They were migrants too: when the Dutch sought fortune in the new world

It is difficult to imagine but the Dutch also have a history of emigration, and not just from the Netherlands to its former colonies, but of a real migratory flow when hundreds of thousands crossed the ocean to seek better living conditions in the New World.

“Historische Nieuwsblad” reports that in a century, between 1840 and 1940, almost 250,000 Dutchmen left their country to seek fortune in the United States, with tens of thousands leaving after World War II to settle in Canada.

The Dutch have always been welcome in the United States: “They are a good breed, we can use them,’ said a Wisconsin senator talking about the Dutch community who generally were considered ‘workers, clean, and devoted” with cultural differences from the Americans considered marginal.

The Dutch immigrants, especially those who followed the Reformed (Protestant) Church, were at ease in both the US and Canada due to their largely white and Christian population. However, in addition to being considered superior to other immigrant communities, they managed for generations not to assimilate with the rest of the population and to preserve their language and customs.

Who emigrated from the Netherlands?

The history books prevail over the thesis of the Protestant minority fleeing religious persecution but, in reality, since 1841 – in the midst of the first wave of migration – the Dutch municipalities had recognized the reformed church and persecution had ceased. In fact, most Protestants or Catholics could probably be classified as “economic migrants” on par with peasants who left to also seek their fortunes.

Hendrik Pieter Scholte, a Protestant pastor, spoke of the opportunity derived from the new land, where he could practice worship and education without restriction, and also be able to independently manage his purchased land.

The Catholic, Albertus van Raalte, brought to the USA a community of about 1000 in 1848 and founded settlements between Iowa and Wisconsin, continuing to try and attract other settlers from the Netherlands, especially from Brabant.

The stories about the wonders of the US worked with hundreds, then thousands, of southern Dutch Catholics moving to the New World.

The journey was not without risks

Those who arrived did not know what to expect and scams by agents against migrants who landed on Ellis Island were frequent. The Protestant church of Holland, which had its own presence in New York as the city was a Dutch colony, organized a real service to protect immigrants and send them to their desired destinations.

Yet, Historische Nieuwsblad continues, the American dream turned out to be what it actually was: a dream. The new settlements had no infrastructure and construction from scratch was difficult. Many dreamed of being able to own their land but instead moved to the cities, especially in New Jersey and Michigan. Flower growers from Groningen settled in Detroit, for example.

The second migratory wave of Dutch, which began in 1940 and ended a decade later, mainly concerned Canada and was actively encouraged by the Dutch government.


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