid farm in Holland, where his mansion was always as open as his heart; and came to Zeeland, casting his lot with the humble class that formed the settlement. Coming, he brought from Holland seven or eight poor families with him; paid all their expenses, gave each twenty acres of land (to be paid for when they could). He distributed liberally to the poor; giving thousands; never thinking of self. To sum it up, he was a man who had a big soul. "God bless him," they all say. He died in 1870; his wife in 1873. He is still alive in hearts he left behind; then, is it right to say he died?

Another whole-souled man, who had some of that article, the love of which is called the root of all evil, was Mr. G. Van Hees, who bought 800 acres of land in his own name, and sold it in small farms to those who could not otherwise buy. Giving them time at 7 per cent. He had the satisfaction of seeing all but one become full owners. He also bought cattle and distributed them, and got his pay. It would be hazardous among Americans to throw one’s property around so loosely, but the Dutchman, pays his debts, or at least did. It was safe to give credit to one, who had used his last dollar. The simple honesty of the Dutch emigrants was proverbial. If one owed two cents he would surely come around and pay it. They not only paid what was advanced them, but they soon began to have money of their own. Dominie Vander Menler, says: "Some of these poor men that were thus helped to their 20 or 40 acres of land, have piles of greenbacks so thick." (He put his hands full nine inches apart.)

During the fall of 1847, Mr. Roberts erected a small saw-mill; Mr. K. Smith opened a store, and Mr. Isaac Naayen put up a tavern. They had also this fall erected comfortable houses, and, as said before, a church. They sought work, and obtained it where they could --at Kalamazoo, Grand Haven and Grand Rapids. Their wages were small, as they were unskilled; but with their wages, what they had left, and the general kindly aid they gave each other, they got through the winter without suffering. Their greatest trouble was transporting provisions and supplies from Grand Rapids. The winter was peculiar--the mildest ever known, absolutely no snow, a good deal of rain, and no frost in the ground, Besides there was the long swamp to be crossed, and its crossing was terrible. Too long (15 miles) to get around, they must cross it. That swamp is no terror now, but civilized, is the best land known. Historically, to the colonists it was a horror; to-day it is full of greenbacks, instead of massasaugas and fathomless mud.

The American people found out that the Hollanders had money--the gennine gold. Of course they wanted some of it, and brought provisions and necessaries there to sell, and they always were supplied. The first winter, which is generally the time of trial with the pioneer, was not such to them. But their little store of gold was wasting day by day; the hard time came afterwards.

In 1848, they got in such crops as they could; corn, potatoes, beans, and garden vegetables in their scanty clearings. They had good crops of these. New comers brought some money; they earned some, and were tolerably well off--comfortable and hopeful, some pinching, but no absolute want.

The hard times were in 1849. They had increased in numbers; had enlarged their clearings, and had got in wheat and other crops. But an unfavorable summer otherwise, and a myriad of squirrels, left them without provisions, and they were without money. Some money was realized by selling land to new comers; but on the whole they had short commons, and were at times on the verge of starvation. People outside were liberal; brought provisions; some two or three times the supply seemed providential. Their money had run out. But the next year (1850), they had abundant crops; numerous persons came in who had means, and they got along well.

From this time the dark days of Zeeland were over. By this timed the men had learned to use the ax, and to clear land. They had enough cleared to supply them with abundance of food. The roads to them, though not good, were passable. They felt, as a general thing, no hard times.

Here, with some six hundred people, we drop the pioneer history of Zeeland.

In 1849, Mr. Elias Young was employed by the colony as an English teacher. He stayed with them several years, making himself generally useful; was the first supervisor, justice of the peace, etc.

In 1848, Mr. Vander Leuser laid out eighty acres in village lots, and sold them to the settlers for from $6 to $10 per acre. This was the starting of village.

The prosperity of the Dutch colonies at Zeeland, Vriesland, etc., has been almost unexampled; and taking into consideration all the circumstances, it is a marvel; commencing with those whose early life had given them no apprenticeship fitting them for pioneer enterprises-the humble peasantry of Holland, having with them but few men of property or leading intelligence--people, poor and unskilled. Twenty-five years changed the wilderness into a region of noble farms and thriving villages; and a community of poor emigrants into one noted for their wealth and independence.

The basis of the whole of this unexampled prosperity is: their patient industry, their rigid economy, and their personal morality. Whether the Hollander settled himself in the "colony," or took up his residence in other places, the character given above was his, and the result has been the same; he has prospered. In Grand Rapids, Grand Haven or Kalamazoo, a poor Hollander is seldom seen. They have ever shown themselves a temperate and moral people, not disposed to be leading, but always a valuable class of citizens. Crimes and immoralities among them have been rare. Few have sought high culture, unless they had the Gospel ministry in view. They have taken advantage of the means for common education where they have located; or have provided them for themselves where they were the controlling people.

They early employed English teachers. In the Holland settlement the schools have been entirely English. The result is, the Holland language is becoming disused. The two languages are spoken by all, but the English is the exclusive language of the younger people in their intercourse with each other.

The dream, the fond aspiration of the ardent Van Raalte, has not its seconding reality. An unmixed community, an unity in associations and religion, centering around one harmonious church, has not been realized. Their own dear cherished church has been divided by a schism, which has ranged the Holland people in two unsympathizing and unfraternal parties. They have not only the "Reformed," but the "True Reformed" churches. The differences between them to out-siders seem trivial; but all observation on the religions world shows that the smaller the differences, the greater the zeal with which it is maintained.

It is nothing to the purpose of this history to point out what is the difference between Reformed and True Reformed. The schism commenced in 1856 or 7, with the Rev. Mr. Klyne, then pastor at Gran d Rapids. He was dealt with for some notions or practices different from the orthodox standards of the church, and his connections severed. He set up independent, leading with him a portion of the people. The comparative force of the two denominations will be seen in another place.

At Holland, where Van Raalte first planted his colony, the breach in unity is still greater. The American element has become predominant in a great degree. Other Christian denominations have secured a strong foothold, in addition to the division of their own church. But Van Raalte’s name will live as one whole noble zeal had noble results.

In Zeeland, the church which was planted in the wilderness has thriven under the successive pastorates of its original pastors--C. Vander Menler, S. Bolks, and W. Moordyk.

The True Reformed started in 1854. They have a respectable church edifice, and are under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Coelyuk. Preaching in the Dutch language.

Zeeland was organized as a town, July 14, 1851, having been before a part of Holland. The first meeting was at the church. Number of voters, 93. Elected:

Elias J. Young, Supervisor; Robertus M. De Bruyn, Clerk; Johannus C. Van Hees, E.G. Young, Johannus Nieumandorf, Justices. This town clerk was school teacher for several years.

The second meeting was April 2nd, 1852. Voted, $200 for repairs on roads; $20, for books, and $20, for scrapers.


Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 19 May 2010
URL: http://ottawa.migenweb.net/twprecords/zeeland/early.html