Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte is the unquestioned leader of mid-nineteenth century Dutch immigration to Western Michigan, as well as the founder of what eventually became the City of Holland, Michigan.
Van Raalte was a minister in the Dutch Reformed church in the Netherlands prior to his emigration to America. The Dutch Reformed Church [DRC] was essentially the national church in the Netherlands during the early nineteenth century. It had been in existence since the Reformation and had become the government-sanctioned church for the Dutch Protestants who nearly all lived north of the large rivers, the Rhine estuary, in the Netherlands. In the southern part of the country the Roman Catholic Church still reigned supreme and was essentially left alone by the government.
As is not uncommon in any large organization without competition, the DRC at least as viewed by some people, had weakened in terms of its religious beliefs and practices. A significant group of believers decided to separate from the DRC and form its own more orthodox denomination. This schism [in Dutch the afscheiding] was not viewed with approval by many in the DRC, and the government decided it should intervene to stop the schism. It did this through harassment of the people in the new orthodox church and even went as far as jailing a number of their ministers and leaders. The imprisonments never lasted long but were repeated frequently.
Van Raalte was one of the ministers in the new Orthodox Church and he suffered from the government prosecution, which included his imprisonment along with some of his fellow church members. Interestingly, 150 years later, in the early part of the twenty first century, the two separated Dutch churches were reunited in the new United Protestant Church.
The church schism is generally considered to be the main reason for the Dutch emigration to America during that time period in the mid-nineteenth century. However, there is considerable evidence that horrible economic conditions in the Netherlands also heavily contributed to the emigration. The Netherlands, at that time, went through one of its frequent economic depressions, and the people, especially the poor, suffered the most from these economic downturns. Hence, the main trigger of emigration was religion-based, but the momentum and the magnitude were clearly aided by the deplorable economic conditions in the Netherlands at that time.
So on October 2, 1846, Van Raalte, accompanied by 53 others, including his own family, departed from Rotterdam on a ship named the Southerner to New York City, where they arrived on November 17, 1846, 46 days after their departure. Upon their arrival in New York City they were warmly welcomed by two ministers of the Reformed Church in America [RCA] consisting of Rev. Thomas De Witt of New York City and Rev. Isaac Wyckoff of Albany, New York. Although there was a schism in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, the new immigrants were in apparent solidarity with the Reformed Church in America.
The group was advised to stay in the Eastern New York State area for the winter before proceeding to Wisconsin, their chosen location, to start a new life. Unfortunately, the group was impatient and obstinate and decided to move on immediately. Their route followed the Hudson River by boat to Albany, then by barge on the Erie Canal to Buffalo, and finally a lake voyage on Lake Erie to Detroit, Michigan. Since the winter weather came late that year they were able to travel as far as Detroit. However, the winter weather forced them to stay during the winter in the Detroit area.
While they were in Detroit, the group had the entire winter to reassess their plans. Under the leadership of Van Raalte, they decided to stay in Michigan instead of moving on to Wisconsin. The Detroit area, then still largely rural must have impressed them. They decided to settle in a forested area in Western Michigan that is now centered by the city of Holland, Michigan.
Within three years of the arrival of the first group of 53 Dutch immigrants, the Dutch population in Western Michigan expanded to 5000. In 1847 alone over 2600 people left the Netherlands to join the first group which had departed the previous year.
During his life as the leader of the Dutch colony centered around the City of Holland, Michigan, Van Raalte established churches, schools and a college and theological seminary which was to become present day Hope College, in Holland, Michigan. He also was involved with others in the establishment of Dutch language newspapers such as, "De Hollander", "Holland City News", and "De Hoop". Van Raalte also wrote a number of Dutch language books.
Van Raalte was a strong opponent of slavery and he became a strong supporter of Lincoln and the Republican Party. Two of his sons, Ben and Dirck, enlisted in the 25th Michigan Battalion and both saw action in the Civil War.
Van Raalte was born in the town of Wanneperveen, in the province of Overijssel in the Netherlands in 1811. He was married to Christina de Moen. He passed away in 1876 following a rich and productive life.
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FIFTEEN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE VAN BURENS, KOCH BROTHERS, VOORHEES AND OTHERS, 2015
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS IN U.S. GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP POSITIONS, 2015
DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015