I have pondered what it cost for my great-grandparents to leave their homeland, the Netherlands, in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s to come to the United States. From my limited research, it appears most Dutch immigrants at that time came to America for economic opportunity, freedom from high taxes, and to get relief from oppression of a state church. My great-grandparents left everything familiar and comfortable, knowing it was likely they would never see their loved ones and homeland again. I believe they also left the Netherlands with a sense of adventure, hoping to make a better life for their children and future generations. The decision could not have been made lightly. They came here, struggled, learned the language, worked hard and made a good life.
I still walk around on the farm that my Frisian great-grandfather started, my grandfather continued, and my dad, uncles, brother, and cousins continue to farm. I’ve seen their hard work, and their love for the land that they farm. I have watched that farm grow and prosper over years of hard labor and long hours. I have witnessed my own parents and grandparents progress from struggling to prospering in the freedom they have had to work the land, raise the cows, and sell the milk.
On my mom’s side, I have heard stories about the beloved great grandmother who was sixteen when she immigrated from Groningen along with her two sisters and mother, a relatively young widow. All four women were mourning the loss of their brother and son, Joe. Joe was the one who encouraged all of them to come to America, but he died of pneumonia two weeks before boarding the boat. My great-grandmother married a man who had also immigrated from Groningen and they raised ten children. I have known every one of these great-aunts and great-uncles, seen them prosper after hearing about the lean years of their childhood, and have heard many of their stories over the years. I was amazed several months ago to hear my great-grandmother’s voice for the first time on a recording by her brother-in-law that we didn’t know existed. She was singing a hymn in Dutch.
These stories are just one of the reasons that freedom is so precious to me. I hope for my own children and grandchildren to enjoy the freedom that my great-grandparents were seeking when they came to the United States. I want to remember the courage these immigrants had, why they came, and what they were seeking.
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
-Katharine Lee Bates