The Early Days of Graafschap

By Lambertus Scholten

Lambertus Scholten was born in 1861 to emigrants Berend Hendrik Scholten and Hendrike Lucas. He lived most of his years on his parents' homestead in Laketown Township near Graafschap, Michigan. He wrote this memoir for the book, "Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings," by Henry S. Lucas, published in 1955.

Allegan County Overisel Saugatuck

Lambertus Scholten’s memoir, “The Early Days of Graafschap,” adds more details to what the early settlers from Grafschaft Bentheim experienced.

The Scholten Family In Grafschaft Bentheim

Our family, as far as its American origins are concerned, dates from the emigration of Berend Hendrik Scholten (born May 25, 1817) to the Dutch colony in Ottawa and Allegan counties in western Michigan. The Scholten family, which lived from time immemorial in the purely Dutch communities along the Netherlands border of the ancient county (or Graafschap) of Bentheim, originally went by the name of Wolbert, not Scholten.

Berend Hendrik Scholten’s father was Lambertus Wolbert, who died before Berend Hendrik came to America. Lambertus was perhaps an officer of some kind at Haftenkamp, the place of his birth, being charged with official and administrative matters. From this post, he was given by his friends and acquaintances the name of Scholte, a name usually given to officials of this character.

He was the father of three sons:

  1. Albert, the oldest son, who went by the name of Klooster/Kloosterman (following a local custom, whereby men often adopted the name of their wife’s family). Albert Klooster came to America, where he was known as Albert Scholten.
  2. Hendrik, the second son, who for a similar reason went by the name of Krake. Hendrik Krake never came to this country, but his sons emigrated, and they founded the Kraker family in this country.  The Kraker family is represented by numerous Krakers at present living in Michigan. [Read the emigrant biographies of Hendrik Krake’s sons, Lambert Kraker and Albert Kraker.]
  3. Berend Hendrik, the youngest and the founder of our family. After settling in this country, the letter “n”, first affixed to the name Scholte by the Yankees, was added to form the name Scholten, which has ever since remained the customary form.

[Editor’s note: Berend Hendrik Scholten’s father, Lambert Wolbert, might have received the Scholten name after marrying Hille Scholten. The Scholten name is traced back for a few generations on her side until Geerd Scholten, who died in 1740. The letter “n” is present on the Scholten name in records found in Grafschaft Bentheim.]

Mother Scholten, Berend Hendrik’s wife, was Hendrika Lucas, youngest daughter of Steven Lucas, born in Grafschaft Bentheim on December 13, 1833. She had three brothers—Hendrik, Jan, and Harm; and two sisters—Wilhelmina and Dina.

Two reasons impelled the Lucas family, like many other Dutch families in Bentheim, to come to America. One of these was economic, for times were difficult and people found it hard to make a living. The second motive for immigrating was religious, for the policy of the government in Bentheim toward religion was practically the same as in the Netherlands. No unauthorized religious meetings of more than two persons were permitted. To enforce this policy, the government sent its police into the homes of the people, broke up meetings, and fined the violators of the law.

Colorized photograph of Berend Hendrik Scholten and Hendrike Lucas

Hendrika Lucas and Berend Hendrik Scholten, the parents of Albertus Scholten. Photo courtesy of the Graafschap Heritage Center.

The Grafschafters Hear About Van Raalte’s Plans; The Antoinette Marie

During the summer of 1846, these people heard that Dominie Albertus C. Van Raalte of Arnhem was planning to emigrate with a group of needy and oppressed Hollanders. The Grafschafters also decided to found new homes in America, but as they could not get ready in time to accompany Van Raalte, they did not leave Bentheim until March 15, 1847. They journeyed to Rotterdam, where they boarded the sailing ship Antoinette Marie on April 4. After an uneventful voyage of 49 days, they arrived in New York on May 23, 1847.

This company, composed of 104 persons, did not all come from Grafschaft Bentheim. A number, 34 in all, came from the Province of Drenthe in the Netherlands. From New York City, they came up the Hudson River to Troy, New York, and from there by canal boat, they proceeded to Buffalo. The boat was so heavily–loaded that there was scarcely room enough for everyone. Accordingly, some of the group preferred to walk.

They came by boat over Lake Erie to Detroit, then over Lake Huron; by way of the Straits of Mackinac through Lake Michigan to Lake Macatawa, then serving as a harbor for the city of Holland, which had been founded by Dominie Van Raalte during the late winter and spring of 1847.

They arrived at Macatawa Beach on June 20, 1847, but anchored offshore in Lake Michigan, as it was not possible for the boat to enter Black Lake (Lake Macatawa) through the shallow outlet. The members of the party were brought ashore in rowboats by solicitous sailors, who also showed them how to make shelters from evergreen boughs. They spent a few days under these shelters until they could decide what steps they should take next.

These hastily–constructed shelters gave the immigrants some protection from the wind, but not from the heavy rain that beat down upon the branches and leaves forming the roof over their heads. Nor could they keep off the countless mosquitoes that assailed them. But, they thanked God that they had arrived in their new homeland.

After resting at Macatawa for several days, several of the men set out for the “city” of Holland on June 26 to see Dominie Van Raalte, who happened to be too ill at that moment to give them personal attention. However, he secured for them the help of Jan Rabbers, who had repeatedly accompanied new immigrants on inspection trips into the forests around Holland.

Black Lake, mentioned in Lambertus Scholten's "Early Days of Graafschap."

Black Lake, now known as Lake Macatawa. The city of Holland was founded on the far eastern shore of the lake.

Original Pioneers During The Early Days Of Graafschap: 1847

Walking along trails used by Indians, they explored the region three miles south and one mile west of Holland. Here, many of the Graftschafters decided to found their new homes. They chose their claims, and Dominie Van Raalte forwarded their applications to Detroit. The price of this land was $1.25 per acre.

The settlers at once moved onto their claims, thinking to receive their titles in due course. But they could not always follow the surveyor’s lines, and so some of them built their simple homes on property that was not their own. Van Raalte suggested they purchase the property they had mistakenly erected their homes on and where they had begun to clear away the woods.

On one of the hills commanding a fair view over the surrounding country, they founded the village of Graafschap, from which the entire farming community took its name, after the Graafschap (Grafschaft) Bentheim they had left.

Our first houses were simple log structures—today we would call them shanties—with two or more rooms on the ground floor and an attic (zolder) above. At first, the roofs were covered with bark, but soon these were replaced with pine shingles. Wooden latches secured the doors, but these in time gave way to iron latches supplied, among other hardware articles, by the stores in Saugatuck. Our barns also were log shanties, but larger and taller than the houses. The stables were made in the same manner. We were happy when we had a cow or two, a pig, and a yoke of oxen.

Building a log cabin. In this video, Townsends build the walls of the cabin; one can appreciate the amount of physical labor involved in moving the logs and cutting out the notches. In the next video, they build the tulip bark roof; in the third, the chimney and fireplace.

The following were the first settlers who founded homes in Graafschap, Michigan:

  • Jannes Rutgers and family (wife Geze, Hendrika, Gerrit, Hilligje, Jannes, Geziena);
  • Steven Lucas and family (wife Trui Wolters, Willemina, Henry, Jan, Harm, Hendrika);
  • Lambert Tinholt and family (wife Jantje, Geert, Henry, Frederik, Hendrikjen, Lucas);
  • Lucas Tinholt and family;
  • Hendrik Kleiman and family (wife Zwantje De Groot);
  • Arend Klomparens and family;
  • Hendrik Brinkman and family (wife Johanna Teunnisen, Hendrika, Hermana, Jan Harm); and,
  • the Notting family.

With these families came a number of unmarried people:

  • Jan Klomparens and his father (Hendrik);
  • Arend Jan Neerken;
  • Geert Heneveld;
  • Jan Harm Lemmen;
  • Gerrit Jan Speet;
  • Jan Harm Wiegmink, brought up in the Derk Zaalmink family;
  • Gerrit Bouws;
  • Kasper LaHuis;
  • Geert Frerks;
  • Hilligje Poppen; and,
  • Jannigje Meyer

Seventy souls in all. Accompanying these Grafschafters were a number of people from the Province of Drenthe: Father Hunderman and his son Klaus; Berend Ter Haar and wife; Hendrikus Stokking and wife; Hendrikus Strabbing; Hermanus Strabbing; and Hendrik Hofmeyer and family—34 souls.

[Note: Lambertus’ list is based on his memory and is incomplete. Research on the Antoinette Marie’s passenger list is currently in progress and should appear in a future Society Newsletter, perhaps in 2022.]

Colorized photo of Arend Jan Neerken, early settler of Graafschap. He has brown hair and a beard.

Arend Jan Neerken.

Colorized photo of Jan Harm Lemmen, early settler of Graafschap. He has brown hair and a beard.

Jan Harm Lemmen.

Colorized photo of Kasper LaHuis, early settler of Graafschap. He has short gray hair and a beard.

Kasper LaHuis.

Graafschap’s Early Pioneers: 1849

Some time after these people had begun to make their homes in Graafschap, Berend Hendrik Scholten arrived, at a date we cannot now recall. A group of about 25 other young men came with him. I remember the names of the following:

  • John Harm Slenk;
  • Berend Lugers;
  • Berend Stegink;
  • Jan Hendrik Poppen; and,
  • a man named Bruidschot with his wife.

[Editor’s note: A Bernhard Scholten arrived in New York City aboard the Shamingo on June 5, 1849. With him were Johannes Slenk and Bernhard Leuggers.]

In those days, ocean–going immigrant ships indeed provided some supplies for their passengers, but no cooks. The ship’s cook was required to provide only for the crew. As the Grafschafters had to do their own cooking, they arranged with Mrs. Bruidschot to take charge of this work for them. In return, they agreed to pay her travelling expenses.

Father Scholten bought 60 acres of government land southwest of the village of Graafschap. He built a log house on this property, assisted by Jan Harm Slenk. It was covered by a dense hardwood forest of large trees. Here they made their home, but being in great need of money, during the summers they worked for the Yankees on their farms near Martin, Plainwell, and Kalamazoo. When not so engaged, they worked hard to clear their own property.

During all this time, Father Scholten and Slenk prepared their own meals and did their own housework. This lasted until Father married Hendrika Lucas. To this union were born ten children:

  1. Susan, who married James C. verHeulen;
  2. Hanna, who married Teunis deFrel;
  3. Truida, who married Albert Tien;
  4. Lambertus, author of this sketch, the husband of Grietje Boone (daughter of Jan Hendrik Boone, son of Egbert Boone, who arrived in the Kolonie shortly after Van Raalte);
  5. Albert, husband of Sena Slenk;
  6. Dina, who married Cornelius J. Kievit;
  7. Hattie, who married the Reverend Douwe R. Drukker;
  8. Minnie, who married David Postmus; and,
  9. Fenna, who died at 21; and,
  10. Hendrica, who died at 18.

Such in brief is the history of our family as I vividly recall it in this the 85th year, which the Almighty in His infinite goodness has granted me.

Plat map showing B.H. Scholten's farm south of Graafschap in Laketown Township.

The B.H. Scholten farm in Laketown Township in 1873. By this time, the farm had grown to 120 acres.

Clearing The Primeval Forest Around Graafschap

But, my memory also goes back to those distant days, when much of the country around Graafschap was uncleared and pioneer conditions still existed. The virgin woods were thick with hardwood trees. such as maple, beech, elm, birch, and an occasional sycamore. There also were many softwood trees, such as white pine, basswood, and hemlock. So dense was the forest of heavy timber that little brush could grow among the trees.

On one occasion, Father, with the help of Arend Jan Neerken and Jan Harm Slenk, felled a giant pine tree fully six feet in diameter. Slenk lay down across the stump, but his head and feet did not reach the bark. The roots of this stump resisted decay for a long time and may today even be found deep in the ground. The wood of this tree provided beautiful shingles for Father’s house and barn. But as a rule, the trees were smaller, although many were as much as three or three and a half feet in diameter.

Clearing the woods was a laborious task. The trees had to be felled with axes in windrows, which usually ran in a north-south direction. After lying for a year or two, they would be sufficiently dry to burn, especially when a strong summer wind from the south would blow up a hot blast, which reduced whole windrows of big trees to ashes.

Our first crops were pitifully small. We planted corn and potatoes among the stumps. At first it was hard work to turn up the ground filled with the roots of many trees. The hardwood stumps decayed very soon and after a year or two, we were able to burn them by piling dry brush around them and setting fire to them during the dry months of summer. In this way, we were able to create fields as the years passed, and so the country became dotted with farms. We prepared the ground by means of a hoe, as that was the only tool we had at first to cultivate the little patches of soil among the stumps. The ripe grain was cut with cradles, the grass with scythes.

We used oxen for drawing logs, pulling stumps, and plowing. Later, the settlers bought horses in Allegan and Kalamazoo. Our cows were turned out to pasture in the woods. To enable us to find them, we fastened bells on their necks. Horses were not common until about 1860; they proved a great convenience in travelling on roads. Almost from the beginning, most of our Dutch settlers had chickens and pigs, which fed on beechnuts in the woods, even in the winter when there was little or no snow.

Black and white photo of a man sitting on a wooden wagon that is filled with fertilizer. Pulling the wagon are two large white horses.

Hauling fertilizer in Graafschap, Michigan, around the year 1910. Taken from an old postcard.

Early Trade In The Graafschap Area

During those early days, P.A. Kleis of Holland acted as a peddler and drayman, bringing such articles into the Kolonie as the Hollanders needed. His usual route to Kalamazoo—covered by a wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen—started from Holland and passed through Allegan, Otsego, and Gun Plain.

During those first pioneer days, there was much demand for cats to war on the multitude of small wildlife so harmful to farmers. Kleis imported cats from Kalamazoo and sold them to the Hollanders, who placed orders for them. Moving slowly through the Kolonie with his yoke of oxen, he would call out “katten te koop” (cats for sale). Many necessaries were bought in the store at Singapore on the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, where they had been brought by boat from Chicago. Our people secured lumber from the mills in Saugatuck.

No matter how hard we might work at clearing the woods and preparing the fields, our settlers could not raise enough food for themselves, and so they were forced to buy many things, including such articles that had to be manufactured. In nearby Saugatuck, a settlement at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River that had come into existence before the Hollanders arrived with Dominie Van Raalte, there were merchants who could supply us with goods they brought down the river. Among the businessmen of Saugatuck were Butler, owner of a hotel; Morrison, a dealer in furs; the Wallin Brothers, who also dealt in furs and later moved to Grand Rapids; and Lamoureaux, a fur dealer who had a store in Richmond, a small place on the river a short distance (about two miles) east of Saugatuck.

From these people, the Graafschappers bought much of their necessaries. Many a Hollander carried a sack of flour on his back all the way from Saugatuck or Singapore to his home in Graafschap. Born and Company in Allegan made wagons, from whom the Wallin Brothers secured their stock. This they sold to the Hollanders, who paid for them by delivering hemlock bark or cordwood. The Wallins had full trust in the honesty of our people, giving them extensive credit, and never regretted placing their trust in them. Hemlock bark was usually peeled in spring or early summer, about the time for planting corn. It was not very pleasant work felling the tall hemlock trees and stripping their bark because the woods were filled with countless multitudes of mosquitoes, which attacked the men while at work. The bark usually was delivered during the winter.

The Early Graafschap Church

The road on which the church was built ran parallel east and west, to the road between Sections 5 and 7 of Fillmore Township. The curving road on which the church was built was never provided for in the original plans. It simply was a much frequented path used by the settlers who came to church. Its curve was due to the fact that our people traced a path which avoided the swamp to the south.

We had a vigorous church life from the beginning. Our pioneers frequently met for worship in the house of Willem Notting, a shoemaker by trade. But they also went to Holland, where Dominie Van Raalte held services every Sunday. This was during 1847 and the early part of 1848, until our first log church was built. Here, the first settlers met for their religious services. They sang the psalms in Dutch in full notes without musical accompaniment.

It was a most simple structure. A row of benches on each side of the room, an aisle between, and a plain pulpit made up the interior. The Dominie lived in a lean–to constructed on the north side of the building, the length of the church being parallel to the road that ran from east to west and still exists. Whenever he needed more room during the week, he moved some of his things onto the platform around the pulpit. This structure stood on the hill in Graafschap, just west of the present imposing church edifice.

As indicated, the parsonage was too small for the needs of any minister. So unsatisfactory was this arrangement that Dominie Seine Bolks, who arrived from Hellendoorn in the Province of Overijsel in the Netherlands, refused to accept a call extended by the congregation.

During the first days of the settlement, our pioneers, not having horses and buggies, came afoot to church. Frequently they came in their ox–drawn wagons. This condition lasted until the 1860s. During the religious trouble, when several churches disapproved of Dominie Van Raalte’s policy of union with the Reformed Church of America and our Graafschap church was one of the congregations to withdraw, people came long distances in the Kolonie to attend our services. They came afoot: through the forest, along difficult paths, through bogs, and over creeks.

Later, however, after nearby Holland had become a busy city, and the wooded country around Graafschap had been converted into a well–kept farming community, the present church was erected to replace the old structure of logs. In this building, two generations of Graafschappers have worshipped. There were sermons on Sunday mornings and afternoons. From every part of the “Graafschap” farmers came in their buggies.

Portrait of man with Bible in lap

Reverend Seine Bolks, founder of Overisel, Michigan. He studied under Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte in the Netherlands before emigrating to Michigan. He was also one of the founders of Hope College. While serving as pastor in Grand Haven, Michigan, three of his children drowned in Lake Michigan. After this tragic event, Rev. Bolks served at a number of churches in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, until finally accepting a call to the Reformed Church in Orange City, Sioux County, Iowa, in 1872. Always a supporter of higher education, Rev. Bolks helped to found the Northwestern Classical Academy (today, Northwestern College) on July 19, 1882.

The men with the older boys and girls attended morning services, but the whole family appeared at the afternoon service. Frequently, at least during the earlier years of which I well remember, families took lunches to church. About 1870 there was a kitchen equipped with a stove in the nearby schoolroom; there, the members of the congregation had hot coffee, prepared by the ladies for which they paid a penny per cup.

Sermons were about an hour in length. The morning service was usually based upon a question in the Heidelberg Catechism, the afternoon sermon on some Bible text. For years in our Graafschap church, we had a leader (Voorzanger) who led in the congregational singing. He also read a chapter from the Bible and the Confession of Faith, especially when the dominie was infirm from old age or sickness. When the dominie was absent, the Voorganger would read a sermon from the works of some famous minister like Hellenbroek.

Another important feature of our religious life was systematic house visitation (Huisbezoek). Every home was visited once a year by the minister and one of the elders. The itinerary was made known at Sunday service and the exact time was announced so that the entire family would be home when the visitors called. During these visits, members of the family were questioned regarding their religious life and were asked to make known anything that burdened their consciences or any difficulties in matters of faith or discipline or any church troubles.

There were a few special services during the year, at Christmas and the last day of the year. Our people adopted the American Thanksgiving Day, but also kept the traditional Prayer Day in the spring as they had been accustomed to. In addition, there were prayer meetings during the winter.

Graafschap Christian Reformed Church historical marker, which reads: Erected in 1862, this church was the center of the Dutch immigrant community. The first settlers in this area arrived in early 1847 led by the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte. In June of that year a separate group of seventy people from Graafschap Bentheim, near the Dutch border, founded this village which they named Graafschap. Joined by thirty-four other immigrants from Drenthe, the Netherlands, the villagers shared common religious views and spoke similar dialects. Before erecting a log church in 1849 near this site, these early settlers attended services conducted by Van Raalte in nearby Holland. Graafschap followed Van Raalte's example by affiliating with the Reformed Church in America in 1850. Seven years later the congregation severed that tie and reasserted its independence. Those who established this church were among thousands of Europeans who sought to escape religious and political persecution and economic depression by emigrating to America in the 1840s. Later Graafschap was one of the founding members of the Christian Reformed Church which bound itself closely to Dutch customs and ways of thinking, as evidenced by the fact that this church's parishioners continued to speak Dutch for two generations. This structure is made of hand-hewn timber and one of the roof beams spans its entire length. Although modified by the addition of educational facilities in 1922 and the expansion of the entry in 1937 and 1949, the main church structure remains intact. The Graafschap Christian Reformed Church is a noteworthy symbol of continuity in what is still a predominantly Dutch-German community.
Side view of a white church with steeple. This church was built in 1862.

Above left: Historical marker outside the Graafschap Christian Reformed Church. Right: The Graafschap Christian Reformed Church building, constructed in 1862. The pioneers first erected a log church near this site in 1849.

The First Graafschap Cemetery

Soon after they had established themselves on their claims around the village of Graafschap, some of the settlers, not being accustomed to the rigors of pioneer life, died. They were buried in the cemetery just southeast of the church, toward the foot of the hill. This swampy burying ground at the foot of the hill proved unsuitable, and a new cemetery was laid out one mile north of Graafschap. These deceased were:

  • 1849: Lambert Tinholt;
  • 1850: an infant of the Neerken family; Geesje Kropschot, Geert Kamps, Roelofje Schrouw, and Henrik Brinkman;
  • 1851: Wilhelmina VanZanten, Gerrit Bouws, Hendrikje Klomparens, Derk OudeHinkel and Jan Hendrik Lubbers;
  • 1852: Berend Bos, Janna Lamping, Johannes Hovinga, Trutje Lucas (wife of Steven Lucas), and Steven Lucas (an infant son of Hendrik Lucas); and,
  • 1853: Hendrika Rutgers, (wife of Hendrik Rutgers).

Later, a marble shaft was raised over the final resting place of our first dead in the village of Graafschap. Their names were recorded on the sides of the shaft. For many years, the passersby could not see this simple monument as he traveled along the road, for the church stables, used to stall the horses when the people came from far and wide to services on Sunday, hid it from view. In recent years, when the automobile supplanted the horse-drawn buggies, the stables were torn down and the shaft could be seen. In 1938 this shaft was moved to the side of the road and a suitable bronze plaque with the names of the first deceased firmly secured to a large boulder was placed by its side.

Photo of a group of people walking along a path in winter. In the distance on their left are the church stables, and the Graafschap Christian Reformed Church's steeple and roof can be seen behind the stables.

Graafschapers walking to church, 1890–1900. The stables can be seen on the left, with the church behind them.

Metal plaque affixed to a large rock. It reads: In memory of the first pioneers of Graafschap of which the following are buried here. 1849 Lambert Tinholt. 1850 Infant Neerken, Geesje Kropschot, Geert Kamps, Roelafje Schrow, Hendrik Brinkman. 1851 Wilhelmina H. Van Zanten, Gerrit Bouws, Hendrikje Klomparens, Derk Oudehinkel, Jan Hendrik Lubbers. 1852 Berend Vos, Janna Lamping, Johannes Hovinga, Steven Lucas. 1853 Trutje Lucas.

The bronze plaque memorializing the first pioneers to have died in the colony.

Education And The “Hollandsche School” In Early Graafschap

Instruction of the young was ever in the minds of our pioneer Graafschappers. No district schools were organized before 1861. But, during all those early years, a school was attached to the church in Graafschap. For years after the 1860s, Hollandsche School was maintained in connection with the church. In it, the children received instruction in the Bible, biblical history, and the three R’s—all in the Dutch language. Pupils were charged ten or 25 cents per month to pay the salary of the “meester,” as we called the teacher. One such teacher was Meester Van Ooyen, a rather wrathy disciplinarian who originally had come from Burum in the province of Friesland.

By 1900, the custom of holding such a school had been given up, although in the public school some effort was made to instruct the children in the elements of the Dutch language. During all these years, of course, our young people learned English in the public schools. But Dutch, or rather the dialect of the western parts of Bentheim, was heard almost exclusively for years, even on the playgrounds of the public schools.

The old log church erected at the beginning of the settlement also served as a school for a while. About 1870, an unused church building, which stood on 32nd Street in Holland Township and had been abandoned by those Hollanders who joined the Presbyterian Church, was moved to Graafschap. This “Scotsche Kerk,” as it was generally called, was placed on skids and drawn by ten yoke of oxen. This building was long used as a schoolhouse and also as a meeting place for the young people. Later, it was sold and became a village blacksmith shop. A chapel was erected on the east side of the church, which until recent years met the needs of the young people. This was sold before 1930, and a new one was erected on the north side of the church. Besides this chapel, which seats 100 people, the building has four Sunday school rooms and a sewing room in the basement.

Catechetical instruction was given systematically, generally by the elders, but sometimes by the dominies. The younger children came about 2 p.m. The older children and girls from 16 to 20 came about 4 p.m. The boys came in the evening. Such instruction was imparted from October until April, when farm work became urgent. There also was a singing school which was opened and closed with prayer.

Photo of the blacksmith's shop in Graafschap. A sign above the building reads, "Harrison Wagons."
Advertisement for Harrison Wagons, a farm implement manufacturer in Grand Rapids.

Blacksmith’s shop in Graafschap, around the year 1880. The sign above the building reads, “Harrison Wagons.” The Harrison Wagon Company was based in Grand Rapids. Harrison began making sleighs and farm vehicles as early as 1852, and in 1904 it started to manufacture automobiles.

Of our earliest Dominies, Hendrik Geert Klyn and Maarten A. Ypma, who served our church respectively from 1848 to 1851 and 1852 to 1855, I have no personal knowledge, as I was born in 1861. But I have vivid memories of Dominie Douwe J. Vander Werp, who served us from 1864 to 1872. I had catechism under him.

The present imposing church structure, commanding a wide view of the Graafschap countryside, was finished during the early years of Dominie van der Werp’s pastorate. The bell, whose peals are sweet music to my ears and rouse the tender memories in my breast—how could it fail to do so, when I heard its sweet notes every day for most of the years of my life, morning, noon, and night—was installed about five years later.

This bell has been a noteworthy village institution for years. To all Graafschappers, its peals announced the 7 o’clock morning, 12 o’clock midday, and 6 o’clock evening hours by which our farmers and villagers alike regulated their daily work. Usually, the bell ringer was also the janitor, who was elected in the annual meeting of the church, which paid him for his work. On Sunday mornings, he rang the bell one hour before service, again 30 minutes later, and at the opening of the service—both in the morning and in the afternoon. He tolled the bell at funerals—one stroke for each year the deceased had lived. Often, the people counted them and thought sadly about the brevity of life, its fleeting character, and how all men must soon appear before their Creator.

Photo of a wooden house with windows and shutters, a picket fence in front with a broken gate, and long grass in the yard.

The home of  Rev. Douwe J. Vander Werp.

The Graafschapper Colonists Seek Out New Land

Graafschap was not a large community, and good farming land was strictly limited. After years of steady immigration, all available good soil was appropriated, and many families were trying to wrest a living from poor sandy soil. Our people were a hard-working and sober lot, devoted to the task of conquering the forest and building homes for themselves and their children. Few of them at first left the community to find their fortunes elsewhere.

Collendoorn. To the southeast lay Collendoorn (now known as East Saugatuck). Until about 1869, Chicago speculators owned kilns there, in which they manufactured charcoal. This enjoyed a ready market and was shipped to many places. Many Graafschappers moved into this region, where at first a Dutch Presbyterian church was established. This soon failed, and in 1870 its minister, Dominie J. R. Schepers, took charge of the Christian Reformed Church which had been organized.

Amelia County, Virginia. While the Graafschappers were expanding in the direction of Collendoorn, their attention was called to Virginia, where at the suggestion of Dominie Van Raalte, a colony of Hollanders was to be established. I distinctly recall a certain Bouwman, a Graafschapper, who returned from Virginia just before the opening of the Civil War. His stories about the mistreatment of slaves, even their cruel mutilation, made a deep impression on me as he told them on my father’s farm.

A number of Graafschappers, Harm Lucas, Vredeveld, and Hendrik Koert with his wife and five children, accompanied by Evert Sprik from Drenthe and a number of others, went to investigate the proposed site of the new colony. But they returned with a very adverse verdict about the suitability of Virginia as a place for Dutch immigrants to settle. The Virginia colony proved a miserable failure and practically none of the Hollanders who had gone there in high hopes stayed.

Lucas, Missaukee County, Michigan. In 1882, some Graafschappers turned their attention to the still virgin woods in Wexford and Missaukee counties. Harm Lucas, Hendrik Lucas, Jan Lemmen, Jan Eppink, Geert Piers, and a number of others went north to investigate the possibilities of a settlement in the pine woods east of Cadillac. This resulted in the founding of the present extensive Dutch colony at Lucas in Missaukee County. A large number of Graafschappers established themselves on farms in that region. This settlement may be regarded as an offshoot of Graafschap, Michigan, but Netherlanders from various parts of the Kolonie and others who came directly from the Old Country also settled there.

Log cabin building of the Lucas Christian Reformed Church. Writing on the photo reads, "Log Christian Reformed Church building 1883 Lucas."
Four men standing with axes in a field alongside tree stumps.

Left: The log cabin structure of the Lucas Christian Reformed Church. Right: Clearing land in Lucas, ca. 1910–1930.

For further reading:

The Recollections of Rieks Bouws.” Hendrikus Bouws was 16 when he emigrated with his father and brother in 1848. His memoir gives a first–hand account of the early pioneers’ experiences in Graafschap.

From Overisel to Saugatuck and Back in 1849.” This article details a trip made by five Overisel residents to the trading post at Singapore (just north of Saugatuck).

Leave a comment about “The Early Days of Graafschap”

4 thoughts on “Early Days Of Graafschap”

  1. Hello,

    Thank you for putting together this research. I am a direct descendent of Jan Klomparens, and so enjoyed learning more about my family’s rich history.


    Abby Klomparens

  2. I am so glad to read this article. My grandmother came on the ship
    Antionette Maria and her destination was Graafschap. This give me
    so many details of what may have taken place. I do not have any
    copy of passenger list but according to Robert P. Swierenga it verifies her trip. Her name was Jantje Zaalmink. She married John Baker who
    lived in Holland. We went to Germany and find her birth record but
    were not successful. However I do have a book written by Harm Schneider. The title is Die familien der Gemeinden Hoogestede, Bathorn,Berge,Kalle, Ringe, Scheerhorn-Tinholt (1700-1910 My Grandmother’s father is listed in that book as Saalmink.

    • Hi Gretchen, thanks for commenting! I’ll be sending you an email with more information about the first Bentheim emigrants to Graafschap. -Heather

  3. Thank you for this! I am descended from Evert Sprick! Also from the Langejans’ and Schrotenboers who I believe lived in Graafschap.


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