Picking up the thread from our last post on the Dutch in West Michigan, we find this next from chapter two of Herbert J. Brinks’ book Write Back Soon: Letters from Immigrants in America (CRC Publications, 1986), about the Dutch immigrants who settled in West Michigan:
The Netherlanders who settled in western Michigan were, of course, not the first Europeans to investigate that corner of the North American wilderness. As early as 1620 the French had used this area to trade with Indian tribes. And in 1688 Father Jacques Marquette, a missionary-explorer, founded a permanent village at Saulte Sainte Marie. Since other French missionaries organized mission stations all long the coast of Lake Michigan, it’s not surprising that in 1847 Van Raalte [image to left] and his followers met a tribe of Christian Indians on the future sight of Holland, Michigan.
Michigan afforded Van Raalte a better opportunity to isolate his colony than did the neighboring states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, all of which had been settled and organized earlier than the Wolverine State. Since Michigan did not gain independent statehood until 1837, Van Raalte was able to acquire large tracts of unsettled land for his group.
…Van Raalte’s efforts in Holland, Michigan, paralleled similar efforts among his American neighbors. The towns and villages in the colony’s immediate vicinity were all youthful and crude, having origins as trading posts or Indian settlements. Port Sheldon, the colony’s nearest neighbor, had been developed in 1837 for reasons much like those which Van Raalte cherished in selecting Holland. Like Holland, Port Sheldon had access to Lake Michigan through an adjoining inland lake that provided a potential harbor. But Port Sheldon had been organized by speculators who hoped to lure purchasers with the promise of spiraling land values. The founders constructed a huge hotel on the site and had already sold some of the town lots when the economic crisis of 1837 pulled land values down and forced the town’s developers into bankruptcy. Van Raalte proceeded more wisely. His colony consisted of settlers, not empty projections of speculative wealth.