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Roelof Sleyster (1815-1882)
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The First Dutch Settlers in Milwaukee

by Henry S. Lucas

Arrived in Milwaukee, Brusse informs us that the only Hollander they met in that city was a saloon keeper by the name of Wessink, to judge from his name evidently a Gelderlander. That other Netherlanders, however, had been in Milwaukee before Brusse's arrival and were living there at that time is most probable.

Among them were Jakobus Tak, Jan Pleite, Jakobus Ameele, Andries Du Mez, Hendrik Bruggink, and the Siefeld family all of whom had come in 1845. Du Mez and Bruggink were Gelderlanders, the rest were Zeelanders, according to the Rev. John H. Karsten, who served as minister of the Reformed Church in Oostburg, Wisconsin, from 1893 to 1899.
John A. Meenk, another Gelderlander, appears to have come to the country also in 1845 and settled in Alto Township of Fond du Lac County. The village of Alto, it is instructive to note, was settled almost entirely by Gelderlanders. Roelof Sleyster, who came on "De Hollander" with the Brusse family, also settled in Alto. Such are some of the circumstances which led to the founding of the Dutch colony at Alto and Waupun.

But there were other Hollanders in Milwaukee. Just how many we are not in a position to know; there may have been several, but it is certain that Brusse became acquainted with one, a Zeelander named Lukwilder. The immigration of the Zeelanders at this time, that is before the settlement of the Zeelanders in 1847 at Zeeland, Michigan, was wholly unrelated to the immigration of the Gelderlanders under the direction of Van Raalte and Brummelkamp.....

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Book Review reviewed by John Huizenga

John is a member of Randolph Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin and is editor of Beacon Lights.

Landverhuizers or The Immigrants

Landverhuizers or The Immigrants by Pieter J. Risseeuw. $25, $4 shipping and handling. Published 2008. 384 pages. Soft color cover. A historical novel, originally published as a trilogy, of Dutch immigration of the mid-nineteenth century. This English translation is made available for the first time by permission of the original publisher and supported by Netherland-America Foundation of New York. Originally published in Dutch in 1947, the novel discusses the trials and tribulations of immigration and the establishment of the Dutch churches and colonies in Iowa and Michigan.


Landverhuizers or The Immigrants
reviewed by John Huizenga

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this book paints a very realistic picture of our cherished history that is worth ten good history lectures. An excellent book that is as enjoyable to read as it is informative. You will not finish this book without gaining a deeper appreciation for our heritage and a greater desire to hang on to what we have. Landverhuizers or The Immigrants by Pieter J. Risseeuw is the product of extensive collection and research into original letters and documents of those who left the Netherlands to escape the religious persecution of the Dutch Reformed Church as well as the growing problems of poverty. The author does an excellent job of tying a great deal of original letters, sermons, etc. together into a gripping story of the young people in their struggles with their faith, relationships, life and death. 
I will not spoil the plot of the story which largely follows the hearts of two lovers, but wish to included some rather lengthy excerpts from the book to give some idea of the historical content of the book which begins in Arnhem Netherlands.

Excerpts from Landverhuizers:

On a trip from Pella to Waupun, Wisconsin, p. 209

A week later they boarded a steamer at Keokuk. Uncle Lips was wearing his best black suit and Sara was dressed in a green checked dress with a dark jacket and also wearing her bonnet. She attracted a lot of attention and was sorry she had worn her bonnet—all the American women went bareheaded.

What crowds of people! This was America where people were always on the move, never satisfied to remain firmly anchored in one spot, always ready to try their luck elsewhere. Sara enjoyed the sight of the colorful costumes of the various nationalities which were to be seen at any river port. Thousands from all nations were flocking to America.

At every opportunity, Uncle Lips would contact Hollanders. There was hardly a boat on any of the larger rivers of America which didn’t have one or more aboard. He talked to some who had been in Illinois and Wisconsin. Unfavorable reports about Van Raalte’s colony were still making the rounds and most agreed that Wisconsin, partly prairie and partly wooded, offered better opportunities than Michigan.

The next day after their arrival in Keokuk, Uncle Lips met a man who knew Sleyster and who was also on his way to Wisconsin. He agreed to help them. It seemed to Sara that they had traveled for months before they finally arrived at Waupun and saw Sleyster’s home. “How quiet it is here” she thought. The only audible sound was the murmuring of a small brook. Then she heard a woman’s voice. It was Johanna, singing one of the familiar Dutch psalms.

Slowly they climbed the hill to the house, already surrounded by trees. On all sides were bare acres—the grain already harvested.

Roelof Sleyster looked out of the window and saw the guests coming. “Looks like we have visitors,” he said. Johanna, who had been tending the baby, looked over his shoulder to see who it might be. “I believe I recognize them,” said Roelof, getting excited. “So do I,” said Johanna, as she quickly put down the baby and followed Roelof outside. “What an unexpected surprise!” Roelof said as they all shook hands. Talking excitedly, they went inside.

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by Jan Peter Verhave
(2007 Van Raalte Press)

6. Medical Care and Cure
Several immigrants from the Netherlands, Hendrik Barendregt (1846), Roelof Sleyster (1846), and Geert Heerspink (Allegan, 1850) recommended to those considering emigration to take Harlem Oil (Haarlemmer Olie) along. This was a universal remedy, famous in the old country for all sorts of intestinal ailments. Sleyster listed several remedies in a letter from Waupun, Wisconsin, to Rev. Brummelkamp in his home country: “Everybody should take house remedies along, especially Harlem Oil, chamomile, elder and linseed flour. No need to warn anybody for the evening air; that is healthy here, wherever I have been.” (For explanations about the drugs mentioned, see Appendix B, p. 73ff.) Sleyster checked the Holland Colony out in spring 1847, found it rather inhospitable, but apparently at that time there were no sick yet. He may have inquired whether people had followed his advice. Anyway, he decided not to stay. 

Elder - The flowers, leaves, and berries of the brush Sambucus nigra (Dutch: vlier) were used to treat inflammation and fever and to soothe the respiratory system. The leaves have antiseptic action and the berries are laxatives and have diuretic effects. Elder was one of the family remedies, recommended to be taken along from the old country (Sleyster, 1847) 

Linseed - Or Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum). As whole seeds was used as a laxative 
for constipation and gastro-intestinal discomfort (Dutch: lijnzaad). Also 
used in blisters. As a flour it was applied to painful boils, and as an oil it 
was appreciated as anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic and strengthener of 
the skin. The flour was recommended to be taken along from the old 
country by Sleyster in 1846.

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Twilah DeBoer
June, 1999

Some of the early settlers in the Milwaukee area were Andreis De Mez, Hendrick Bruggink, Jacobus Tak, Jan Pleite (Pleyte), Jacobus Ameele, the Siefield (Zeeveld) family, Roelof Sleijster, Jan Brusse family and Domenie Hubertus Jacobus Budding. Many of these people settled in the northwest corner of Milwaukee that became known as Hollandeshe Berg (Dutch Hill). Near Milwaukee, there were two other areas where the Dutch settled, Town Eight and Franklin Prairie. Franklin Prairie was located south of Milwaukee.

Early settlers in the Franklin Prairie area were P. Leenhouts, Hendrick Geert Klijn (Klyn), Jan Kotvis, P. Lankester, Huijssoon Kolyn, the De Pree brothers, the Moerdijk brothers and Adriann Zwemmer. By the turn of the centiry, the area had become extinct, with many of the people moving to the Milwaukee area. In 1852, Gijbert Van Steenwijk wrote back to friends in the Netherlands stating that there were now about 700 Dutch living in the Milwaukee area.

Albertus Meenk, as mentioned before, settled in the Alto area in the spring of 1845. His family joined him that summer. The family consisted of his father, mother, one sister and three brothers. One sister died on the trip from Milwaukee to Alto and was buried at Waterville, Wisconsin. One brother, Harmen, joined them in October, and another brother, Berend, along with his wife and two children joined them in 1850.

In 1846 they were joined by others, whose names included ter Beest, J. W. Loomans, Rensink, Vanden Bosch, Roelof Sleijster, Rikkers, Niewenhuis, Hoftiezer, Boland, Straks and Hollendijk. Some of these came with their families, some were single men, and some of them had families and in-laws that joined them later. In 1847, more emigrants joined them, including the Bruins, Booms, Veenhuises, De Groots, Veernhouts, Van Ecks, Kasteins and Walhuizens. Most of the families came from Winterswijk, Aalten and Dinxperlo in the province of Gelderland. Also joining them in the early years was the Duven family.

In 1846, the land was taxed at $2.00 a year for each 80 acres. Sleijster wrote back to friends and relatives in the homeland stating that anyone having the equivalent of $600 could soon become a wealthy farmer in America. The government at that time was charging $1.25 an acre for land purchased from the government.

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