DUTCHMAN S GOLD. Finding the lost nugget

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1 DUTCHMAN S GOLD Finding the lost nugget by RONALD E VLIETSTRA ( including an English translation of an account by Johannes Vlietstra first published in 1868 ) i

2 Self published by Ronald E. Vlietstra This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part of this publication may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. Ronald E. Vlietstra 2002 Title:Dutchman s Gold ISBN Published through Rio Bay Publishing 122 Dalkeith Road Nedlands WA ii

3 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I retired from the practice of cardiology on the eve of the new millenium to pursue passions that had been held in check by the obligations of being a doctor, husband and father. My first task was to discover the true nature of my father s ancestry. I wanted to figure this out not only for myself but also for my children and their descendants. With few other time commitments, and stimulated by what I unearthed, the project soon blossomed, and I had to juggle family and ancestor stories to find a balance between cursory reminiscence and pedantic detail. I hope that the result will be of interest to students of family history, the Dutch language and early Australasia. Numerous people and agencies helped me along the way. I am grateful to Martin Vlietstra and Karen Brim, who I met on the internet, for igniting a spark of optimism that I could find Dutch family details if I made the effort to look. Kees Stada searched his Terschelling database and confirmed my ancestors link with that island. Archivist Douwe Gubbels alerted me to Johannes s little book, and Professor M J van Lieburg, Professor of Medical History at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and an expert on 19 th century Dutch medical life, provided information on my ancestor s medical accreditation and practice. I was lucky when the Municipal Archives in Leeuwarden directed my enquiry for family information to Hein Walsweer of Sint Jacobiparochie, Friesland. Hein s dedication to genealogical accuracy must surely owe something to his own Frisian ancestry and the stoic single-mindedness that goes with it. He combines a scholar s knowledge of genealogy with the persistence of a bloodhound. When the scent is weak he knows where to sniff. Mariska Hammerstein had the difficult challenge of translating a document written in old Dutch into modern English. She travelled to Terschelling to learn about island life, and sent me maps and pictures of places in the Netherlands and Australia mentioned in the translation. Her interpreting task was made more difficult by Johannes s use of phonetic spelling for some Australian place and person names, presumably because he had no resource for checking the correct version (typical examples are Hop Senbaai for Hobsen s Bay and negrid tobacco for Negro-head tobacco). The reconnection between my family and the St Geertruidsleen Family Foundation owes much to Douwe Smit, the Foundation s Secretary, who iii

4 confirmed our lineage and provided more ancestral documentation. My need to understand the writings of the Foundation convinced me to start learning to read Dutch. I made minor spelling and word changes in the translation of Johannes s account to make it more contemporary in style. I tried to limit these intrusions so that the original substance and tone of the work is preserved. Where possible I included annotations to document dates and sources. In some areas I may have erred in having too many of these, in others not enough. I hope however that the reader will recognise an effort to present as credible a picture of events as possible. For the same reason I included everything that Johannes wrote, including his final three stories, rather than arbitrarily exclude parts that seemed less relevant. To preserve the historical value of the original Dutch version, I incorporated all of it, letter for letter (including any apparent typos), in its original format, as an Appendix. This allows for alternative or more expert interpretation in the future. Although Johannes s account did not contain maps, my daughter, Lucy Vlietstra, generated some to help orient the reader to the widely scattered, and sometimes sparsely populated, locations mentioned. I have cited additional sources in the endnotes, including various state and national archives that provided documentation on Johannes and his family, and personal communications that resolved some of the mysteries that cropped up along the way. The list of credits is however far from complete considering the hundreds of web-sites that I searched for names, dates, and events. Before the internet age no researcher could possibly so quickly learn as much without leaving home. I found bibliofind.com particularly useful as an on-line international source of out-of-print books. In addition to offering their encouragement, New Zealanders Amelia Townshend, Stewart Mackay and John Crockett each added unique information and insights. The completion of the book owes much to my two Writer s Digest instructors, Sharon DeBartelo Carmack and Katherine Scott Sturdevant. Like alpine guides they steered me past family memoir ice fields, crevasses and precipices, and suggested many worthwhile trails to explore. Finally I wish to thank Tom Vanderveldt and Riobay Publishing for their support in bringing the project through its final stages. Tom and his colleagues deserve a medal for the help they offer novice genealogists and historians. There is a saying that the study of history is how the dead bury the living. At times, I almost suffocated on 19 th century trivia. Therefore I iv

5 very much appreciate the sympathetic encouragement of my wife Kate who frequently rescued me from myself, despite my daily tormenting her with fresh family trivia. Her forbearance has been saintly and her comments constructive. It is to her and our children Nicholas and Lucy that I dedicate this book. Ronald Vlietstra. v

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7 INTRODUCTION I could scarcely believe what I was reading on the computer screen. Could it really be that I had stumbled onto something so remarkable? Now excited, I re-read Mr Gubbels message from the Netherlands. Did you know that your ancestor wrote a small book describing his adventures? No, I did not. He went on to explain that, in 1868, my great grandfather, Johannes Vlietstra, had published a vivid account of 13 years of adventures in the Far East and in Australia. It was written in Dutch, and he would send me a copy. As I sat there, in a noisy Auckland, New Zealand cybercafe, surrounded by teenagers surfing the internet, I realized that I might have struck gold. I was going to get my hands on a long-forgotten nugget of family history, describing my ancestor s life, in his own words. Like the goldminers of old, I wanted to shout eureka. Douwe Gubbels is the archivist at the little folk museum (the Behoudenhuys) on the island of Terschelling, one of the Netherlands most northern and remote settlements. I had ed him just a few days earlier as part of my digging into the Vlietstra family history. Now I had unearthed something special, a time capsule that had been forgotten for generations. I could hardly wait to tell my younger brother, Keiran. It was America s Cup time in Auckland, March 2000, and we had boat tickets to watch one of the Cup Final races on the sunny Hauraki Gulf. But that event suddenly seemed of little importance, when compared to another sailing adventure that had started 150 years ago. I had always been curious about my ancestors, especially the ones who had stuck me with such an unusual surname. Not a day goes by without having to spell it out or phonetically pronounce it. It s like Fleet Street. Fleet stra, I enunciate over and over. Even so, most people still get it wrong. I try to make it easier for them by saying that it took me a few years to get it right myself. In New Zealand, where I grew up, nobody seemed to have come across that name before. That s not surprising, as other than my immediate family, I have never come face to face with any other person named Vlietstra. Perhaps it is for this reason that people sometimes suggest that we have been spelling it incorrectly. Might an earlier illiterate Vesta or Fleester have messed up the spelling? My father used to say that the name was Dutch and meant babbling brook. It is Dutch all right, but where he picked up the rather poetic vii

8 translation I may never know. It used make for a polite laugh, because he was an enthusiastic talker and storyteller and the babbling part just seemed to fit. Nothing much was known about the Dutch those days in New Zealand. One never came across them in the street or in social studies. I must have been a teenager before I ever heard Dutch being spoken. It sounded mysterious and unlearnable. Europe seemed very far away, and Holland even more so. The only Dutchman I had heard of was Abel Tasman who had discovered New Zealand in He originally named it Staten Land but it became known as New Zealand in honor of the Dutch province of Zeeland. The irony of his discovering a land that was already populated by the indigenous Maori people was not lost on me, but I could not understand why he didn t have the sense to claim my beautiful homeland for Holland. It was also a mystery as to when and how the original Vlietstras came from the Netherlands (or Holland as we referred to it) to New Zealand. My father was unsure. He was only five years old when his own father was tragically killed in an accidental fall from an upstairs window of the hotel he managed, apparently during an asthma attack. His mother, Mary Elizabeth (we called her Nanzie), had the unenviable task of raising my father and his six siblings, during the Depression, teaching in rural New Zealand schoolhouses. She was all of five feet tall, and must have weighed no more than a hundred pounds. But even in her seventies, when I knew her, her mental toughness showed. When she spoke her children jumped to respond and so did her grandchildren. When I was a youngster it was this same wrinkle-faced little matriarch who nurtured the seed of my curiosity about my ancestors. Your great grandfather was called John. He was christened Johannes, but he used the name John when he came from Holland to New Zealand. It made things easier, she said, in that raspy high-pitched way she had of speaking. Silently I wondered why he hadn t changed the Vlietstra part too. That would have made things a darn site easier for all of us. He came here for the gold. And stayed. She was referring to the hectic Otago gold rush of the 1860s. I had learned all about it in school. Tens of thousands of money-hungry sailors, shopkeepers, farmers, tradesmen, even doctors and ministers had dropped what they were doing on the other side of the world and rushed to remote rural New Zealand when the news of gold broke. The population of our southern province of Otago ballooned from 12,000 to more than 76,000 people in just three years. I wondered what would those people have been like. How did Johannes fit in? Did he find gold? viii

9 She also told me that his father had been a doctor. Perhaps it was her schoolmistress skill that made her sweeten the pot by claiming that there was a sum of money set aside in Holland payable to any Vlietstra descendant who took up medicine as a career! This appealed to me a lot because I was already planning on a medical career and the prospect of a financial windfall as well just seemed to confirm the wisdom of my choice. The lack of any further information inevitably led to questions and speculation in my schoolboy mind. What kind of people, doctors and adventurers, were the Dutch Vlietstras? How did they live their lives? Were there secrets being kept hidden from me? Was there failed monarchy, treachery, robbery, even murder in the closet? The less I knew, the more I wanted to know. I was going to be a doctor and an adventurer too, and I was determined that I would find out more when I made my personal pilgrimage to Holland to claim my birthright, the nest-egg that had been sitting, growing all these years. The years passed, I studied my way through medical school, married my fellow-student sweetheart Kate and we had two children, Nicholas and Lucy. My parents were by then divorced and living in distant parts of New Zealand. My medical career was almost all consuming, and it led, in 1972, to our permanently leaving New Zealand for the United States and the famous Mayo Clinic. I was training to be a cardiologist and we became the only Vlietstras in Minnesota. Having an odd name did not seem so unusual in the United States. Many people had them. Their families had been immigrants from places like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Norway and Vietnam, places that seemed to specialize in difficult names. My name even looked straightforward in comparison to some. I also learned that many of those who had simple sounding names had just picked a name out of the air, so escaping the frustration of spelling and re-spelling that had plagued me. Not only were there Meyers who had been Meyerbergs, but a Nielubowicz could be transformed into Neale and a Shimizu might well end up as a Smith. Some didn t even know their original name, just that it was much longer and harder to deal with. They were happy not to be burdened by it, or lumbered with it, as we would say in New Zealand. Most people knew very little about their family history. They might say, I m half Norwegian and half German, but it was more of a family mantra than the result of any investigation. It wasn t necessary to explore any further. For them, history seemed to start the day they were born. On trips around the United States I would check for my surname in telephone directories of big cities. There were none listed in Chicago, New York or ix

10 Los Angeles. There were three pages of Ryans in Boston, but not one Vlietstra. I did learn from occasional patients visiting Mayo that the Vlietstra name had been spotted in Iowa, Michigan or the Dakotas, where there were communities of Dutch immigrants. However I still did not meet any of these rare species. There were no other Doctor Vlietstras listed in US medical directories, nor did any appear in the enormous encyclopedias of medical literature. For these reasons I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted like an old friend when I did eventually travel to the Netherlands in People spelt my name with ease, and pronounced it smoothly and gracefully. Usually they assumed that I could speak Dutch as well. They took me to be one of them and I felt very much at home. My Dutch hosts told me that the name came from the north, from a province called Friesland. Many Frisian names end with -stra such as Dykstra, Terpstra and Westra. Still the locals could not give me much insight intothe meaning of my name, other than it was a nice Frisian name. The Dutch dictionary that I bought at Amsterdam s Schipol airport did confirm my father s belief that vliet does mean brook or stream. This was not enough to satisfy my curiosity, but at least it was a place to start. By now I was beginning to give up on ever confirming my grandmother s financial nest-egg story, but I still wanted to know more. One Saturday morning, on a visit to the Rochester, Minnesota, Public Library, my thirteen year old son Nick enthusiastically asked Can we go to the genealogy section, dad? What for? I said, puzzled. I d like to learn more about our family, he replied. My homeroom teacher said we could find out stuff in the genealogy section. There s not much point looking there, Nick, I said. I think I still have the airline tickets that we used coming to the United States. However I got the message and we agreed to start investigating on our next visit to New Zealand. Later that same year, 1981, while it was sunny summer in New Zealand and the rest of the South Pacific, and Minnesota was buried under frozen snow, the two of us traveled to the town where I had grown up, Dunedin, in the Otago province of New Zealand. For a few years in the late 1800s this South Island Scottish settlement had been the largest city in the country. Prosperity from the gold rush had financed sturdy neo-gothic gray stone churches, banks, stores, warehouses, mansions and monuments. The country s first university had been established there in 1869, attracting worldly intellectuals and proud Scottish traditions. The people of those x

11 days might have passed on but we were there to rummage through their attic. We met with family members, catalogued their stories, and waded through old family photographs. I had half expected some older relatives to be irked by our prying into family affairs. Quite the opposite, they seemed flattered. They laughed when Nick told them that they were each a number on his family tree. We visited and photographed gravesites throughout the province of Otago and wandered through old gold fields. We sat in the Dunedin Public Library and poured over dozens of microfilm birth and death records and voting registries. We learned much about my mother s family but relatively little about my father s. His stories about his mother, two brothers, and four sisters were, as always, interesting and amusing, but they led us no further backwards in time. It seemed, no pun intended, that we were at a dead end. During the 1980s I made repeated visits to New Zealand with Kate or one or other of the children. These Christmas trips were primarily to escape the harshness of Minnesota s winter, but each time we would visit the tiny flower-smothered cottage in the North Island farming town of Te Kuiti where my father, Stan, and his second wife, Dorothy, lived. Stan seemed to recognize that his days were numbered. His breathing was so labored that he had to stop smoking cigarettes. Perhaps more ominously he had stopped drinking alcohol when we visited at the end of Lost the taste for it, he said, without showing any remorse. For something that had been so central in his life it seemed almost tragic. I ve got something I want to show you. My children Nick and Lucy, and I sat either side of him on the old blue sofa. Stan was an inveterate prankster, so you could never be sure what surprise he had in mind. This time he was being serious. It was a photo journal of his life that he had put together. It included pictures of him in his army uniform, the jeep wreck on the Pacific island of Fiji that ended his military service, his wedding day, his children at various ages and more recent ones of him as a competitive sportsman, playing that quaint British precursor of shuffle-board, lawn bowls. It was as if he wanted his part remembered in the long continuum of our family. After his death, from lung cancer, in 1988, Dorothy sent me the album along with clippings and typed copies of his favorite jokes. It was like a having a map of his genetic make-up, his genome. It was during one of these annual New Zealand trips, late in the 1980s, that Nick and I stumbled onto an idea that should have been already obvious. If all the Vlietstras in New Zealand descended from a common ances- xi

12 tor, then it should be very easy to find them in the New Zealand national Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. We scribbled off a request for a search of all recorded Vlietstra death records from 1870 until For the princely sum of NZ$94.35 (about US$50) we uncovered a treasure trove of new details. Most interestingly we discovered that my great grandfather Johannes had died in 1921 at the age of 89 years. He was buried in Wanaka, previously called Pembroke, a tiny lakeside village, surrounded by mountains, where Kate and I had spent many glorious summers early in our marriage. His death certificate confirmed that indeed his father had been a doctor in Holland. What would also prove to be an important investigative clue was that that his wife, Antje, had the maiden name of Roos, and that her mother s maiden name Rogge. She had arrived in New Zealand in 1871 and had died in A 1906 entry in the Register of New Citizens gave her birthplace as Hoorn, North Holland. At that stage I did not appreciate just how valuable spousal details can be as you try to ferret out family linkages. I would later find out, but any further ferreting in the early part of the year 2000 was interrupted by a delivery from the mailman. I tore open the large white envelope decorated with big red and blue Dutch stamps. It was the book photocopy promised by Mr Gubbels. The bold black letters on the first page proclaimed EENE LANGDURIGE ZEEREIS van bijna TWEE JAREN en ELFJARIG VERBLIJF in AUSTRALIE. It took me ten minutes of scrambling through my Dutch dictionary to figure out that this title probably meant A Long Sea Voyage of almost Two Years and a Stay of Eleven Years in Australia. At this speed it was going to take a long time to translate all fifty-five pages. And the accuracy of every sentence would be in doubt, even if I was lucky enough to find all the words in my dictionary. There were so many questions that this little book could answer. What kind of man was my great grandfather, Johannes? Did he have high principles, a love of adventure, a sense of humor? Where exactly did he sail? I knew that the Dutch were a proud sailing nation. The word yacht (jacht) is itself from Holland. I had just returned from Goa, an old Portuguese colony on the west coast of India. In the 19 th century it had been an important stopover for ships that were sailing the Indian Ocean and needed fresh water. As I walked along the sun-baked beach at Fort Aguada I wondered if he too had been there, and seen the little white church of St Lawrence, patron saint of sailors, perched high on the hill above the port. xii

13 I was also most interested to learn about his time in Australia. In the mid 19 th century this vast country was sparsely populated. Many of the earliest Europeans were English and Irish convicts. In Robert Hughes The Fatal Shore I had read blood-curdling tales of murderous bushrangers and desperados, escaped convicts and vengeful aborigines terrorizing miners, farmers and explorers. It was primitive environment, hostile and lawless. How did a young rural Dutchman survive it? In earlier years, before I knew of Johannes book, I had toyed with the idea of writing a make-believe account of his life. Perhaps, as a boy, he had heard stories from a Dutch sailor nicknamed Freezland (presumably after his homeland), who had sailed with Captain James Cook on the Resolution in the 1870s (a tiny rocky island in the South Atlantic is named after him). Spurred on by images of icebergs, wild sea squalls, tropical Pacific Islands and Australian aborigines he may have signed up as a merchant sailor on a ship bound for the South Seas. In these daydreams I never saw Johannes as a navy man nor as a paying passenger in refined clothes. He was always a cocky young common seaman. In my fiction I would have him save shipmates from certain drowning, track and kill whales for their blubber oil, and battle bloodthirsty Maori cannibals. He would rise through the ranks from cabin boy to captain. His name would be revered by sailors in all the fo c sles of Pacific sailing ships. I was reading the Flashman series, written by George MacDonald Fraser, at that time. In those books the overly conceited 19 th century soldier hero shows up in all the great battles, performs phenomenal acts of bravery and is rewarded with medals and gold. Johannes seemed easily to slip into a Flashman guise. The book now required that these daydreams had to be tested against reality. To find a professional interpreter I went straight to the internet. I worked out a deal with Mariska Hammerstein in Amsterdam, and mailed her off a copy of the book. During the previous twelve months the internet had allowed me to leap backwards in time and to unearth more information on the Dutch Vlietstras than I could have believed existed. It was the Karen Brim s homepage that first caught my attention. She had grown up in Michigan with the maiden name of Vlietstra and her project was to flush out as many as she could and post their family stories. In one report the name Vlietstra had been adopted, around 1811, when the new conqueror, Napoleon, required that all Dutch persons adopt a European style surname. He needed to know who had taxes to pay and who to call to military service. The old patronymic style of naming people, in which one s last name is taken from xiii

14 one s father s first name, made for bureaucratic headaches. Thus the name Vlietstra was adopted by a few families who lived on the Vliet canal which runs out of the eastern side of Leeuwarden. It simply means living by the Vliet. Genealogy sites are scattered throughout the worldwide web. Thousands of sites offer information, sometimes isolated tidbits, other times powerful national search-engines. Cindy s list (www.cindyslist.com) is a great starting point for novices. It contains links to hundreds of useful on-line resources worldwide. For me the Netherlands State Archive search engine Genlias, at was key to tracking back generations to the start of the 1800s. This remarkable project aims to list all birth, death and marriage data for the Netherlands from 1811 to It was already well developed when I first accessed it in Armed with the information that I had gathered from New Zealand I was quickly able to identify Johannes s parents and siblings on the Genlias site, including where they lived. I was also able to zero in on Antje s family, including her mother s lineage through the name of Rogge. The two family trails crossed on the island of Terschelling, where Antje s family had always lived and where Dr Johannes Rudolphi Vlietstra (who I will refer to as Rudolphi) brought his family in the practice of medicine. I pored over maps of Terschelling and identified the little village of Hoorn where Antje was born. The Dutch traditions used in choosing names in the nineteenth century are very helpful in family tree research. The eldest son was usually given the father s first name. Other children were named after close relatives, and received their father s first name as a middle, or patronymic, name. When a child died, their name would be given again to the next born of the same sex. It is also helpful to the researcher that mobility was limited in those days. Families were large and tended to stay in the same village for generations. Today s far-flung families, switching between big cities with each new marriage, many emigrating, others adopting, will make ancestors harder but even more to thrilling to trace in the future. Surfing Yahoo led me to the homepage of Kees Stada with the title Look if your family comes from Terschelling. He ed me with the details of contracts Rudolphi had made with the island government in 1832 and This and later communications provided me with new information on moving expenses, family members birth dates and burial locations. As with all research these answers provoked more questions. It is most likely that your great great grandfather (Rudolphi) was not very lucky in medical practice. He worked in small places and only for xiv

15 short intervals. So read part of the I received from Professor M J van Lieburg, medical historian at the University of Rotterdam, and author of many articles on 19 th century Dutch medical practice. In a few hours, from the State Archives in Friesland, he had uncovered extensive details on Rudolphi s graduation and practice. He also referred me to his biography of Doctor Jelle Banga ( ), a prominent Frisian physician of that time, which included stories about how medicine was practiced there in the early 19 th century. Even more revealing was the detective work of Hein Walsweer, a free-lance genealogist in Friesland, recommended to me when I ed for information to the City Archive Office in Leeuwarden. He scoured church records, estate documents, house purchase contracts, voter registrations and tax records. He generated details on ancestors from back as far as the 15 th century, spicing cold facts with juicy details of their army, clergy and business life. He also unearthed the education fund, or leen, described by my grandmother, Nanzie. This wealth of new information also opened up new trails for further checking.. My background in New Zealand and the United States had not prepared me for the sheer volume of civic and church historical data that is available in Europe. At least in Western Europe the year 1800 seems like yesterday. All manner of information can be brought to light. It is as though all the pieces of an immense jigsaw puzzle still exist but they have been scatterc around the living room. Some are simply lying on the carpet and can be found quickly while others have fallen behind cushions and furniture and can be found only after a diligent search. Johannes s personal account promised the chance of my seeing him as a living, breathing human being. A major limitation for most family historians is a lack of truly personal details, the human flesh on the bones of fact. Unless creative techniques are used, the mere recitation of names and date and places can spell boredom. It was fortunate for me that my great grandfather was sensitive to the creative opportunities provided by his travel experiences. I prepared myself for these revelations by piecing together Johannes family background and his upbringing in the Netherlands. I hoped that as the pieces came together, like a jigsaw puzzle, a clearer picture would emerge. xv

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17 PROLOGUE Today the city of Leeuwarden is a bustling provincial capital of 85,000 people, serving the northern Dutch province of Friesland. Its character is stongly linked to its agricultural roots just as it was when Johannes s father, Johannes Rudolphi, was born there in For centuries it has been a somewhat isolated, slow-paced agricultural center, supported by rich neighboring farmlands and surrounded by a man-made canal system. The province of Friesland was a separate state until 1581 when the Frisians kicked out their Spanish oppressors and joined six other states as the Republic of the United Provinces. Frisians cherish a strong spirit of independence and have a reputation for being hardworking, stoic and staunchly Calvanist. At the time of Rudolphi s birth, however, the town was in a state of upheaval following Napoleon s conquest of the United Provinces and his restructuring of the Dutch bureaucracy and military. A great part of Napoleon s genius lay in his self-serving reorganization of conquered territories, and through his provincial marshals he was dragging Leeuwarden and the rest of the Netherlands into his grand vision for a European kingdom. This vision required draining as much money and young men as possible out of the Netherlands to use in growing the Great Army of the French Empire. 2 It was a risky time for a boy to be born. Rudolphi was the first and only son in a family that had already been blest by five daughters. 3 Sadly three of these girls had already died in infancy. 4 As was tradition for Dutch Reformed Church families, he was christened when just a few weeks old, under the watchful eyes of his two sisters, Aurelia, soon to turn nine, and Trijntie, who was seven. 5 The Rudolphi part of his name came from his mother s side of the family. It was a tradition in many well-to-do families to preserve a mother s family name as a child s middle name, especially if her family was powerful or generous. In this case there was also the special need to honor Johannes granduncle, Johannes Rudolphi, a retired lieutenant in the Friesland army who had passed away in 1795, leaving a rich inheritance of 4,000 guilders 1 To distinguish him from other Johannes Vlietstras I will refer to Johannes Rudolphi Vlietstra as Rudolphi. 2 Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Nations, 1987, Vintage Books, New York, p Johannes Rudolphi Vlietstra, born February 19 th, 1809, christened March 15 th, All dates and places of birth, christening, marriage and death listed in this prologue were provided by Hein Walsweer, genealogist, from review of Leeuwarden (Gemeentearchief) and Friesland (Ryksargyf) records. He also accessed church, estate and tax records that are archived at both these places. 4 Elske Johannes, born June 3 rd, 1803, died March 18 th, Aukje Johannes born December 30 th, 1804, died March 21 st, Another Elske Johannes born November 14 th, 1806, died November 6 th, Aurelia Johannes, born March 16 th, Trijntie Johannes, born November 16 th, xvii

18 (more than a half million US dollars today) to Rudolphi s mother, Lamke Faber. 6 Lamke was probably the one who insisted on the children being raised in the Dutch Reformed church tradition, the predominant religion in the Netherlands in those days. 7 She had lived her early childhood in southeast Friesland, in Gorredijk and Oosterwolde, where her father was superintendent of the local grain mill, and a staunch churchman. He died when she was only six or seven years old, leading her mother to move with Lamke and her brother to Leeuwarden. 8 There Lamke would later meet and marry Johannes Jurjens Vlietstra, the wedding being held in 1799 in the grand Westerkerk church, which was, even then, a venerable monument of Dutch 16 th century history. 9 Rudolphi s father Johannes Jurjens, on the other hand, appears to have been raised as a Mennonite. 10 Typical of Mennonite tradition, he was christened at the age of eighteen. This religious sect was introduced into the Netherlands in the 16 th century, and Friesland became its stronghold. Its members followed an austere discipline that did not allow them to wear colorful clothing and prohibited them from fighting in wars. To the disadvantage of any history-loving descendants Mennonites rely mostly on oral history and downplay written documentation. Johannes Jurjens grew up in a small house, number 63, in an alley off the north side of the Vliet, a canal on the east side of the town, and by 1799 was already using the surname Vlietstra. 11 For tax and conscription purposes, Napoleon later decreed, in 1811, that all Dutchmen would have surnames. A few other families living on the Vliet canal then also adopted the name Vlietstra. Johannes Jurjen s origins were humble, and as it seems that both his parents died when he was still a boy, he was lucky to enter an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking. Napoleon s forces were soon ousted from the Netherlands, and the emperor finally overthrown in The young Rudolphi s life fell into a comfortable routine. The four-storied family home at number 91 Niuewestad had been built way back in 1583 and lay in the center of 6 Estate records in the Gemeentearchief in Leeuwarden (CC12 p180) list five heirs to share 21,050 guilders derived from his house near the Duco Martenapijp in Leeuwarden, a garden at Camstraburen, 8,000 guilders invested in government loans, 6,000 guilders invested privately and four annuities from the city of Sneek. 7 Lamke Faber, born Gorredijk 1772, died Leeuwarden February 6 th, The name Faber is a Latin form for Smid (Dutch) or Smith (English). Lamke s grandfather, Lammert Pelgrims, was a blacksmith and started using this surname in the early 1700s. 9 The Westerkerk, located on Bagijnestraat in central Leeuwarden just a block from the Nieuwestad, dates from It is now a theater and playhouse. 10 Johannes Jurgens Vlietstra, born Leeuwarden September 23 rd, 1773, christened there September 7 th, 1791, died Leeuwarden October 5 th, The Vliet canal is now covered in that part of town. The road is called the Vliet and it continues across the Ooster stadgracht (canal) via the Vlietsterbrug (the Vliet bridge). xviii

19 Leeuwarden s finest district, on the main canal and close to the main city markets. 12 Purchased in 1805 with Lamke s inheritance, it was well supplied with food and furniture made possible by his father s cabinet-maker profession. This kind of house was designed to allow tailors, shoemakers, furniture makers and the like to work at home, using the front first level of the house as workshop, showroom and store. 13 Some warmth would permeate through from the kitchen fire, as would the aroma of food cooking in large iron pots. Beef, cod and pickled herring were staple foods, but red cabbage, onions, asparagus, beans, peas and carrots would be mixed with bread into soup, and on special days there might be mutton, rabbit, venison or fowl. Salads were popular, and, of course, so was cheese. The Dutch did like to eat and were commonly caricatured as guzzlers and sozzlers. 14 Perhaps in the evenings, after dinner and sitting in front of the kitchen fire, Rudolphi would hear stories about his ancestors and what things were like in their day. He would have learned that in the 16 th century the Dutch grew tired of being dominated by Spain and Catholicism. The last straw was the imposition of a 10% sales tax (the Tenth Penny Tax) the proceeds of which were to go to Spain. 15 In 1566 mobs rampaged through the countryside destroying churches and smashing religious images, but it took until 1579 for the seven northern provinces to unite (in the Union of Utrecht) and displace the Spaniards. 16 The most defiant of the Dutch Protestants were the followers of a Frisian former priest named Menno Simons ( ). 17 At a time when men heretics were being beheaded and women heretics buried alive the dogged resistance of Menno and his Mennonites inspired all Dutchmen. His philosophy was one of pacifist refusal to bow to Catholic orders, to lead a sober disciplined life-style and to forego public worship. Many historians think he was the greatest figure of the Dutch Reformation. The 1600s were the Golden Ages of the Republic and Dutch ships traded all around the world for gold, spices, silk and wood. Their richest base was in Batavia (now Jakarta) in what is today Indonesia, but they also sailed to new colonies in the West Indies, South America and Africa. This was the era of great civic building projects and the time when Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Vermeer and others painted enduring images of distinguished 12 The title deed of 1805 shows that the house was purchased from the heirs of Hermannus Tielenburg for 3,515 guilders and 75 cents, payment to be made in three installments. The house is featured in a recent booklet (Voornam wonen in Leeuwarden pages) which portrays several of Leeuwarden s historic houses and buildings. 13 Rien Poortvliet, Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566, Abrams, New York, 1991, p Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, Vintage Books, New York, 1987, p Johnathan Israel, The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall , 1995, p Formally recognized by Spain only in 1648 when they signed the Treaty of Munster. Idem, p Idem, p xix

20 gentlemen with white silk ruffled collars and tall black hats and bonneted house maids eavesdropping on the stairs. Unfortunately much of this wealth eroded in the 17 th Century in wars against England and France and Dutch power fell into decline. The American, John Adams, likened its predicament to that of a frog caught between the legs of two fighting bulls, and therefore an easy target for France to conquer in By the time Rudolphi had become a teenager, in the early 1820s, the Netherlands had regained a measure of peaceful prosperity. His day to day life would have been focussed on learning his lessons, helping out in the house and playing with friends alongside the wide canal just outside his front door. He would have skated on the canal in winter and maybe boated on it in summer. The city markets for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables were within yards of his front door and must have been fun places to hang out on market days. 19 He and his friends would have also spent time around the precariously leaning Oldehove, the Westerkerk and Grote Kerk churches, all within ten minutes walk. 20 For the most part the Dutch character was free of serious vices, with the exception of their love of feasting. They had feasts to celebrate births, baptism, birthdays, saints days, beginning school, beginning an apprenticeship, betrothal, wedding, setting up house, homecoming from journeys, church restorations, recovery from sickness, funerals, even the setting of the family gravestone. 21 When he was fourteen Rudolphi must therefore have enjoyed the festivities of his sister Trijntie s wedding. 22 He might even have been allowed to taste a hippocras, a traditional wedding drink made of diluted Rhine wine, spiced with cloves and ginger. 23 Soon after, however, his life was to take on a new and important direction. What made him decide to become a doctor is uncertain. None of his ancestors were in medicine, although about that time his sister Aurelia was courting her future husband who was a druggist. He might have been inspired by the human tragedy caused by a serious cholera epidemic that struck Friesland and other northern provinces in Outbreaks of infectious disease regularly swept through the Netherlands and other Eu- 18 Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators. Revolution in the Netherlands , Vintage Books, New York, 1992, p The old weigh-house (the Waag) and many neighbouring buidings still remain today. 20 The Oldehove was built in but never finished due to subsidence. It was partially restored between 1908 and 1911 (Hendrik Stoorvogel, Friesland, Uitgeverij Bekking, Amersfort, 1997, p.38). 21 Schama, 1987, ibid, p Trijntie married Carl Ludwig Propping, merchant, on October 30 th, 1823 in Leeuwarden. She died just five years later. Rudolphi s oldest sister, Aurelia, was married later to Juda Baruch de Beer, a Jewish druggist and the oldest son of rabbi (Baruch de Beer ), on July 21 st, Schama, 1987, ibid, p M.J.van Lieburg, Jelle Banga ( ), Erasmus Publishing, Rotterdam, 1991, p xx

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