Life in America

As time has marched forward, the details of the early years of the family of Willem Van Wyk have also tended to fade away. All of the original family members are gone, with fewer and fewer of the grandchildren remaining as well, who can only recount what they remember from stories their parents told them. So what we have has been pieced together from earlier research, stories passed down through the generations, census records, newspaper accounts, and official documents filed at the courthouse.

ARRIVAL AND EARLY YEARS IN IOWA – 1892 to 1895+

The Van Wyk family arrived at Ellis Island on July 26, 1892, on the ship Véendam of the Holland-Amerika Line. The ship was under the command of H. C. Vander Zee, with 703 people on board. The ship departed from the port of Rotterdam, and then sailed to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, to pick up additional passengers. Having lived the sheltered life of a rural area, the Van Wyk family was likely amazed with the busyness and roughness of the harbor cities and the mass of humanity on the ship – there were natives of Syria, Germany, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, the United States, Hungary, Belgium, Romania, and England all on board. With such a big family, the Van Wyk family won the award for the most pieces of baggage—14.

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Advertisement for the Holland-America Steamship Company

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Manifest for the SS Veendam 

From New York City, the Van Wyks would have taken the train to Pella. Without anyone of the Van Wyk family speaking English, this could have been a far more intimidating undertaking than the ocean voyage since the ship was flying under a Dutch flag. The Holland-Amerika Line had agents in New York that assisted with transferring the immigrants from the ship to the train. Additionally, there were several Dutch Reformed churches in the New York/New Jersey area, with some of these churches also providing assistance if immigrants needed help. While the Dutch community of Pella would have been generally known by the Van Wyk family due to the influence of Rev. Scholte in their lives, by the late 1800’s there were several other viable Dutch communities in the United States as well. As there were no close relatives of Willem or Trijntje in Pella at that time, the exact reasons why Pella was chosen, and what close acquaintances, if any, they had in the Pella area, have been lost.

Arriving in late summer in Iowa is not the most ideal time if one’s career is farming. What Willem and Trijntje did immediately after their July 1892 arrival is unknown. It is speculated that they found housing somewhere in Pella, with Willem and the older boys working what odd jobs they could, and began the task of looking for a farm to rent for the beginning of the 1893 crop season. They ended up settling some distance away from Pella, in the Galesburg area of Jasper County. They likely found this farm through a land agent or a land investor who was looking for tenants, and the Van Wyk family, with its oversupply of boys who could do farm work, was probably attractive to the landowner. The fact that this area was outside of the comfort zone of a Dutch community didn’t seem to bother Willem, and as can be seen later, this pattern of not following a conventional model was something that Willem repeated. It must be remembered that this feature is somewhat part of Willem’s genetic makeup as Willem’s (and Trijntje’s) grandparents bucked convention when they left the Dutch State Church during the Afscheiding, that Willem’s (and Trijntje’s) parents left Genderen to start a new life in the Haarlemmermeer Polder, and that Willem and Trijntje themselves took the risk of leaving their homeland to start a new life in America.

The farm they found to rent was 1 ½ miles west of Galesburg, and was owned by John De Goey. This appears to have been a large farm, 320 acres, and it is speculated that De Goey lived on this farm as well. John De Goey had emigrated from Holland in 1882, and in 1886 at age 35 he married a non-Dutch widow from Elk Creek Township in Jasper County, which is where Galesburg is located. This widow, Mary Ann (Poots) Lufkin, likely had some means, as her husband had owned 400 acres in Elk Creek Township as well as an interest in a bank. But as she only had daughters at home following her first husband’s death, and as she and John De Goey only had one daughter together, there was likely a need for additional farm labor.

Willem and Trijntje and their family moved to the De Goey farm in September of 1892, and signed a lease with John De Goey to rent the farm for $1,200 per year for five years. Around the same time De Goey leased the farm to Willem, he held a public auction to sell his livestock and farming implements.  At that moment two needs came together: De Goey wanted to get a good price at his auction, and Willem needed livestock and equipment to run a farm. There was just one problem: Willem was a poor recent immigrant with no money. So an agreement was struck: Willem would be allowed to purchase whatever he needed at the auction, and De Goey would carry this amount on a note with Willem. However, there was a catch—he required Willem to have a guarantor. Willem was able to find a guarantor, an individual by the name of Jan Uithoven. Willem, therefore, became an active buyer at the De Goey public auction, purchasing approximately $1,100 worth of livestock and farming implements. He and Uithoven then signed notes at 7 and 8 per cent interest payable to De Goey, with the majority of these notes to be paid off in the fall of 1893.

Jan Uithoven was born in the village of Almkerk en Uitwijk in Noord Brabant, which is just a little bit northwest of Genderen. He had immigrated to Pella in 1881, and had known Willem in the Netherlands. However, the stronger connection was through Jan’s wife, who was Huibeitje Petronella Vos. Her mother was Jenneke Maria Boll, a sister to Trijntje’s mother Hendrika Boll, thus making Trijntje and Huibeitje first cousins. While this family relationship is somewhat distant, it perhaps influenced the Van Wyks to come to Iowa. At any rate, there must have been more than a passing relationship if Jan Uithoven, as an in-law, was willing to co-sign Willem’s debts.

Willem and Trijntje appeared to have been the vanguard for other family members to come, with the family of Willem Huibert and Aletta Cornelia Van’t Sant, Trijntje’s half-sister, arriving in America in April 1893. While this was earlier than the Van Wyk arrival date, it was nonetheless beyond the traditional March 1 “moving day,” the date when new farmland leases were set up. In a letter to his brother Klaas Van’t Sant dated mid-December 1893, Willem Huibert was rejoicing that he had found an 80 acre farm to rent in Jasper County, four miles from the town of Reasnor, at a price of $2.50 an acre. He noted that there were just four Hollander families in the area, and was hoping more would be arriving. This land find was arranged by P. van der Waal, who had land adjacent to this 80 acre tract. This van der Waal also came from the Haarlemmermeer or Genderen area, as Willem Huibert writes “he is well acquainted with Father and other family members.”  Could this van der Waal have also found the Jasper County farm for Willem and Trijntje to occupy, because if he was familiar with the Van’t Sants he would have been familiar with the Van Wyks as well? In the same letter, Willem Huibert noted that the land there is better than around Pella, and specifically mentioned by name that in the neighborhood where Willem and Trijntje lived, they had a corn yield of 40-60 bushels per acre. Willem Huibert also observed that Willem Lanser, a fellow former Haarlemmermeer resident and (unknown at the time) the future husband of his niece Hendrika Van Wyk, was going to be living at the P. van der Waal farm. It is inferred that Willem Lanser was going to be the hired hand of P. van der Waal, with Willem Huibert assuming that he could therefore use the van der Waal machinery and wouldn’t need to buy much.

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Letter dated Dec. 1893 from Willem Huibert (W.H.) Van’t Sant to his brother Gerrit Nickolaas (Klaas) Van’t Sant.  Mrs. W.H. Van’t Sant is half sister to Trijnte Van Wyk. (Click to enlarge)

Little did Willem Huibert know that if he had waited just a couple of weeks longer to write this letter, he could have reported on the sad news of the death of his sister-in-law, Trijntje Vanden Heuvel Van Wyk, on December 28, 1893. In October of 1893, the Van Wyks were blessed with their 13th child, named Cornelis Allettinus (Neal). He could have been named after two of Trijntje’s younger brothers who died at young ages—a full brother named Cornelis Alettinus who died at Haarlemmermeer at age 14 in 1866, and a half-brother named Cornelis Alettinus who died at Haarlemmermeer at the age of 2 in 1872. It must be remembered that Trijntje had born thirteen children before reaching the age of 40, raising and providing a home for them in what would be viewed as very primitive conditions today. Whether Trijntje was in a weakened condition already at the time of Cornelis’ birth, or whether she didn’t have enough strength to resist ill health following this birth, will never be known.

The Jasper County Register of Deaths shows her place of death was Galesburg and the cause of death was heart failure, being complicated by pneumonia. This report was given by Dr. L. J. Carpenter of Galesburg, who waited until March 7, 1894, to file the death certificate. The death occurred at 4:00 in the afternoon on Trijntje’s 40th birthday. She was buried on December 30 at Hewitt Cemetery which is between Reasnor and Galesburg. No undertaker was used, likely meaning that a small, private funeral service took place. Given the lack of time in America and the distance from Pella, her death did not even receive coverage in the Dutch language press of Pella, and there was also no obituary given in other area papers, such as in Newton. Not counting her immediate family, her death was largely unheralded and unnoticed by the surrounding community.

The prospect of raising such a large family alone was likely very daunting for Willem. The Van’t Sant family assisted in taking care of the new baby Neal. In the December letter of Willem Huibert Van’t Sant mentioned earlier, he wrote that he was counting on moving to Jasper County earlier than March 1 as the farmhouse was already empty – this would have been a big help to the Van Wyk family if that in fact occurred. Hendrika, the only girl and aged 17 at the time, was forced to immediately assume the role of the replacement mother and help manage the household, assigning chores and duties to the older boys who were responsible enough to carry them out.

However, the Van Wyk family’s time in Jasper County was short-lived. The reason for this is that in addition to the emotional stress of the loss of Trijntje, financial stress was also occurring in the Van Wyk household. Willem had been having money problems, as evidenced by the fact that in July of 1893, instead of paying off a $200 note stemming from the De Goey public auction, he renewed it for another 3 months, with De Goey again requiring that Jan Uithoven guarantee the note. Willem had also individually borrowed $80 from De Goey in March of 1893, and later in August of 1893 borrowed another $146.50 from him. Additionally, Willem had been obtaining credit elsewhere – at the Winters grocery store in Galesburg, at the Trout implement store in Galesburg, at the Vandermeulen general store in Pella, and at the Beurkens wagon factory in Pella.

These creditors were not getting paid and were becoming nervous, and were starting to put pressure on Willem by talking to his landlord, John De Goey, about their unpaid bills.  De Goey then began getting nervous himself, as he was Willem’s biggest creditor. De Goey went to Pella and had a conversation with Jan Uithoven about this in August of 1893, asking him to assist in getting Willem to sign a mortgage (often called a chattel mortgage; now called a security agreement) in favor of De Goey, covering the livestock and equipment.  Uithoven objected to this arrangement, insisting that it was better for all the parties that the property be left unencumbered, and that Willem be allowed to go ahead and operate the farm in hope of making sufficient money to discharge all the indebtedness.  De Goey then decided to go to Willem’s place on his own, asking him to go to Pella with him to get a mortgage signed in favor of D6 Goey. Willem later recalled that De Goey stated that if he didn’t do it, the other creditors “would come and take everything away from, me, and then I could not run the farm.”  But Willem opted not to sign any documents at that time.

However, everything came to a head about a month later, on September 9, 1893. The cupboards were bare, and in the morning Trijntje sent one of the older boys to the Winters grocery store in Galesburg to buy groceries – remember, at the time Trijntje was 8 months pregnant with her 13″‘ child and trying to feed a very large family. However, no money was brought along to the store, and the storeowner refused to supply the Van Wyks any more credit, so sent the boy home empty—handed. When Willem came in from the field and heard about it, he immediately went to De Goey’s place, but De Goey was gone. Later that day De Goey heard about the visit, and came over to the Van Wyk farmstead in the afternoon. In the presence of Trijntje and the 20 and 19 year old Jan and Dirk, he agreed to extend Willem’s $80 past due note to December, as well as provide $125 in additional credit to Willem so he could buy provisions.  However, there was a catch – Willem would have to give John De Goey a chattel mortgage on all the equipment and livestock. Partly out of desperation, Willem agreed to do so, noting later, “I was there with a large family of twelve, and couldn’t get any more goods.” Willem had an additional understanding of this transaction-—that in return for turning these unsecured notes into secured notes via a mortgage, the guaranty of Jan Uithoven would be released.

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This is the chattel mortgage that Willem Van Wyk gave John De Goey to secure the notes he had with De Goey.  This lists all the property owned by Willem.  Note that the first asset listed was a horse that was blind with both eyes! (Click to enlarge)

Two days later, on September 11, 1893, John De Goey and Pella attorney P. H. Bousquet met at the farmstead of Willem van Wijk. There a mortgage was made out in favor of De Goey, putting a lien on all of Willem’s livestock and equipment. (See partial copy of mortgage, which lists all of Willem’s personal property.) P. H. Bousquet had a vested interest in this transaction—not only was he De Goey’s attorney, but he was also De Goey’s banker, as he was President of Pella National Bank. While these notes were made to De Goey, this bank had purchased the notes from him, with De Goey in turn guaranteeing the payment and performance of these obligations. So if Willem did not pay the notes, the bank would have to resort to collecting the debt from De Goey. So the bank was in essence protecting itself by having De Goey get some collateral to back the notes. The mortgage document was in English, of which Willem could not read one word. Afterwards Willem would testify that “I do not know what I signed.” And attorney P. H. Bousquet would counter “I read it to him in the Holland language; I explained it to him in the Holland language.”

While this mortgage transaction gave the Van Wyks additional funds to buy groceries, it did not solve the problem. De Goey, relieved and perhaps emboldened now that his notes were secured, began treating the Van Wyk property as his own. He re-purchased the notes signed by Jan Uithoven and Willem that he had originally sold to banks—two to Pella National Bank and one to a bank in Newton. He began taking property from Willem, keeping some for himself and selling some off. And when he did sell it, he used no consistency in crediting the funds—some proceeds went to the joint notes signed by Willem and Uithoven, and some went to the notes signed solely by Willem.

During this fall season of l893, Willem’s life was in an upheaval—his financial world was crumbling around him as De Goey and others were repossessing his property, he could barely feed his family, yet he had another mouth to feed with the birth of Cornelius in October, and his wife Trijntje died at age 40 in December, likely in declining health during the months prior to that time. According to his brother-in-law Cornelius Edel, Willem began to talk of leaving the farm and moving to Pella around the first of the year. De Goey had made arrangements to rent the farm to Ed Beintema for the next crop season as soon as Willem moved out. Jan Uithoven had already made a much bigger decision – apparently tired of Iowa winters, he had gone down to Mississippi and signed an agreement to purchase 440 acres of land there.  He began the process of selling his cattle, sheep, hogs, and land in Iowa, and making plans to move his horses by train to Mississippi.

John De Goey, with the notes that Willem and Uithoven signed being long past due, commenced two court actions in Marion County against these individuals to collect the debt, one being filed in January of 1894 and the other in February of 1894. He went one step further with Jan Uithoven—he filed “writs of attachment” against his land and horses, preventing the land from being sold and his horses from leaving Iowa. Willem, perhaps because he had no money to defend himself, perhaps because he was so weary of the struggles he had to keep his family intact during the last few months, or perhaps because he felt he really did owe the money, did not resist the court action. Thus John De Goey was awarded a default judgment of $985.50 against Willem, with this judgment filed on February 28, 1894.

Jan Uithoven, however, did not take this lawsuit lightly, and resisted the action, stating that he did not owe De Goey any money as his obligation was removed when Willem signed the mortgage. He in turn filed a counter-claim against De Goey, stating that he was damaged as he could not sell his land in Iowa as it had been attached, and could not move to Mississippi to complete his purchase transaction there. The Court combined all the various actions into one case, and a jury trial was held in the fore part of March of 1894. The heart of the case rested on whether or not releasing Jan Uithoven from the notes was a condition that Willem gave before signing the mortgage which gave De Goey rights to all of Willem’s property. Willem had to testify via an interpreter, with all of his comments taken down in shorthand and later transcribed. As this release of Jan Uithoven’s liability was not in writing, the jury had to weigh Willem’s statements against De Goey’s statements. As a result, many witnesses from the Galesburg area were brought in to discredit Willem, describing his bad local reputation. This trial must have been a very hard experience for Willem—it occurred within three months of the death of his wife, he had to admit that he was unable to care for his family and pay his debts, and he had numerous neighbors testifying against him. It almost appeared that he was the defendant fighting the case instead of Uithoven.

On March 9, 1894, on the same day that 17 instructions regarding this case were given to the jury by the judge, the jury returned its verdict. Jan Uithoven was considered to be not liable on the notes to De Goey, but was awarded damages of just $1 for the wrongful attachment of his property.

John De Goey, knowing that Willem had no assets and that Uithoven was his only hope for recovery on the notes, appealed the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. His attorneys—P. H. Bousquet of Pella, Hays Brothers of Knoxville, and W. S. Winslow of Newton, filed lengthy discourses with the Court to overturn the decision.  Jan Uithoven’s law firm, Earle & Prouty, offered rebuttals against these arguments. One of this firm’s main points to support the jury’s verdict was the very questionable way De Goey took back the property that he had originally sold to Willem at the farm sale. Not only were the funds credited on the notes well below what Willem paid for the property in the first place, but they were credited to Willem’s other debts with De Goey, not to the joint debts of Willem and Uithoven that stemmed from the public auction in the first place. Some examples given:

  • De Goey sold Willem 127 sheep for about $415–he gave Willem $150 credit when he took them back.
  • De Goey sold a buck to Willem for $25–he gave Willem a credit of $3 for it when he took it back.
  • De Goey sold Willem three horses for $l90—he gave Willem a credit of $75 when he took them back.
  • De Goey sold Willem a span of horses for $200–he gave Willem credit of $70 when he took them back.

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Title of the Court Case as it appeared before the Supreme Court of Iowa, and the Iowa State Capital Building where the Iowa Supreme Court was located at the time the “De Goey vs Van Wyk” case was reviewed by the court

These examples lead one to wonder why Willem did not resist De Goey’s lawsuit, as it appears that the amount that Willem owed him would have been far less if more equitable numbers were used when the property was repossessed by De Goey. As for Uithoven, the Earle & Prouty law firm summed up this part of their point as follows: “By taking this mortgage, De Goey secured a lien upon every particle of personal property owned by Van Wyk. He thus had in his possession and under his control all of Van Wyk’s properly. Now that he should take this properly himself at extremely low figures and should sell it to others at a sacrifice and apply the money received upon the payment of notes upon which Uithoven was not a surety, and leave Uithoven to pay in full those notes, is certainly inconsistent with our ideas of even justice. In our judgment, Mr. De Goey deliberately undertook a scheme to rob Van Wyk of everything he had and of everything that he earned during a whole year of hard labor for himself and family, by sacrificing his property and then compelling Uithoven to pay these notes.

The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Uithoven, and did not sustain De Goey’s appeal. Uithoven and his wife and children left for Mississippi, and remained there for the rest of their lives. While Uithoven was now legally clear of the reaches of De Goey, Willem still had a judgment against him even though he had no means to pay it. This judgment would come to haunt Willem ten years later.

By 1895, a big change in the Van Wyk family was officially documented. While the Van’t Sant family remained in Jasper County, the State of Iowa 1895 census showed that the entire 13-member Van Wyk family was living in a house within the City Limits of Pella, in the Third Ward. Willem and the three oldest boys—Jan, Dirk, and Gysbert—were given the occupation of laborers, and Hendrika was given the occupation of keeping house. Willem’s move to Pella likely occurred sometime in the early months of It is hard to speculate how soon this move to Pella would help rid Willem of the painful memories of the Jasper County location.

The New Sharon Years ->

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