Saturday, March 26, 2016

BOISSEVAINS USA | 3A. Emigrés, 1880-1933 (Updated June 12, 2016)

Van Hinte's book was published
in Holland in 1928. The translation
into English in 1985 took a Dutch
team 7 years.

The way that the Boissevain family worked together may be seen in the movement of Dutch people to the United States, especially starting in the 1880s.

To help us understand what was behind this movement, a handy book is available.

Why Dutch People Looked to the USA

Jacob Van Hinte took a six-week summer trip to the United States in 1921. He sailed at 32 on the S.S. Rotterdam IV, under the flag of the Holland-America Line. (The ship broke apart on Oct. 12, 1883 and was scrapped.)

As many people do when they go to a new country, Van Hinte kept a detailed diary. As few people do, however, Van Hinte expanded his observations during the next seven years into a  chronicle (in Dutch) that overflowed into 1,000 pages in two volumes.

He visited East Coast Dutch "colonies" such as Paterson, N.J. and thriving Dutch settlements in the Upper Midwest and Plains states. Van Hinte visited with first and second generation colonists and studied primary sources.

The biggest success story he found was the pioneering initiative of Dr. Albertus Van Raalte in founding Holland, Michigan. Van Hinte seems to have spent the rest of his life writing and teaching from his 1921 trip. He examined failures as well as successes in Dutch ventures in the USA.

His book was translated into English as Netherlanders in America six decades after it was first written. It took as long to translate as to write.

Visiting Boissevains 

Van Hinte describes the joint efforts of two Boissevains to bring Dutch money and people to America:
  • Adolphe Boissevain, leader of Boissevain & Co., in 1880 started to urge Dutch people to settle in Virginia and invest in the financing of railways and other U.S. projects such as farm exports. He was made director of a railway and the towns of Boissevain, West Virginia and Boissevain, Manitoba were named after him. The railways were a big success but the effort to settle more Dutch people in Virginia was not. The British presence, after all, was deeply entrenched in Virginia.
  • Charles Boissevain (Gen6, 1842-1927, editor and publisher of the Algemeen Handelsblad in Amsterdam), traveled to the United States in 1882 and wrote back to his newspaper about opportunities he saw in the United States. He seems to have been heavily influenced by the views of Adolphe Boissevain in picking out promising areas for investment and settlement. (Is this the first instance of what we might call today native advertising?) Nothing much seems to have come of his suggestions for good spots for Dutch people to settle (Norfolk, anyone?) in Virginia.
Van Raalte.

Van Hinte's book was originally published in Dutch in 1928. That year  happens to have been the peak year for trying to lure anyone to the United States. It was a harder sell the following year and by the time the United States was fully recovered from the Depression in 1940, Holland was at the beginning of five years of occupation by the Nazis.

That explains why an English translation of the book did not appear until 1985. Another explanation is that the translation, loosely supervised by the Chief Translator, Adriaan de Wit, took seven years to complete. It was eventually published in 1985 by Baker Book House Company in Grand Rapids, Mich. and sold for $40.

In his book, Van Hinte describes what Van Raalte and the Boissevains were seeking to do as "colonization". It seems an odd use of the word, given that Holland was fully cognizant of what real colonies were–in the Dutch West Indies and East Indies and (before Rhodes) South Africa. The word "settlement" might have been a safer word, but some of the English phrases in Van Hinte's book are "quaint". Assuming that "colonization" is what Van Hinte meant, here are three threads that might help provide context:

1. In South Africa, Rhodes was crowding out Dutch investments. The First Boer War in South Africa started in 1880. Cecil Rhodes had begun to Anglicize some Dutch assets. The De Beers Company, which Rhodes founded, was derived from property of two farming brothers of Dutch origin–Diederik Arnoldus De Beer (1825-1878) and Johannes Nicolaas De Beer (1830-1883). They owned a farm called Vooruitzicht in the Orange Free State (near Zandfontein). Diamonds were discovered on their farm. Not being able to defend their land against diamond poachers, they sold it in 1871 to Alfred Johnson Ebden (1820-1908) for a paltry £6,600. The farm became the site of both the Kimberley and the De Beer Mines. Rhodes's company took the farmers' family name even though the original owners of the land did not share in the riches that flowed from it. Dutch traders must have despaired of getting a fair deal from Rhodes's African empire. As they looked elsewhere and the United States must have been an attractive lure.

2. The Mormons showed a new way to colonize. Followers of Brigham Young showed how a religious community could take over an entire territory without firing a shot, just through numbers. Where the Catholic Church built parallel educational institutions, Mormons followed Brigham Young to what became the Utah Territory and then the State of Utah and filled the schools with Mormon students and teachers. Mormonism, the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint movement of Restorationist Christianity, began with Joseph Smith in upstate New York during the 1820s. They migrated for the same reason that dissenters left England under Charles I.

3. With the end of the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction, America was open for business. Washington, D.C. established itself as the government of the United States with the Union victory in 1865. Another war of secession was unlikely. With the shaky Reconstruction period over, It seemed a good time for Dutch investors to look at the country as a place to put their money and even live. Having stayed out of the risky Civil War (compared with Britain, which did not), Holland was more comfortable addressing the American need for people to finance harvesting and agricultural trade. The building of railroads, ports and other infrastructure required investments and agents of capitalism. Dutch entrepreneurs and financiers saw opportunity knocking.

Later Boissevain Arrivals

I have written elsewhere about the migration of other Boissevains to New York City in the late 19th century and early 20th century:
  • Gideon Louis Boissevain (1870-1924) and his sons Meinhart and John. Gideon Louis emigrated to the United States and married Helen Arabella Magee. He became a director of the Knickerbocker Trust, living in due course at 993 Park Avenue. They had two sons, Meinhart Boissevain (1896-1928) and John Magee Boissevain (b. 1901, died, probably in Nice, France; no date on record, NP 100).
  • Olga (my grandmother), Robert, Jan, Eugen Boissevain, children of Charles Handelsblad Boissevain. Their migration was complete by 1933, when Olga's son-in-law E. R. Marlin moved to Washington, D.C. to work for FDR and Olga joined him and her daughter Hilda. Eugen and Olga died the same year, 1949. Jan and his wife Charlotte Ives retired to the Cap d'Antibes near Nice; I met Charlotte in 1959.
This is not a complete list. There is more to come.


Van Hinte, Jacob, Netherlanders in America: A Study of Emigration and Settlement in the 19th and 20th Centuries in the United States of America (2 vols., 1,000 pages). Groningen, Netherlands: P. Noordhoff, 1928.

See also sources at links for "Later Boissevain Arrivals".

This blog is sponsored by Boissevain Books, which keeps in print books by Hilda van Stockum, daughter of Olga Boissevain, and publishes new books. To buy a book and support keeping this work alive, go to To suggest a new book, write to

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