Gerrit Lemmen

By Bentheimers International Society

Some information for this biography is taken from "The Lemmen Family of Grafschaft Bentheim," by Lloyd J. Lemmen and Loren J. Lemmen.

Hand drawn map of Laar where Gerritdina Lemmen was born in 1856

A portion of General Major von Le Coq‘s Grafschaft Bentheim map (1805) depicting the settlement of Laar. Gerrit Lemmen was born here in 1851.

Gerrit (Geert) Lemmen was born on October 23, 1851 in Laar, the second child of the weaver and farmer Berend Jan Lemmen and Fenne Schoemaker. They had three other children who were born in Grafschaft Bentheim: Fennegien, Hermannes, and Gerritdina.

Emigrating T0 Michigan

In 1857, when Gerrit was six years old, his parents sold their farm in Laar. The family emigrated from Grafschaft Bentheim and joined Gerrit’s uncle, Jan Harm Lemmen, and aunt, Lamberdina Lemmen, in West Michigan. The family departed from Bremen on the Bark Laura on August 11, 1857.

Around ten weeks later, on October 5, the sailing ship reached New York. From there, the family traveled to Laketown Township in Allegan County, where they bought 120 acres of uncleared land just west of Graafschap. The children worked alongside their parents in clearing the land so they could begin to farm.

Gerrit Lemmen Marries Katie Den Bleyker

On August 18, 1877, Gerrit married Kaatje Den Bleyker. Known as Katie, she was born in 1862 in Holland, Michigan. They had two children:

  • Fannie—born August 12, 1879; and,
  • Carrie (Gerritje)—born July 5, 1880.

Gerrit and Katie owned a 20–acre farm in Laketown Township, Allegan County, Michigan. The property had 15 tilled acres and five unimproved acres, and the couple had $300 in farm production in 1879. The 1880 Federal census lists Gerrit’s occupation as fruit grower. Living with the family was a boarder, Hendrik Ten Brink, a 55–year–old emigrant from Grafschaft Bentheim. The census shows him as having no occupation. (Read The Lemmen–Ten Brink Agreement in the Pioneer Stories articles section.)

Tragedy Strikes The Young Family

On the evening of October 15, 1880, the PS Alpena left from Grand Haven bound for Chicago with freight, as well as roughly 80 persons . The freight included a large shipment of apples. Around 3:00 a.m. on October 16, a massive storm known as “The Big Blow” hit the Great Lakes. The Alpena was seen 35 miles off Wisconsin’s shores, struggling in the high seas. Then she was seen capsized. Debris and freight floated to the Michigan shore due to The Big Blow, including a part of the Alpena’s stern, which ended up near Holland’s harbor. Wreckage and freight also made their way to Saugatuck’s shores.

Men along the lakeshore went out into the chilly waters to salvage valuables, and Gerrit Lemmen was among them. He became fatally ill from exposure and died on October 26, 1880. Katie Den Bleyker Lemmen married a second time to Robert Browers and died on May 21, 1927 in Kalamazoo. She was buried in the Riverside Cemetery.

Photo of Gerrit Lemmen, wife Kaatje Den Bleyker, and their first child.

Gerrit Lemmen, Katie Den Bleyker Lemmen, and their first daughter, Fannie.

Photo of the PS Alpena ship, which traveled between Grand Haven, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois on Lake Michigan.

The PS Alpena, which traveled between Grand Haven, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois on Lake Michigan.

Artist's portrayal of the PS Alpena ship in Lake Michigan, foundering in high seas.

Artist’s portrayal of the PS Alpena as it struggled against the high seas of Lake Michigan during The Big Blow.

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