by Beth Dippel
for The Beacon
Landverhuizers or The Immigrants is a historical trilogy novel of Dutch emigration in the mid-nineteenth century, written by Pieter J. Risseeuw. It was originally published in the Netherlands in 1947. The reprint available today was reprinted in 2008 and has an informative introduction by Janet Sjaarda Sheeres.
In October 1934, the then-33-year-old Pieter Johannes Risseeuw traveled to Utrecht to attend an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Afscheiding of 1834. This Afscheiding, or Secession, was a mass movement of conservative Christians out of the Dutch Reformed Church which, in the Seceders’ eyes, had become too liberal. The part of the exhibition that fascinated the young author the most was how the Secession led to massive emigration by the Seceders to the wilderness of Michigan, and beyond. Captivated by the letters written home by some of those immigrants, Risseeuw began to imagine what stories these lives could tell.
By this time, he had already been writing for ten years and had published eight short novels. While these novels were set in the Netherlands, his native land, a novel featuring immigrants in a foreign land would be a monumental undertaking as far as research was concerned. Traveling to America was out of the question. Risseeuw’s financial circumstances prohibited such expense. His father passed away in 1904 when Pieter was three; after an elementary education, he left school to provide for his widowed mother by working at De Twentsche Bank in The Hague. Until he married Jannetje Passchier in May 1928, on his 27th birthday, the only income he kept for himself was what he earned by writing. In order to provide for his wife and son, Peter, he continued his day job at the bank, using his evenings and other spare time to write.
Fortunately, Risseeuw was able to do extensive research in the archives of Dr. Jacob van Hinte, who had published his standard work on the Dutch in America in 1928, as well as in the Theological Library of Kampen and the Royal Library in The Hague. He also began corresponding with historians in the United States, gathering documentation for his novel. Not being a professional historian, he compensated by meticulous research.
Risseeuw’s wife, Jannetje, had taken courses in English before their marriage, unaware at the time how she would ever use this talent. The many English language documents arriving from America had to be translated before Risseeuw could work them into his story, and Jannetje proved to be a vital asset. While Pieter wrote, Jannetje would cut out and file all the newspaper and magazine articles he had circled. She kept his card files current and typed the voluminous correspondence which he dictated to her, translating those letters that would go to American addresses. He wrote every evening from 8:30 to 10:30; she spent every afternoon typing what he had written or retyping his revised manuscripts.
During the occupation of Holland from 1940 to 1945, Germany prohibited all publishing unless sanctioned by the Reich. Risseeuw was one of the authors who refused to live under German control and used the war years to write his Landverhuizers novels which were published in 1947—a century after the Seceder exodus of 1847. The immediate success of the book gave Risseeuw the idea to expand his horizons and tell the stories of Netherlanders who settled in other parts of the world.
Ideally, he would like to see these places for himself. Until that could become a reality, he concentrated on his own environment and produced four novels set in the Netherlands and contributed numerous stories and articles to various magazines. Finally, in 1957, Risseeuw was able to realize his dream by doing research on-site. First, he visited the oldest Dutch settlement in America, Nieuw Amsterdam, now New York. This resulted in the 1958 publication of Anneke Jans, a novel about the settlement of New Amsterdam. On this trip he also was able to visit the places he had written about so vividly, including Holland, Michigan; Pella, Iowa; and places in between. And while traveling through Ontario, Canada, he met with many of the post-World War II immigrants, who had their own unique stories to tell.
During his lifetime, Risseeuw kept up an ongoing relationship with young Christian authors, reading their work and encouraging them in their writing careers. For many years he was the editor of the Protestant Christian cultural magazine Ontmoeting (Meeting). His home was a gathering place for Christian authors, and often one of them would stay the entire weekend to discuss a manuscript.
In 1961, at age 60, he took early retirement from the bank to devote his time entirely to travel and writing. Grants from various literary and business philanthropic funds helped him realize his goal. In the fall of that year, he made a more extensive tour through the United States and Canada. Visits to the Dutch colonies in America and more visits with recent immigrants in Canada resulted in Zo Ver de Wereld Reikt (To the Ends of the World) and Overal Hollander (Everywhere Dutchmen), both published in 1963. Physically frail, he was often sick, yet worked as much as his stamina allowed. In 1965 he was able to expand his world again by traveling to even more far-flung corners of the world—to South Africa, Australia, and New Zeeland. A planned trip to Brazil and Argentina had to be abandoned due to ill health.
His book on the Dutch settlement in Brazil, Donja Saskia en haar Prins (Donia Saskia and her Prince) had only one chapter remaining when Risseeuw passed away. Using Risseeuw’s notes, author Jacoba Vreugdenhil, who was well acquainted with his writing, finished the book.
Risseeuw died in June 1968 at age 67 in The Hague, leaving behind a monumental selection of books, stories, and articles. With this newly released English edition, Pieter J. Risseeuw will once again delight readers.
This novel is a fascinating look at immigration in the 1840s. Nearly 400 pages in length, it is a good read. With Sheboygan County’s deep Dutch history this book will give you an idea of what our Dutch neighbors endured as they made the journey from Holland to the America.
You can buy a copy of Lanverhuizers at the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center, 518 Water Street, Sheboygan Falls. Business hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9-4. Or check out schrc.org/shop to order online. Call 920.467.4667 for more information.