Harm Masselink Autobiography

By Harm Masselink

Harm Masselink was born in 1842 and served in both the Hanoverian and Prussian armies. Harm and his wife emigrated in 1872.

Watercolor of Harm Masselink's barn, painted by Elizabeth Freeman, Harm's great-great-granddaughter.

Harm Masselink wrote his autobiography in Dutch during the winter of 1907–08. His son Benjamin translated it into English in January, 1930. Harm’s great–great–granddaughter, Elizabeth Freeman, submitted this article for the July and October, 2017 issues of the Society’s Newsletter. She also painted the picture of Harm’s barn shown above.

I was born February 3, 1841 in Scheerhoorn, Grafschaft Bentheim, Hanover, Germany. My father’s name was Gerrit Hendrik Masselink, who was a farmer. He took part in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 as a German soldier and then marched to Paris. He then returned home. He died at the age of 80 years. My mother’s name was Fenne Walkotte, a farmer’s daughter. She died in May, 1869 at the age of 70 years.

In 1844 the family moved to Hardinghausen, about five miles from Scheerhoorn. Hardinghausen was Father’s original home, and here my parents lived to the end of their lives as farmers. I was first a herdsman, having six or eight cows in my charge. I then became a shepherd, having in my charge about 100 sheep. I attended school during the winter, where the instruction was in the Dutch language at first and later in German.

In 1857, I accompanied my brother, Hendrik Jan, to Garme Church [Garminge?] in Westerbork. There I was employed as a carpenter and a mason. In the fall, we moved to Beilen, Drenthe, Netherlands, about 30 miles from the parental home, where I spent the winter. I returned to Westerbork in 1858, where I helped to build a house on the big Ellesveld farm. I was in the employ of my brother Hendrik Jan, who at this time had been a carpenter for seven years.

Cover of book, "Das Bentheimer Landwehrbatallon: 600 Grafschafter In Der Schlacht Bei Waterloo" by Dietrich Veddeler.

The Bentheim Border Reserves Battalion: 600 Grafschafters in The Battle of Waterloo, by Dietrich Veddeler. He gives a detailed history of the Bentheim Reserves Battalion, beginning with how Napoleon changed Europe before focusing on Grafschaft Bentheim in particular. The Battalion lives on still today in historical reenactment clubs, such as Schüttorf’s Historische 1. Kompanie Bentheimer Landwehrbataillon von 1814 and Uelsen’s 4th Company.

Harm Masselink’s Hanoverian Army Service

In April of 1862, I was ordered into military service. I walked to Lingen, a distance of 21 miles, and lodged there overnight. From here I took the train (I had never seen a train before this time) to Osnabrück, where the regiment of the Seventh Infantry was located. This was the regiment that most of the Grafschafters were attached to. Some had been sent to the capital city of Hanover by way of Osnabrück, where they were quartered for a few days.

When everything was in readiness, and after another examination by the doctors, we were sent by train to Hanover on April 23, 1862, a distance of about 120 miles. Upon arriving, I was directed to the Second Artillery Battalion, Fourth Fusiliers Company, a little distance outside of the city. There were three new and well–constructed barracks having 35 small towers and one large tower in the middle, with a large clock in it. In front was a large training space with several heavy cannons called the “Welfen Kazerne” (Kaserne, barracks), named after the king. In addition to these were several smaller barracks. All this was most wonderful for me to see.

Color painting of well-dressed people strolling on a street next to a large military parade ground. In the background are very large barracks constructed of red brick.

The New Barracks on the Welfenplatz at Hanover (“Die neuen Casernen am Welfenplatz zu Hannover”). Color lithograph from around 1870. They were named after the Welf (Guelf, Guelph), Hanover’s royal family.

I do not recall whether we were called recruits for three or four months, but during these months, like freshmen in the university, we were much disillusioned. There was a lot of training, gymnastic exercises, instruction in manners, etc. For food and upkeep, we were allowed daily about twelve cents in money besides 1.4 pounds of bread, also heat, light, and clothing. We were obliged, however, to maintain our clothing at our own expense—doing our own washing and repairing of shoes, as well as clothing. Swearing was seldom heard from privates or officers. But we often heard, “Sie dummes Hornochsenvieh, stehen Sie dort nicht wie ein 80 jähriges Weib, und denken Sie nicht immer an Ihre Mutter und Großmutter, aber immer munter!”: “You stupid donkey, don’t stand there like an 80–year–old woman and don’t always think of your mother and grandmother, but always look lively!”

After these months of preliminaries, we were ushered into full military service. In addition to the exercises, we were compelled to maintain “watch” and also to work. Our “watch” was the powder magazine, about five miles out of the city. These buildings were completely made of wood and placed in a circle. Each building was separated from the others by 1,200 to 1,500 feet. Hinges and locks were made of copper so as to prevent fire; for the same reason, there were no glass fixtures used, and no windows. Also, everything was placed in compartments. There were mats in the aisles.

Photograph of a silver coin with a silhouette of King George V on one side and the Hanover coat of arms on the other.

Silver 3.5 gulden coin from the Kingdom of Hanover, 1855. It weighed 37.12 grams and was 90% silver. It was worth 2 imperial thalers or 1/7 Cologne mark. George V, depicted on this coin, was Hanover’s last king.

Black and white postcard of the Welfplatz parade ground and barracks building.

The Welfen-Kasernen, Hanover. From a postcard ca. 1900–1910.

When any work was to be done in these buildings, felt shoes were used and all steel utensils, such as knives, etc., were removed from pockets. These buildings were well–provided with Blitzablecters [lightning rods] and enclosed by a fence, around which was placed a “Schild wacht” [sentries] consisting of three men per post. These men were on duty for two hours and then were allowed four hours in the watch house, which was located in the middle of the circle.

I worked many a day in well–constructed houses and barns, which contained a lot of military equipment, such as cannons, rifles, wagons, etc. There was also one building used to house antique military weapons as mementos.

In the latter part of May, 1864, I received my discharge from active military service, the so–called “Uhrlaub.”

Missing The Battle Of Langensalza

In June, 1864, I was again employed by H. Broene at De Wijk, receiving as compensation 2.75 gulden per week, including board and washing. In 1865, I was employed by G. Klippers of Bedum, Providence of Groningen, who was a mill worker. This was about 70 miles from home. I received 4.75 gulden per week, including my board. This was considered big wages at that time.

I was again employed by G. Klippers in 1866. But war broke out at this time between Austria and Prussia. Hanover desired to help Austria, and I received orders to come to Hanover on June 24. On my way to Hanover, on the 17th of June, I was informed in the city of Groningen that the Prussians had already entered Hanover, and so I happily returned home. I did not go further in this affair because, when Hanover had assembled all the possible soldiers, a battle took place on the way to Austria near Langensalza in Prussia on the 27th of June, to the best of my recollection. On the 29th, seeing they were surrounded, Hanover surrendered. The conditions were that all arms were to be laid down and that all might then return home.

During that time, cholera had broken out in Groningen and Bedum. Consequently, I did not return to those places but instead went to Wilsum and worked for Mr. B.J. Emmes in 1866 and 1867 [perhaps Berend Jan Emmen, a master carpenter in Wilsum].

As a result of this most recent war, Hanover became a province of Prussia. As a Prussian soldier, I was assigned to the “Landweer” [Landwehr, border or territorial reserves]. I was compelled to acquaint myself with the new arrangements, and so from September 2, 1867 to October 18, 1867, I was in the charge of the Prussian “Garniezoon” [garrison] and then could leave active duty.

Harm Masselink Marries Geesje Benierman

In 1868 I went again to Bedum and worked for K. Noort, doing carpenter work and mason work. I received as compensation five gulden per week, as well as board. Here I was afflicted with malarial fever for one year. I returned to my parents and made my home with them and my brother Hendrik, who as the eldest son lived with my parents. I did carpenter and mason work and wagon making work, such work as a farmer might need. During the winter, my wages were six stuivers per day. A stuiver is about two cents in American money.

In May, 1869, I received my discharge as a soldier in as much as I had been in the service of Hanover. On August 25, I was married to Geesje Benierman, who was born in January, 1845 and lived with her parents on a farm in Haftenkamp. Her father was Berend Benierman, who died in November of 1865 at the age of 62 years. Her mother’s name was Janna nee Kip, who died in February, 1870 at the age of 64 years.

Photograph of a silver coin with a silhouette of King Willem III on one side and the Netherlands coat of arms on the other.

Silver 1 gulden coin from the Netherlands, 1860. It weighed 10 grams and was 94.5% silver. King William III is depicted on this coin.

Painting of 8 Hanover soldiers, including a drummer, in a field in front of a German farmhouse.

Hanoverian army members in 1866, when Hanover joined Austria against Prussia. After its surrender, Hanover became a province of Prussia. From left to right: Bugler, observer, soldier, sergeant, adjutant, officer, drummer.

Black and white artwork showing many Hanoverian soldiers storming a mill at Langensalza.

Storming of the Kallenberg Mill by the Hanoverians in The Battle of Langensalza June 27, 1866. By Otto Handlow, ca. 1905.

A printed form filled in by hand and written in German.

Hanover won the Battle of Langensalza on June 27, 1866. However, the army was unable to defend itself against Prussia’s reinforcements, who arrived shortly after the battle. On July 28, Harm Masselink was issued this leave of absence. It grants him an indefinite leave without pay and notes that he’s keeping the terms of Hanover’s surrender. He may not serve against His Majesty, the King of Prussia.

A printed form, filled in by hand and in German.

Five months later, on January 1, 1867, Harm Masselink was issued this military discharge from the Royal Hanoverian military service. According to another document, he was back in the Landwehr reserves on February 23, only this time, he was in Prussian service.

Journey To Overisel, Michigan

Our plan was to move to America this same fall (1870), but we were unavoidably delayed. We had a public auction of three new wagons, some woodwork, and some implements, and began our journey to America on April 4, 1872.

Leaving Hardinghausen, brother Hendrik took us by wagon to Lingen. From Lingen to Leer by train. On April 8, by boat to Bremerhaven. Here we stayed 18 hours and then went on a larger boat, which was anchored a short distance from the shore.

On April 9th a big storm took place, but about noon we went out to sea. But, Oh what a storm! The waves were dashing clear over the ship, and there was much seasickness among the passengers.

The boat went through the storm and reached Hull, England in safety. At Hull our baggage was inspected so as to intercept any smuggling. From Hull we took the train, going through 13 or 14 tunnels through the mountains to Liverpool. Here we stayed over for one week. We became infested with vermin here, but our board was good, and we stayed at the expense of the company. We were accompanied on this journey by 29 other Grafschafters.

From Liverpool, we crossed the ocean to Quebec and from there to Detroit. At Detroit, our baggage was again inspected; to our chagrin, everything had to be opened.

From Detroit we went to Holland. On May 6, 1872, we arrived at the home of my brother, Hendrik Jan, in the township of Overisel. The cost of the entire trip was just about 150 gulden per person.

  • [Editor’s note: According to ancestry.com, the ship the Masselinks sailed on from Liverpool was the Scandinavian of Montreal, which arrived at Quebec on May 8, 1872. This casts some doubt on the date Harm mentions. However, the Library and Archives Canada website gives the Scandinavian’s date of arrival as April 29, 1872.]
Colored painting of immigrants on board a ship. They're carrying large sacks and baskets.

Emigrants On Board (“Auswanderer am Bord”) by F.L. Meyer. X.A. Courtesy of the Deutsche Auswanderer–Datenbank, Historisches Museum–Bremerhaven.

Homesteading In Overisel

We stayed with my brother for about six months and bought from him 20 acres of land at a cost of $325. We built a shanty on this farm and lived in it for one year. We then sold this farm to the H.J. and Geert Frieman brothers for $400. We then bought another farm of 50 acres from Jan Scholten, paying $875 for it.

This farm was entirely covered with primeval forest, which intercepted the cold of winter. During the winter of 1873–1874, we erected a house on this farm; when it was about one–half finished, we moved in. No neighbor was in sight on account of the trees and woods.

During these years, I worked as a carpenter a large part of the time and contracted to have 20 acres cleared for $90. After the entire farm was cleared, we bought an additional ten acres from Henry Boerman for $333.33. We built a barn in 1886, and later a hog pen and chicken coop.

1873 plat map of Overisel Township showing "H Masselink" with 40 acres next to "G. Freeman" with 20.

1873 plat map of Overisel Township with Hendrik Jan Masselink’s 40–acre farm. To the south is a 20–acre farm owned by G. Freeman.

I also helped to build the church and parsonage in Oakland. I was a member of the consistory for 23 or 24 years, serving in Vriesland, North Overisel, and Oakland. I served as a member of the school board for nine years, from 1882 to 1891.

It was difficult to break up the interests and attachments we had formed, but our children were grown up and wanted an education, and our hair was graying with age. So we sold our farm on December 2, 1903 to John Weaver for $4,000. We bought a house in Drenthe from R. Lanting for $500, built a small barn on the lot, and made other improvements. We dug a well to the depth of 114 feet and placed a pump on it. We held a public auction on February 23, 1904 and moved to our new home in Drenthe [in Ottawa County].

Through the kindly aid of Jan Scholten, County Clerk, I became an American citizen in July of 1878.

Photograph of the original Oakland Christian Reformed Church with steeple and bell. Harm Masselink helped to build this church
Photo of a Michigan historical marker by the Oakland Christian Reformed Church.

Above left: The original Oakland Christian Reformed Church building in Hamilton, Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Oakland CRC and provided by Jody Rietsma, church historian. Above right: The historical marker outside the current church building. “A Dutch settlement known as Oakland sprang up in this area about a decade after the founding of nearby Holland in 1847. Many residents worshipped with the Vriesland and Drenthe congregations until they formed their own churches. One group, North Overisel, had a church a half mile to the north. Another group, East Overisel, worshipped in a schoolhouse to the southwest. In 1887 the two merged and built a church in the shape of a cross (Kruiskerk) by moving the North Overisel Church and using lumber from the East Overisel Church. The new church was named the Holland Christian Reformed Church of Doornspijk, after a small town in The Netherlands. In 1890 the name was changed to the Oakland Christian Reformed Church. The 1887 structure stood on this site until 1953, when the present building was erected.” Photo by Duane Hall.

Declaration of Intent form, filled in by hand: "State of Michigan, County of Allegan. The Circuit Court for said County, to wit: Harm Masselink solemnly swear that it is bona fide my intention to become a citizen of the United States, and to renounce forever, all allegiance and fidelity to each and every foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly the King of Hanover of whom I have been a subject. Sworn to and subscribed before me, at Allegan this eighth day of July, A.D. 1878. Illegible signature of clerk, perhaps it's Johann Gilbert. Signed, Harm Masselink

Harm Masselink’s declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen, signed on July 8, 1878. Of interest is that he renounced his allegiance to the King of Hanover, but Harm had been a subject of the King of Prussia since 1866.

Join the Discussion!

1 thought on “Harm Masselink Autobiography”

  1. Hello,

    I have tried in vein to locate Dietrich Veddeler’s book “The Bentheim Border Reserves Battalion: 600 Grafschafters in The Battle of Waterloo.” My great grandfather Geert Albers (b. 1790, Wilsum) served in Company IV garrisoned in Uelsen. Any idea on where I might be able to access the book to potentially gain additional information on his activities? Many thanks.


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