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Wisconsin Local History
Wooden Shoes West
Broekhuizen en Broekhuizenvorst
19th Century Emigration to the USA: A Journey Into the Unknown. The Destination
"Going to America: Travel Routes of Zeeland Emigrants"
Reminisces of a Pioneer Missionary
Rev. Scott Vandehey
Joseph Renee Vilatte
Photo Album Page

An overview of emmigration


"Catholics in southeastern Holland were already talking seriously of emigration to America in 1846. At the time, unemployment was estimated at 27 percent. Along with the lack of jobs, taxes and rent were too high, farms were small and many of the families were large in numbers.

On March 3, 1847, a Dutch priest by the name of Father Theodore van den Broek took leave from Green Bay to return to Holland to settle his family estate at the death of his mother in Amsterdam. Father Theodore, in his mid-sixties at the time, had been born in Amsterdam in 1683 and ordained at twenty-four during the reign of Good King Louis. After serving the Catholics in the Province of North Brabant for twenty-five years as a Dominican priest, he obtained permission to do missionary work in America at the age of forty-nine. Arriving in America in 1832, he was assigned to serve various German communities, after which time the Bishop of Michigan sent him to his Green Bay mission where he arrived on July 4, 1854. Two years later he founded St. John Nepomicene Parish at Little Chute, which he named after the Cathedral of
s’ Hertogenbosch where he had spent his earlier ministry. When he returned to Holland, he found out that the official in charge of his mother's estate had absconded with the funds. He was relying on this inheritance to help bring poor families back to America who might not have enough resources to pay their own way.

Although very disappointed, he decided to continue his plan to bring his countrymen to the United States. On August 10, 1847 he placed an open letter addressed to his "Roman Catholic Countrymen", in the Catholic weekly newspaper in Amsterdam. The following is a part of the letter:

"In the region where he (van den Broek) lives, last year a sawmill and grist mill have been constructed. Before long a monastery and a seminary will be established there. The land may be had from the American government for three guilders per acre. Four hundred families could easily be accommodated and find support. If all of these were Catholics, then the foundation would be laid for an excellent Roman Catholic colony."

As Father Theodore van den Broek visited among his old friends in the Province of North Brabant, he shared his vision about a Catholic colony in a land where timber and land were abundant, employment was promised and where improved markets would bring great accessibility to market.

The Catholic emigration of the 'zandboren', that is the 'sand farmers', from the communities mainly of Uden, Zeeland, Boekel and Voekel in east Brabant in the spring of 1848, was principally the work of one of those farmers, Cornelius van de Hei. He convinced his fellow countrymen that the emigration to America was worthwhile. Father van den Broek stated that if enough people signed up, it would cost fifty-six guilders per person for the trip, not counting food. Before long Cornelius mustered 9,000 guilders for the passage of 160 people.

He and Nicolaas Denessen, dressed as factory workers walked to Amsterdam with the money. It was wrapped in a sack and carried on a long stick over the shoulder. When they arrived in Nijmegen they stopped at the bridge where Cornelius left the treasure with his companion, while he went into town. While he was gone, Nicolaas became interested in the Jan Klaassen wooden puppet show a short distance away and left the money on the bridge without guard. Cornelius returned just in time and was upset by the carelessness of his friend and the journey continued. It was already dark when they arrived in Amsterdam and since they knew neither the street nor the number where Father van den Broek stayed, they went to the police station and received the information. A map would show the one way trip to have been around seventy miles via the way of the crow. Once they returned home they would celebrate St. Nicholas and Christmas in their traditional ways knowing all the while it would be the last one in their fatherland.

March was departure time for over three hundred emigrants, mainly from the sand farms in east Brabant. They were given a day to rendezvous in Rotterdam. There were two routes to the main waterways to get to the Maas River which flowed into Rotterdam. Those in Zeeland, and to the north including the villages of Oss, Grave, Shaick and Cyk traveled north. For the thirty-nine leaving from Zeeland in early March, the route followed the sandy, narrow road north. They started in the early morning, passed through the villages of Reek, Overangel and Neerloon to Ravenstein. Each of these small villages looked much alike with their long rectangular houses close together around a towering church with a clock face in the steeple. There in Ravenstein along the harbor, they packed their meager belongings onto a boat and followed the seaward flowing current. It would have taken a full day on this river of some 100 yards width to reach Rotterdam where they spent the night and awaited further instructions.

Those departing from Uden, Boekel and Volkel traveled southeast to the village of Vechel and took the William's Canal north to the Maas. They passed through the then largest city in North Brabant, s’Hertogenbosch. The city was then a center of trade and had once been fortified. It's famous cathedral of St. John's, which had taken over 200 years to build, had to have been breath-taking even for the departing sand farmers. They left Volkel on March 9, 1848. Their baggage was brought to Vechel by wagon. From there they traveled by canal boat to s'Hertogenbosch from which their boat was pulled to Rotterdam where, on March 10, they boarded.

They set sail in three ships, chartered from the Hugo and Plokhuizen sailing firm in Rotterdam. 'These ships were called barks--a small sailing ship; three-masted, propelled by sails or oars. The names of these three ships were the Maria Magdalena, the America, and the Libra.'

According to John Verboort, who was fourteen at the time, the Libra was the first to depart. In a letter written some years later he describes the preparations and the trip:

'We were thirteen families, all Hollanders, Pather Godhart was our leader. The captain and sailors of our ship also were Hollanders. I have forgotten the exact number of emigrants on board the Libra, but it was about 80 persons. The following are the names of the heads of these families. Hans Klassens, from Grave; Martinus Verkuilen, from Uden; Hein Groens, from Volkel; Niklaas Dennison, from Yolkel; Antoon Verkampen, from Volkel; Antoon Verwijet, from Uden; Mr. Denkboom, from Amsterdam; Albert van den Berg, from Cuyk; Ebben, from Mill; Johannes Tillemans and fiance from Boekel; Jan Verboort, from Volkel, and two youths reckoned as belonging to the Verkampen family.

We spent several days at Rotterdam on board the Libra in order to purchase food and other necessaries, for in those days each passenger had to buy his own provisions, and the captain was not allow to accept any passenger who had not complied with prescribed regulations. Everything was carefully weighed, a number was put on each passenger's bag or package which the captain put under lock so that later, according to the ship's rules, a fixed daily portion could be doled out. Passengers were not permitted to use as much of their provisions as they wished, but only as much as the captain allowed, in accordance with the rules. A small amount of drinking water was portioned out each day. The passengers, however, did not have to provide their own drinking water; this the shipping company brought on board at Rotterdam.

When everything was in readiness, the Libra left Rotterdam. At first our boat was drawn (by another boat), later it was pulled by horses to Hellevoeteluis. There were at the moment of our departure from Rotterdam two other ships with emigrants ready to leave for America. About these ships I know little, so I shall say nothing about them. Ours was the first of the three to depart; it also was the first to arrive at its destination.

We encountered our first storm in the English Channel. The captain, as a measure of precaution, took refuge for three days in an English harbor. I believe it was the Isle of Wight. Later we had other serious storms, the worst being, if I recall accurately, on Easter Sunday (April 11). It lasted three days and blew so violently that the hatches were closed and only a small space was allowed the passengers to go on deck when necessary. Sails were furled, but accidents could not be prevented. Just before the storm struck we could count about fifty ships around us, but as soon as the storm began to blow, not a single ship could be seen any more. Except for this storm nothing noteworthy happened on the voyage which was tedious but, considering time and circumstances, tolerable.

After a voyage of 52 days we arrived safely at the dock in Boston on Friday, May 5. The next day we left by train in boxcars for Buffalo. Three of the thirteen families stayed in Boston; Denkboom, who did not want to travel farther; Antoon Verkampen and Antoon Verwijet who did not have the money to travel farther; and Denessen stayed in Buffalo because his wife was sick and died. We sailed from Buffalo to Mackinac Island where we stayed three days until we could get a sailing ship for Green Bay. From there we proceeded up the Fox River by scow or flatboat propelled by six men who used poles. This took two entire days. From Kaukauna we were brought in two wagons, drawn by six oxen, to Little Chute where we arrived on 22 May. There we rested and laid plans for the future."

"Wooden Shoes West"
Rev. Scott Vandehey