The journey to Michigan
The preparation in short
Albertus van Raalte, born in 1811, had different opinions about religions early on and because of that, he was never officially made a minister by the state church in the Netherlands. He joined the club of Scholte, another reverend with different religious ideas. That club was called the "Afgescheidenen", the "Reformed." Founded in 1834, they broke away from the "Hervormde Staatskerk", the "Reformed State Church."
During the autumn of 1846, Reverend Albertus Christiaan van Raalte (October 17, 1811 to November 7, 1876) and 101 followers dared the journey of 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) to New York on the ship "The Southerner". Van Raalte had some money with him, which was collected by his communion to buy a piece of land to settle on.
Van Raalte originally wanted to go to the state of Wisconsin, west of Michigan. He had heard good stories from other Dutch emigrants about the state. They went over the Hudson River to Albany, New York and than in the direction of Buffalo, New York. Then there was a severe frost, which caused Lake Erie to freeze early and the crossed to Detroit, Michigan. There were also very nice Dutch Americans there.
Winter came...They wintered in Detroit. Otherwise they would freeze to death before they could make a village in the wilderness. Van Raalte did more research for good places to found a village. At that moment, there was a lot of uncultivated land in Michigan because it only become an independent state in 1837. Much of Michigan was thickly forrested and there were many lakes and sandy grounds. Not more than 1% could be cultivated, so everybody believed it could sustain settlements.
The inhabitants of Detroit said just the opposite. Finally, Van Raalte decided to found a place in West Michigan because this had the best perspectives. However, West Michigan was at the beginning of development, and the land wasn't yet suitable for living.
Van Raalte bought a piece of land ($1,25 per acre, with one acre being 4,050 meter² or 2.53mile²). It was so cheap because it wasn't colonized. It was at the mouth of the Black River (later renamed the "Macatawa River"), which flowed into Lake Michigan. Van Raalte chose this piece of land because it had connection with Lake Michigan through an inland lake, so it could be used as a harbor. Only a few other people lived in the area. It was mostly inhabited by Native Americans, missionaries, and woodsmen.
Van Raalte had thought about it, and his followers wanted to stay. They were dreaming about wealth and everything and anything. In any case: they didn't think about disasters and other problems which would be there. This "experiment" was unique, and the Americans hadn't expected it because to live in the bush was something for the real Americans, who lived at the border, and not for immigrants who had just arrived. Americans thought immigrants had to go to the big cities, and to work on cultivated land. They would be content with an easier life than in Europe. The Americans were courageous enough to go through those hardships and pay a high price for success. Van Raalte and his colony certainly surprised them.