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Veer part of numerous surnames

Ferrymen played a crucial role in early Dutch road system

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill Genealogy

Veerman or ferrymen have been navigating Dutch estuaries, rivers and streams for centuries. They were the people who travelers looked to help them get to the other side of the water with dry feet on a ‘floating bridge,’ or ferry. Veerman or ferrymen long played a crucial role in connecting parts of the Dutch road system when most of the country’s bridges only crossed canals within the walls of cities or on heavily traveled routes that could be bridged easily.

In the decades after Napoleon's dictatorship had ended in 1814, the role of the veerman gradually diminished as King William I and his successors modernized slow-paced Dutch infrastructure into an efficient system. Dutch landscape still shows the evidence of the many infrastructure innovations undertaken in the nineteenth century, especially railways. They also dug canals, built bridges and upgraded roads, many previously mostly 'unpaved.' Much of these improvements did not help the veerman continue to earn his keep.

While those new bridges in various places caused a drop in traffic volume for the veerman, people often still preferred the ferry because it helped cut their traveling distance. In a country where many people traveled by carriage and later on bicycles, every kilometer counted so shortcuts by veerpont remain popular. In recent decades, some veer services that had been abandoned at one time were even restored.


Not every Dutch veerpont can boast a thousand year history. The story of the ferry serving the Dutch city of Dordrecht is a case in point. The city predates its veerpont by hundreds of years since it originally had a land route to Brabant and Hainaut to the south before the disastrous St. Elizabeth’s flood struck in 1421. The veerpont at nearby Zwijndrecht uo to that point had been the most important connection between the County of Holland and the Southern Netherlandic duchy of Hainaut. With the rivers following a new bed after 1421, Dordrecht had become an island and was forced to use a veerpont to Brabant as well as to Zwijndrecht.

A veerman could not just start up an overzet service. The count, duke, or in some instances the bishop, as the head of a political realm, had the right to grant privileges or favours to lower ranking nobility or estates. The history of the Zwijndrecht veer provides such an example.

The number of surnames in the Veer, Veerman, Van der Veer and Van’t Veer range that were researched for this survey totaled about 60.

The above is a much digested version of the original article. Copies of the original, fully illustrated article, which is the fourth in a series, can be ordered by contacting the Windmill Herald / the Windmill Post office, see also contact information.