Foundation of the Colony
Foreign looks familiarWhen the immigrants arrived in Michigan, they didn't expect to find a land which looked like the Netherlands, but they were reassured by seeing friends and hearing their own language and dialects. By many letters, which were sent to family and friends, they had gotten a lot of information about Michigan and the circumstances there. After the journey, weeks with fear because of the uncertainty, they arrived in lovely villages, e.g. Vriesland. They thought they were home, but they were far away from their homeland. Sometimes they had to cry when they arrived, having much emotion left from leaving what had been their home: the Netherlands.
Michigan, country for everybodyMany immigrants quickly got their own land and started farming. Even those who had had a different profession in the Netherlands tried their hand at farming. Many people were able to write about their success in getting land.
The differences at the work was described by Marcus Nienhuis in 1854, written to his ex-boss in the Netherlands:
"(..) I work in a steam-saw-mill, where I started at April the 15th. I earn 26 dollars in a month, and I have to pay 8 dollars for a place to live and for food for one month. I think that this is a good salary, I have to work for it, (..) but it's true that the people aren't treated like a dog and don't have to work so much, like when I was a bargeman's mate at yours.
So it seemed a great country, and many were going to buy some land to cultivate, but there were some problems, as Nienhuis tells us:
"In spring I travelled for 20 days and now for 8 days to look where I could buy the best land, because we want to buy some land. But you have to look out for which land and where you buy, because not all the land is good. And it could be that it's too far away from water or from the railway. And than you cannot sell your fruit so easy. On my last trip I found the land I want, but we cannot by this from the state right now, cause they plan to make a railway there, and they don't know where exactly. If they know, we're going to buy it, it's in NOORD HOLLAND in the colony of Van RAALTE, where almost anyone is Dutch. I had bought 80 fields of forest for 120 dollars, from the second owner (the first one was the state), and I had to pay 2 times 80 at the state, and we wanted to buy another 80 fields, for 100 dollars, than we had two pieces near each other. Tamme Wybes Dykema, a brother-in-law of brother Martinus, and I 80 fields is something like 60 yoke or 30 hectares in the Netherlands."
Nienhuis had a good life compared to many poor immigrants. They worked in the near cities, without any land of their own.
Church is very importantThe family Dunnink, who came from Staphorst, considered religion very important in the life of the Dutch Americans.
"(..) On Sundays we congregate and after the Service children are quizzed on Religion. We are a solemn and religious people.
Read much more about religion.
More work for the landDunnink moved to Beaverdam in 1851, and he said that land was available for $1.25 per acre. That was cheaper than the land which was closer to the center of the colony. which was more expensive because it was pre-owned.
He said about tilling of the land:
"I have ploughed many times in my land, if I didn't then there only would grow weeds.
No land anymoreAfter a long time the villages and cities were getting crowded. People began to look for new land. Around 1870, the occured with the villages Vriesland and Drente and thus was founded a new village, called Blendon, twelve miles north of Zeeland. However, in order to create a home there, the land needed to be cleared, which was a major job with the heavy Michigan forest. Two of the three brothers Avink did that, but the third one went to a factory in Grand Rapids to work, which was an alternative for the Dutch immigrants. Harm Avink was not very rich, so his oldest daughter had to work as a servant-girl for the neighbors for $2.75 a week. Avink enlarged the size of his farm until 1889. Finally in 1901, he had completed the worst labor and the tree-stumps were removed. After many years, he was finally able to farm.
By in 1889, there was no land left in Blendon. There was a large demand for factory jobs, so many young Dutch men became workers instead of farmers. A farm was very expensive to start up, while factory jobs required few skills and were readily available. Many moved to the large cities, but still lived in neighborhoods with many Dutch people, staying as aloof from Americans as their families on the farms.
DebtsMany immigrants became the victim of debt, as they needed to borrow to purchase land and then were unable to reap any profit from their efforts. An example of debts was H. Gruppen who was going to live Graafschap first of all, where he hired a company of 30 acres. In 1905, three years before the end of his contract, he bought a piece of land of 26 acres which was near the 30 acres. He also bought a farm in Borculo, which was near to Graafschap, which had 100 acres, whereof 70 acres were reclaimed and 30 acres forest. They had a good house and a new shed. He described his debt:
"We have 120 acres and have to yield 300 Dollars. (..) We have a debt of 4,500 Dollars with an interest of 6%. And at Graafschap we have a debt of 1,000 Dollars on 30 acres."He hoped that his children would became big farmers like he was, but they didn't. All his three sons tilled small farms of 20 till 40 acres and at least one worked also as a carpenter, in 1933. Many emigrants did the same, they changed into skilled work, and many times they came in near cities. Grand Rapids, the biggest city of West Michigan, where many Dutch Americans moved to because of its economical possibilities.