As we start this series, we want to take a look into the past, especially around the time when the Protestant Reformed Churches had her beginnings. For those who can trace their family history to the early years, there may well be as many stories to tell as there are members. Moving forward, it is my hope to explore several of these family histories and stories…your stories. As I mentioned in my previous article, I want to hear from you. I want to hear about your family history. We begin with the Holstege family then, because we have to begin somewhere, and I just so happen to be one!
Before we dive into the Holstege family history, as it relates to 1924 and the PRCA, I think it could be beneficial to look back even further in time. Since most, if not all early members of the PRCA were of Dutch descent, it may help us to explore and try to come to some understanding of what conditions and circumstances were like in The Netherlands that prompted many of our forefathers to make the life-changing decision of immigrating to America, the Holstege family being among them.
Our eventual focus will be on my great-grandfather, Lambert Holstege (1880-1950).1 Lambert was only five months old when he arrived on the eastern shores of the USA in May 1881. He was the youngest traveler in his group, making up three generations coming off that ship in New York. Included were his grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, and a cousin. They left behind the humble village of Doornspijk in the province of Gelderland and settled eventually in Ottawa County, Michigan, near Hudsonville.
The little that we know about these Holstege immigrants from Gelderland is that they were simple farmhands or gardeners, laboring for others. They were likely members in the Secession (Afscheiding) churches. After getting themselves settled in Michigan, they were able to secure land and proceeded to farm on their own. It appears that most of them joined Beaverdam Reformed Church, and soon thereafter transferred to Beaverdam Christian Reformed Church.
What motivated my forefathers and perhaps yours and many others to pack up and leave for America? Here are a few factors, to consider, which could give us clues.
First, regarding their socio-economic status, they match the description, written in several sources, of those who predominately made up the membership in the Secession churches. Dr. James D. Bratt describes these members as being “…the hired hands, the poorer farmers, and the small tradesmen….”2 Bratt also quotes from official government reports which “…described Seceder membership as ‘for the most part…from the lowest ranks, uncultured, the least significant, having no man of name among them.”3 They belonged to the “kleine luyden” (common/ small folk). Henry S. Lucas, in his book, Netherlanders in America, informs us about the difficult economic conditions in The Netherlands, brought on in part by politics, government policy, and the potato famine.4 Added to that, to be a part of the Secession meant enduring persecution, including economic hardships.
The poor, uneducated citizens of The Netherlands who became part of the Secession, were nevertheless pious, spiritually minded people. They did not like the apostasy and worldliness that had taken over the national state church and the citizenry of the country.
All sorts of spiritual and unspiritual elements were brought together under one roof…Christian discipline grew lax, spiritual life was reprehensible, and rationalistic errors forced their way into the church…. The Reformed doctrines of 1618-1619 were despised. Some of the common people, especially of Gelderland, still maintained the confession of the fathers, but the majority of the leaders were bitterly opposed to it.5
The Seceders, then, became less inclined to remain patriotic to their fatherland and more inclined to say farewell.
Also, of interest are some difficult and divisive conflicts that arose among the Secession churches in The Netherlands during the years 1840-1890. For further reading, I refer you to Rev. Joshua Engelsma’s recent excellent book titled Watchman on the Walls of Zion.6 Living in Gelderland, the Holsteges were under the guidance and care of Rev. Anthony Brummelkamp, who was in charge of the whole province. According to Rev. Engelsma, “The introduction of [the] wellmeant offer [of the gospel] was due primarily to Anthony Brummelkamp. Already in September 1841, some of Brummelkamp’s parishioners objected to his preaching of the well-meant offer.”7 Could any of these things have played a role in the Holstege family’s decision to leave?
Regardless of how the ecclesiastical events in The Netherlands affected them specifically, they certainly were affected, along with many others who boarded ships for America, starting in 1846 with those who came with the Reverends A. VanRaalte and H. Scholte. After reviewing some of this history, what this does say to me is that those coming to America from the Secessionist churches could have different ways of looking at things, depending upon the geographic location they were from in The Netherlands.
With this background information, we will return to the life of Lambert Holstege, the Lord willing, next time.
1 Many thanks to Sharon Kraker (Holstege) for the research she has done and was willing to share.
2 Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984), 6.
3 Bratt, 6.
4 The subtitle is Dutch Immigration to the United States and Canada, 1789-1950 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), cf. 50-57.
5 Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema, Sin and Grace, tr. C. Hanko (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2003), 4-5.
6 The subtitle is The Life and Influence of Simon VanVelzen (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2021), cf. especially chapter 10, “The Robbers Synod.”
7 J. Engelsma, 143.