This is a history of my Gunst ancestors and the Reformed churches in Oud Vossemeer, Zeeland, in The Netherlands.
Before the Protestant Reformation came to the island of Tholen, where Oud Vossemeer was situated, in the 1500s, all the churches were Roman Catholic. At that time Oud Vossemeer’s Catholic church was a stone chapel dedicated to John the Baptist. Located at the center of town, it was encircled by a ring road. Near the beginning of the 80 Years War for Dutch Independence (when the Dutch fought for independence from Spain and the rule of Philip II) William of Orange’s soldiers burned down Oud Vossemeer in 1576, and the church was badly damaged. Six months later the island was under William’s control and the Reformation had swept through the area. The few remaining Catholics were forced to go underground when the priests left in 1578. In 1583 the town got its first Protestant pastor, and in 1595 the Protestants rebuilt the church and began using it for their worship.
In about 1773 the Leendert Gunst family moved to Oud Vossemeer from nearby Sint Annaland. Leendert was Adriaan Gunst’s great grandfather. Adriaan Gunst was my great grandfather. There was one church in town, the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk, abbreviated NHK.) It was the Protestant church of the Dutch, run by the state.
Leendert’s son, Johannes Nathan Gunst, was baptized there on March 26, 1773. Johannes’ son, Anthonij, was baptized there on Nov. 30, 1799. Anthonij’s son, Adriaan, was baptized there shortly after his birth on Nov. 14, 1835. Adriaan’s children, Anthonij, Johannes, Thona, and Willem were baptized there between 1872 and 1887 (plus two other Willems and a Jozina that died as infants).
In the 1834 there was disagreement in the Dutch Reformed Church, and people across the Netherlands began to leave or separate from the church. This was called “de Afscheiding” (The Secession.) To prevent these Separatists from meeting, the state leaders used an old Napoleonic law forbidding unauthorized religious meetings of more than 19 people. The Separatists had to meet in secret or in a small group or face fines. Six men from the Oud Vossemeer church had their names removed from the Dutch Reformed Church membership and met in a home for church services. One of them was a Cornelis Gunst, of no relation to my Gunst family.
For a time no one else left the Reformed Church, but in 1851 the movement began again. Enforcement of the religious meeting rules had become more lax, so the Separatists purchased property on a road called the Monistat for a church building. Since it began, the church had remained independent, but in 1854 a new minister, Rev. H. van den Oever, encouraged them to join one of the two Separatist church groups. It was called the Reformed Church Under the Cross (Gereformeerde Kerk onder het Kruis). The pastor’s father was a famous Cross pastor in Rotterdam.
When six families moved to America in 1866, the number of members was significantly reduced. It’s interesting to note here that these six families were instrumental in starting the Netherlands Reformed Church (of North America) denomination in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They even convinced their Church of the Cross pastor, Rev. Cornelius Kloppenburg from Oud Vossemeer to stay in America and be their pastor when he came to the U.S. to visit.
In 1869 the Oud Vossemeer Church Under the Cross was renamed and became a Christian Reformed Church (Christelijke Gereformeerde Gemeente) when the two separatist churches, Reformed Churches Under the Cross and the Christian Separated Church, merged.
Twenty years after the construction of the first church, the congregation had an entirely new church and parsonage built in 1871. The old church building on the Monistat was converted into a school, where master J. van de Putte taught free of charge in 1872. Due to excessive costs, the school was closed in 1884. The building became a nursery school, and the “Old Reformed” people were able to begin meeting there in 1910. The Old-Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands (Oud Gereformeerde Gemeenten in Nederland) is a denomination formed in 1912. I’m not sure what became of this church.
In the late 1880s, town registers show that the Adriaan Gunst family transferred their membership from the Dutch Reformed Church to the Christian Reformed Church. It was sometime after Willem’s birth in June, 1887, but before the civil registry of 1891.
There was another division in the Dutch Reformed Church in 1886 led by Abraham Kuyper, and new Separatist churches called the Doleantie (grieving ones) were formed. Kuyper was grieved that church office bearers no longer had to agree to the Reformed Standards of the church (see Three Forms of Unity). This may be what prompted the Gunsts to separate from their Dutch Reformed Church. In 1892 most of the Doleantie churches and Christian Reformed churches joined together to create the Gereformeerde Kerk (GKN). The Christian Reformed church in Oud Vossemeer then joined the GKN. This also happens to be the same year the Gunsts left for America.
Now would be a good time to tell about a belief that Adriaan and Wilhelmina Gunst (and her brother, Jacob) held when they came to America. I recently learned from a descendant of their daughter, Tona, that they felt that to make an image of themselves was a sin. This explains why there are no photographs of the Gunsts in the Netherlands and none I’ve seen of them in America until the 1920s. I know of no other Reformed people that held this belief, and would love to hear if there were more Dutch people with the same conviction. The photos of the two ladies you see at the top of my blog were taken by photographers in Zeeland I imagine near the end of the 1800s. They were my father’s, and I’d like to think that they are Gunst or van der Klooster relatives of mine.
Today there are 4 Reformed churches in Oud Vossemeer plus a Roman Catholic Church:
- The original Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk)– NHK, now PKN. It was dedicated to John the Baptist and founded in the 1570s when the Reformation came to the island. The NHK merged with the Gereformeerde Kerk (GKN) and a small Lutheran denomination in 2004 to create the Protestant Churches of the Netherlands – PKN. This church is now a PKN church. My Gunst ancestors were members here from the 1770s until the late 1880s. The NHK denomination was associated with the RCA (Reformed Churches of America).
- The Reformed Church of the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerk) – GKN, now PKN. The Gunsts joined this church in the late 1880s when it was known as the Christelijke Gereformeerde Gemeente. In 1892 the Christian Reformed Church merged with the newly separated Doleantie churches and created the GKN. The counterpart to the GKN in America was the Christian Reformed Church of North America which the Gunsts joined in America. In 2004 the GKN denomination joined with other churches to create the PKN. The Oud Vossemeer church is now part of the PKN.
- Christian Reformed Church of the Netherlands (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk) – CGKN; Christian Reformed churches that didn’t join the GKN. The denomination formed in 1869, and some churches didn’t join the merger in 1892 that created GKN. The Oud Vossemeer church is located at Molenweg 10. I don’t know when this particular church began. Maybe it was once the Old Reformed Church that started in 1910. The CGKN churches are now associated with the Free Reformed Churches of North America.
- Netherlands Reformed Church in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Gemeente in Nederland) (GGiN), located at 26 FD Rooseveltstraat. The church web site states they were instituted on October 10, 1956. This denomination is a split from the CGKN) The GGiN churches are associated with the Netherlands Reformed Churches of North America.
- The Roman Catholic Church. After the Reformation it wasn’t until 1841 that the Catholics were allowed to meet on the island and open a church.
If you are interested in learning more about the church secessions, I suggest you read the lecture by Robert P. Swierenga listed in my sources. Go here to see modern day pictures of the Oud Vossemeer churches as well as photos of the town. They are quite proud of their possible link to the Roosevelt family from America. But I’m not so impressed. The Gunst connection to Oud Vossemeer is verified! My next post will be about the Gunst farm in Oud Vossemeer. I’m really excited to share my findings with you!
Oud Vossemeer Church websites (links posted above)
https://www.gereformeerdekerken.info/2018/09/27/de-gereformeerde-kerken-op-tholen/ “The Reformed Churches of Tholen” Reformed-churches: Website devoted to the national and regional history of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) 1834-2004.
https://www.swierenga.com/Grafscap_pap.html “1834 and 1857–Church Secessions and the Dutch Emigration“ Lecture of Robert P. Swierenga at Graafschap Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, March 10, 1997.
https://www.staatspareltjes.nl/index.php/zeeland-van-axel-tot-zijpe/38-gemeente-tholen/158-oud-vossemeer-is-een-wereldattractie “Oud Vossemeer is a World Attraction” State-gems: A blog about the topography of the Netherlands.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1t98u5vdnR_u5LunSfS5s9qKbwbhzr-Wn/view “Extended History of the Heritage Reformed Congregation” Extensive HRC History.pdf.
https://archieftholen.nl/onze-bronnen/archievenoverzicht/“Archief van de Gereformeerde Kerk Te Oud-Vossemeer (1836-)1851 – 1959” Archive no. 0000133.
https://oud-vossemeer.protestantsekerk.net/default.aspx?lIntNavId=9372 “Geschiedenis en heden: Gereformeerde Kerk Oud-Vossemeer”
https://archieftholen.nl/onze-bronnen/beeldbank/detail/b3b2ad54-2d95-11e2-9c6b-003048976c14/media/ad86e898-ab3e-80b3-6806-76301516b89a 1920-1925 Reformed Church (GKN) photo
https://archieftholen.nl/voormalige-gemeenten/oud-vossemeer (A history of Oud-Vossemeer, a former municipality)
- Engraving of Oud-Vossemeer 1784; Zeeland Archives, Zeeuws Genootschap, Zelandia Illustrata, part II, no.2013
- Dutch Reformed Church Oud Vossemeer 1905-1915: Zeeland Archives, Zeeuws Genootschap, Zelandia Illustrata, Prentbriefkaarten, nr 7317
- Gereformeerde Kerk Oud Vossemeer before May, 1953: Zeeuws Archief, Fotoarchief J. Torbijn, Goes, nr OVM-P-9