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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Wisconsin Magazine of History
Vol. 29 No. 2 (Dec. 1945), 201‑223

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p201 The Journey of an Immigrant Family
from The Netherlands to Milwaukee in 1854

Edited by Henry S. Lucas*

Diaries of immigrants constitute an important source for the study of the history of immigration. They reveal much of the thought, the hopes, and aspirations as well as the concrete experiences of these people who left their early homes in order to create new habitations for themselves in the virgin lands of our Middle West. These immigrants, it should be kept in mind, frequently possessed a rich culture; and for that reason in the process of becoming Americans they contributed to the new type of life developing in this country and not merely received something. Americanization, therefore, is not a unilateral process as has all too often been assumed. Publication of literature written by the pioneers themselves illustrating their own thought and experience, their triumphs and their failures, should for this reason be encouraged.1

The diary of John Remeeus published herewith, vividly recounts the experiences of a considerable group of immigrants from the Province of Zeeland in The Netherlands who in May, 1854, p202boarded ship at Antwerp and finally arrived in this country. Its concreteness, wealth of detail, and portrayal of an immigrant's experiences make it a valuable historical document. In the history of Dutch immigration to this country many such voyages were undertaken of which this one may be taken as rather typical. From about 1846 Wisconsin attracted the attention of Dutch immigrants, and for a moment it appeared that most of these newcomers from The Netherlands would settle in that state. But soon this movement was diverted to other regions. In 1847 Albertus C. Van Raalte decided to establish a colony of his followers on the east shore of Lake Michigan which today has become the largest community of Hollanders in the Western Hemisphere.2 During that same summer Henry P. Scholte founded another colony on the prairies of Iowa in Marion County, on the Skunk River.3 Both these colonies have exercised an extensive influence on Dutch immigration, not only absorbing great numbers that otherwise would have settled in Wisconsin but also giving a moral and intellectual direction to these immigrants which their descendants keenly feel to this day. But in spite of the attraction of Michigan and Iowa, Hollanders kept coming to Wisconsin and founded colonies in that state.4

Remeeus kept a day by day account of his experiences which later he recast in order to provide a record for his family. It is obvious, however, that not many facts were added and that as printed below the text is substantially the same as it was when Remeeus made his notes in 1854. The original was written in Dutch, but was translated by Herman Bottema, apparently to make it available to members of the family who no longer could read Dutch. A copy of this translation reposes in the library of The Netherlands Information Bureau in New York. In preparing it p203for publication we have carefully revised the language but without altering the facts.5

[decorative delimiter]

A short description of our journey from Middelburg, Province of Zeeland, kingdom of The Netherlands, to Milwaukee, state of Wisconsin, United States of America, in the year 1854. Members of our family were as follows: Father, Johannes Remeeus, age 39; Mother, Jacoba Helena Remeeus [nee Burck], age 39; and five children: Anna Caterina Remeeus, age 17; Helena Johanna, age 11; Caterina Jacoba, age 5; Dina Antonia [Dientje], age 3; and Jan Frederick, age 6 months. In memory of our children.

On the evening of May 30, 1854, we left Middelburg for Vlissingen [Flushing], after bidding farewell to our dear and kind friends we cannot easily forget. The reason we left in the evening was because the steamer for Antwerp sailed early in the following morning. We slept that night on board the steamer. Next morning at 4 o'clock the boat left for Antwerp where we arrived the same morning at 10 o'clock.

Upon our arrival, servants were already waiting for us. They took us to the office of the steamship company. We soon found, however, that they did not have very much respect for emigrants. They imposed upon us by charging 7 florins for the passage; and there was no redress although Mr. Straus and I in April had made a verbal agreement as to the price. You can imagine that this was a great hardship for me as my purse was but a slender one; indeed later when travelling through America we were in actual need of money. Meanwhile our baggage was transferred from the steamer's hold, piled up on the dock along with the baggage belonging to other passengers, to be stowed away in the ship which was to bring us to the Promised Land.

In the afternoon we went to the hotel which was maintained exclusively p204for emigrants. There were in Antwerp 2,700 emigrants, mostly Germans, waiting for ships to take them to America. For four weeks the winds had been blowing out of the wrong quarter; hence no ships had entered the harbors of Holland, Belgium, or Germany.

After we had enjoyed some food every man had to help bring the trunks, boxes, and other baggage on board. We were given permission to furnish our sleeping quarters as suitably as we wished. The women, in company of Messrs. Westven and Snoep, and of Vermeulen, the agent of the line, went to see the sights of the town. I was kept busy all afternoon fixing up my berth. I used a coarse wallpaper for my family. The captain and helmsman observed me while thus engaged and smiled kindly, thereby showing that they were pleased with what I was doing.

When I had finished this task, I went to the hotel to get mother and the children. This was the first night we slept in the ship that was to bring us to America. It was the bark "Fedes Koo" from Portland, Maine, commanded by Captain H. Higgens.

The next morning, June 1, we were busy bringing aboard provisions for our long voyage. Later, when this labor was finished, our names were called from a list, and two men distributed the food according to the size of each family. Provisions consisted of green peas, navy beans, rice, flour, ham, salt, and a small quantity of coffee and sugar. Everything was measured or weighed and had to be signed for. We were to receive potatoes and ship biscuit each week. We also were given enough bread to last about five days.

In the afternoon we had to appear with our families before an officer who examined our papers. When he found they were in order, we were given our ship's papers.

Next we went to see something of Antwerp. In the evening we returned to our ship. Our thought often took a serious turn, as the reader may surmise. The children, however, readily fell asleep; but with mother and me it was different. The following morning, June 2, we went to the hotel for breakfast. In the afternoon we were required to be on board because we, as well as the other passengers, were going to have assigned our places on board the ship. The Hollanders were p205placed on one side; the Germans on the other. The total number of passengers was 130.

In the evening we again ate at the hotel after which we went aboard. In the morning of June 3, an officer, really a sheriff [in Dutch, waterschout], police and doctors came on board. We all were ordered to go on deck, nobody being permitted to remain below. Lanterns were lighted, and the officers examined the entire ship below. They counted carefully to make sure there were no stowaways. The doctors examined each one of us, and as they finished ordered us to go down to our cabins. They were strict on two points: that no person having a contagious disease should sail and that there should not be too many passengers on the ship. It was the practice of companies in those days to overcrowd their ships, something the Belgian police were ordered to prevent — hence their strict surveillance.

One family consisting of a father, mother, and four children who came from the country around the city of Goes on the island of Zuid Beveland were brought to a hospital. They suffered from some form of exanthema, a malady the doctors considered dangerous to the health of passengers. Of course it was unfortunate for them to be left behind, but these precautions show how well the authorities guarded the health of emigrant passengers. Finally, with the aid of the tug "De Klok," our ship moved down the River Scheldt and at 6 o'clock we dropped anchor at Terneuzen.

During the afternoon the captain and helmsman quarreled with the ship's carpenter, the cause of which we did not learn because we could not understand their language. But when the ship dropped anchor, the carpenter left with his chest of tools. And so the ship lost the services of an invaluable helper.

The wind was blowing from the right direction and everything seemed ready for sailing. The captain sent for the Belgian pilot who asked the passengers if anyone understood the trade of ship carpenter. No, there was none. Soon he returned and asked if there was a house carpenter among us and if so, would he be willing to help, should his services be needed. A German and I said we were willing, and the pilot thanked us. The German, however, asked the pilot, who acted as interpreter, how much he would be paid for his work. The captain did not like the idea of paying for such work, according to the pilot, and the German was told his services would not be required.

p206 I made no stipulation in regard to pay, but told the pilot I had never sailed on any boat and so was not used to going up the mast and rigging. Nevertheless, I declared I was willing to help whenever the captain should need me. The first helmsman, who had taken charge of the carpenter work, approached me, gave me his hand, and in broken Dutch declared my offer to help was deeply appreciated. Indeed, as it turned out, I never was sorry for giving my services, for during the entire voyage we were treated politely and kindly, which gained for us no little jealousy from our fellow passengers.

Before darkness set in, the helmsman and I were busy fastening the boxes. Now for the first time I learned how to drive American nails without previously having to drill holes as was necessary with the nails we used in Holland.

On June 4, at 6 o'clock in the morning, we hove anchor and soon left Terneuzen, sailing before a strong north-east wind. Soon Flushing and Westkapelle were out of sight and we entered the North Sea. The rocking of the boat which now began made the healthy and happy passengers seasick.

We all — Hollanders, Germans, men, women, and children — celebrated Pentecost in proper fashion. Only a few did not take part. But there was something else to attract our attention. At 6 o'clock in the evening we were in the English Channel; the dunes of Holland had long been out of sight, and we beheld the chalk cliffs of England. Having escaped seasickness so far, I tried to write a few letters to be carried to port by the pilot. But suddenly I became sick from the rocking of the ship. From time to time I went on deck, but I did not like the idea of leaving mother and children alone down below. Once when I appeared on deck the helmsman came to me, took me by the arm, and put me between two kettles, near the bowsprit. He advised me to draw deep breaths of fresh air, which agreed with me. Other passengers followed this advice with excellent results. Soon I was able to work, and all day I kept myself busy. Before evening we passed Dover Castle, the Isle of Wight, and the lighthouse of Don Jones. Here we saw a brig which had been on our starboard all day, also a bark and two two-masted ships.

On the morning of June 5 we sailed out of the English Channel, and as far as our eyes could see westward we beheld nothing but water. Now we were on the Atlantic ocean. We sighted a steamboat bound p207for Falmouth. We now got used to the rolling and pitching of the ship, and the people began to feel better. We had better appetites, and each of us in turn began to cook something to eat. We still had a favoring wind.

On June 6 fair weather and a stiff breeze. Our Caterina was the first child to appear on deck. She found a piece of rope and stared jumping rope as she used to do in the streets back home. She would not understand why the captain forbade her to do this. Soon more children came on deck. Toward evening the farmer from Goes fried ham and pancakes.

On the morning of June 7 we communicated with a schooner en route to Lisbon. This ship came so close to us that we could plainly hear its crew talking, and everything on deck was clearly visible. We lowered a boat, and when our captain returned he brought a box of lemons and a box of dried prunes.

Until now we had fair weather. But toward evening we met contrary winds. It began to blow very hard, and we saw immense shoals of fish which, according to the sailors, signified an approaching storm.

June 8. Nothing worthy of note. We passed a bark, a schooner, and a brig.

June 9. Ditto. This day a baby was born to German parents. As soon as this became known, the captain and the helmsman made the necessary arrangements to help them and assigned special quarters to them. Considering the limitations of our space, the room soon was made as comfortable as possible; but it was not, of course, a proper room in which a Dutch mother usually delivers her baby. The child was born without the aid of a doctor. Our Dutch women on board were surprised at the manner the baby was taken care of. In Holland such things received far more elaborate attention. All this gave our Dutch women a great deal to talk about.

June 10. During the day calm weather, but toward evening the wind started to blow.

June 11. Today, the hardest wind we had as yet experienced. Many were sick, and mother who had been feeling so much better for the past few days was compelled to go to bed. The ship rolled violently.

We now learned what a terrific force water exerts when stirred by a gale. The ship seemed not to respond to her sails but only to the white-capped waves. Our boxes and trunks broke loose out of their p208crates, and were thrown from one side of the vessel to the other. One must witness the havoc such a storm causes on board a vessel to believe it. Kettles, bottles, night-chambers, and everything not nailed down rolled from port to starboard. The wind varied — now it died down a little but soon returned with unabated fury. There was much rain until June 15.

Meantime the Hollanders quarreled with the Germans over the time they could cook their food. But these differences did not amount to much. As soon as the helmsman heard of it, he ordered that each of the two groups should be first on alternate days and anyone who ignored this rule does help clean up the deck. This worked splendidly, for the ship below was spic-and‑span during the rest of the voyage.

We saw only one bark that day [June 15],º a lot of fish, and sea swallows. Our first helmsman, who was an expert harpooner, tried to catch some of the fish. He was nearly successful on two occasions. He struck the fish with his harpoon, but in trying to haul them on board they slipped off against the side of the vessel, which we regretted very much.

June 16. Fair weather. Sea calm. At 6 in the morning a three-masted ship coming from America hove in sight. Late that evening we witnessed an example of effective discipline on board a ship. Our first helmsman, a man of strong character capable of maintaining order, had become well acquainted with the passengers. There was an unmarried German couple on board. The man was a Mr. Smid,6 the girl was known as Dora. The helmsman had teased them a great deal but the couple seemed to think the officers would not molest them. Some of the passengers were suspicious of their conduct and informed the helmsman. This evening the helmsman hung up his lantern in the accustomed place and decided to investigate. Ordering one of the sailors to stand guard, he investigated the sleeping quarters and found the reports were true. With some difficulty the woman was removed from her berth. Mr. Smid was placed in the coalbin in the bow of the ship while Dora was locked up somewhere in the stern, where they remained for the night.

June 17. Very agreeable weather. Unfortunately mother could not come on deck because our little Frederick, who was too young to take p209any food except his mother's milk, suffered greatly. The poor child cried all day and night.

At 10 o'clock Smid and Dora, the two lovers, were led out of their confinement and brought before the captain. A sailor acted as interpreter. The captain lectured them severely and ordered them to lead a more moral life. Thereupon the couple, being ashamed, were given their freedom, but for several days remained between decks.

In the afternoon the helmsman caught a large fish, a so‑called "sea-hog," which provided us with some entertainment. After it was killed, being butchered like a pig, it was cut up and prepared for food. Some of its red meat was salted. The fish fought so vigorously that in being hoisted aboard, its tail struck a privy standing in the bow, hurling it overboard. I was ordered to make a new one, which kept me occupied for some time.

June 18. In the morning agreeable weather, but a contrary wind. Every passenger received a portion of the fish we caught yesterday. We cut it into slices and pounded it much as one prepares beefsteak. We fried the meat with some ham, and the whole including fried potatoes proved very delicious.

Toward evening one of the sailors was placed in confinement. He had been talking with one of the passengers, which was against the rules of the ship. When the officers took him to task for it, he became saucy and insulting.

June 19. This is the first beautiful Sunday since we set sail. In the afternoon the Hollanders asked permission to conduct a religious meeting. Mother Westven prayed and, moved by our situation, we sang many a beautiful psalm. Toward evening the weather turned cold and raw, but during the night the wind died down somewhat.

June 20 and 21. Quiet weather. Snoep and I were on deck as late as 12 o'clock, and we witnessed a fire at sea. It seemed as if our ship was sailing through a mass of fire [really St. Elmo's fire].a A beautiful and imposing phenomenon which well might move the hardest among us and fill us with respect for Him who said, "Mine is the sea."

June 22. Stormy in the morning; and there was some seasickness. During the day the sea became somewhat calmer, but the ship rolled violently nevertheless. We saw a brig and a bark. Our Dientje drank some hot coffee and scalded her mouth.

June 23. Fair weather, the ship was steady. In the evening the p210Germans fittingly celebrated Saint John's Day, which also was the twenty-fifth birthday of one of their group. This man was escorted to the aft deck where his sister presented him with a bottle of Rhenish wine, of which they had a plentiful supply. In the neck of the bottle was placed a palm branch to which were tied a piece of sausage, a lemon, some dried prunes, etc. After having given him our congratulations, we all drank his health with many bottles of beer which the captain had in store. We also proposed a toast to the captain, the officers of the ship, and in fact everybody and everything. That evening we learned how the Germans surpassed all other peoples at singing.

June 24. Nothing noteworthy during this day. Toward evening we saw flying fish and again witnessed St. Elmo's fire.

June 26. Fair, cool weather; but the wind continued from the west, and the ship made little progress. Toward evening another ship passed to our starboard. She was a frigate.

June 27. Fair weather, the first really pleasant warm day. The passengers played all kinds of games, and the children amused themselves. Mother came on deck, but could not stand it very long. I repaired the chicken coop and the hog's pen.

June 28. Again fair weather, but the ship made only slow progress. The Germans celebrated Saint Peter's Day. They sang and drank some wine while one of their group played a violin. We heard the blowing of a big fish after it was dark, but to our regret could not see it.

June 29. Beautiful weather in the morning. In the afternoon the wind began to blow, increasing in intensity toward evening so that we became anxious. The hatches were closed and secured, the sails hauled down. The bark rose on the white-capped waves and dropped down in the hollows. Everything was thrown about helter-skelter, and we could not sleep. A bad night for mother and our poor little boy.

June 30. The sea calmer today. The captain called our attention to a big yellow sea turtle, but Snoepsb and I, in spite of all our efforts, were not able to catch it. In the afternoon a sail approached from the east and came so close to starboard that the officers spoke to ours by means of a speaking tube. This was the packetship "Robert Wiltrop"c1 from Liverpool, bound for Baltimore. She had fifty passengers on board.

July 1. Early this morning the captain called our attention to a p211big shark swimming alongside our ship. In the afternoon the wind started to blow and again we had a stormy night.

July 2. Nothing new; a ship in the distance.

July 3. Good weather in the forenoon. In the distance a ship, perhaps the same we saw yesterday. This day the two black pigs which remained were butchered by one of the Germans. Scalding water was used to clean them whereupon they were hung up on the deck. Again a ship in sight.

July 4. Declaration of Independence, which is celebrated by every American. So did we. Early in the morning flags were run up, and at 8 the crew fired salutes. One man who had been a dealer in fireworks got permission to open a box of guns. Everybody who had a liking for shooting could do as much of it as he wished. At 10 one of the pigs was distributed among the passengers. Saw many fish, also a ship. We had a fresh breeze; the evening was fair but cold. At the request of Mr. Westven, the captain gave the Hollanders permission to sing psalms. The captain sang the last psalm with us. We were approaching the Newfoundland Banks.

July 5. Weather very cold. Captain and helmsman with instruments making observations from the rigging. At dawn the helmsman awoke Snoeps and me to show us an iceberg we had expressed a desire to see. We could see it plainly without the aid of instruments. The day was cold, but the men remained on deck all day in order to see the icebergs that lay on both sides of our ship. One of the icebergs had the form of a village church. The officers estimated the last one we passed was about 160 feet high. We were struck with awe beholding these vast masses of ice gleaming in the sunlight and silently floating by. I shuddered when I thought of the great danger those icebergs were to the ships that crossed their path. We saw many large fish spouting water and believed they were whales. The air was cold, but we had a beautiful night. The officers placed a lantern at the bow and kept watch.

July 6. A happy day for all of us. Early in the morning we sailed through a fleet of more than a hundred vessels catching cod and soon left them behind. Later in the day the weather became foggy and rainy. Toward evening the wind shifted to the east. But soon the weather cleared and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. The moon also was beautiful, and so calm was the sea that we could not persuade p212ourselves to go to our berths. Late in the night we passed a fishing vessel at a stone's throw.

July 8 and 9. Nothing new. Wind steady but from the west and southwest. The delicacies we had been eating from the beginning of the voyage were nearly gone. Also sugar and vinegar were nearly exhausted. Potatoes were becoming worse each day and drinking water was becoming brackish. Everybody was tired of peas and beans.

July 10. Nothing interesting. We now were drifting along the Grand Banks. All the passengers were on deck. Some were sewing, some darning or knitting; some reading, writing, or playing; some cooking meals and some so wearied from the voyage that they did not know what to do. Mother and little Frederick also were on deck.

July 11. Much rain. A schooner came in sight.

July 12. The helmsman harpooned a big fish. As before, the meat was divided among all of us, which we appreciated. In the evening we saw a big fish spouting water.

July 13. The wind remained contrary. In the morning it was wet and dreary, but in the afternoon clear and bright. The passengers were eagerly expecting the sight of land. In the evening a fishing boat at port, a bark at starboard. The evening was beautiful. I believe no writer or painter has ever made an adequate portrayal of a calm night at sea.

July 16 and 17. A mist covered the sea, but the sun shone brightly above. We could scarcely see three ship lengths ahead. A quarrel broke out between the Germans and the cook who complained that they had lit a fire after 6 in the evening.

July 18. The sea was quiet, and in the evening a clear sky. Again we saw sharks near the ship. When the moon rose, we noted clouds to the south. — visibly portending a thunderstorm. Again we saw St. Elmo's fire. We sailed by a ship, more closely than ever before.

July 19. Weather calm. The ship, moving against a strong current, seemed to go backward. Big and small ships appeared all day long. In the evening a large English steamer passed by.

July 20. A stiff breeze from the east. We were pleased, and many passengers declared they would gladly be seasick for a day or two if only the ship would progress.

July 21. Beautiful sunrise. Also many ships, and at 8 P.M. a light p213in the distance, supposedly a lighthouse as it actually proved to be after an hour's sailing.

July 22. Wet weather, and suffocating below deck. Little or no breeze. We were excited and could scarcely sleep. At about 11 o'clock A.M. we dropped anchor. Opposite, in Boston Bay, an island with the quarantine station on it. Here we were to remain all day until given orders. All objects were discarded. The helmsman even threw overboard some of the wooden shoes and caps belonging to the girls from Goes and Zierikzee. We were ordered to clean up everything and scrub the deck below, and make ourselves presentable. Next morning we put on our best clothes. Health officers came aboard early and examined everyone. They complimented the captain and officers on the cleanliness of ship and passengers, and took the captain with them to the island. After an hour our captain returned. Loud hurrahs went up from all of us; hats and handkerchiefs were waved, and he literally was carried from the boat into the cabin, visibly pleased with the ovation. Soon a tug appeared to bring our ship into the bay on which the city of Boston is built. There were many steamers and sailing ships around us. There also were pleasure boats, nicely gilded and painted. We noted some steep cliffs on which were erected lighthouses. At 1 o'clock we arrived in Boston. As it was Saturday and no trains were running in New England on Sunday, we were given permission to stay on board till Monday morning.

More than once I had told the officers of our ship of my disappointment in not being landed in New York because our tickets read from that place. We had been on board only a short time when we learned that our ship's destination was Boston.c2 I told them that I feared I would miss my connections entirely because I carried from the commissioner of emigration at New York a letter of recommendation to help us on our journey as quickly and as cheaply as possible and protect us against swindlers. The helmsman promised me he would see the captain about this point, and he faithfully kept his promise. When we were drawing near Boston, the captain called me to his cabin. It was difficult for us to understand each other, but he informed me that he would gladly map out for us our trip inland. He advised that we should not listen to anybody — English, Germans, Irish, or Hollanders — no matter how elegantly they might be dressed or how refined their p214manners. I informed my fellow passengers about his suggestions, and nearly all of them accepted them. Our bark was towed to the dock, and several people tried to board it but failed. Nevertheless, they repeated the attempt. The captain accordingly went ashore to bring a police officer to stand guard, and all those who had no business on board ship were turned back.

In the afternoon the captain brought on board a man representing the railroads. The heads of families and the single men, called into the cabin one by one, paid for their tickets, including fare for boat and railroad. Children under ten paid half fare. Our tickets and those of our friends who like us were destined for Milwaukee were issued by the Boston Railway. I was the first to get tickets and Snoeps also got his very soon. Being free now to go ashore we bought some fresh milk and bread. We had never gotten used to the black coffee we drank on our voyage. The weather was very hot, and so we each bought a straw hat. We suffered a good deal from the heat in spite of the fact we had taken off some of our clothes.

I now wrote a letter to Mr. Van Den Broecke at Rochester informing him that his parents had arrived with us at Boston and not at New York as had been planned originally. As I wanted him to have this information as soon as possible, I made it a short letter and without delay dropped it into a letter box.

Early Sunday morning Snoeps and I went ashore to see as many of the sights of Boston as the heat would permit. Boston is one of the oldest and wealthiest commercial centers in the United States, built in a half circle along the bay, like an amphitheater. Streets were laid out on the tops of high rocks; and there were gushing fountains, beautiful parks, and elegant houses, some built with red pressed bricks, others constructed with rough hewn stone or with hard blue colored stone. There also were thousands of houses built of wood, but these were none the less attractive on that account. They indeed were master creations of domestic architecture.d

That evening we made ready to leave Boston on the first immigrant traine and packed up our belongings.

Monday morning at 6 we left the ship which had been our home for the past fifty days. We did so with a feeling of regret in spite of the fact that the ship when we first embarked at Antwerp had p215given us a poor and miserable impression. But we were looking forward to our journey to our destination and left without hard feelings. Early that morning a baby was born on board. The father Hendrik Moorman came from Kattendijke on the island of Zuid Beveland, and his destination, like ours, was Milwaukee. But their family was well cared for until they could resume their journey.

One of the officers accompanied us to the station and acted as our interpreter. They weighed our baggage, and we were assessed $18 more than we had expected, which so depleted our purse that we felt downhearted. I cannot decide whether we were cheated; a few said we were not, but others insisted we had been swindled. But I paid for our excess baggage for the entire journey to Milwaukee and received a receipt. At 12 o'clock we left Boston.

Springfield was the first station at which we stopped. Here we had a sad accident. A child belonging to one of the Germans who had crossed the ocean with us was thrown out of the car when the train suddenly began to move. The child fell under the wheels and both arms were cut off. The sorrowing parents had to take their child to the hospital.

At 4 o'clock A.M. we arrived at Worcester, a good-sized factory town with some foundries. Although free to leave our coaches because our train was not to leave until 12 o'clock, we stayed on the train. We were much annoyed during the night by strange Irish people, a low class who had attained to only a slight degree of civilization. The train crew had hitched about eight coaches on to the rear of our train, all crowded with immigrants. I noticed that the cars carrying our baggage ever since we left Boston no longer formed a part of our train. I had taken precaution, however, to take down the number of the car and noting its color.

Riding through the State of Massachusetts we beheld wonders of nature impossible to describe adequately, at least for one who had never traveled farther from Zeeland than Gelderland and had never seen anything but level country. Here we saw gigantic rocks out of which road beds had been hewn, something that must have cost an enormous amount of labor and money. We passed through tunnels cut out of solid rock, so long that they required more than a quarter of an hour for our train to pass through. While passing through such tunnels p216we rode darkness seeing nothing but the sparks of the locomotive. We also passed by bridges high up between mountains while below in the streams water rushed on its way with thundering noise.

Early in the morning of July 25 we arrived in the State of New York. The scenery had changed — how beautiful nature now was! This state has made much progress, for on every hand were cities and villages on mountain sides as well as in the valleys, many of which had their own railroad stations at some of which our train stopped in order to take on water. At 12 o'clock we reached Albany and had to leave our train. Here we crossed the famous Hudson Riverf on ferries, which continually crossed from bank to bank, thus taking the place of bridges.

Each ferry boat was divided into three compartments — one on each side for ladies and gentlemen and provided with comfortable seats and covered with a roof; and the center, a large space sufficiently wide to carry carriages of every description. During the morning I had gotten a cinder in my eye while our train was passing through a tunnel. This gave me so much trouble that as soon as possible we went to a doctor who quickly relieved me of my pain. But it cost me $1.00 which shows that American doctors want sufficient remuneration for their services.

The first hotel or boarding place at which we stopped in America was in Albany. Its proprietor was German. We considered ourselves fortunate because we arrived at this hotel before the others who traveled on the same train as we did. Three Dutch families from Walcheren were staying here. The other Hollanders and their families found quarters elsewhere. We were well pleased with the meals served at the hotel. Mother and our dear little sick child, after the long voyage and the journey on land during which they experienced many hardships, craved a good night's rest. But how we were disappointed! During the evening the boardinghouse was filled with guests and the heat was unendurable. The guests were constantly going up and down the steps and trying to open our bedroom door. We were afraid they might do us some harm and so we slept little.

Many Hollanders who lived in Albany visited us that same evening and also the following morning. They gave us some good advice about our railroad trip. A former Amsterdamer said, "Don't be afraid on account of your baggage. If it has been put on the car in Boston, p217it will arrive in good order at Buffalo. But as soon as you reach Buffalo, you will have to look after it in order to have it shipped across the Great Lakes."

We also received the bad news that cholera was raging in the Western states and that epidemic was claiming many victims. This information deeply affected us, but you can imagine how at this moment of depression I was pleased when a well-dressed man came rushing into our boarding place at about 10 in the morning asking in one of the dialects of Zeeland, "Is Remeeus here?" I replied, "Here I am!" It proved to be Van Den Broecke from Rochester. "Where are my father and mother?" he asked. They had gone out for a short walk. On the streets their odd costumes had attracted the attention of children. Thus surrounded, Van Den Broecke discovered them and, deeply moved, he forced himself through the crowd and embraced his parents. Such a welcome! In Van Den Broecke we had a trustworthy guide for the journey as far as Rochester. And as agent and advisor for our group I was thankful for his help.

Our bill at the hotel was $6.00, a large sum for a poor immigrant. I exclaimed, "What, $6.00?" For I know that 6 Dutch rijksdaalders [15 guilders] were equivalent to $6.00.

After we had looked up a few other acquaintances of former days, we boarded the immigrant train that was to take us to Rochester. We left at 12 o'clock and passed through towns and villages many of which seemed prosperous. It was startling how after having heard so many strange place names which we could not pronounce we noticed some familiar ones like Harlem and Amsterdam. During the evening we passed through Syracuse, a thriving city boasting several thousand inhabitants.

The following morning, July 27, we arrived at Rochester. We wanted to spend a day here in order to visit some old acquaintances from our home town Middelburg. But the train stopped here only for a half hour. Rochester is a very large city, having more foundries than are to be found in all Holland and enjoying an immense commerce in flour. Some of the mills in Rochester have steam engines but most of them utilize water power.

From our car windows we beheld the Genesee River which at this point had a drop of ninety feet. But more interesting was the Erie Canal with its great locks regulating the water. It looked as if the p218canal carried its water over the city. Through it hundreds of barges drawn by horses moved from Albany to Buffalo.

Soon we resumed our route to Buffalo. The heat was unbearable. We passed Batavia and arrived at Buffalo at about 2 o'clock P.M. Here we had to leave our train, but we could not proceed at once to our destination because our baggage had not yet arrived. On account of the high prices charged in boardinghouses our fellow travelers — farmers from Zierikzee and Goes — decided to leave one member of each of their families in Buffalo to look after their baggage, and cross Lake Erie that same night.

We still had to travel nearly a thousand miles, and I did not have enough money left to pay for a single night's lodging for my family. In those days there were no immigrant stations to help people like us. With a dejected feeling, Westven, Snoeps, and I went to buy bread and butter. Westven wanted to see a certain Mr. Huissoon, for he carried a letter of recommendation addressed to him. I had to deliver a letter to a Mr. De Graaf from his family in Holland. After a long search, finally at half past four, I knocked at his door, and I was received most cordially. They lodged my wife and children. During the evening a few other Hollanders called. Snoeps and I spent that night at the home of a Mr. Post, formerly a baker in Middelburg. They were friendly and gave us every encouragement.

Buffalo is a large and beautiful city. We saw so many strange things there that it would be difficult to relate even a small number of them. But the pavement of the streets in American cities, young as compared with those in Europe, left much to be desired.

On July 28 at 12 o'clock we met the train which carried our baggage. Nothing was missing, but the boxes had been damaged very much, owing to rough handling, in spite of the fact that I myself had taken special pains to make them extra strong.

Snoeps and I drove extra nails here and there to strengthen the boxes. In later years I often wonder how in this crowd of people we ever managed to accomplish what we wanted. Here were Americans, Irish, Norwegians, Swedes, Dutch, and Germans; and everybody in that heterogeneous crowd tried to get his belongings transferred to the steamboat that was to carry us across Lake Erie.

It was 6 that evening when we got our baggage on board. We were sweating, covered with dust, and very tired. Snoeps and I went to get p219my wife and children, boarded the steamer, and at 9 o'clock left for Detroit. This was a large steamer luxuriously furnished and provided with the best of accommodations. But alas! we poor immigrants had to sit with our baggage. There were more than 2,000 passengers on board, and each of us had scarcely five square feet on which to sleep, and with that we had to be satisfied during the whole night. But, and this was worse, a fearful storm came up. There was much thunder and lightning, and the water was as rough as one ever sees on the Atlantic. But during this dismal night we experienced the Lord's saving hand. In the afternoon of July 29, we arrived at Detroit, a large and well-known city situated on Lake Erie opposite Canada. I cannot write anything about the city itself, for the dock at which we arrived was situated near the railway station, and in being transferred to our train we accordingly could not see much. On account of the storm our ship was late in docking. The train was ready waiting for us, and we were hurried as fast as the horses could carry us. How thankful we were that with God's kindness the fierce storm had provided us with good food to last until we reached Milwaukee. The passengers, overwhelmed by fear and seasickness, had not touched their supper, and for a few Dutch dimes [dubbeltjes] we were permitted to take as much of the food as we wanted.

Again we were on a train, and the farther we travelled westward the poorer the equipment of the immigrant trains. Our cars were no better than freight cars, and we sat on benches which gave us great discomfort. During the past eight days we had slept but one night. Travelling became almost unbearable because of the jarring of the train which sped rapidly in order to arrive at its destination on scheduled time. A number of our fellow passengers were mine workers who had just returned from California.

We had a burning thirst, and only at the stations, whenever the train stopped, could we get water. As the train did not wait for us while we filled our jugs, we always had to hurry. Considering all we had to go through it is a wonder that courage never left us. We made a short stop at Kalamazoo, 140 miles from Detroit. There a few Hollanders left us, some to stay in Kalamazoo, others to find employment in the vicinity.

Toward evening a six‑year-old child belonging to Norwegian parents fell from one of the cars, landed under the wheels, and was instantly killed. The little corpse was taken from the train at the next station. p220It must have been a sad experience for the poor parents thus to lose one of its members and to be unable to attend the funeral.

The train passed through some rocky country. Suddenly it slowed down, and we thought we were approaching some station. But there was a cry of "Fire! Fire!" which filled us with consternation. One of the baggage cars was on fire, but it soon was under control. A Swede had stored a large quantity of matches in a box which, when ignited, threatened to set the whole car afire. But, praise the Lord, little harm was done; we were only terribly frightened.

Sunday morning, July 30, was beautiful. Our route lay through enchanting regions, extensive forests, magnificent views which we had from the hilltops, and extensive valleys — all wonderful and beautiful. Surely any person with plenty of money would be happy to travel for days through such beautiful and ever changing scenery. But travelling as we did on an immigrant train — accompanied by small children some of whom were sick, unable to obtain any but the commonest necessities, and above all sweltering in unbearable heat — was a sore trial, enough to make us downhearted. But it was through God's kindness that we were safe and able to see and enjoy as much as we did.

Late in the afternoon we arrived in Chicago. Our train went over a long trestle erected on piles. This bridge carried some arm or inlet of Lake Michigan. Chicago, although a youthful city, already boasted a population of many thousands.

Cholera was raging in Illinois and Wisconsin, and it was with great fear that we entered Chicago. It was quite dark when I found a place for my wife and children. I had only one dollar in my pocket. Snoeps and I decided to walk around the city and rest here and there, out on some bench. At the station we had been told that our bag would arrive on Monday morning. We feared that something might be missing, for it was no uncommon occurrence among immigrants that some box containing their most valuable articles would never arrive.

The next morning we heard the sad news that Mr. Goudzwaart, one of our fellow Hollanders, a tried and true friend who had come from the island of Noord Beveland, had fallen ill with cholera and that he had died before he could reach the hospital. We liked him because he was alert and clever. For his aged father and mother and for his poor young widow and three children we had the deepest sympathy. Just think of it: to be within only one day's travel of one's destination and then to die!

p221 I found that all our baggage shipped from Buffalo was in good order. One of the sons of our friend Post, the baker at Buffalo we mentioned above, had strongly advised me to note the exact weight of our boxes and keep a list of them. Our baggage was transferred to handcars and brought to the steamer that was to bring us to me. I made sure that the ship was safe, for one could never be too careful about such a matter. My fellow passengers from Antwerp agreed that I had the right system in marking our boxes with a red sign and printing on them our address in black letters. Thus I was able to recognize my property instantly.

Now I went to get mother and the children. They had suffered so many hardships and privations that they had lost weight and become weaker and weaker. They spent the night in a boardinghouse on some chairs placed near a table. They had nothing to eat. Yet when I came when I came to get them this boardinghouse keeper demanded $3.00. I told him that I had only $2.00 but he didn't believe me. He seized me by my vest, ripped it open to see if I had any money hidden in an inside pocket. So shocked was I that to this day I do not know how I got out on the street. Not until I and my family had gone several blocks did I breathe freely. Finally we were on our boat. They collected our tickets and then threw them away. There were few passengers, and not many of them immigrants. The day was sunny and beautiful. We were so tired that we fell asleep and consequently saw little of Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes are bodies of fresh water. But ships sailing on them frequently encounter dangerous storms — as serious as those on the ocean — and thousands of immigrants have found untimely graves in the waves of these lakes.

At four o'clock P.M. on July 31 we arrived at Milwaukee. Our boat landed alongside a very large pier — the landing place for all steamers. Our boxes were unloaded, and now we stood beside them on the pier not knowing where to go. Soon a neatly-dressed man approached us and told us in Dutch that he was running a boardinghouse. I explained to him my financial condition and added that we had intended to join Dominie Klijn,7 but that when in Buffalo we had been told he had left Wisconsin for Michigan. My own relatives, as I related to him, lived eighteen miles from Milwaukee, and I mentioned the names of my brother-in‑law and Mr. P. Lankester.8 But as soon as he learned I had p222no money and was willing to offer my baggage as security until I could write to my brother-in‑law, this Dutchman hastened away. For a moment I lost courage, for this unsympathetic treatment dismayed me. What would become of us in this land of strangers?

The heat was unbearable especially after the cool breeze we had enjoyed on the steamer. We had a burning thirst which we tried to quench with a bit of ice. At this moment a boy came to us, spoke to us in one of the dialects of Zeeland, and asked if we had found a boardinghouse. When we said "No," he offered to guide us to his house which was not far from the pier. I did not say a word to him about my financial condition, placed our boxes in a separate pile, and followed him. His parents, who had come for Zierikzee, lived with several other families in a large house on which appeared the word "museum." These people were making a living from fishing. I asked the boy's mother if we could stay until our relatives were informed of our arrival. She agreed and at once began to cook and bake for us.

As soon as the man of the house came home, I related to him that my brother-in‑law was a next door neighbor of P. Lankester. He at once ordered an expressman to bring our baggage to his house. He accompanied the expressman and paid all expenses. He also advised me not to eat any vegetables and several other things on account of the cholera.

During the night I took dangerously ill. I vomited and had a bad case of diarrhoea. So weak was I that on the next day I could scarcely walk. I wrote a letter to my sister and another to Mr. Boda.

Most of the Hollanders in Milwaukee had no work because business was at a standstill. All who could afford it had gone to the country to escape the cholera epidemic. All this of course depressed us, as you can imagine. On Wednesday morning, August 2, Snoeps went with our host to catch fish. In the afternoon of that day our brother-in‑law, Sleijster, arrived from Franklin Prairie,9 in a wagon that belonged to P. Lankester. Sleijster paid our host who had so kindly cared for us. We left our baggage with him, and set out for Franklin Prairie where we arrived in the evening, after travelling through forests and over many a hill. I need hardly tell you that we received a warm welcome. p223Mother had suffered so much on our long and arduous journey that her sister and family scarcely recognized her. Our youngest child, Jan Frederick, was in precarious health, and we feared he would not be able to live much longer. Our sister and her family did not know that we had buried our Mietzie shortly before leaving Holland.

At eleven o'clock the following morning I began working at a carpenter's bench in Mr. P. Lankester's barn. I also had to help in the field. But this kind of work did not suit me. Finally, I went to Milwaukee to look for work and to find a house for my family. Often I walked the many miles back and forth between Franklin Prairie and Milwaukee. Occasionally I was fortunate enough to get a ride on a hay wagon or some other wagon drawn by oxen. Because I was in a strange country I found it difficult to get ahead. I did not know anybody in Milwaukee and could speak neither English nor German. You can imagine how I felt in the evening when coming home after I had searched for work all day in vain. At last I found a house for my wife and children, a deserted parsonage. My sister had washed our clothing and on Tuesday, August 22, we left Franklin Prairie and came to Milwaukee.

On August 28, I began to work for an English speaking man, earning $1.25½ a day. Soon I became a citizen of Milwaukee, a youthful and beautiful city, ideally situated for commerce.

Your Father,

John Remeeus


The Editor's Note:

* Readers will find this diary helpful in making an appraisal of the pioneer Hollanders who early settled in the Middle West. Professor Henry S. Lucas, a student of Dutch emigration to America and a staff member of the University of Washington, contributed this journal and supplied the introduction and the annotations. John Remeeus, alert and cautious, faced some distressing ordeals in his voyage from The Netherlands to Milwaukee in 1854. His inability to speak the English language was a great handicap, and there is pathos in his description of the family's arrival in Wisconsin, "Our boxes were unloaded, and now we stood beside them on the pier not knowing where to go." If someone is need of fresh courage, let him read this inspiring document.


The Author's Notes:

1 The writer is preparing for publication a considerable number of the pamphlets and pioneer accounts written by immigrants from the Netherlands.

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2 A. Brummelkamp, Stemmen uit Noord-Amerika (Amsterdam, 1847) and Holland in Amerika (Amsterdam, 1847). Also A. Van Malen, Achttal Brieven van mijne Kinderen uit de Kolonie Holland (Zwijndrecht, 1848).

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3 H. P. Scholte, Eene Stem uit Pella (Amsterdam, 1848) and Tweede Stem uit Pella ('s Bosch, 1849).

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4 See S. F. Rederus, "The Dutch Settlements of Sheboygan County," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 1:256‑65 (March, 1918).

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5 Another Dutch immigrant diary (of Henry Hospers) has been published by Professor Jacob Van der Zee. See "Diary of a Journey from The Netherlands to Pella, Iowa, in 1849," Iowa Journal of History and Politics, 10:363‑82 (July, 1912).

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6 The original has "Smid," the Dutch equivalent of the German "Schmidt."

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7 The Rev. H. G. Klijn, born November 1, 1793, died December 1, 1886. See E. T. Corwin, A Manual of the Reformed Church in America (formerly Reformed Protestant Dutch Church), 1628‑1902, 4th ed. rev. and enlarged (New York, 1902), 554.

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8 The original has "Lancaster," but the Dutch original was "Lankester."

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9 For the Dutch settlement at Franklin Prairie in Milwaukee County, about sixteen miles southwest from Milwaukee, see B. de Beij en A. Zwemer, Stemmen uit de Hollandsch-Gereformeerde Kerk in de Vereenigde Staten van Noord-Amerika (Groningen, 1871), 58.


Thayer's Notes:

a St. Elmo's fire would probably not be described as "a fire at sea", nor as "A mass of fire" that the ship would have sailed thru: it is an electrical discharge occurring at the tops of masts and other pointed structures. I wasn't there, so I have no pat answer, but all kinds of phenomena suggest themselves: luminescent marine life, an area of burning methane released from the sea floor, a mat of seaweed or a mass of decomposing whale blubber set afire by lightning, etc.

The reference to "St. Elmo's fire" by name a few days later, as "again witnessed" (and again on July 18) makes me want to see the original, since the editor warned us (p203) that he'd changed the words of his text — which is already a translation of a later redaction by Remeeus. Did the writer learn in the meantime from sailors that the first "fire at sea" was St. Elmo's fire? or did he again write "fire at sea", which after the first occurrence was just tacitly changed by the editor?

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b Up to this point, Remeeus spells the man's name Snoep; from here on, Snoeps. To me, this is good evidence that the diary was not very heavily redacted: as he got to know him, he started spelling his name right. A perfectly similar case of respelling occurs in the diary, redacted later, of a Mormon pioneer writing in 1853.

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c1 c2 The Robert C. Winthrop was named for a then recent speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives; like so many of us faced with a foreign name, Remeeus has turned it into something much more like his native language. Speaker Winthrop was Boston-born — a descendant of the 17c Massachusetts pioneer governor John Winthrop — and Boston thru and thru: no surprise, to us at least, then that our immigrants arrive in Boston rather than New York as they had been led to expect: but springing it on them after they were at sea wasn't cool, and Remeeus was quite right to be angry.

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d One of Remeeus's many appealingly open-minded and perspicuous observations; America's first great contribution to the building arts was her domestic architecture.

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e "Emigrant cars" were a well-defined class of railcars, priced as cheap as possible, and separately tallied on the railroad companies' books (see for example Harlow, The Road of the Century, p54: that entire chapter of Harlow is interesting for its details of the budding New York Central system on which our immigrant family rode: route, sights, comfort, baggage check-thru, etc.). The same train might include better cars for the regular traveler, or on the other hand might otherwise carry only freight. Remeeus's experience was typical.

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f The Hudson was famous to the Dutch, of course, because its most consistent early exploration was under Dutch auspices and the region was first settled by Dutch colonists. (The story of the Dutch colonies is told in detail onsite, in Fiske's The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America; Hudson's exploration of the river now bearing his name is recounted in Chapter 3, pp74 ff.)


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