Albertus Van Raalte, Religious Entrepreneur (Origins 41-1–Free Article)

Albertus Van Raalte, Religious Entrepreneur (Origins 41-1–Free Article)

The Spring 2023 issue (Volume 41, Issue 1) of Origins: Historical Magazine of the Heritage Hall Archives has been mailed to subscribers. If your not yet a subscriber you can order a copy by emailing Heritage Hall ( or subscribe online. This blog post includes a free article from the issue. (See the link below.)

Albertus Van Raalte is the focus of this issue. He was the Dutch Reformed immigrant dominee (Dutch for “reverend” or pastor) who led the first colony of Dutch immigrants to the United States in the 1846-47. In the next two decades he and they founded the town of Holland and surrounding villages, Hope College, and many Reformed Church in America and Christian Reformed Church congregations.

The issue is a celebration of decades of archival and scholarly work on Van Raalte. It was inspired by a joint project of the Heritage Hall Archives at Calvin University, the Van Raalte Institute (VRI) at Hope College, and the Dutch Consulate in New York City. The project involved Heritage Hall and the VRI digitizing their archival collections of Van Raalte material and putting them online. The Dutch Consulate helped fund the project. Our thanks to the consulate and government of the Netherlands for funding the project. You can find the digitized material here: Calvin – A. C. Van Raalte; Calvin – Dir Van Raalte; Hope – A. C. Van Raalte. The issue also was inspired by a new biography of the dominee by Robert Swierenga, who received a lot of research support from his colleagues at the VRI.

The issue includes an essay by Robert Swierenga that summarizes the Van Raalte’s life and work. He depicts the man not just as a pastor in the Netherlands and America, but a social entrepreneur–as an immigrant leader, town builder, college founder, politician, and businessman. Swierenga’s new biography–A. C. Van Raalte: Pastor by Vocation, Entrepreneur by Necessity–will be published by the Van Raalte press later this year.

Other Van Raalte material in the Spring issue includes a review of Swierenga’s book and a selection of letters written by the dominee to his son Dirk in 1874. In the letters, written during a trip the elderly Van Raalte took to the Kansas frontier, A. C. describes new Dutch settlements and fledgling churches and gives advice to Dirk about what to seek in life. In many ways the letters reveal a man reflecting on his life as a pastor and entrepreneur. A related article, by Douglas Firth Anderson, is about Henry Hospers. As a young man Hospers who was part of a colony led by another dominee in 1847: Henry Scholte. This colony settled in Iowa and founded the town of Pella. A generation later, a mature Hospers played the leading role in planting a new Dutch American colony in Sioux County Iowa and founding Orange City.

Finally, the issue includes two standalone articles. One is on the origins of the Calvin College-Hope College basketball rivalry in the 1920s, focusing on the Calvin side of the story. It’s by Chad Carlson, who teaches at Hope. Finally, Robert Schoone-Jongen tells the story of a group of Dutch immigrants to the United States whose ship in 1871 was hit on the leg of the trip between the Netherlands and England. They and the ship survived the accident, but all their baggage was lost at sea.

The FREE ARTICLE is the selection of letters from A. C. Van Raalte to his son Dirk. It includes a brief introduction by me. If you’re not a subscriber, but enjoy the free material and want more, you can email Heritage Hall to buy a copy of the Spring issue; or you can subscribe online.


William Katerberg is a professor of history and curator of Heritage Hall at Calvin University.

The cover image for this blogpost is the Van Raalte home. Image courtesy of Heritage Hall.

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