Dutch americans

by Herbert J. Brinks


Located in northwestern Europe, the Netherlands is bounded to the east by Germany, to the south by Belgium, and to the north and west by the North Sea. The Netherlands has about 16,000 square miles of landmass, making the country roughly equal in size to New Jersey and Maryland combined. The nation supports a population density of about 1,000 people per square mile. A coastal region, incorporating two major harbors (Rotterdam and the Hudson Bay), the Netherlands' economy is heavily dependent upon shipping.

During the New Stone Age (c. 8000-3500 B.C.), the Netherlands' landmass roughly equaled its current 16,000 square miles, but by 55 B.C., when Rome's legions gained hegemony in the area, rising sea levels and erosion from winds, tides, and rivers reduced the coastal areas by at least 30 percent. Since then, the Dutch have employed various strategies to regain the land lost to the sea. Simple earthen hills (village sites) linked by dikes long preceded the complex drainage systems that drain the enclosed lowlands today with electrically powered pumps.

Windmills, preserved currently as historic monuments, pushed water up and out of the Netherlands for some five centuries (1400-1900) because viable habitation of the western provinces (South Holland, Zeeland, and North Holland) required flood control along the Rhine River delta and along the North Sea's shifting shoreline. The massive Delta Works, stretching across the islands of South Holland and Zeeland, was constructed following disastrous floods in 1953 to protect the Netherlands from storms and high water. Because the most productive farm land together with the most populous commercial and industrial districts lie as much as 20 feet below sea level, hydrological science has become a hallmark of Dutch achievement.


While historians believe that nomadic peoples hunted and fished in the Netherlands as early as 16,000 B.C., the area was not settled until about 4000 B.C. Around 60 B.C., Roman armies under Julius Caesar conquered the Saxon, Celtic, and Frisian groups occupying the Netherlands at that time. The Romans built roads and made improvements to existing dikes in the lowlands. In the A.D. 400s, as Rome weakened, the Germanic Franks conquered the area and later introduced the Dutch to Christianity.

From the 700s to the 1100s, the Dutch were subjected to violent raids by Viking sailors from Scandinavia. During this unstable period, power passed to local nobles, whose arms and castles offered protection in return for rent, labor, and taxes. This system gradually declined when, beginning in the 1300s, much of the Netherlands was taken by the dukes of Burgundy, a powerful French feudal dynasty. In the early 1500s, Charles V, Duke of Burgundy, inherited the thrones of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. While he was well-liked by the Dutch, his successors were not. In 1568 the Dutch prince, William the Silent (1533-1584), led a rebellion against the Spanish Habsburgs (Phillip II, 1527-1621), initiating the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). Although William was assassinated in 1584, his efforts eventually resulted in Dutch independence. For this reason, he is often regarded as the Father of the Netherlands.

Resistance to the Spanish united the lowlanders, who previously had local (rather than national) loyalties. In 1579 the Union of Utrecht unified the seven northern lowland provinces. (Their 1580 agreement, essentially a defensive alliance, served as a national constitution until 1795.) Two years later (1581), those provinces declared the Netherlands an independent country. Meanwhile, Dutch exploration and trade had flourished and by the 1620s, the Dutch shipping fleet was the world's largest. This "Golden Age" lasted until the 1700s, after which the Netherlands underwent a gradual decline as the balance of colonial power shifted in favor of England. The beginning of this change can be traced to the 1664 sale of New Netherland (New York) to England.


The Netherlands was occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Era (1795-1813). Afterwards, in 1814, descendants of the House of Orange established a monarchy, which was reformed successively in 1848, 1896, and 1919 to create a broadly based democracy. Today, the Netherlands has a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral, multi-party system administered by a premier and a coalition cabinet of ministers. Queen Beatrix (1938– ), the titular head of state, performs largely ceremonial duties.


Following English explorer Henry Hudson's 1609 exploration of the Hudson River, a new joint stock company, the Dutch West India Company (1621), gained colonization rights in the Hudson River area and founded New Netherland (New York). The Dutch West India Company was chartered specifically to trade in the New World, where the Dutch had acquired colonies in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the east coast of North America. Pursuing its commercial interest in New Netherland, the company established Fort Orange (Albany), Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Vlissingen (Flushing), and in Delaware, Swanendael (Lewes). In 1624 the company also established the Dutch Reformed Church (the Reformed Church in America) which has exercised a significant influence in the Dutch American community.

In New Amsterdam (New York City) Governor Peter Stuyvesant (1592-1672) attempted to eliminate all worship apart from that of the Dutch Reformed Church, but his governing board in Amsterdam opposed the policy as detrimental to commerce. Like Amsterdam itself, New Amsterdam did not enforce rules which prohibited worship to Jews, Catholics, and others. Thus, New Amsterdam flourished and, as New York City, it continues to host a diverse populace with widely varying religious expressions.

After the British captured New Netherland in 1664, Dutch immigration virtually ceased but England imposed no severe restraints on the Dutch and the vast majority remained in New York. By 1790 they numbered about 100,000 and, in addition to New York City, they clustered in towns and villages scattered along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. In New Jersey they established towns beside the Hackensack, Passaic, and Raritan Rivers. In such places they dominated the local culture, spoke Dutch, and established both Reformed churches and day schools. After the American Revolution, the Dutch more rapidly assimilated into the dominant Anglo-American

In this 1921 photograph, a Dutch woman and her children prepare to depart from the S.S. Vedic in New York City.
In this 1921 photograph, a Dutch woman and her children prepare to depart from the S.S. Vedic in New York City.
culture by adopting English for worship, by attending public schools, and by attaining social status within the general culture. Consequently, when a new wave of Dutch immigrants came to the United States in the 1840s, they found few in New York or elsewhere who spoke Dutch.


Nineteenth-century Dutch immigration, numbering about 200 people annually before 1845, increased that year to 800 and averaged 1,150 annually over the next decade. That movement stemmed from religious and economic discontent in the Netherlands; a potato famine (1845-1846) and high unemployment combined with a division in the Reformed Church that pitted conservative Calvinists against the increasingly liberal State Church forced many Dutch to emigrate. At the same time, three clergymen organized colonies on the Midwestern frontier. In 1848 Father Theodore J. Van den Broek (1783-1851) established a Catholic community in Little Chute, near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Two conservative Reformed pastors, Albertus Van Raalte (1811-1876) and Hendrik P. Scholte (1805-1868) founded respectively, Holland, Michigan (1847) and Pella, Iowa (1847). Once these communities were established, printed brochures and private correspondence triggered a persistent flow of newcomers until 1930, when immigration quotas and the Great Depression closed out that 85-year period of migration. During that era, Dutch immigration followed typical northern European patterns, increasing or decreasing in response to economic prospects at home or in the United States. With peaks in the mid-1870s, the early 1880s and 1890s, and again from 1904 to 1914, a total of about 400,000 Netherlanders immigrated to the United States between 1845 and 1930.

Seventy-five to 80 percent of these immigrants originated from rural provinces surrounding the Netherlands' urban core. They settled mainly in the Midwest, clustering where the original colonies had been established in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa. They also settled in and around Chicago, in Paterson, New Jersey and in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Those with hopes of becoming independent farmers moved West and gained land under the Homestead Act, which encouraged settlement in northwestern Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Washington, and California. In nearly every settlement, they organized and had prominent roles in local towns where they established churches, private schools, and farm-related businesses of all sorts. After 1900, when the best homestead lands were occupied, the Dutch selected urban industrial locations and formed solid ethnic enclaves in Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Paterson. By 1930 Dutch immigrant communities stretched from coast to coast across the northern tier of states, but they concentrated most heavily around the southern half of Lake Michigan, from Muskegon, Michigan, through Chicago and north to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

After World War II, when a war-ravaged economy and a severe housing shortage caused a third of the Dutch populace to seriously consider emigration, a new wave of 80,000 immigrants came to the United States. The Dutch government encouraged emigration and sought to increase the annual U.S. immigration quota of 3,131. Consequently, under special provisions of the Walter-Pastori Refugee Relief Acts (1950-1956), about 18,000 Dutch Indonesians were admitted to the United States. These Dutch Colonials, who had immigrated to the Netherlands after 1949 when Indonesia became independent, settled primarily in California, the destination of many other postwar Dutch immigrants. The 1970 U.S. Census recorded the highest number (28,000) of foreign-born Dutch in California, while seven other states—Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, Florida, and Iowa—hosted nearly the whole 50,000 balance. Apart from Florida, these states had been traditional strongholds for Dutch Americans.

Acculturation and Assimilation

During the chief era of Dutch immigration, 1621-1970, religious and ideological viewpoints structured the character of public institutions in the Netherlands. In the Dutch Republic (1580-1795), Reformed Protestants controlled the government, schools, public charities, and most aspects of social behavior. Although both Catholics and Jews practiced their faith without hindrance, they could not hold public offices. Then, beginning in the 1850s, when the national constitution permitted a multi-party system, political parties grew from constituencies identified with specific churches or ideologies. The Reformed, the Catholic, and the Socialist groups each organized one or more parties. In addition, each group established separate schools, labor unions, newspapers, recreational clubs, and even a schedule of television programs to serve constituencies. Dutch Americans recreated parts of that structure wherever they clustered in sufficient numbers to sustain ethnic churches, schools, and other institutions. Since the 1960s, these enclaved groups have begun to embrace mainstream American institutions more rapidly and they have altered the goals of their private organizations to attract and serve a multicultural constituency.

Religious and cultural separation flourished primarily in the ethnically dense population centers of Reformed Protestants. Dutch Catholics, apart from those in the Green Bay area, were not concentrated in large numbers. Instead they joined other Catholic parishes in Cincinnati, St. Louis, New York City, and elsewhere. Even around Green Bay, Dutch Catholics intermarried readily with Catholics of other ethnicities. Lacking large and cohesive enclaves, Dutch Catholics were neither able nor inclined to re-establish ethnic institutions in America. Similarly, Dutch Jews settled mainly in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, where they assimilated the

Dressed in traditional Dutch garb, one-year-old Micah Zantigh inspects tulips at the Tulip Festival in Pella, Iowa.
Dressed in traditional Dutch garb, one-year-old Micah Zantigh inspects tulips at the Tulip Festival in Pella, Iowa.
social and religious patterns of much larger Jewish groups from Germany, Russia, and Poland. One prominent Dutch rabbi in New York, Samuel Myer Isaacs (1804-1878), attempted to maintain a Dutch identity by founding a synagogue, a school, and the orthodox periodical The Messenger, but these institutions faltered after his death.

Currently, the major strongholds of Dutch American separatism are fragmenting rapidly. Reformed churches, schools, colleges, theological schools and even retirement facilities for the aged are campaigning to gain a full spectrum of non-Dutch clients. Marriage outside of the ethnic group has become common and media-driven popular culture has altered traditional behavior among all age groups. In short, mainstream culture has either attracted Dutch ethnics out of their enclaves or the surrounding culture has so altered the ethnic communities that they can no longer flourish on ethnic exclusivity.

There are no aggressively mean-spirited or demeaning stereotypes of Dutch Americans. They are correctly perceived as valuing property, inclined to small business ventures, and culturally conservative with enduring loyalties to their churches, colleges, and other institutions. The perception that they are exceptionally clannish is also accurate, but that characteristic is demonstrated primarily among Reformed Protestants. Other ethnic stereotypes—financial penury, a proclivity for liquor and tobacco, and a general humorlessness—reflect individual rather than group features.


The earlier immigrants' plain diets (potatoes, cabbage and pea soup with little meat beyond sausage and bacon) could not compete with America's meat-oriented menu. In general, Dutch foods are not rich or exotic. Potatoes and vegetables combined with meat in a Dutch oven, fish, and soups are typical. The Indonesian rice table, now widely popular in Dutch American kitchens, came from Dutch colonials. Holiday pastries flavored with almond paste are a major component of Dutch baked goods. Social gatherings thrive on coffee and cookies with brandy-soaked raisins during the Christmas season.


In the Netherlands traditional costumes vary by region, demonstrating local loyalties, once paramount, that still flavor Dutch life. Men often dressed in baggy black pants and colorful, wide-brimmed hats, while women wore voluminous black dresses, colorfully embroidered bodices, and lace bonnets. Such costumes have been replaced by modern clothes in the Netherlands. In the United States, traditional dress is reserved for special occasions.


Dutch Jews and Christians generally celebrate the holidays associated with their particular religious affiliation. Many postwar immigrants, however, have preserved a distinctive pattern of Christmas observance which separates gift exchanges on St. Nicholas Day (December 6) from the religious celebrations of December 25.


There are no specifically Dutch related medical problems or conditions. Health and life insurance, either private or from institutional sources, has long ago replaced the need for immigrant aid cooperatives which once provided modest death benefits. Reformed churches regularly assisted widows, orphans, and chronically dependent people prior to the Social Security system. In isolated cases, church funds are still used to supplement the incomes of especially needy persons or to assist those with catastrophic needs. For mental diseases, a cluster of Reformed denominations established the Pine Rest Psychiatric Hospital in 1910, but that institution now serves the general public. Other institutions, the Bethany Christian Home adoption agency and the Bethesda tuberculosis sanitorium, have also been transformed to serve a multicultural clientele.


In general, the Dutch language is no longer used by Dutch Americans. The vast majority of postwar immigrants have adopted English and the small number of immigrants who have arrived since the 1960s are bilingual because English is virtually a second language in the Netherlands. Still, some Dutch words and expressions have survived: vies ("fees") denotes filth and moral degradation; benauwd ("benout") refers to feelings of anxiety, both physical and emotional; flauw ("flou") describes tasteless foods, dull persons, and faint feeling; and gezellig ("gezelik") is a comfortable social gathering. Typical Dutch greetings, dag ("dag"), which means "good day" and hoe gaat het ("who gat het") for "how are you doing," are no longer in common usage in the United States.

There are small groups of Dutch Americans—descendants of nineteenth century immigrants—who have maintained provincial Dutch dialects (including dialects from Overijssel, Drenthe, and Zeeland) that have all but disappeared in the modern-day Netherlands. Consequently, some Dutch linguists have traveled to western Michigan and other Dutch American strongholds to record these antiquated dialects.

Formal Dutch remained vital among the immigrants until the 1930s, due partly to its use for worship services, but World War I patriotism, which prohibited the use of German, Dutch and other languages, signaled the demise of Dutch usage in Reformed churches. Long before the World War I, however, Dutch Americans, and especially their American-born children, began to reject the ancestral language. It was well understood and frequently asserted among them that economic opportunities were greater for those who spoke English. Consequently, daily wage earners, business people, and even farm hands adopted English as quickly as possible. Formal Dutch is currently used only in commemorative worship services, and in the language departments of several colleges founded by Dutch Americans. Among these, only Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers a major in Dutch language and literature.

Family and Community Dynamics

Colonial New Netherland (New York), like Jamestown and other trading post colonies, attracted single men, few women, and even fewer families. Every account of New Amsterdam (New York City) refers to its rough and raucous social character—the products of an astonishing mixture of people, languages, and behavior which severely tested polite standards of social order. By the time of the British conquest in 1664, however, the arrival of immigrant women and the high colonial birth rate provided a population base for marriages and family life.

When the British took formal control of the colony, the Dutch populace, about 8,000 people, struggled to retain their cultural identity. Until about 1720, Dutch ethnics married within the group, worshiped together, and joined hands for economic and political objectives. Family cohesion was at the core of this ethnic vitality, but by 1800, Dutch ethnicity had weakened because economic and cultural bonds were established outside of the ethnic subculture. These bonds eventually led to marriages across ethnic lines.

Apart from New York City, in the many towns founded by the Dutch (such as Albany and Kinderhoek, New York, and Hackensack and New Brunswick, New Jersey) ethnic solidarity persisted well into the nineteenth century. In such places Dutch families adhered to the values instilled by Reformed churches and their day schools. Men dominated all the public institutions, while women managed typically large households with six or seven children. Domestic life, including the education of girls, depended largely on Dutch homemakers. Girls and boys gained basic skills from part-time teachers who were also expected to indoctrinate their students for church membership. Formal education continued for boys, who excelled academically, usually in the form of an apprentice relationship with lawyers, pastors, and business firms. Women received the bulk of their training from mothers and older female relatives. By 1800 most of the parochial schools were replaced by public instruction, which led to an increase in the level of formal education for girls.

In the nineteenth century, most Dutch immigrants to America had family members who had preceded them. The newcomers (80 percent) came largely from rural areas and resettled in rural America where extended families were frequently reconstituted. Siblings, parents, and even grandparents regularly joined the first settlers, contributing to the family-oriented character of that ethnic subculture. The original colonies in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin spawned more than one hundred similarly rural towns and villages which attracted successive waves of farmers, farm hands, and craftspeople. When Dutch immigration shifted from rural to urban destinations (1890-1930), the newcomers clustered in enclaves that grew once again when extended families reunited in places like Paterson, New Jersey; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and the Chicago area. These Dutch American communities still exist, but the urban enclaves have regrouped in suburban areas, while many farmers have moved either to ethnic towns or suburban neighborhoods. Throughout its history, the Dutch subculture has been sustained by a complex institutional structure of churches, schools, homes for the aged, recreational organizations, and small businesses.

Private schools, which were especially attractive to devoted traditionalists, provided educational opportunities without a notable gender bias, but most women became housewives and supported the male-dominated institutions which served the ethnic subculture. Since the 1960s, Dutch American women have moved beyond the teaching, secretarial, nursing, and homemaking professions into medicine, law, business, and ecclesiastical positions.

The new infusion of 80,000 Dutch immigrants, who arrived after World War II (1946-1956), reinvigorated Dutch ethnicity across the continent. It is more from them than their nineteenth-century predecessors that ethnic foods and customs have been introduced to the Dutch American community.


Neither Dutch Catholics nor Jews have retained discernible ethnic practices in their religious exercises. Both groups are part of international organizations which, because they used either Latin or Hebrew in formal rituals, were not drawn into major controversies regarding vernacular language usage in worship. Furthermore, due to their general dispersion, Dutch Catholics and Jews have had few opportunities to dominate either a parish or a synagogue. Instead they have worshiped and intermarried readily within multi-ethnic religious communities. Furthermore, Dutch Jews and Catholics have not acted in concert to support particular branches of Judaism or specific viewpoints within the Roman Catholic Church. Even the Dutch Catholic stronghold around Green Bay, Wisconsin, has become ethnically diverse, including French, German, and Flemish Catholics. One village, Little Chute, however, does continue to promote its Dutch ethnicity with a mid-September celebration ( kermis ), featuring a Dutch-costume parade, games, and craft exhibits. And Holland, Michigan, hosts its annual tulip festival in the spring.

By contrast, Dutch Protestants, most of whom affiliated with a cluster of Reformed churches, have spawned a long history of controversy regarding language usage, doctrinal interpretations, and liturgical expressions—all issues that were intimately related to cultural adaptation. In the Colonial Era the Dutch Reformed Church experienced crippling divisions (1737-1771) due to conflicting views of ordination and theological education. One group favored continued interdependence with church authorities in the Netherlands (the Classis of Amsterdam), while the American party, led by Theodore Frelinghuysen (1692-1742), promoted education and clerical ordination at "home" in the colonies. Then, in 1792, the Dutch Reformed Church became an independent denomination known as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (RCA). With that the RCA moved toward mainline

These Dutch Americans are performing in the 1985 Tulip Festival, an annual event that takes place in Holland, Michigan.
These Dutch Americans are performing in the 1985 Tulip Festival, an annual event that takes place in Holland, Michigan.
status by adopting English, cooperating with other major church groups (Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopal), and participating in interdenominational campaigns to establish churches on the Midwestern frontier.

In the late 1840s about 3,000 Dutch Protestant immigrants settled in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and by 1850 a large majority of these newcomers became affiliated with the New York-based RCA. The immigrants' spiritual patriarch, Albertus Van Raalte, had contacted the RCA's leaders before immigrating, and because he found them both helpful and doctrinally compatible, he and his followers united with the RCA. Some Midwestern immigrants, however, objected to this fusion; they initiated a separatist movement in 1857 which became the Christian Reformed Church (CRC).

Throughout the next hundred years, the two denominations pursued different strategies for cultural adaptation. The RCA acquired American church programs, including the revival, the Sunday school movement, and ecumenical cooperation, while neglecting its Netherlandic connections and traditions. The CRC, however, remained loyal to its religious cohorts in the Netherlands. That posture was marked by its general use of Dutch until the 1920s, and by the CRC's efforts to recreate Calvinistic schools and other institutions on the Dutch model. In this practice they followed the views of Dr. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the most prominent Reformed leader in the Netherlands. Consequently, the CRC attracted a majority of the Reformed immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1920.

Since the 1960s and especially during the period from 1985 to 1995, the RCA and CRC have become increasingly similar. Netherlandic theology and culture no longer influence the CRC significantly and the denomination increasingly emulates the liturgical and theological ethos of conservative evangelical groups affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals. Although the RCA, with membership in the World Council of Churches, is more broadly ecumenical than the CRC, the two denominations have appointed a joint committee to encourage cooperation. At the same time, the growing tide of congregationalism has diminished denominational cohesion among them so that, like American political parties, the two denominations contain a wide spectrum of viewpoints. Neither denomination, then, can be labeled exclusively liberal or conservative.

The prospect for an eventual reunification of the RCA and CRC is good. At present their respective clergymen, theological professors, and parishioners move freely across denominational boundaries, and their parishioners have a long history of acting jointly to establish nursing homes, retirement facilities, and mental health institutions. The two denominations proclaim identical confessions of faith and no barriers restrict their mutual participation in sacramental rites. They are divided primarily by traditions, which are becoming increasingly irrelevant due to a rapid assimilation of America's mainstream religious attitudes and values.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Free enterprise capitalism was introduced to the United States by the joint stock companies that colonized the eastern seaboard. The New Netherland Colony (New York) exemplified that phenomenon just as obviously as Jamestown and the New England Company. Understandably, then, Dutch immigrants have never been seriously disoriented by economic procedures in the United States. Virtually the whole populace of New Amsterdam and its surrounding areas was defined by its relationship to the joint stock company. Early Dutch immigrants were stockholders, officers, and employees, or traders operating illegally on the fringes of the company's jurisdiction. In all these cases, including the farmers who provisioned the trading posts, small and large businesses dominated daily life in New Amsterdam.

Like others with roots in the Colonial Era, Dutch merchants, farmers, and land speculators benefited from being among the first to invest in the New World. Families such as the Van Rensselaers, Schuylers, and Roosevelts quickly joined the ranks of prominent Americans. By contrast, Cornelius Vanderbilt left a small farm to become a captain of great wealth 150 years after his ancestors immigrated to America in 1644. In fact, for all of the early Dutch Americans, as well as nineteenth-century immigrants, self-employment and economic security were major objectives.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, Dutch immigrants preferred agriculture as the means to economic independence. Because 80 percent of them were farm hands, day laborers, small farmers, and village craftsmen, they readily became self-employed farmers either on inexpensive government land or, after 1862, on free homestead land until about 1900.

Dutch immigrants arriving in the twentieth century were frequently employed in factories, the construction trades, and garden farming. But during the prosperous 1950s, many if not most Dutch Americans developed small family businesses—construction, trucking, repair shops, and retailing. They ranged from door-to-door vendors of eggs and garden farm produce to developers of supermarket chains. Few were unionized shop workers. Supported by the G.I. Bill of Rights (1944), many Dutch American veterans acquired college and professional training to enter law, medicine, dentistry, and teaching so that today nearly every Dutch American family has post graduate professionals among its children and grandchildren. Those who remain in agriculture (less than ten percent) cultivate large farms. For non-professionals, incomes average about $30,000 and for the 50 percent who have attended college and professional schools, incomes are between $30,000 and $100,000. Home ownership, usually in suburbs or small towns, is a common feature of the Dutch American community.

Politics and Government

The vast majority of Dutch Americans are Republicans but they are usually not political activists. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), Dutch Americans organized to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of the South African Boers. Because they distrusted Great Britain, the Dutch resisted Woodrow Wilson's pro-British policies prior to World War I. But when war broke out, they did not resist the draft. Instead, to demonstrate their loyalty, they enlisted, bought war bonds, and adopted English. During that era, religious and educational leaders promoted patriotism, which has remained vibrant to the present.

"W e all have our pet notions as to the particular evil which is `the curse of America,' but I always think that Theodore Roosevelt came closest to the real curse when he classed it as a lack of thoroughness."

Dutch immigrant Edward Bok, from his Pulitzer Prize-winning account of his editorial career, The Americanization of Edward Bok, 1920.

In places where the Dutch are concentrated, especially in western Michigan and northwestern Iowa, they have elected Dutch Americans to local, state and national offices. With few exceptions, Republican loyalty has not been breached by ethnic cohesion.

Individual and Group Contributions


Major business leaders stretching from the railroad builder, Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), to Wayne Huizenga (1938– ), co-founder of Waste Management Inc. and the Blockbuster Video chain, demonstrate that Dutch Americans have reached the highest levels of commercial success. But again, apart from its early engagement in establishing world-wide capitalism, Netherlandic culture has had little to do with the specific endeavors of its most prominent Dutch American entrepreneurs. Others in this category—Walter Chrysler (1875-1940) of auto fame, retail innovator Hendrik Meijer (1883-1964), and the Amway Corporation's cofounders—Jay Van Andel (1924– ) and Richard De Vos (1926– )—have created uniquely American institutions.

Among less prominent entrepreneurs, the Hekman brothers and several book publishers have adapted ethnic business ventures to gain national markets. John Hekman (1866-1951), his brother Jelle (1888-1957), and Jan Vander Heide (1905-1988) both inherited and purchased small-scale bakeries which currently market nationally under the Keebler and Dutch Twin labels. A third Hekman brother, Henry (1890-1962), developed his furniture company with an upscale inventory of office and home furniture. In this he joined several other Dutch-owned furniture companies in western Michigan—such as Bergsma Brothers, Hollis Baker, and especially Walter D. Idema, who with others founded the metal office furniture giant, Steelcase Inc. Doubtless the area's large number of Dutch immigrants with woodworking skills has contributed to Grand Rapids' long-standing identity as the furniture city.


Pop culture icons like film producer Cecil B. de Mille (1881-1951) and rock star Bruce Springsteen (1949– ) are Dutch American.


Americans of Dutch descent have contributed significantly to American literature but, while firmly embedded in the literary canon, the works of Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Herman Melville (1819-1891) and Van Wyck Brooks (1885-1963) demonstrate little or nothing that reflects a Dutch American ethos. Well-known authors whose Dutch ethnicity shaped and informed their works include Peter De Vries (1910-1993), David (1901-1967) and Meindert De Jong (1906-1991), along with Frederick Manfred (1912– ), and Arnold Mulder (1885-1959). Both De Vries' The Blood of the Lamb and Manfred's The Green Earth draw deeply from the wells of ethnic experience. Unlike Arnold Mulder's characters, who trade ethnic culture for that of the American mainstream, Manfred's Englekings and De Vries' Don Wanderhope incorporate their ethnicity and struggle with its meaning. David De Jong's With a Dutch Accent highlights conflicts between settled and newly arriving immigrants within Dutch enclaves, while Meindert De Jong crafted his widely acclaimed children's literature from recollections of his Netherlandic (Frisian) boyhood.


Dutch American political activists who achieved national prominence—Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1906-1975), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)—achieved nothing of significance that can be ascribed to their Netherlandic backgrounds. In contrast, Senator Arthur Vandenberg (1884-1951) and current U.S. Representatives Peter Hoekstra (1954– ) and Vern Ehlers (1934– ) owe much of their political success to the large percentage of Dutch ethnic support they attract in their districts. Similar correlations are evident in northwestern Iowa or in Whatcom County, Washington where the executive director, Shirley Van Zanten, receives crucial support from ethnic cohorts. The Dutch, wherever they cluster together—in western Michigan, in the Chicago area, in Washington State, and in Iowa—are pervasively conservative and Republican. Of 41 Dutch Americans holding national, state, and local offices, 35 are Republican. Thus, socialist Daniel de Leon (1852-1914) and pacifist A. J. Muste (1885-1967) are clearly atypical among their ethnic cohorts.


Grand Rapids, Michigan, has also become a center for the publication of religious books, led by the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Eerdmans (1882-1966) and Louis Kregel (1890-1939) began by printing and reprinting Dutch and English books, catechisms, and pamphlets for the Reformed community. Since then, the Kregel firm has continued to feature the republication of standard religious works, while Eerdmans issues an inventory of new studies in theology, literature, and history aimed at a wide spectrum of religious interest groups. The Baker Book House, founded by Louis Kregel's son-in-law, Herman Baker (1912-1991), publishes primarily for traditional religious groups. Peter J. Zondervan (1909-1993) left Eerdmans in 1931 to organize the Zondervan Corporation which, with a chain of Midwestern book stores, has created a market among Christian fundamentalists. Edward Bok (1863-1930) came to America from Holland as a small child; he became editor of Ladies' Home Journal and addressed it to America's homemakers—a revolution in publishing.


Due largely to their abiding interest in Reformed religious perspectives, Dutch Americans are prominent in theology, philosophy and in some facets of history. They have founded theological schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Calvin Theological Seminary, 1876), in New Jersey (New Brunswick Theological Seminary, 1784), and in Holland, Michigan (Western Theological Seminary, 1866). Graduates Lewis B. Smedes (1921– ) and Richard Mouw (1941– ), both currently at Pasadena's Fuller Theological Seminary, have gained national acclaim from their publications and lectures. Robert Schuller (1926– ) is the most widely known preacher with a Dutch Reformed heritage. Among theological school professors, Ira John Hesselink (1928– ) at Western, Cornelius Plantinga (1946– ) at Calvin, James Muilenburg (1896-?) at Union, and Simon De Vries (1921– ) at the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio, have gained wide acclaim due to their classroom teaching and many publications. In philosophy, Yale's Nicholas Wolterstorff (1932– ) and Alvin Plantinga (1932– ) from Notre Dame have reinvigorated religious discussions throughout the international community of philosophers. Both William Bousma (1923– ), in his re-examination of John Calvin (1509-1564), and Dale Van Kley (1941– ), with revisionist studies of the French Revolution, have rekindled and directed an interest in the historical significance of religion in Western history. Famed pediatrician Benjamin Spock (1903–1999) guided millions of young parents with his baby books.


Dutch-language journalism, vibrant between 1870 and 1920, included more than 50 periodicals, but none have survived without adopting English. De Wachter ( Watchman ) persisted from 1868 to 1985 with subsidies from the Christian Reformed Church. Two bilingual periodicals, D.I.S. —published by the Dutch International Society—and the Windmill Herald, retain an audience from among the postwar immigrants, but with the passing of that generation, even bilingual periodicals will probably cease to exist.

Organizations and Associations

Dutch Family Heritage Society (DFHS).

Gathers and disseminates information on Dutch history, culture, and genealogy in the United States, Canada, and Netherlands.

Contact: Mary Lynn Spijkerman Parker, President.

Address: 2463 Ledgewood Drive, West Jordan, Utah 84084.

Telephone: (801) 967-8400.

Fax: (801) 963-4604.

E-mail: ndpc15b@prodigy.com.

The Dutch International Society.

With a North American and Netherlandic membership, the society maintains international relationships by travel tours, the quarterly D.I.S. Magazine, and sponsoring cultural programs and events.

Contact: Peter Wobbema, President.

Address: 5370 Eastern Avenue, S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49508.

Telephone: (616) 531-2298.

The Holland Society of New York.

Organized to collect and preserve information about the history of Colonial New Netherlands, membership consists primarily of Colonial Era descendants.

Contact: Annette Van Rooy, Executive Secretary.

Address: 122 East 58th Street, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 758-1675.

Fax: (212) 758-2232.

E-mail: hollso@aol.com.

Netherland-America Foundation (NAF).

Works to advance educational, literary, artistic, scientific, historical, and cultural relationships between United States and the Netherlands.

Contact: Wanda Fleck, Administrator.

Address: 135 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 409-1900.

Fax: (212) 832-2209.

Museums and Research Centers

Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American Studies (AADAS).

Seeks to record the achievements and influence of North American Dutch and Americans of Dutch ancestry in government, industry, science, religion, education, and the arts. Analyzes North American-Netherlandic relations. Maintains the Joint Archives of Holland, which contains the combined archival resources of Hope College, the Western Theological Seminary, and the Holland, Michigan, community, and centers on the general history of Dutch Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Contact: Larry J. Wagenaar, Executive Director.

Address: Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College Campus, Holland, Michigan 49423.

Telephone: (616) 394-7798.

Fax: (616) 395-7197.

Calvin College and Theological Seminary Library Archives.

Contains manuscripts, books, microfilm, and periodicals for the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Dutch American history, religion, and culture in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. Its publications include: Origins, a biannual historical journal; the annual Newsletter; and Heritage Hall Publication Series.

Contact: Zwanet Janssens, Archivist.

Address: 3207 Burton Street, S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546.

Telephone: (616) 957-6313.

Dutch Heritage Center.

Contains books, manuscripts, microfilm, and periodicals for the study of Dutch American history and culture in the greater Chicago area.

Contact: Hendrik Sliekers, Curator.

Address: Trinity Christian College, 6601 West College Drive, Palos Heights, Illinois 60463.

Telephone: (708) 597-3000.

Northwestern College Library Archives.

Provides manuscripts, books, microfilm, and periodicals for the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Dutch American history in northwestern Iowa, Orange City, and Northwestern College.

Contact: Nella Kennedy, Archivist.

Address: Orange City, Iowa 51041.

Telephone: (712) 737-7000.

Sources for Additional Study

Balmer, Randall, H. A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Bratt, James H. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Brinks, Herbert J. Dutch Immigrant Voices, 1850-1930: Correspondence from the USA. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1995.

De Jong, Gerald F. The Dutch in America, 1609-1974. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.

Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings, selected by Henry S. Lucas. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997.

Fabend, Firth H. A Dutch Family in the Middle Colonies, 1660-1800. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Goodfriend, Joyce D. Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664-1730. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Kroes, Rob. The Persistence of Ethnicity: Dutch Calvinist Pioneers in Amsterdam, Montana. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

Lambert, Audrey M. The Making of the Dutch Landscape: An Historical Geography of The Netherlands. London: Academic Press, 1985.

Lucas, Henry. Netherlanders in America: Dutch Immigrants to the United States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1955.

Swierenga, Robert P. The Dutch in America: Immigration Settlement and Cultural Change. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1985.

——. Faith and Family: Dutch Immigration and Settlement in the United States, 1820-1920. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1999.

Van Hinte, Jacob. Netherlanders in America: A Study of Emigration and Settlement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries of the United States of America. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985.

User Contributions:

Ron Bremer
The Dutch Family Heritage Society, listed above, has been defunct for many years now.
Loved the information. Actually my wife could not believe the similairities to us in the descriptions of politics, employment, education, income etc.. Didn't know we were living the profiile of the typical Dutch-American family.
could you refer me to a source that would allow me to find out about the immigration of my great
grandfather Krein Van Wyk (Wijk) born in Goedereede Holland in 1845 and immigrated to Paterson
NJ with his brother Cornelis in April or May of 1869 I believe he was listed as a steerage
passenger since he had no real trade.
The Dutch Colonial Society should be added to this article. They are a lineage society for people who can trace their lineage back to Dutch immigrants.
Wilko van den Bergh
I found this page very interesting to read, being Dutch (and not Dutch-American) and, while living in the Netherlands, having visited different parts of the U.S. for extended periods of time. Although I recognise a lot of what is written here, I have to admit being puzzled by the reference to Dutch traditional attire. What is described here as Dutch traditional clothing seems very much limited to isolated parts of the Netherlands.

I also find it very telling to see how people who have left their homeland stick so long to religious, political and societal fashion from that homeland at the time they left, despite the fact that those fashions and customs have often dramatically changed in their country of origin.

Something similar can be seen in many late 20th century emigrants to the Netherlands who came from rural areas in for example Turkey and Marocco.

Maybe that is part of what explains the conservative attitude of those emigrants and their subsequent generations?
I enjoyed the above tremendously, what a wealth of information.
I would like to point out that under " Significant immigration waves" the Dutch born in the former Dutch East Indies colonies are referred to as
Dutch Indonesians. That is incorrect, they held the Dutch nationality and had Indonesian background, more or less. Therefore they should be
correctly identified as Indonesian Dutch.
Just as Amerindo, I think this is just a made up word. What is Amerindo? Is it Indonesians of American background? It cannot refer to American nationals of Indonesian background or Indonesian Dutch background. That would have been Indonesian Dutch Americans.
By making it short and fancy does not make it correct.
I also like to mention that in California there are still Dutch clubs, where people congregate for music, dansing and of course eating Dutch food such as croketten.
Grew up in Holland, Michigan. This site is a delight.
Claudia Hartman
What an interesting artikel! Thank you for that. I just started My Cousin Overseas, specially for Dutch ancendents who are looking for their roots. If you like to visit The Netherlands with a personal tourguide and tailor-made travel plan? Please check out My Cousin Overseas Planning your trip to your roots! Hope to meet you soon!
Nicci Carpentier
Thank you for the wealth of information. My grandmother was a child when her family immigrated to the United States (maiden name Kleigweg). Very interesting because I grew up in Orange City, Iowa (NW Iowa) where I took place in traditional clothes and dances. It was so much fun and a delight to celebrate the heritage :)
Re: Donald van Wijk's request..Are you still looking for your ancestors in Goedereede ? Imay be able to do a look-up for you.
But what about them, why did they live there home country ???
What were the Dutch settlements and what did they become?!?!
Wonderful artical and informative. Proud of my ties.
Diana C. Van Dongen
My 3 eldest brothers & deceased parents settled around Lake Michigan after wwII. I am dutch but, the only one born in Chicago...`68. Everything I've read is my family history, wow!
This article describes the way of living in the USA from the beginning. I like it very much. Could you update this with our new King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima since 30 april 2013, Beatrix is now princess since 30 april 2013.
Petronella de Klerk-Kayanan
I came to the United States with my family in 1954, when I was just ten months old. We were on the ship, Sibajak, of the Holland-America Line. My upbringing was very Dutch, and Dutch was my first language. Our family settled in a suburb of Los Angeles. For some reason, assimilating into the American culture was a big challenge for our family. Some of us wish we would have stayed in Holland, where we had strong family ties. I wonder if anyone else has had such an experience?
Hi, I have my G.G.Grandfathers discharge letter from the Royal Dutch Navy, Christiaan Krieger was discharged in 1849. He was born 13 June 1813 in Ouddorp, Z.Holland. I would to donate the framed discharge letter and the ships log from" His Majesty's Brig "The Mermaid" he served as Sailor First Class, to a Navy museum in Holland. My husband and I are planning a trip to Holland next year, Who would I contact??
Robbert-Jan Damwigers
Why are Dutch people so tan? I am tan and Dutch and have always wondered why I get so tan. Is it just because of my genes or do all Dutch get tan?
My late wife Hendrika and I arrived in the United States[Galveston Texas] on March 12 1955.We came with three small children, very few belongings and less then 1000 dollars in our possession. We came on the freighter Wonogiri of the Rotterdamse lloyd as the only passengers and our journey took 14 days. Soon after arriving I found a job as a temporary banquet waiter in Houston Texas. I had never driven a car in Holland,so I had to learn how to it. When I arrived I was 30 years and soon Lord willing reach 90 in July. We experienced many hardships in the beginning and struggled to make ends meet but our newly adopted country provided enormous opportunities and we love being citizens of the USA while still being proud of our small country by the sea. We still celebrate St.Nikolaas,and during birthdays we raise our voice Lang zal ze leven.
Joost VanHeuveln
great stories from everyone. We left Holland in 2005 with our 6 and 9 year old kids when nobody but the USA stood up to Milosevic putting people in concentrations camps, just 2 hours by airplane from my then front door. Not standing up for the annually commemorated "Nie Wider" was only remembered by the USA. A sign of the things to come. Here in Texas you better not disrespect a police officer and you better not break into someone's home unauthorized. I do not pay taxes ten times over any income I already paid taxes over, and an impotent government stays out of what I work hard for on a daily basis. My kids have lost their ties to Holland, and America is their home. I miss seeing my family in Holland more frequently but nothing a 8-hour trip can not solve. And then quickly back to respect, peace and space.
Ronny van Velthuysen
I was looking for some information on the Dutch-Indonesians that immigrated to the US in the 60's and I came across this article. Very interesting I knew about New York but did not know now much Dutch influence was incorporated into the US.
Albert Damen
A lot of interesting info about the Dutch-American community, many thanks!

I only like to add the books written by Russell Shorto about the history of Nieuw Amsterdam, breathtakingly beautiful!

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