It was in the spring of 1846, while we were planting potatoes, that I heard folks talk about America. The Drentsche Courant had spread the news that Dominie van Raalte soon would emigrate to America. People did not know what he intended to do there. Many said he would bring the Gospel the heathen living there. I had never heard that any people from this region ever left for America; I had heard that some had done so from Germany, but most of these had returned in the greatest poverty.
At the market in Zwolle on August 12 my cousin told me that his brother and sister were emigrating to America with Van Raalte. He was bitterly sorry for them; but I dared say nothing, for I did not know what to think of it. Not long after, in the latter part of September, my oldest brother was ready to depart. He urged that I also should go with him, adding, "Were I as young as you I could readily amount to something in America." But I saw no light on the proposition and so could not come to an immediate decision. But I sought light and I found it where in all things one finds light, namely in prayer. It was long in coming, but it became constantly clearer to me that the finger of God was also pointing the way for me to America.
By January 7, 1847, I was fully determined to emigrate. I had hired myself to farmer Riddering for whom I had worked for four years, but on the condition that I would be free to go to America should I decide so to do. Mrs. Riddering was pleased when I told her my decision, for she said, "We also intend to go there in a few months." She advised me to acquaint my friends and relatives immediately with my decision, which I did. That same evening I went to my mother's house where two of my brothers also had come. A struggle began upon which I had not counted. They were very much opposed to my departure. They argued passionately. But when I told them how I had come to this conviction and after we had sung together Psalm 25, 2 [from the Dutch Psalter] and had joined in prayer their opposition ceased completely.
We set out on March 27. My brother Henry had decided to go with me. We had a pleasant voyage on the Zuider Zee. But we ran into a mighty storm on the Haarlemmermeer and nearly everybody was seasick. On arrival in Rotterdam we learned that our ship had not yet been loaded and so we were forced to wait many days. On April 13 we set sail for New York where, after a prosperous voyage we arrived on May 21.
We did not stay long in New York, but proceeded by steamboat to Albany and Troy where we were transferred to a canal boat. We did not like our accommodations, for they were crowded and small. We scarcely had any room to sit. To lie down, rest, or sleep was out of the question. Our protests availed nothing. The crew acted as if it could not under-stand us, with which we had to be satisfied.
At Buffalo we had better accommodations. We were transferred to steamboat which delivered us at the harbour of Black Lake, exactly one month after we had arrived in New York. Some of our company among whom were Hindrikus Stokking and Klaas Hundeman went ashore as soon as they could and walked along the shore. On that same evening they arrived at our cousin Egbert Fredericks' who was living in a small loghouse not far from where the present Bush and Lane piano factory stands.
We stayed here a few days. But we had come to work, and it was from work we would derive our living, as we well understood. At a certain religious meeting under the trees Dominie van Kaalte stated, "Boys and girls, soon it will be winter. There is little chance to earn anything here. I advise you to go to Kalamazoo and beyond where harvests this year are ample and where there is much work to be had." We quickly acted on his advice. In our group were, among others, Hilligje Poppen, Geesje Kropschot, Evert Zagers, Willem Kremers, and Hendrikus Kuipers.
On July 10 we went on our way. Our path was a difficult one - every-where it led through dense woods. On the evening of the first day we arrived at Allegan where we spent one night at Willem Smid's. We had cornmeal pudding for supper, slept on the floor, and had johnnycake for breakfast. We were happy that our lines were cast in such pleasant places [see Psalm 16, 6],
Next day we arrived at our destination, at Dry Prairie, several miles beyond Kalamazoo. We soon found work, earned good money, and had good board. This last was so extraordinarily good that we said to each other, "These people will never be able to keep this up l" They seemed to like our work, for when the harvest was finished they wanted us to stay. On Sundays we met in a room which they gladly let us use. Evert Zagers usually acted as leader and our hosts soon were referring to him as the "priest". But however happily we spent our summer, we began to yearn to go back to the Kolonie as soon as possible. That was something we all did, some sooner, some later. When we returned we found much sickness. So many had died that what would have been a joyful meeting turned out to be one of sadness. The future seemed somber. One family, that of Hofmeijer, composed of five persons had completely died out. These were discouraging times, and trying; but the Lord stood by and gave us needed desire, courage and strength to help each other, and to remain steadfast in the conviction that He who had guided and supported us would take care of us even though we might experience losses and have sore trials.
In the winter of 1848, with the help of our cousins, Frederiks and Kuipers, we chopped out Eighth Street of Holland City - a length of a half mile, and also two lots belonging to the father of Engbertus van der Veen and to the aged Mr. Doesburg. That was in April 1848. On April 20 our brother Jan Strabbing died; hè had married the widow Hidding, later Mrs. Hekhuis. In that same month we built our loghouse in Graafschap [section 7, Fillmore]. There we spent most of our years, in the enjoyment of God's evident favours and trust. It would be possible to fill many pages on the wonderful experiences we had there: how the Lord guided us, helped us in distress, and answered our prayers. Our experiences were the experiences of many like ourselves. And for that reason we pass them by silently, not without prayer to our heavenly Father, and thanking Him for his faithful care and guiding love which we experienced all the way.