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Netherlanders in America
by Jacob van Hinte
a review by C.J. Bult

In 1928 'Netherlanders in America' was published in two separate volumes. Although 'Banner' editor Henry Beets did not think the twenty dollar price for this work was any too much, the average 'Banner' reader, no doubt, found it was more than he could afford. Consequently, few copies were sold in America. For this reason, the original Dutch language, two-volume set is rare and can be located only in either a few large research libraries or those collections concerned with the Dutch in America. Today, few people on this side of the water read Dutch and therefore have been unable to use this valuable resource. Now, those interested have a readily available English translation of this work.

Van Hinte spent six weeks in America during the summer of 1921, and while on this research trip, he gathered a copious amount of printed material and took notes on many conversations he had with older Dutch folk. The results of his prodigious labor during this month and a half can be found in his effort numbering more than one thousand pages. Van Hinte never returned to America and spent the years 1919-1948 as a member of the Geography faculty of the Public Commercial School in Amsterdam. History, Editor Swierenga states, was Van Hinte's "first love" and his original 'Nederlanders in Amerika' resulted from his doctoral dissertation.

Often dissertations are both ponderous and filled with encyclopedic detail. Although Van Hinte's work fits this description, these characteristics also contribute to its value for the serious researcher or the person who desires to read about the Dutch in his or her hometown, be it Ogilvie, Minnesota; Whitinsville, Massachusetts; Nederland, Texas; Hospers, Iowa; or Bellflower, California. Not forgotten by Van Hinte are the Dutch. colonies in Rochester, New York; Paterson, New Jersey; or those immigrants who chose to remain in such cities as Milwaukee and St. Louis. Also, Van Hinte devotes much space to the failure of settlements in Virginia, Texas, and Colorado. City Dutch, country Dutch, and those in the "colonies" such as Pella, Orange City, and Holland are minutely scrutinized by Van Hinte and from him we also learn, among a wide variety of diverse facts, about the willingness of husbands of Dutch ancestry to aid their wives in diaper changing and household chores, the fondness Dutch boys in Paterson have for "Italian beauties," Halloween rowdiness, and the wild violence of the shivered which often accompanied wedding celebrations.

In addition to the constant flow of geographic, sociological, and historic data, the careful reader will note, now and then, in this English translation a few rather quaint expressions. Self-glorification is the "rut" of the Holland Society of New York, new arrivals in America were met by swindlers called "crimps," the progressive Christian Reformed minister, Johannes Groen, was "... rated as a white crow among his people...," and we are told that the Secession of 1857, which gave rise to the Christian Reformed Church, has over the years been chronicled in a "slew of literature."

Possibly the above examples would read better in Dutch than in English.

Of more significance than the minor Dutch-to-English translation difficulties is the fact that the Dutch portrayed by Van Hinte are those who were living in America approximately sixty years ago. In other words, when you read Van Hinte, time stops in the 1920s. Then and now, comparisons will be almost impossible to resist. In the author's view, the most conservative Dutch folk were found in cities such as Grand Papids, Muskegon, and Paterson while the inhabitants of Pella, Hospers, and Holland were more liberal. Is this still true? Is South Holland, Illinois, still the "onion town par excellence" and does it remain "more typically Dutch than any other town?" Do Amercan men of Dutch extraction still prefer mates of similar background, because American women are "terribly lazy" and "...are not willing to walk anywhere"? In 1920, as we are informed by Van Hinte, Dutch was the primary language in seven out of eight Christian Reformed churches and no less than nineteen Dutch-language periodicals vied for the attention of the Dutch-American. Today, except for occasional special church services, Dutch has vanished and presently only two Dutch language periodicals remain.

More than just an exchange of the Dutch language for the English, Americanization can be described as a process of adjustment which involved every aspect of the Dutch-American's day-to-day existence. Also greatly influenced and changed by the American way of life were organizations such as the family, school, church, and community, to which the immigrant belonged. For Van Hinte, as Editor Swierenga states, Americanization "...was as desirable as it was inevitable." Although Van Hinte does not find all in America fine and good and has a keen awareness of the immigrants' unhappy experiences here, he emphasizes the benefits of adaptation and considers the mental anguish which accompanied this new way of life as similar to a butterfly's struggle to emerge from its cocoon. In other words, becoming Americanized is worth the effort. A developing sensitivity to social and political issues, Van Hinte thinks, goes hand in hand with continuing Americanization. To prove this point, Van Hinte mentions CRC minister F. J. Tanis' favorable comments about the 1920 Socialist presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, and the author also, in this regard, comments on the increasing acceptance among CRC members of the ideas of their own somewhat-radical (at least in 1920) dominie, Johannes Groen, who advocated moderation concerning such issues as labor union membership, women's sufferage, and also favored the formation of a Christian political party.

Essential for an understanding of Van Hinte's characterization of the Dutch in America is an awareness of the author's perception of the immigrants, their leaders, new settlements, and institutions. Van Hinte's remarks concerning the Dutch-Americans are tinged with ancestral pride. After reading a few pages, the reader will have encountered "our brethren in America," "our Groningers," or "our clan," and many other such descriptions for those who found America to be their new home. On the other hand, the author has little fondness for the English who "are haughty" and have "overwhelming conceit." Also, the author suggests that "The American lode star, dimmed by the English cloud, could not shine in its full splendor until after the War of Independence.

How Van Hinte perceives the 'kleine luyden' (little people), those common poor folk who came to America after 1840, bears little similarity to his less-than-positive comments about the English. Both in the Netherlands and America, Van Hinte's 'kleine luyden' had little money and still less culture. They were simple-minded, somewhat intolerant people who often quarreled about religious matters. Van Hinte relates with stark realism the sacrifices, trials, and tribulations they endured. Hard times did not always bring out the best in these early settlers. Faced with economic adversity in the 1870s, many Sioux County folk hounded by creditors, committed perjury or made false statements about their property. Random examples of Van Hinte's observations include the fact that by 1920 many of the Dutch were in busines for themselves but few held supervisory positions or were active in politics. Also, the author "marvels" and is "amazed" by the zeal for Christian education exhibited in the 1920s by "the Christian Reformed people who were formerly so backward but are now so progressive in many respects...". Emerging from Van Hinte's multitude of facts, firsthand observations, and thoughtful reflections are Dutch-Americans whose strong faith and everyday life are depicted in a manner best considered a blend of sympathy, understanding, careful observation, paternalism, and condescension.

Among the leaders of the early communities, Albertus Van Raalte is the author's hero. Holland, Michigan is "Van Raalte's colony," and Van Raalte "...remained the soul of the whole colony until his death" in 1876. Van Raalte and Zeeland's founder, Rev. Cornelius Vander Meulen, were able to bring out the best in the 'kleine luyden' and were constantly in touch with the needs of their people. In the author's words, "...those attending Van Raalte's funeral realized that a great Hollander, as well as one America's best citizens, had departed." Although highly respected by Van Hinte, both Van Raalte and Scholte are portrayed as extremely self-confident, often domineering, and very desirous that their will be done without question. Scholte is pictured as a "top-notch businessman" and a person both "bold" and "arbitrary." In his characterization of Scholte, Van Hinte quotes with approval an Iowan he met who called Scholte " . . . a Bolshevik in religion and politics." Another leader greatly praised by the author is the banker-businessman-publisher Henry Hospers, who played a vital role in the success of Orange City and the surrounding Sioux County Colony. Father Theodorus Van den Broek, founder of many Dutch Catholic settlements in Wisconsin, is highly thought of by the author. Often, these men "...put their stamp on the colonies," the author claims, and he also found they were well remembered by many in the settlements where they had functioned as spiritual and temporal leaders.

It is impossible to summarize Van Hinte's comments on every Dutch enclave he chooses to write about since few, if any, have escaped his scholarly vigilance. Beginning with the Dutch who came to New York in the early seventeenth century, he concludes with those who arrived in the first quarter of this century. The author has the most to say about Holland, Pella, and Pella's daughter colony, Orange City. Constant comparisons are drawn between Pella and Holland. Those who settled in Pella were richer and better educated than those who came to Holland; consequently, the author asserts, the Iowans were more tolerant and, therefore, became Americanized more quickly. Attachment to the land was greater among the followers of Van Raalte since they had to spend a great deal of time and effort clearing the land of trees and stumps, a challenge not faced by the Iowa pioneers. About matters of faith, the author states: "The Iowans were religious as well as the Michigan people, but the most fanatical, although also idealistic, pioneers were found in Holland and vicinity."

For Van Hinte, "the wide horizons of the prairie seemed to promote broader life views; the dense Michigan forests seemed to limit them." Without doubt, the Sioux County colony, including Orange City, can be considered Van Hinte's favorite. It is "Pella's creation par excellence." Here we "...are dealing with an exceptional class of people... in the physical and in the psychological sense." Those who came to Sioux County in the 1880s were "an exceptional breed." Also, "...they exhibited great will power and vitality" and had a host of other admirable traits.

The glowing adjectives and positive phrases penned by the author to picture the Sioux County settlement disappear when he chronicles the history and growth of the Christian Reformed Church. Throughout his study he refers to the Christian Reformed Church or its members as "true brothers" or "true church," a parody on the words "True Holland Reformed Church" (Ware Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerk), an early name of the Christian Reformed Church. The orthodox Christian Reformed Church membership had not attained the level of Americanization found among the more educated and cultured people who remained loyal to the Reformed Church. Therefore, in the author's view, the Christian Reformed Church can be considered less progressive than the Reformed Church. To illustrate the author's point, we note his use of the word "broadmindedness" when writing about the religious stance of the Reformed Church folk in Pella, Orange City, and Holland. On the other hand, he uses such terms as "foci of orthodoxy" or "hyper-Calvinism" to clarify for the reader how those Christian Reformed Church members in Grand Rapids, Paterson, Chicago, and Muskegon conduct themselves when confronted with religious controversy.

Those in the Christian Reformed, Reformed, and kindred denominations, who desire to understand their immigrant heritage and comprehend the faith of their ancestors, will find 'Netherlanders in America' an unexcelled resource. All church, school, and public libraries serving a Dutch constituency should purchase this book. For the library and the researcher, Van Hinte's 'Netherlanders in America' and Henry S. Lucas' book 'Netherlanders in America' (published in 1955 and now out of print) are the two studies considered indispensable. Oddly enough, both Van Hintes work and the one by Lucas bear the same title. The appearance of the English translation of Van Hinte's book is a credit to Baker Book House, Editor Robert Swierenga, and the large number of translators who made this work possible. Those who read this book, peruse the footnotes, or consult the index will often find relatives and, better still, will learn more about an immigrant people who hoped to find a better life in America for themselves and their children. We are their children and will appreciate them more after we read Van Hinte's narrative.

C.J. Bult

Netherlanders in America, by Jacob Van Hinte.
Robert Swierenga, General Editor. Adriaan de Wit, Chief Translator.
Baker Book House, 1985. $39.95.