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Rev. Albertus Van Raalte and the Emigration to Michigan

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Rev. Albertus Van Raalte and the Emigration to Michigan

10 minuten leestijd

The followers of the secession movement in the Netherlands had to endure bitter persecution both from the government and from the common people around them. At the same time there was a severe economic crisis which has been known in history as the” potato famine.” Many of the followers of the secession looked to the new world as the promised country, where they would be free from persecution, and where they would find an abundance of food for their families.

In a previous article we noted that Rev. Scholte immigrated to Iowa with about one thousand people. In the town of Pella, by the providence of God they established a community free from religious persecution, with Rev. Scholte as both the religious and social leader.

Not only Rev. Scholte, but also other ministers such as Gezelle-Meerburg, Van Velzen, and Brummelkamp were forced to leave the Dutch State Church. These men, with different backgrounds, gifts, and opinions, were from the beginning, a very diverse group. Because of their differences, the conflicts in the young church became so severe that they, sadly enough, would soon be destroyed by it. Rev. Albertus Van Raalte was also one of the leaders of the Secession movement. Who was Rev. Van Raalte, and what were the motives for his leaving his native land to travel and settle in Michigan?

Albertus Christian Van Raalte was born in 1811. His father was a minister and he encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps. While he was enrolled as a theological student in the year 1832, there was a terrible cholera epidemic. Van Raalte feared greatly for his life and pleaded with the Lord to look upon him in mercy. The Lord heard his prayer, and from that time on it became his prayerful and earnest desire to devote himself completely to the ministry of the gospel in the National State Church where his father was a minister.

Van Raalte, in his student days, did not feel very much at home among his fellow students. Many of them showed little seriousness toward their calling, were ignorant, and harbored many un-scriptural ideas. There were but two of his fellow students with whom he felt a strong bond, viz., Van Velzen and Brummelkamp. This trio found an open door in the home of the De Moen family where they were treated hospitably. Van Velzen, Brummelkamp, and later, Van Raalte, each married one of the daughters of this family. Now they were not only friends, but also brothers-in-law. Van Raalte married the second daughter, Christina Johanna.

He studied diligently in Leiden for three more years. Soon after Rev. De Cock and Rev. Scholte were deposed from the State Church, Van Raalte had to be examined for being accepted into the ministry. Van Raalte, who was now about twenty-four years old, had a wholehearted desire to serve the Lord in the church of his father(s). But the Lord who rules over all things says in His Word,” For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). God’s ways were higher than Van Raalte’s ways, and His thoughts than the young student’s thoughts. Although he passed his examinations satisfactorily, he was not admitted to the ministry. The reason that was given was that he was not fully acquainted with all the man-made and often unscriptural church laws and regulations which had been adopted by the State Church. This was the reason which was put forward by the president of the Provincial church government. The real reason, however, was that the liberal ministers feared that the young theologian would cause unrest in the church, because his sympathies lay with the men of the secession, and also because of his family relationship to Van Velzen and Brummelkamp. This decision was a great injustice to the young minister. He did not have any desire to leave his church, but his only desire was to serve God in obedience to His Word. The Provincial church government gave him an opportunity to study the church laws and regulations more thoroughly, and to return for a re-examination in the fall of 1835.

It is understandable that Van Raalte was very disappointed with the results of his examination. Therefore, he approached a friend of his father, Professor Clarisse, and told him what had transpired. This man, upset at the injustice committed, gave him a letter of introduction to the president of the Synod, Rev. Donker Curtius, so that Van Raalte could discuss his case with him. Rather than being sympathetic to the young minister’s plight, Rev. Donker Curtius reprimanded him severely because of his relationship to those” agitators,” Van Velzen and Brummelkamp (even though he was not yet married). At the end of their meeting he was told,” Preach whatever you like. Let us preach what we like, but obey the laws.” As a result of this discussion, Van Raalte began to diligently study the church rules and regulations. His study, however, gradually led him to the conviction that the synodical organization was anti-Reformed in principle, tenor, and operation.

At the next meeting of the Provincial church government in the fall of 1835, he was again examined. He courageously confessed his conviction that the church rules were in error. At this meeting he was dealt with harshly, and he was again denied ordination because of his stand. Although Van Raalte had always opposed secession from the State Church, his present situation made it easier for him to establish contact with this movement.

Soon after Van Raalte’s appearance before the Provincial Synod, he received a call to the Secession Churches of Genemuiden and Mastenbroek in the province of Overijsel. This call he was able to accept, and he was installed there on March 23,1836. The prophet states in Isaiah 42:16,” And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known.” This prophecy also became evident in the young minister’s life. Van Raalte labored in his first pastorate for four years, when he moved to Ommen, also in the province of Overijsel. Because there were but few ministers in the early Secession Churches, they carried a heavy load of preaching, catechizing, and house visitation. All this was done in days when travel was difficult. They did not have the modern conveniences known to us today. The wives and families of the ministers also sacrificed much as their husbands and fathers traveled from place to place.

In 1844 Rev. Van Raalte took up his residence in the city of Arnhem to devote himself, along with his brother-in-law Brummelkamp, to the training of theological students. In this position Van Raalte was busy for only two years, at which time he undertook to emigrate to the United States.

Van Raalte and Brummelkamp were active in the founding of the Society for Netherlands Emigration to the United States. Like Israel of old, they sent” spies” to investigate the new land and to report back to the leadership. Favorable and optimistic reports were received from the investigators, so that under the auspices of the Emigration Society groups of emigrants were sent to the new world.

In September of 1846 Rev. Van Raalte, his wife, and five children, along with their housekeeper departed for the new world. As they boarded the American ship” The Southern,” they were joined by approximately one hundred of their followers who wished to join them in establishing a new settlement. In their journey from Rotterdam to New York, three of their number died— two children and one adult. They arrived in the new world late in the year. They were taken in by fellow believers in the New York State area who helped them through the harsh winter. Some spent the winter sleeping in warehouses amidst packing crates, while their husbands searched for any kind of work to help them provide for their families.

The original aim of the immigrants had been to settle in Wisconsin, but after Rev. Van Raalte had explored the area and gathered information from the citizens, it was decided to settle in the forests of western Michigan. A small group of followers, under the leadership of Rev. Van Raalte, traveled to Michigan in the beginning of February, through the snow-covered fields, where they made a beginning of their new community. The women were left behind until some homes could be built to house the families of the settlers.

The men slept together on the floor of a small farmhouse, sharing a few blankets, until they built some log cabins with the help of some of the local Indian tribes. Men of entirely different backgrounds worked together for the welfare of all the settlers. When the homes were completed, the women and children joined them. Many died in those first years, but the Lord gave sustaining and encouraging strength to the people. The first group of log cabins formed the beginning of the city of Holland, Michigan. In the beginning it was a place of sickness and death in the deep forest of western Michigan. By 1849, however, in spite of the hardships, considerable growth had taken place in the area. Some 253 homes had been built in Holland, 30 in Groningen, 175 in Zeeland, 41 in Drenthe, 69 in Friesland, 35 in Overijsel and 50 in Graafschap.

In addition to the building of homes, seven congregations had been established which were served by four ministers. The settlers did not only concern themselves with Sunday worship, but they also provided Christian instruction for their children by building three Christian schools.

Not all the settlers came from the Dutch provinces of Overijsel and Gelderland. Immigrants also came from the province of Zeeland, under the leadership of Rev. Cornelius Vander Meulen. Even though the settlers had a common Dutch heritage, considerable differences in background made the early years very difficult. Rev. Van Raalte and his consistory exercised the initial leadership of the colony. However, the need soon was felt for a separate civil government. Those members in our circles who remember the early years of our immigrant churches can well imagine some of the difficulties these early settlers faced, also when it came to electing men for civil government positions.

God takes care of His church. He fulfills His covenant. This is seen also in the history of the church in the settlements in Michigan, Iowa, and other places. The question now comes to all of us: Do we belong to that Church which the Son of God” from the beginning of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word out of the whole human race,” and can we give a well-founded testimony that” we are and forever will remain a living member thereof” ? Blessed are they who by grace may be enabled to give such a true confession, and who are travelling through this wilderness to the land of rest, to be with their Bridegroom, to glorify and worship Him there.

Rev. C. Vogelaar is pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van zondag 1 april 1990

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

Rev. Albertus Van Raalte and the Emigration to Michigan

Bekijk de hele uitgave van zondag 1 april 1990

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

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