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Six Municipalities Dealt with a Major Population Drain, Chain Effect Lasted for Decades

'Bouwhoek' Frisians Major Group in U.S.-bound Dutch Emigration

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DETROIT, Michigan - The Frisian 'Bouwhoek' - the Northern region behind the dikes of the Frisian Sea is known for its fertile clay and crop farming - has been a major contributor to the flow of Dutch emigrants to the United States. Thousands of Northern Frisians left in the latter part of the 19th century, when a depression hit the local economy. They opted for a better future in the New World. The emigration process was an ongoing phenomenon which lasted several decades and resulted in stagnating population figures, a recent study concludes. Emigrated Frisians from 'Bouwhoek' villages and municipalities often joined people from the same background and thus groups from particular townships settled together in specific New World localities. Numerous are the seasonal labourers from Frisian crop farms who became prosperous farmers in the New World, Annemieke Galema reports in her new book 'Frisians to America, 1880-1914.'

After attending a 1983 conference on Bicentennial relations between the Netherlands and the U.S.A., Galema became fascinated by the contribution of emigrants to this 200-year-old history, especially the Frisian role. Originally, a decision by the Frisian States prompted the States General of pre-Napoleonic times to recognize the rebelling American colonies as an independent country. Dutch politicians notably beat Paris with their recognition and helped "the colonies" with loans and much needed goods.

Chain migration

The American-Dutch relations were further cemented by numerous Dutchmen who made the U.S.A. their home following the Napoleonic wars. The emigration was a process that initially gained popularity among Dutch religious minorities, and that itself has sparked scholarly interest recently. Galema's supervisor Prof.dr. R. Swieringa covers Dutch Jewish emigration in his book "The Forerunners, Dutch Jewry in the North American Diaspora", while many others researched the transatlantic Reformed Secessionist movement. In recent years, Dr. H.A.V.M. Van Stekelenburg has become the authority on Roman Catholic Brabant resettlement. Dutch settlements established in Michigan and Iowa in 1847, initially depended largely on emigrants from the Eastern Dutch provinces and South Holland although the Michigan village of Vriesland clearly confirms Frisian participation: Rev. M.A. Ypma of Hallum and his followers settled there in 1848. Ypma and individual families from the 'Bouwhoek' later served as magnets to newcomers.

In her book, Galema traces the Northern Frisian migratory move from the time people left the home country to the resettlement phase, and beyond. She gives considerable attention to socio-economic and demographic factors and motivating circumstances and personal characteristics of the emigrants are explored. The occupational and geographical mobility of the Frisians is very interesting, as are the effects of chain migration upon the emerging immigrant communities across the U.S.A. Newly arriving immigrants usually joined uncles and aunts, older brothers and sisters, or family of family who had left before them.

Promises for a Better Future

In the years 1860-1880, the population in Friesland increased at almost the same rate as the rest of the country but when the period 1869-1920 is considered, the charts show a different story. The national population growth was a considerable 92 per cent but Friesland had to settle for 31 per cent while neighbouring Groningen (with a similar socio-economic situation) reached 62 per cent! When the timeframe is narrowed down to the years 1879-1909, growth percentages were national 46, Groningen 30 and Friesland 9. Friesland's population actually decreased from 1881 through 1883, again in 1889 and 1890 and in 1892. Five of the six Northern Frisian municipalities fared worse, with Het Bildt hemorrhaging strongest as it counted 1,052 people fewer in 1914 than the 9,503 in 1879. Hidden in these figures is the fact that in about 30 years, Het Bildt lost 3,823 people to (e)migration of which a substantial number went to the U.S.A. In those years, the rate of emigration per 100,000 inhabitants was 68 for the country as a whole but a staggering 498 for 'Bouwhoek' Frisians.

Galema quotes from various sources their motivation to emigrate to the U.S.A. Ferwerd-born Marten van der Heide, who left in 1914 and who later came to Edmonton, Canada via Whitinsville, Massachusetts, was attracted by a schoolbook illustration which showed wide-open prairies teeming with wildlife. The picture fascinated him enormously, he wrote decades later. Others pulled up stakes, attracted by recruiting agents for passenger lines such as the Royal Dutch Steamship Company (KNSM) or railroads like the Northern Pacific Railroad. Real estate companies made enticing offers as well, as for example, Prins & Zwanenburg, founders of Prinsburg, Minnesota. Additionally, Frisian newspapers played a substantial role by keeping their readers informed about life across the ocean. Many letters from the U.S.A. which were published in these papers were eagerly devoured by those looking to improve their situation. Just as important to the migration movement were family members imploring siblings to follow them. A recurring theme was old country career stagnancy versus new country opportunity and abundance of cheap food. Ulbe Eringa, whose letters were published recently in a book by his great-grandson Brian Beltman, wrote after emigrating in 1892: '... And you can't imagine how good the food is here... You surely should not pity me that I am here because it's a beautiful country and one after another gets ahead. It's just the opposite from Friesland....'


This compelling America-promotion in a region with bleak prospects eventually hit home. Galema researched both Dutch and American records and came up with interesting conclusions. Many emigrants from Westdongeradeel went across the ocean but only those of the village of Nes went to Pella, Iowa. Of neighbouring municipality Oostdongeradeel only those of Lioessens and Ee went to Pella as well. Paterson, New Jersey and Holland Town, Wisconsin held special appeal to migrants from St. Annaparochie, while Holland, Michigan was the favoured destination of villagers of Ferwerd, Blija, Marrum, Betterwird, Bornwird and Holwerd. Zeeland, Michigan attracted those of Almenum, Oosterbierum, Arum and Piaam. Randolph, Wisconsin did well with Morra families. Whitinsville, Massachusetts almost exclusively was the destination for migrants from the Barradeel and Wonseradeel municipalities. U.S. Census records taught Galema that Northern Frisians settled primarily in just a few states. However, as interesting as these finding are, it is also true that in all of these places a broader Dutch community existed of which the Northern Frisians were very much a part.

The study's data on religious affiliation before departure is very helpful - 'hervormden' were overrepresented - but although post-emigration religious tension is identified in general terms, no specific information is being provided how this tension affected affiliation choices in the U.S.A. as in Christian Reformed Church versus Reformed Church in America (which aligned itself with the Nederlands Hervormed Kerk. This Dutch church faced a major "abberation" in the 1880s - the Doleantie - as did the RCA largely over the freemason controversy). As Galema acknowledges in her study, emigrant churches played a major role in the life of Northern Frisians. Galema's 'Frisians to America' is a book family historians and genealogists will appreciate greatly. Those who in their research need to bridge the Atlantic but do not know where to look, as being provided with patterns of migration that make searches potentially easier. For example, if a Dutch-American does not know from where his ancestors originated, it may be useful to check out the origin of others who settled in the same area (the same approach would be in order for searches involving peat colonies in the Netherlands). Historians who study emigration and or ethnicity will find this book very helpful in their work. Pages of charts, graphs, stats, notes and indexes make this subject even accessible for further scholarly work. Anyone who likes reading emigrant history, will enjoy this book. In this year of 150th anniversary celebrations in Holland, Michigan and Pella, Iowa, Galema has presented us with a very well and much-needed contribution.

Galema specifically researched the 'Bouwhoek' migration and focussed on a 34-year time frame. The questions now arise about what happened after 1918 when migration could resume. May we expect a follow up volume by Galema?

After 1947, many others emigrated from these six Northern Frisian municipalities. How many of them still went to join kinsmen in the U.S.A., or went to Canada instead? What about other areas in Friesland which traditionally also sent many emigrants? And what about places elsewhere in the Netherlands that made an impact overseas because of emigrants? To name but a few of these notable points of origin: Andijk, Boerdonk, Hoogeveen, Ouddorp and Winterswijk. Who is taking up the challenge to research and document such histories?

Leading Contributors

Among the villages contributing emigrants to the U.S.A. in the period between 1880 and 1899, St. Jacobparochie 703 in Het Bildt led the list followed by St. Annaparochie with 671 and Vrouwenparochie with 419. Between 1900 and 1914, another 688 departed from this municipality which includes these three Parochies. Information of the other villages covers the period of 1880 - 1914: Tzummarrum 530, Ferwerd 508, Hallum 477, Sexbierum 378, Arum 353, Anjum 326, Holwerd 306, Minnertsga 302, Witmarum 297, Ee 284. Based on 1909 census data, some of the villages sent off up to 30 per cent of their population to the U.S.A. Galema's information suggests that in Vrouwenparochie only a small minority of its population stayed behind.

Trilingual Situation

Frisian immigrants faced a peculiar communication phenomenon in the U.S.A., a trilingual situation. At home and on the farm they used their 'memmetaal', Frisian, while on the job and elsewhere English was spoken. In family devotions and in church services (both in the CRC and the RCA) they used the Dutch language. Galema reports that speaking Frisian at home as a rule continued even when the use of the Dutch language in church was abandoned.

Hoogeveen's history reviewed

1262 The name Volkert van Echten, who lived at a Manor, and witnessed a transaction, was recorded for the first time. It was the first reference to a Van Echten.
1275 Roelof, son of Volkert, received rights and privileges from Hendrik Van Borculo of Coevorden. The deal also mentioned Zuidwolde for the first time.
1316 The Van Echtens purchased 'Huis te Drogt' near Zuidwolde.
1353 The Van Echtens purchased the site where the Van Echten Manor later was built.
1579 Spanish forces plundered towns, villages and the rural areas of Drenthe. Their brutal actions caused two uprisings by groups of farmers who chased enemy soldiers from some areas. The Spanish later returned and put down the uprisings.
1580 The States of Drenthe opted for independence, and signed the Union of Utrecht. Before the ink was dry, Governor Renneberg delivered the entire region into the hands of the Spanish. Until 1594, the area suffered from a see-saw occupation by (often unpaid) mercenary troops from both sides who further ravished it. Towns and farmsteads were destroyed, and many people killed.
1607 Johan van Echten, the father of Roelof, passed away during the month of February.
1609-1621 Twelve-year truce with the Spanish king. Roaming bands of laid-off soldiers continued to harass Drenthe's population.
1611 Roelof entered the University of Leiden to study philosophy.
1612 Berend Ketel, an official at Diever, started harvesting peat fuel in the peat bogs of Diever, Leggel and Smilde.
1614 Roelof entered into marriage with Anna Bentinck, daughter of Hendrick and Elsake (nee Van Ittersum) on January 16. He also purchased land 'in de marke Steenbergen en Ten Arlo.'
1615 Roelof was appointed deputy of the States of Drenthe, a position he held almost continuously until 1639. He also received an appointment to a judicial council.
1621 Roelof and his investors from Overijssel purchased the sluce at Zwartsluis, and requested permission to build a larger one to accommodate bigger ships. Famine struck Drenthe due to a desastrous harvest-season. Many people starved to death, while the livestock was decimated.
1625 Nobelman Roelof van Echten signed a contract with the freeholders of the Drenthe municipalities, then called 'marke,' of Steenbergen and Ten Arlo near Zuidwolde, purchasing a vast area with peat bogs, regulating the intended harvest of peat fuel by the former, and setting out the rights and privileges of the latter. The deal carried with it seeds for future disagreements: in certain areas borders were at best ill-defined, and at worst non-existing.
1626 Roelof's private deal received public scrutiny from the deputies at the States of Drenthe. Public approval was given to this land deal. The States also gave a tax holiday which it announced on March 30th.
1627 Roelof purchased a fixed bridge at Meppel, and replaced it with a wooden structure so that it would be able to let ships through. He also commenced work on a plan for a sluce near this town.
1629 The States of Drenthe refused to celebrate Piet Hein's victory for fear of antagonizing Spanish garrisons (at distant Lingen, Oldenzaal and Grol).
1630 Amsterdam-merchants purchased peat bogs near Echten. Roelof intervened and thwarted the purchase by invoking an ancient property right.
1631 A contract signed at Zwartsluis officially launched 'de Compagnie van de Vijfduizend Morgen,' the original developers of (Van) Echten's Hoogeveen. The precise date is March 12th.
1631 On July 28, when meeting for an ancient local initiation rite, participants in 'Compagnie' voted to liberalize the articles of incorporation for the 'compagnie.'
1631 Consortium of investors from Amsterdam who participated in Van Echten's project notified their leading partner that they (Messrs. E. Roeters, E. & H. Spiegel, G. Storm, F. Ruijsch, P. Hoefijzer, J. Verschuer, M. Colijn, L. Conijn, J. Cloes de Jonge, and C. Martsen) wanted out of the 'deal'.
1632 Amsterdam-group paid out on May 28th, with a new Leiden-group buying into the 'Compagnie'. On September 12, the participants met at Leiden to elect a Board of Directors (R. Van Echten, J. van der Meer, Rev. J. Beukenberg, C. Willems Dedel, G. Huygens). 'De Bentincks Compagnie' is founded.
1633 At a meeting held at the Van Echten Manor on July 21, the participants decided in principle to separate their individual interests in the 'Compagnie van 5.000 Morgen' into smaller blocks of peat bogs. On December 28, this decision was ratified at a meeting in The Hague. This date is regarded as the birth date of 'de Hollandsche Compagnie.'
1639 Roelof received the highest political appointment in his province, when he was named 'drost'.
1643 Hoogeveen's founder, Roelof van Echten, died on November 20.