Home  Publications

Robert P. Swierenga -- Publications

Van Raalte and Scholte: A Soured Relationship and Personal Rivalry

Robert P. Swierenga, Research Professor, A.C. Van Raalte Institute for Historical Studies, Hope College

Paper for the 1997 meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies (AADAS), Hope College, June 13, 1997

In the 1830s Hendrik P. Scholte (1805-1868) and Albertus C. Van Raalte (1811-1876), his understudy, first became friends as students in the theological faculty of the University of Leiden. Together in 1834-1835 they led the Secession movement from the Netherlands Hervormde Kerk and helped organize the Seceder emigration to America. Then they both emigrated at the head of large bands of followers. Until January 1847 they planned to settle together and build a major Dutch colony in the heartland of the United States. But when Van Raalte, who departed first, unexpectedly chose a heavily forested site in western Michigan, Scholte refused to join him and instead opted for the rolling prairies of Iowa.

From then on, these erstwhile friends and religious associates became arch rivals in recruiting immigrants to their settlements--Holland and Pella. Religiously, they also parted company; Van Raalte aligned himself with the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the East, while Scholte remained independent and founded his own congregation, the Christian Church of Pella. The breech between the founding fathers of the two major Dutch colonies in America was not only a personal tragedy but it had major consequences for the immigration and hastened the subsequent dispersion of the Dutch throughout the west.

In my opinion these two immigrant leaders were destined to clash and no single colony could have contained them both. No stable can have two stallions. Van Raalte and Scholte were born leaders with steel in their bones. They set ambitious goals and had the self discipline to reach them. They each wore many hats: dominie (lord) in church life, land dealer and town planter, banker, physician, businessman, publicist, newspaper editor, school inspector, and for Scholte justice of the peace, lawyer, realtor, and politician. Moreover, their personalities and religious temperaments differed so much that it was difficult to keep cordial personal relations. It was thus better for both men that they lived and worked five hundred miles apart. Nevertheless, for fifteen years, from 1832 until 1847, Scholte and Van Raalte as Christian brothers maintained the bonds of friendship and cooperation. In a series of very personal letters between the men, Van Raalte addressed Scholte as "Dearly Beloved Brother" and "Dearly Beloved Friend and Brother in Christ." Their falling out occurred in America, not in the Netherlands. And even then, both desired to maintain a cordial, if not warm, relationship. Van Raalte from the outset looked up to Scholte, five years his senior, who was the intellectual giant among the Seceders and a pace-setter in the emigration with the financial bankroll to back it up. Because Van Raalte so heavily relied upon Scholte for guidance and advice, his disappointment and disillusionment with Scholte's spirit of independence was all the greater.

Hendrik P. Scholte

Scholte was born into a wealthy evangelical Lutheran family in Amsterdam that had for several generations owned businesses in the sugar refining industry. The family, one generation removed from their native Germany, lived in a fashionable district and became staunch Orangists during the Napoleonic occupation. So business and politics ran in Scholte's blood and he always had a cosmopolitan outlook. At age 17 Scholte's father died, and Hendrik took over managing the business for six years until age 23 when the death of his mother and only sibling freed him to join the Netherlands Reformed Church (Hervormde Kerk) and go to the University of Leiden. With a f40,000 inheritance and no family obligations, he might have dissipated himself but the early deaths of his parents and brother only intensified his religious convictions and inclined him to study for the ministry.

Leaders of the Swiss Revèil in Amsterdam, notably Isaac Da Costa, a brilliant lawyer and Jewish convert to the Reformed faith who became his mentor, instilled in Scholte the hope of a great Calvinist revival in the Dutch national church, which had succumbed to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Scholte brought this reformist vision to Leiden in 1829 where he and five like-minded students soon clashed with the professors. The students skipped classes to study with lay leaders in town, notably Willem Bilderdijk, the father of the Dutch Réveil, and Johannes Le Fébvré, a pious old grain merchant.

Scholte gathered the rebels into his Scholte Club, which included the future brothers-in-law Van Raalte, Anthony Brummelkamp, and Simon Van Velzen, who married daughters of the prominent De Moen family of Leiden, which also favored the religious awakening. Scholte had already graduated when Van Raalte joined the Club, so Van Raalte never developed as close a personal relationship with him as did the other members. The youthfulness of these "soldiers of the cross" is noteworthy; Scholte was the oldest at 29 and Van Raalte and Brummelkamp were youngest at only 23 years. The radical students were marked men, but all except Van Raalte graduated and entered Reformed church pulpits before the authorities could marshall their forces.

Albertus C. Van Raalte

Van Raalte grew up a "preacher's kid" in various Reformed Church parsonages, and after completing the gymnasium program in 1829, he enrolled at the University of Leiden. Meanwhile his father, whom he much admired, died and Albertus himself faced death from cholera in 1832. These events inclined him to follow in his father's footsteps and he entered the theological faculty. Of the six members of the Scholte Club, Van Raalte had the misfortune to graduate last, in 1835, and his path into the pastorate was blocked by professors and church officials who refused to recommend him for candidacy. This rejection was the more hurtful because Van Raalte had a strong desire to remain in the church in which his mother and siblings remained faithful members.

Secession of 1834-1835

In 1834-1835 the protest movement came to a head and gained a name, the Afscheiding or Secession, under the leadership of Hendrik de Cock in Groningen, Hendrik Scholte in Noord Brabant, Anthony Brummelkamp in Gelderland, Albertus Van Raalte in Overijssel, and Cornelius Van der Meulen in Zeeland, among others. In 1836 Scholte took the initiative and called the leaders to convene at Amsterdam for the first synod, which body examined Van Raalte and admitted him to the ministry, but differences of opinion on church order questions hampered the synod. At the 1837 meeting the body adopted a new church order written by Scholte, but some churches rejected it and formed their own denomination, the Reformed Church Under the Cross (Gereformeerde Kerk onder het Kruis) and reaffirmed their commitment to the Dordt church order.

By 1838 bitter feelings directed against Scholte surfaced in the infant denomination, and Van Raalte made a special point of visiting Scholte at his home in Utrecht to discuss the situation. "I believe . . . our discussion served to revive brotherly love," Van Raalte wrote his wife, but added, "I fear that the devil quietly, through suspicion and distrust, causes destructive schism and friction among the brothers."

The dissenting church grew rapidly in the years from 1835 to 1839, despite numerous "brothers' quarrels" caused by differing personalities and visions of the true church. Three main factions emerged. On the "right" was the rural and very orthodox northern-based party of Van Velzen and Hendrik De Cock, who wanted to restore the Dordtian traditions of historic Dutch Calvinism. In the "center" was an urbane and liberal southern-based party of Van Raalte and Brummelkamp, who defended a free church polity and liberty of conscience. On the "left" stood Scholte, who wanted to restore the pure form of primitive Christianity in a congregational structure. In 1840 Scholte was charged with slandering Van Velzen and expelled by the Seceder church synod when he refused to apologize. Van Velzen's three brothers-in-law, Brummelkamp, Van Raalte, and C.G. de Moen, led the charge. Scholte thereafter moved farther to the fringe by espousing a separatistic, premillennial, non-confessional Christianity--"no creed but the Bible." He went into non-traditional paths that led to "ecclesiastical anarchy"--to use Van Raalte's words. As Bill Kennedy recently wrote in a sparkling article in the Church Herald, Scholte deserves to be studied anew, since his way of non-denominational congregationalism and biblicism has become dominant in American evangelicalism.

Surprisingly, Scholte actually showed up at the 1843 Seceder synod and as the delegates worshiped together, the peacemaker Van Raalte seized the moment to attempt a reconciliation by offering a resolution to endorse the Dordt church order. Scholte refused, as did Brummelkamp, Van Raalte's own brother-in-law. At this Van Raalte and 21 delegates left the meeting. But Brummelkamp and Van Raalte continued to befriend Scholte thereafter, and Scholte offered to come to Arnhem to teach in Brummelkamp's theological school. Scholte was not only very talented, said Brummelkamp in a letter to Van Raalte, but his personal wealth allowed him to work without a salary. "Is it not foolish," Brummelkamp added, "to let Scholte with all his talents be discarded and ignored because he is still in trouble, while at the same time we feel we are in trouble up to our ears." The reference was to the division evident among the Seceders at the 1843 synod.

Seceders consider emigration

Scholte's deposition did not end cooperation between Van Raalte and himself. When thousands of Seceders in 1844 began considering overseas emigration to escape social ostracism and economic hardship, the two men worked harmoniously again. They cooperated first in a plan to colonize Seceders in Java in the Netherlands East Indies. Scholte presented the proposal in person to the ministry in The Hague. When the government balked at the project, the men agreed to look to vacant land in the Upper Mississippi Valley above St. Louis, where an advance party of Scholte's followers, led by Hendrik Barendregt, had already gone. In May 1846 Scholte wrote positively about overseas emigration of Seceders in his periodical, De Reformatie, and Van Raalte and Brummelkamp penned an emotional letter to leaders of the Reformed Church in America appealing for assistance for the arriving Seceders. Rev. Thomas De Witt of New York's Collegiate Church read the letter shortly before visiting the Netherlands, where he met with Scholte to learn more about the movement. Van Raalte was bedridden at the time with typhus. While recuperating, Van Raalte made his decision to emigrate with his family and settle in the same vicinity (de zelfde streek) as Scholte.

Scholte had already in early July decided to go to America and in August he founded an emigration society at Utrecht, composed of 70 families mainly from Zuid-Holland and Utrecht, which was directed by a committee of delegates from the various congregations. "Although they were unable to tell to just which part of the United States they would be going," Scholte reported in De Reformatie "they had at that [August] meeting primarily Iowa in mind as being most suitable for colonization." Scholte had his eye on Iowa prairie land because he had read about it in German travel guides; the society collected enough money to buy 11,000 acres there. The vanguard of the Scholte party left Rotterdam on October 2, one month after Van Raalte departed, and headed for St. Louis via New Orleans. Scholte sent them off with instructions to link up with the Van Raalte party and steer them to Iowa.

The emigration

Van Raalte had departed first, in September of 1846, because Scholte's infant child died and his wife took seriously ill. This delayed Scholte until the spring of 1847. Otherwise, Scholte would have headed up the migration, just as he had instigated it. Scholte reported that Van Raalte's plan was to go to the same region that the Utrecht society had in mind, namely Iowa. Thus, several families of Scholte's group joined Van Raalte, "who took upon himself the responsibility of exploring the different districts and sending back the necessary maps as soon as possible." Barendregt wrote Scholte in mid December to say that Van Raalte's party had not yet arrived at St Louis but was expected shortly.

The basis for Scholte's belief that Van Raalte was headed for Iowa is unclear, because from the outset Van Raalte leaned strongly toward Wisconsin, where a number of Seceders had already settled. But Van Raalte had tried to keep an open mind and he planned to meet Barendregt in St. Louis during his scouting trip to Wisconsin.

When the Van Raalte party arrived in New York in mid November of 1846, De Witt gave them a warm welcome. They pressed on for Wisconsin immediately because the lake steamers were due to stop running for the winter. The party left New York by steamboat for Albany, and to save precious time Van Raalte bought train tickets from Albany to Buffalo instead of the cheaper but slower Erie Canal boats. The group was delayed at Buffalo for three days by gale force winds, and on November 27 they sailed for Detroit, then the state capital, on the lake steamer Great Western. This turned out unexpectedly to be the ship's last voyage of the season, because winter came early that year. As Albert Hyma aptly put it, "Only the icy hand of winter prevented them from executing their plan." If the party had crossed the Atlantic in the normal four to five weeks, instead of six weeks, they would have gone directly from Detroit to Milwaukee. De Witt kept Scholte fully apprised by letters of Van Raalte's progress.

Since Van Raalte could not reach Wisconsin over the Mackinac straits by water, he wanted to proceed immediately by train to Kalamazoo (then the end of the line), and from there by stage coach to St. Joseph and across southern Lake Michigan by steamer to Chicago and Milwaukee. But the dominie feared running out of funds if he had to bring the entire group to Milwaukee by rail, stage, and ship. Only f400 remained in the common purse. So the party wintered in Detroit and the delay gave him time to explore his options, which were also severely limited by the winter season.

Van Raalte chooses Michigan

Van Raalte meanwhile began to have doubts about Wisconsin because in Detroit he was enticed by Michigan boosters and promoters to consider Michigan. The men, notably Theodore Romeyn, an old Knickerbocker, Presbyterian minister Ova Hoyt in Kalamazoo, and Judge John Kellogg in Allegan, convinced him to chose the Black Lake site. In late December, 1846 Van Raalte left Detroit alone for a month-long scouting trip to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Michigan still did not figure prominently in his plans. He carried letters of introduction from Rev. Duffield in Detroit to Presbyterian colleagues in Kalamazoo, Chicago, Lockport, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. His plan was to go first to southern Wisconsin via Chicago and then go west on horseback to La Crosse and down the Mississippi River to St. Louis to meet up with Scholte's advance party. "I urge you," Van Raalte wrote Brummelkamp, "to pray fervently and earnestly for the Lord's leading in this matter." The Lord answered his prayer before this letter reached the Netherlands. He never got further than Kalamazoo, the first stop, on his western trip.

In Kalamazoo Rev. Hoyt, who impressed Van Raalte as "a man of influence, and with a cordial interest in the Holland immigration," convinced him first to investigate the area of western Michigan along the Grand River, where government land was still available in large blocks. Hoyt put him in contact with Judge Kellogg of Allegan, who owned many acres in northern Allegan County and happened to be in Kalamazoo just then. Kellogg offered to show the dominie potential sites around Ada, Ionia, and Saugatuck. Van Raalte agreed and accompanied Kellogg to Allegan.

That Hoyt and Kellogg were persuasive is revealed in Van Raalte's letter to his wife, written on Christmas eve, in which he opined that the judge was a "true, righteous, and intelligent person," and he was grateful to have "fallen into such good hands. . . . More and more I am coming to believe that Michigan will become the state in which we shall establish our home, he confided." On Christmas Day Kellogg and Van Raalte, with an Indian guide, set out to check northern Allegan and southern Ottawa counties, and the rest is history. Van Raalte chose Michigan even before consulting his followers, let alone before making contact with Barendregt.

Van Raalte found the forests appealing because his mostly poor people, who hailed from the sandy, forested eastern Netherlands, could exploit the woodland resources. Scholte's group came from the flat, clay-soil western Netherlands and they wanted and could afford to pay for productive lands ready for the plow. "It would be impossible," Van Raalte noted, "to be located in the wilderness [of Wisconsin or Iowa] with such a penniless group without waterways and an abundant forest." Woodlands provided an immediate source of income. Trees are money in the bank, a gift of God waiting to be exploited. Forests can become fertile prairies after logging, but prairies cannot grow trees.

True, "forests cause problems" for farming and road building, but they enable craftsmen to earn a good income as coopers, basket weavers, tanners, carpenters, joiners, and cabinetmakers; businessmen can open steam sawmills, distilleries, and bakeries; and manufacturers can build ships, wharves, and furniture. The huge trees also provide the raw materials for roof shingles, tar, pitch, potash, tannin, maple sugar, etc., all of which were marketable in Chicago for cash. The milder climate near the lake also produced excellent fruits and cranberries. Trees furnish free firewood and building materials for houses and barns, which on the prairies had to be brought in at great cost. Pigs could root among the acorns in the woods and cattle could graze on the forest grasses, even in the winter.

Moreover, forest work required heavy manual labor, so there will always be work for newcomers "who have capable hands." Learning to use the ax and adze, however, was no mean feat for the Dutchmen who had little prior experience with forest enterprise. Many an errant blow injured feet and legs and many a tree fell in the wrong direction, until Americans nearby could instruct the Dutch in the skills of ax and saw. Forest lands had other advantages as well. The soil was guaranteed to be fertile, said Van Raalte; to prove it just look at the many huge trees. Farmers could plant Indian corn and potatoes among the stumps as soon as the trees were felled in windrows. And the forest settlers did not have to bear the great expense of a three-yoke ox team manned by three men to break the tough prairie sod, as in Iowa.

Van Raalte hoped yet to persuade Scholte to join him in "Holland," the name he had chosen for the new township. Writing to Brummelkamp on January 30, Van Raalte restated his desire to keep the people together: "We had wished this, also Scholte had desired it. . . . I felt the need of sensible brothers near me; I hope brother Scholte will not go to Iowa; I believe that he cannot do better than to settle in Michigan. If Brother Scholte does not wish to be on the Black River, then there is opportunity on the other rivers--the Grand and Kalamazoo." Van Raalte noted that the watershed of the Black River was yet virtually unpopulated. There was "space enough for settlements of thousands and thousands;" yet it lay nestled between two populated areas, Kalamazoo and Grand Haven. In a very revealing statement, Van Raalte added this sentence: "For us all it is of the utmost importance to be united, 'Unity is strength'" [Eendracht maakt macht].

"This desire," Van Raalte's biographer, Albert Hyma declared, "puts the lie to the charge that Van Raalte could not get along with Scholte. Such certainly was by no means the case." Scholte's biographer, Lubbertus Oostendorp, likewise stated that this letter disproves the statement of Dosker that Van Raalte did not want Scholte near him. But Van Raalte and not Scholte had broken the tacit agreement to settle in Iowa or Wisconsin. And by being the first to plant a colony, Van Raalte forced all the other Seceder leaders in the Netherlands to address the big question: to join or not to join Van Raalte.

The breaking of a friendship

Van Raalte must have had an inkling that his Michigan decision would jeopardize the dream of one big Holland in America. He knew Scholte's strong independent character and the slim chance he would yield. Indeed, when Scholte learned that Van Raalte had chosen a site in western Michigan instead of linking up with Barendregt at St. Louis, he considered it a betrayal and parted company. Michigan was an "unlucky choice," he declared. It was unhealthy, isolated and without good roads, and in the control of land speculators. "In Albany and New York people expect the outcome will be bad," Scholte lamented. Scholte's low view of Michigan was reconfirmed by a letter from a friend who had journeyed from Wisconsin to Ottawa County and was so disappointed that he returned immediately to Wisconsin.

Scholte, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, wrote prospective immigrants that he did not wish to detract from the value of timberland, nor "from the pleasure of hearing the warble of birds in the cool shade of virgin forests. I had, however, experienced enough of real life to know that stumps of trees are disagreeable obstacles to farmers, and that the value of wood decreases very much when everything is wood." Scholte continued: "the Hollanders who were coming to North America were more prosaic than poetic and consequently thought not so much of pleasing their eyes and ears as of buying suitable land for farms, the easier to cultivate the better." They are not at all inclined "to prefer ax to spade or to become dealers in wood." Moreover, he read in a New York newspaper advertisement that the Michigan Hollanders were raving about a certain medicinal pill, notwithstanding Van Raalte's claims about the healthfulness of the colony. Michigan, "as everywhere else in the world, had to wrestle with indisposition and disease," Scholte concluded. The Iowa leader also predicted sourly that Van Raalte's hopes for a good lake harbor would always remain a pipe dream. This was Scholte's tit for tat rebuttal to Van Raalte's charge that Pella was too far removed from waterways.

Competition for the Zeelanders

Competition for immigrants became the name of the game for the now rival promoters. Scholte charged Van Raalte with an unseemly promotion of Michigan: "Van Raalte is trying to get people there; he has become a regular American." In another letter, Scholte complained that in New York agents "cause all kinds of difficulty in urging arriving Hollanders to go to Michigan; Van Raalte is not innocent of it."

But Scholte worked just as hard to recruit newcomers, as is evident from his contacts with the newly arriving Zeelanders. This group of Seceders were led by the Reverend Cornelius Van der Meulen and the wealthy landowner and elder, Jannes Van de Luyster. Most Zeeland Seceders followed Scholte in the early years because Van der Meulen had studied for the ministry in his parsonage and Scholte's church at Doeveren was nearby. Beginning in the early 1840s, however, the Zeelanders had a falling out with Scholte over issues of church governance and other matters, and they gradually went over to Van Raalte. Yet the situation was still very fluid in 1847.

Since Van de Luyster's contingent, one of three, arrived first at New York in June of 1847, he had the responsibility by prior agreement to select the site for the colony. The choices were to join Van Raalte or to accompany Scholte to Iowa, where the latter was heading at that very time to select land. Before leaving the Netherlands the Association members had agreed to join Van Raalte, and Van de Luyster sent a letter to Holland ordering the construction of four shelters for the arriving Zeelanders. But Scholte met the Zeelanders at the dock in New York to try to change their minds. He found Van de Luyster willing to listen and convinced him that Van Raalte made a big mistake in choosing Holland, for the reasons already recited.

Van de Luyster was persuaded and he even contracted with railroad companies for tickets to Iowa for his entire party. Scholte then left for St. Louis, believing the Zeelanders were following him. But members of the Zeeland group, led by the young ministerial candidate, Cornelius Van Malsen, who had studied under Brummelkamp, had second thoughts about Iowa. Van Malsen and a small ad hoc committee consulted with Rev. Isaac Wyckoff, pastor of Second Reformed Church at Albany and a friend of the immigrants. They also spoke in Buffalo with the noted judge Van der Pool, who was knowledgeable about the Midwest. The committee then concluded that Michigan was preferable to Iowa. Van de Luyster accepted the decision and managed to break the transportation contract to St. Louis without penalty and arranged instead for tickets to Holland. Thus, after a series of wavering decisions, due largely to a lack of good information, Van der Meulen's congregation ended up in Zeeland.

As a practical matter, Iowa was much further inland than Michigan and hence more expensive to reach. Iowa also had a higher "uncertainty factor" because Scholte had yet to pick a site. Perhaps the fact that Van Raalte had a warmer personality helped his cause. Van Malsen's sister, Cornelia, in a letter to her father in the Netherlands, reported that Scholte had convinced Van de Luyster to change plans "in a none too Christian manner." The letter does not elaborate on this cryptic comment. But A.N. Wormser of Burlington, Iowa captured the skeptical mood of many Hollanders when he said: "The information given by Reverends Scholte and Van Raalte is charlatan in nature, given only to attract people to the colonies."

&#Scholte from the outset got the pick of the immigrants. Gerrit Van Schelven, the first serious historian of the immigration, recalled that Scholte sent word to the Netherlands that the open prairie required immigrants with money. Van Raalte sent the opposite message, that poor folks were welcome in Holland. "And both were right in this," Van Schelven concluded. Jacob Van der Zee in his book, Hollanders of Iowa, reported that "Scholte is said to have led 'the flower of the Dutch emigration of that day.'"

But Van Raalte by 1870 had clearly won the contest for settlers. In Van der Zee's words: "The northern State succeeded in luring more than twice as many Dutch immigrants to her forests as Iowa attracted to her fertile prairies during the same period." Only those with capital could afford Iowa lands, while the many poorer people could get a start in the forests of Michigan. Moreover, said Van der Zee, Van Raalte's character and more effective promotion methods won the day. Within months of founding Holland, Van Raalte published a lengthy pamphlet in the Netherlands entitled "Holland in America, or the Dutch Colony in the State of Michigan" which explained the rationale for his choice, described the advantages of the locale over Pella, noted the economic opportunities in America, and suggested the best travel routes for prospective settlers. Most effective were the testimonials from "trustworthy men" that the forest lands of Michigan were healthier and better served with water supplies than the semi-arid prairies of Iowa, where the rotting of the turned-over prairie sod produced a vapor, a miasma, that causes sicknesses in the first years. Although this belief about the miasma of the prairies was misguided American folk wisdom, Van der Zee noted that Van Raalte's pamphlet hit home, because of its attractive style and informative content.

Scholte had the last word, however. Van Raalte soon learned to his chagrin that the damp forests and swamps were less healthy than open prairies and that the cut-over lands did not make for good farmland. Many died of malaria the first year and late comers had to spread far to the north and east in search of better land to farm. Rev. Pieter Zonne of Milwaukee wrote to a Seceder leader in Amsterdam in September of 1847:

The death rate in Michigan must be high. Rev. Van R. wrote us that there is much malaria. It is obvious that Michigan is very unhealthy and particularly the place v. R. has chosen for settlement. I cannot imagine a more unhealthy area and the advantages put forth by him are 9/10 exaggerated. The Black River is not navigable and they are completely isolated so that everything is more expensive there than here and sometimes there is lack of food. A cow and a calf cost 25 guilders here but 50 guilders in Michigan. . . if available. I doubt that it will last.

Taking his cue from Van Raalte, Scholte published two lengthy promotional pamphlets in 1848. In them he complained about attempts to turn families bound for Pella to Michigan instead. "Already in New York, but also in other places such as Buffalo, men are busily engaged in scaring the immigrating Hollanders away from Iowa and having them go to Michigan instead. This is done," Scholte continued, "partly by a few persons in New York and elsewhere who are connected with the Dutch colony in Michigan, and partly by agents of land speculators." Scholte did not name the persons, but one key person he likely had in mind was Rev. Wyckoff in Albany who was a staunch ally of Van Raalte.

In any case, Scholte took the high road. He declined a proposal to place his own agent in New York." I was firmly convinced that the growth of our Colony was not dependent upon efforts of human beings, that I had given sufficient information in Holland [i.e., the Netherlands] about our Colony, and therefore I would leave the rest to God's guidance. . . . Let no one think I want to say anything detrimental to the settlement in Michigan," Scholte added. "Nowadays we frequently correspond with some of our acquaintances who live there. According to their letters they are content. . . . We appreciate the immigration of our compatriots, especially Christians, but let it be entirely of their own free will and on clear and reasonable grounds."

Scholte clearly had no qualms about refusing to join forces with Van Raalte in Michigan, and unlike Van Raalte, he never expressed any regrets about not "keeping the people together." Oostendorp, Scholte's sympathetic biographer, put it as clear as ink can: "He stood as close to Van Raalte as any of his fellow Seceders, but was determined not to be a second to any man. . . . To say the least," Oostendorp concluded, "Scholte showed no desire to live near his fellow ministers or to form one large colony."

Indeed, Scholte did not show much partiality even for fellow Hollanders. As Henry Lucas said, he "welcomed Americans to Pella and encouraged the process of amalgamation." Within one year eighty Americans lived in Pella, due to his promotional efforts, and within thirteen years half of its population was Americans, thanks to the founding of the Baptist "Central University" in 1853, which Scholte supported financially and as a trustee. In 1858 five of the eleven stores in the town were operated by Americans. By contrast, Ottawa County, Michigan in 1860 had only 52 non-Dutch households, or 12 percent, and only two or three stores were run by Americans.

Van Raalte's attitude toward Americans had much to do with this contrast between Pella and Holland. In the early years he did not want a mixed multitude in Holland. "Americans usually do not possess that certain open heartiness and mutual understanding of each other, which the Dutch possess," Van Raalte wrote Paulus Den Bleyker of Kalamazoo. "An impassible chasm of language, character, and custom separates you from the Americans. . . . Above all--Americans are disposed to despise Hollanders, and we Hollanders naturally become embittered against them because of their cold selfishness. They may approach us with bold flatteries, but in reality they are after our money and influence, yes, they actually despise us. They take us for a dull, slow, uncultured people and boldly boast of their own superior intelligence." Better to "do your business among our own people," Van Raalte opined, "in a community that is developing internally and contains only a few Americans."

Religious differences

In church matters Van Raalte and Scholte also went separate ways in America. Again quoting Oostendorp: "Van Raalte wanted a Dutch Colony, the Reformed Church, and tradition, and a theocratic society. Scholte really wanted none of these." Van Raalte remained true to traditional Reformed doctrine and polity, as defined by the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). He wished to plant a Holland colony in America where children would be brought up in Christian schools from the first grade to the Academy, thereby to preserve the Dutch Reformed way of life. In 1848, he organized the newly-founded churches in the colony into a separate Holland Classis, and in 1850 he led that classis into union with the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in America (the future Reformed Church in America). Van Raalte thus cast his lot with the two-hundred year old American daughter of the Netherlands Reformed Church (Hervormde Kerk).

Scholte continued on the independent course he had set in the Netherlands. He was determined to make his colony a religious experiment, a Christian, though not necessarily a Reformed, bastion in republican America. He would not consider being subject to classes or synods of the Dutch Reformed Church in America. Rather, he established the independent Christian Church of Pella, built largely with his own monies and which he served without pay. The nondenominational church would take its place within the broad stream of American evangelical Christianity.

Although Scholte did not deviate significantly in doctrine from the Reformed confessions, he rejected the Dordtian church polity. He espoused the premillennial teachings of John N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren church, celebrated the Lord's Supper weekly, and encouraged the elders to preach regularly and administer the sacraments. Scholte took the title of elder, not minister, and he regularly led only the afternoon service. This left the congregation largely rudderless, while Scholte freed up time for his numerous business and political affairs.

Scholte's principles of church polity were flawed. In Oostendorp's familiar words: Scholte's followers "were sheep without a shepherd." He could maintain unity in the congregation for only four years. In 1851, two small groups began meeting separately, one of which wanted to join the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, as Classis Holland had done the previous year. By 1854 the breech became irreparable when Scholte arbitrarily, but with good reason, sold to a businessman the parcel of land he had earlier designated as the "Church Square." When his church consistory strenuously objected to the unilateral action and demanded that he rescind the sale, Scholte refused and offered another parcel nearby in a quieter place. The consistory then closed the pulpit to him and suspended him, after which they unsuccessfully took the matter to court. Scholte held his dwindling band by building the Second Christian Church, which continued until his death in 1868 and then disbanded. "Scholte's "self-will and lack of consideration," said Oostendorp, is what caused the separation.

The remnant of the First Christian Church, led by Rev. A. J. Betten, in 1856 decided to seek affiliation with the Reformed Church and Van Raalte came at their invitation to effect the union. The new body was so impressed with the dominie from Michigan that they called him as their first pastor. The admiration was mutual. In a letter to his friend, the Rev. John Garretson, secretary to the Board of Domestic Missions for the Reformed Church, Van Raalte (in broken English) expressed a deep concern for the believers in Pella. "Sheeps without pastor and half ripe professors I found, deplorable in religious state of things there, I felt great pity out of the midst of a bable (sic). . . . Now I am troubled much since last week by receiving a call from that church and begin to believe that it shall be my duty to go and to live in Pella." The immigrants in the Pella area needed to be "gathered in," Van Raalte continued; they have suffered from "many divisions and contentions" due to Scholte. Then Van Raalte made a gratuitous attack on the leading citizen of Pella: "Mr. Scholte has been always a difficult man, always scattering new things, notions, and inventions among the people; a great number of such people is gathered there around him. It would be to (sic) hard a task for a man without experience; also my coming would satisfy and heal divisions. . . . If I go to Pella on (sic) of the greatest wants wil (sic) be to build a church not smaller than this in Holland."

Despite being pulled hard toward Pella, Van Raalte ultimately declined the call so as to fulfill his vision to establish the Holland Academy. But he used the call to threaten his congregation with leaving unless they subscribed within twelve days to a substantial gift for the first building. The frightened congregation raised $250 for what became Van Vleck Hall.

Another factor in Van Raalte's decline of the call, quite likely, was the so-called "Scholte problem." Could he share such a small stage with the "difficult man" whose spirit had gone underground and poisoned church life in Pella? The Reformed congregation called Van Raalte a second time in 1859 and he again declined, but he filled the pulpit for several weeks while awaiting the congregation's call to his friend A.M. Donner, Seceder pastor at Leiden. Donner also declined, despite Van Raalte's poignant letter urging to him to accept. "Pella is close to my heart," Van Raalte wrote, "and that is why I desire that God send you. We need a Brother here that can unite Pella with the other [Reformed] congregations. . . . Pella is a disgrace to God's name and a shameful stain for our Netherlander people. . . . I found a Babel that I will not speak of to you. Their state of affairs was too strong a challenge even for my courage and patience." Late that year Van Raalte's own son-in-law, Pieter J. Oggel, accepted the call to become the first permanent pastor of the First Reformed Church of Pella.

While in Pella, Van Raalte took great satisfaction in helping to establish a Christian day school, a second Holland Academy. Scholte, who was then the Pella school supervisor, opposed Christian schools on the grounds that "the free [public] school is the institution for a country where sovereignty is vested in the people." Scholte no longer feared the "Devilish State," as he had labeled the Dutch government before emigrating; generic Christian tax-supported schools were perfectly acceptable in republican America. In the end, Van Raalte settled for the same public system in Holland, although in principle he and Scholte differed radically on the issue.

At the same time that Van Raalte was in Scholte's back yard in early September 1856 to organize the First Reformed Church, Scholte was campaigning among the Dutch in western Michigan on behalf of the Democratic party and its presidential nominee James Buchanan. I doubt if the timing of Scholte's trip was accidental, although party leaders in Michigan had invited him to come. Scholte himself claimed to be motivated by the highly partisan endorsement of the newly organized Republican Party by Jacob Quintus, editor of the most influential Dutch-language newspaper in America, De Sheboygan Nieuwsbode. Quintus had heretofore been a Democrat, like almost all of the Dutch immigrants in the Midwest, but he had switched party allegiance. His unhappiness with the pro-slavery Democrats increasingly resonated with Van Raalte, Van der Meulen, and other Dutch leaders in Michigan. Soon all would be ardent Republicans, as would Scholte himself three years later. That is why the Democratic leaders needed Scholte to bolster their lagging fortunes among the Dutch.

Scholte spoke in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Holland, and Zeeland to rousing crowds and the Democrats carried Ottawa County handily. But Quintus gave voice to many when he charged that the dominie, as a servant of Christ, had no place on the political stump. To this Scholte replied in his own newspaper: "Mr. Scholte of The Pella Gazette begs Mr. Quintus of De Sheboygan Nieuwsbode to notice that any man, even a clergyman, may express his candid opinion on political matters; but no man and least of all a Dutchman should sell his principles and his countrymen for a fat office." This was a swipe at Quintus for running as a Republican for the post of county clerk.

More remarkably, during Scholte's political swing through west Michigan, the elders of Van Raalte's "Pillar church" at Holland opened the pulpit to him, as did Rev. Cornelius Van der Meulen of Zeeland and Rev. H.G. Klyn (Kleijn) of Grand Rapids. Van der Meulen had studied for the ministry in Scholte's parsonage at Utrecht and appreciated his friendship. The Pillar church consistory minutes make no mention of Scholte's visit, but apparently the elders thought far more highly of Scholte than did the pastor or the parishioners. One of them, Geesje Vander Haar-Visscher, a close friend of Van Raalte, caustically noted in her diary that "people didn't like him. He was not as orthodox in his preaching as Van Raalte."

There was a stiff price to pay for giving Scholte an open door in the West Michigan churches. When Classis Holland convened the next month, several elders and preachers, led by Rev. Koene Vanden Bosch of the Noordeloos congregation, objected to the brethren allowing Scholte to preach in the churches, since he had been deposed by the mother church in the Netherlands. Classis turned aside the call to ban Scholte, asserting that letting him preach did not imply endorsing his "ecclesiastical positions." This decision disappointed Vanden Bosch and his allies and led, in part, to their secession from the denomination the next year and the creation of the rival Christian Reformed Church.


The breakdown in cooperation between the two men was understandable, and perhaps even inevitable, given their personalities. Both were strong-willed men who needed to be first among equals. The diminutive Van Raalte was more irenic of spirit, but he too "carried himself like a military general," said his nephew; to which Stellingwerff added, "That reminds one of a little Napoleon, a leader, just like Scholte was."

The paths of these men had many common elements: both wore many hats besides the clerical, both were leaders in the Secession of 1834, both organized the Seceder emigration and planted successful colonies, both founded churches but only Van Raalte's still continues, both obtained state grants to develop navigable waterways, and both faced repeated charges of dictatorial conduct and were repudiated by most of their followers within ten years of the colonization.

I close with a quote from Hyma:

In the early years of the Separation in the Netherlands (1834-1837) Scholte appeared like a giant and Van Raalte like a pygmy. Afterward the former assumed the role of a modern John the Baptist. His stature declined as that of his disciple increased. We must bear in mind that Van Raalte received his certificate of ordination from Scholte and De Cock. Who would have thought it possible that some day the humble candidate of 1835 was destined to surpass by far his teacher and leader?"