Foreword by H. A. Howeler
"Iowa Letters" is one of the most important collections of immigrant letters relating to the midwestern frontier known to be extant. The originals, some 215 in number and representing three distinct letter series, have been gathered from archives and private holdings on both sides of the Atlantic. More than 100 are published here for the first time. The others were first published in the Dutch language in "Amsterdamse Emigranten" (1976), edited by Johan Stellingwerff. All are now translated into English by Walter Lagerway, the nestor of Dutch American language, literature, and culture in the United States.
The letters were penned by religious dissenters from the Netherlands Reformed Church in an exchange from the 1840s to the 1870s that flowed back and forth between family members who remained in the homeland and those who colonized Iowa in the mid-nineteenth century. The missives, written in shaky hands and often stained, report family and church news, economic and political conditions, and the joys and sorrows of everyday life. At a deeper level, they portray the innermost feelings and faith struggles of the devout Netherlanders as they sought to understand the will of God in the face of their sufferings and afflictions, whether in the homeland or in distant America.
Documents relating to the history of Pella, Iowa, are sparse in the published works on Dutch immigration, and most of the best manuscripts remain in the Dutch language and are wholly inaccessible to the grandchildren of the immigrants. Now they and all future generations, including interested scholars and general readers, can read the story of the founding of Pella and the development ofBurlington in the very words of the pioneers themselves.
The account has its unexpected twists and turns. There are the typical bbacon lettersb meant to persuade family and friends to come over. But there is also the remarkably blunt criticism of Pellabs founding father, the Reverend Henry P. Scholte; the lure of land speculation by a novice land surveyor; and the bitter disappointment of a fresh immigrant who warned compatriots in pointed letters not to repeat his mistakes and to stay at home. After six months he and his family returned to the Netherlands, leaving in a cemetery two children who succumbed to scarlet fever. His letters provide a rare example of anti-immigrant fever. On balance, however, most newcomers thrived in the new land and their letters reflect a positive, and even glowing account of the opportunities on the Iowa frontier to provide a better life for themselves and their children.
This book is a captivating account, written under candlelight and oil lamps, by mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and nephews and nieces, both in Iowa and the Netherlands, who carried on a regular correspondence for up to four decades. Only death stopped the flow of letters. Just as immigration changed the letter writers, so eavesdropping on their conversation will change readers today, helping them step back in time and become Iowa pioneers themselves.