The Reformed Church in Oud Vossemeer and My Gunst Ancestors

This is a history of my Gunst ancestors and the Reformed churches in Oud Vossemeer, Zeeland, in The Netherlands.

An engraving of Oud Vossemeer and the Dutch Reformed church from 1784

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. 

Dutch Reformed Church in Oud Vossemeer (NHK) circa 1905-1915. Five generations of Gunsts worshipped here.

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. 

The Christian Reformed Church built in 1871. Photo circa 1920-1925 when renamed Reformed Church (GKN). The Adriaan Gunst family worshipped here before emigrating.

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.

Reformed Church (GKN) circa 1953 (This church was torn down in 1971 and a new one built at the same location.)

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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) “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. “1834 and 1857–Church Secessions and the Dutch Emigration“ Lecture of Robert P. Swierenga at Graafschap Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, March 10, 1997. “Oud Vossemeer is a World Attraction”  State-gems: A blog about the topography of the Netherlands. “Extended History of the Heritage Reformed Congregation” Extensive HRC History.pdf.“Archief van de Gereformeerde Kerk Te Oud-Vossemeer (1836-)1851 – 1959” Archive no. 0000133. “Geschiedenis en heden: Gereformeerde Kerk Oud-Vossemeer  1920-1925 Reformed Church (GKN) photo (A history of Oud-Vossemeer, a former municipality)

  1. Engraving of Oud-Vossemeer 1784;  Zeeland Archives, Zeeuws Genootschap, Zelandia Illustrata, part II, no.2013
  2. Dutch Reformed Church Oud Vossemeer 1905-1915: Zeeland Archives, Zeeuws Genootschap, Zelandia Illustrata, Prentbriefkaarten, nr 7317
  3. Gereformeerde Kerk Oud Vossemeer before May, 1953:  Zeeuws Archief, Fotoarchief J. Torbijn, Goes, nr OVM-P-9

The Gunsts in Crook, Colorado – Part 2 (and Iowa too)

My great-grandfather, Adriaan Gunst and his family arrived in Alamosa, Colorado, from their home in the Netherlands in 1892 with the plans to work for the Holland-American Land and Immigration Company. Read the first posts about the Gunsts’ time in Alamosa here: Part 1Part 2.  Read Crook Part 1 to learn how the Gunst family made the move from Alamosa to Crook, Colorado.

The last entry of my blog left two questions unanswered:  Did the colonists get crops planted? Were they able to get a Reformed church organized?  The answer is yes to both.

The colonists were able to break the sod and plant 180 acres of sugar beets, not even close to the contract of 1,500 acres with the sugar beets company in Nebraska for 1893 and 1894.  Besides the plows and horses that arrived in April, the immigration company had purchased two steam plows, one arriving shortly before the March 20, 1893 meeting mentioned in the last post.  However, not many plants grew due to strong winds blowing away the dry soil and uncovering the seeds.

Progress was made in organizing a church in the colony.  On May 18, 1893, Adriaan Gunst and his brother-in-law Jacob van der Klooster were 2 of the 15 head of households who signed the articles of incorporation for the Holland Christian Church that was filed with the County clerk of Logan County, Colorado.  However the church would be short-lived.  In less than two months the Gunst family and others would be leaving the state and finding a new church home.

The swindling in Crook was about to become known.  Zoutman left the colony in April, and Vander Hoogt left in early May.  Most of the goods and services (including lumber, carpentry, harnesses) used by the colony had not been paid for. People and businesses went to court and filed liens.  Almost $10,000 was owed.  Noortdzij, president of the company, resigned in late May.  The sheriff took claim of all possessions of the land and immigration company and made plans to auction off homes, horses, colts, and other merchandise on August 18.  The Gunst family would soon lose their home.  Where would they go?

The Reformed churches were well aware of what was happening and reached out to help the colonists who would soon be homeless. Two men, Gerrit Berkof of the CRC and Hermon Vander Ploeg of the RCA, ministered in the Crook area and did most of the work to help resettle the colonists to Iowa. The Gunsts were among those helped out by the Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Henry Bode was the home missionary that served the Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center from 1892-1894, and it was his church which helped the Gunsts resettle. The Sioux Center church was at that time a daughter church of the Orange City CRC.

Rev Henry (Hendrik) Bode

The Gunsts were among the first from Crook to arrive in Sioux Center. The Sioux Center Nieuwsblad (a Dutch language newspaper) announced that they arrived on Thursday, July 13, 1893.

 I had a family member translate the article for me.  There are also other translations that were published by the Sioux Center newspaper in a “Looking Back” column 45-50 years later.

July 19, 1893
“Last Thursday arrived here from Colorado A.Gunst with family and 2 young people. Everybody is already working and rejoicing they are here. Next Friday a couple more families are expected here. They will remind each other they were lured from the Old Country to Colorado. While they have been there, they did not have joyful days anymore. Now Rev. Bode went there as an inland missionary to investigate and it is his advice to send more here. But they all have to have shelter and they rely on the hospitality and Christian persuasion. Some already have offered shelter to families. G.H. Schoep, D. Dijkstra, J.Zoerink, and A.Gunst who with his family had his own room. Who is ready to follow their example for rooms? Opportunity is Friday or Saturday night when more are expected.”

Later, on February 7, 1894, (about 7 months later) there was an article that said A. Gunst planned to settle in Lyon County (the county to the north of Sioux County where Doon and Rock Rapids are located.)  According to my father, the Gunsts lived in Sioux Center and near present day Kanawha, Iowa when they lived in Iowa, so I don’t know where they lived in Lyon County.  More research is needed.

After their time in or near Sioux Center, the Gunsts moved to Wright County where they went to the  Wright CRC near present day Kanawha.  Rev. Henry Bode had started working in the future Wright CRC area in 1890 and his brother, Rev. Cornelius Bode, worked to get the church going in 1891-1893.  It’s possible that their Sioux Center pastor Rev. Henry Bode’s knowledge of the area influenced the Gunsts decision to go to Wright County.  The town of Kanawha was actually founded at a later date (1899) when the railroad came through.  Wright CRC wasn’t in the future town but was nearly 7 miles away out in the country.  Unfortunately there was a fire in the Wright CRC parsonage and early records of the Wright church were destroyed.  And since I haven’t located any Gunst church membership records at the Sioux Center church,  I don’t know when the family arrived in Wright County.    The only physical evidence of church membership I have seen is the church record book from Vesper, Wisconsin, which shows the Gunsts as charter members of the Vesper CRC on May 11, 1898, having come from “Wright, Iowa.”

Sometime I hope to do more research on this time the Gunsts spent in Iowa. They likely spent nearly 5 years there, and I know so little. Something new I learned through this research of Iowa was about the German churches of the early Christian Reformed Church. For a time the CRC was a tri-lingual denomination. The two Rev. Bodes were from Germany and there were several German speaking congregations in Iowa and Minnesota. The Germans even started their own seminary in Iowa! Read “The Rest of Our Story” for more information.


Dutch Settlement in Crook, Colorado, in 1893, by Peter De Klerk
Wright CRC 1891-1991 Centennial book (as shared with me by Roger Peters)
Sioux Center Nieuwsblad – July 19, 1893 & February 7, 1894
CRC Minister Directory,
Illustrated Historical Atlas of Sioux County Iowa 1908, Part III Section 2 Page 5. (Sioux Center CRC church)
Find a Grave : Henry Bode
“The Rest of Our Story” about Germans in the early CRC (Bode brothers)

The Gunsts in Crook, Colorado – Part 1

My great-grandfather, Adriaan Gunst and his family arrived in Alamosa, Colorado, from their home in the Netherlands in 1892 with the plans to work for the Holland-American Land and Immigration Company. After their arrival it was discovered that the immigration company had no land to sell them.  The Dutch colonists alerted the company headquarters in Utrecht and the president, a highly respected seminary professor,  made plans to travel to the colony to straighten things out. Read the first posts about the Gunsts’ time in Alamosa here: Part 1, Part 2.  Keep reading to learn how the Gunst family made the move from Alamosa to Crook, Colorado.

Noordtzij, president of the Holland-American Land and Immigration Company arrived in Alamosa on January 12, 1893. The colonists explained to him why Zoutman and Vander Hoogt, the company’s agents in Colorado, needed to be replaced. Noordtzij however was deceived by Zoutman and Vander Hoogt, believing their lies that they couldn’t buy the land at Alamosa because T. Henry’s canal company did not have a clear title to it. Noordtzij, who thought of the company as more of a philanthropic organization than a business venture, went to work to find some new land for those who remained in the colony. Noordtzij also had future colonists in The Netherlands to think about who had already sold their belongings and would be arriving in the coming months.

Noordtzij stayed in Alamosa for a few days, long enough to preach a Sunday sermon to those in the Emigrant Houses.  Then he went to Denver.  He did not take the time to go with his interpreter to speak to Henry to separate fact from fiction. He instead met with the Governor of Colorado, Davis H. Waite, who was already familiar with the Dutch colony and its problems through newspaper articles.


Governor Davis H. Waite

Governor Waite advised that the colony look to the Platte Valley, close to the Nebraska border, where the government owned land. Zoutman, Vander Hoogt, Noordtzij, and Cornelius A. Sluis, a colonist from the Emigrant Houses, took a train to the Platte Valley to investigate the area. The area appeared to be a better area for the colony to farm. The immigration company found some land near a railroad station called Crook, and purchased 32,000 acres of land from a Denver syndicate, making a down payment of $1,000 on January 26 with permission to inhabit the land immediately.

Colorado Map

The State of Colorado

Upon returning to Alamosa the next day, the men from the immigration company went around speaking to every family in the colony individually, including those on the Empire Farm. They also wrote those had gone to the mountains to work.

Noordtzij and company even interrupted a Sunday gathering of the Empire Farm colonists one day to convince them to rejoin the colony and go to Crook. Five families decided to leave Empire Farm. The immigration company didn’t give the people much time to change their minds. On January 31 a special train, the fare paid for by the immigration company, took the immigrants, including the Gunst family, to their new home in Crook. Their departure was delayed when the sheriff demanded a $300 payment for the doctor who had treated the ill children. He wouldn’t let the train go until he was given the windows and doors from the Emigrant Houses that had been boarded on the train. Vander Hoogt found himself faced with the possibility of jail and opted to give the sheriff the doors and windows.

The Crook area only had a population of about 135, and the when the Hollanders arrived, consisting of 13 families and some singles, around 100 in all, there was not much extra housing available. The immigration company, in its haste, had done nothing to prepare housing, so the Gunsts and other colonists had to live in Union Pacific railroad cars put on a side track. One car was specially equipped to serve as a kitchen. In February lumber began to arrive. The immigration company built headquarters near the Crook railroad station, and several families, with the help of local carpenters, built homes.

About 100 more colonists arrived from March through May, living in various homes and the hotels at a couple of nearby railroad stations until homes were built. The Adriaan Gunst family was among the 12 known families to get a home built. The homes were 18 x 30 ft. structures that were 1 1/2 stories high with an attached one-story kitchen that was 12 x 18 ft. Each family had a 40 acre plot with a house and stables that they would eventually buy from the immigration company.   These 12 homes were located a few miles west of Crook on SR 58, still called Dutch road by the locals.

Other homes were spread over a large area, as far as Iliff, 16 miles southwest and Red Lion, 8 miles northeast of Crook. The Dirk Swier family arrived in mid March. His daughter Cornelia, who was 8 years old upon arrival, wrote about her experiences in a letter in 1968. She descibed the area as dry prairie all around. They were staying at the hotel in Red Lion while their house was built. She describes how hungry the children were for green vegetables and tells of a prairie fire that passed through the area where the colonists had their homes. See pages 4-6 of The Swiers in Colorado to read Cornelia’s account.

The immigration company had signed a contract to plant 1,500 acres of sugar beets for the Oxnard Beet Sugar Company of Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1893 and 1894. The problem was that the land was not broken and ready to plant. The colonists grew restless as weeks went by and no equipment arrived for them to prepare the soil.

On Monday, March 20, 1893, the colonists were requested to attend an important meeting at the school house. Zoutman and Vander Hoogt were there with a lawyer. Governor Waite, at the request of The Netherlands, had appointed a district attorney to investigate the events at Alamosa. The district attorney’s investigation resulted in a report that was not favorable toward Zoutman and Vander Hoogt. The immigration company had written a response to the report, and attached to that was a sworn affidavit that Zoutman requested the colonists sign. It stated that the colonists were all “perfectly well satisfied with the management of that company” and had their full confidence. Two colonists, Peter Kragt and Andries J. Hof, made it known that they were not satisfied since they did not have what they needed to prepare and plant crops. Vander Hoogt encouraged them to look to the future, not the past and promised “horses, plows, wagons, etc., etc.” within a week. This was enough to convince those colonists in attendance to sign the affidavit and raise their right hands to swear the document was true.

Still the implements did not arrive. It was not until April 5 that 18 horses and some plows were delivered. Cornelius Sluis, the immigrant who had first come along when the land was inspected, was vocal about Zoutman and Vander Hoogt not keeping their promises. He wrote accounts in a Dutch newspaper and sent a letter of complaint to the immigration company headquarters in Utrecht. Sluis’ actions angered Zoutman and Vander Hoogt and eventually got the Sluis family kicked out of the colony. They were later asked back with an apology but refused to return.

The colonists were concerned.  Would they get their crops planted in time? The first church representative would arrive in March to help establish a Reformed church in Crook. How would that go?



See resources for Gunst Family in Alamosa Part 1

Reprint of article about death of Davis H. Waite (with photo), May 11, 2006, Aspen Times:

Gunst Family in Alamosa, Colorado (Part 2)

Alamosa Part 2

This is second in a series about the Adriaan Gunst family’s first years in North America. Read Part 1 to learn of their emigration from The Netherlands in 1892 and their journey to Alamosa, Colorado.

(Click to open another window and enlarge)Alamosa Newpaper Arrival

This newspaper article about the Hollanders’ arrival, while not totally accurate in its numbers, gives a good idea of how eager the area was to have the settlers arrive. The Colorado newspaper articles I read from that period describe the Dutch as intelligent, industrious, not paupers, well-to-do, valuable, sturdy, and thrifty people. The people of the San Luis Valley really thought the Hollanders were just the people to make their “rich valley into the Garden of Eden” (Quote from Judge Hoyt in Aspen Daily Leader, December 20, 1892).

Upon arriving in Alamosa, the Gunsts and the other 200 emigrants realized that the land and immigration company had lied to them about conditions in Colorado. Life in two buildings that became known as the Emigrants Houses was not ideal. The lack of planning was evident as their food began to run out. Meals were often late, if there even was a meal. Water was scarce. The drafty and cramped quarters were no help when sickness broke out in the Emigrant Houses.

There were also problems with the men working for the immigration company. Early in December, Albertus Zoutman, the agent who basically was running things for the company in Colorado, and his assistant, Cornelis W. Vander Hoogt, convinced four of the men to give them their money and put it in the bank for safe-keeping The emigrants were angered when they discovered that the account was put in Vander Hoogt’s name. They insisted that the money be under the name of the immigration company, and the change was made.

On December 10, the emigrants found out that things were even worse than they thought. They discovered that the land and immigration company had not made a payment of $5,000 due at the beginning of the month to the owner of the property, Empire Land and Canal Company. The president of the company was not convinced that the Immigration Company was solvent, and he would not hand over ownership of the land.

The men who had their money in the bank immediately went into action to retrieve their money after hearing that the immigration company had not made their payment. They procured a lawyer and a judge ordered the return of their money, which amounted to over $7,000.

Angered at all that was happening the emigrants held a meeting and formed a “Committee of Farmers”. On December 18 they sent a telegraph to the president of the Board, Maarten Noordtzij, the theology professor they very much respected. They informed him that Zoutman and Van der Hoogt were incompetent and needed to be replaced. They notifed him that they were preparing to leave the colony.  Zoutman and Van der Hoogt convinced Noordtzij to come to Colorado to see things for himself, so Noordtzij left Holland on December 23.

Maarten NoordtzijMaarten Noordtzij

The Hollanders decided to not wait for Noordtzij to arrive from The Netherlands to take action. Instead they decided to purchase property directly from the Empire Land and Canal Company. Once they talked to the president, T. Henry, they found out that the land and immigration company had only paid $11.25 an acre, while planning to charge them $26 an acre.  The Hollanders made arrangements to purchase land at $17.50 an acre.  On December 29 the eleven men that were purchasing land from the canal company signed a contract. Two days later they took their families to “Empire Farm” which was about 6 miles south of Alamosa.  It already had some homes built as well as a school building. The Gunst family was among those that stayed behind.  They probably lacked the finances to move out of the Emigrant Houses.

The families in the Emigrant Houses were getting desperate. Several newspapers published articles about their plight. The Denver Republican described the situation in Alamosa as “The Greatest of Swindles.” One article described the Dutch women as being taciturn, grave, and smileless (Rocky Mountain Sun, Dec. 31, 1892).  I wouldn’t be cheerful either if my children were ill and dying.  Diphtheria and scarlet fever had spread among the children and 11 died by the middle of January. The sickness was contained when the diseased were quarantined in two railroad cars. Thankfully the Gunst family did not suffer any loss of life from disease, but my grandfather, Willem, who was 5, probably lost some playmates.

Alamosa Newspaper Articles

There were many articles in Colorado newspapers about the Dutch colonists in Alamosa.  Above are two English language newspaper articles about the immigration swindle (Click image to open another window and enlarge.)

The colonists began to cry louder for help. They sent letters, pleading for help, that were published in Dutch language newspapers and distributed across America. One newspaper received so many letters, it couldn’t publish them all.

The cries for help did not go unanswered; help was on the way. Maartin Noordtzij was coming from The Netherlands to investigate the situation and soon Reformed churches would respond to colonists pleas as well.  Who would get the Gunst family out of their desperate situation?



See resources for Part 1

Maarten Noordtzij photo

Newspaper articles from

Gunst Family in Alamosa, Colorado (Part 1)

When I first saw the ship manifest (list of passengers) for the Adriaan Gunst family when they arrived at Ellis Island in 1892, I was confused. It listed their destination as Alamosa. I had never heard of the place, but I figured it must be in Alberta, Canada. That was where the history of the Gunst family in North America began, or so I thought. But I was wrong, Alamosa was in the United States, in the state of Colorado. I was confused. A phone call with my dad gave me answers. He told me that the Gunst family had lived in Colorado, Iowa, and Wisconsin before immigrating to Canada. It was a lot of moving over a period of less than eight years. Why? I asked. My dad had the answers. He gave me a magazine from 1986 and told me to read the article, ”The Alamosa Disaster: The Boldest of Swindles.” After I read it, it all made sense. I have since read several more books, articles, and papers about the events in Alamosa and Crook, Colorado. Here I will tell the story from the Gunst perspective. A list of references used is posted at the end of this entry.

The story began in the summer of 1892. The Holland-American Land and Immigration Company was formed in Utrecht with the intention of starting a Dutch settlement in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. A brochure was printed and ads were placed in weekly and daily Reformed newspapers all over The Netherlands.


(a typical ad found in Dutch newspapers –

The brochures made Colorado look quite appealing. It said Colorado had a climate like Italy, not too hot or too cold. Families were convinced that the land was fertile and that they would be able to grow the same crops that they grew in Holland. In exchange for room and board the colonists would farm the land and earn enough money to pay their bills plus have extra. The immigration company was headed by some respectable Reformed men, including a theology professor at Kampen Theology School. These men knew nothing of Colorado or farming, but gave the company some credibility.

The group that eventually came to Alamosa was not an organized group of people from one area with a leader, like Van Raalte’s group that colonized Holland, Michigan. It was a mixture of people from almost every province in the Netherlands. Most were famers and laborers, ready to farm the land in Colorado. They had a common background of having Reformed religious beliefs. There was an attempt by the immigration company to get a Reformed minister to join the colonists to minister to them on the trip and in the colony. However the man who was asked declined the call as he didn’t feel it was a true ecclesiastical call. The people would miss having a spiritual leader when they faced trials in their new home.

At some point the Gunst family heard about the immigration company and decided to go to America. The family included Adriaan Gunst, age 57, a farm laborer; Wilhelmina, age 47; and their four children, Anthonie, age 20; Johannis, age 17; Tona, age 13; and my grandfather, Willem, age 5. Their party also included Wilhelmina’s brother, Jacob van der Klooster, age 56. Jakob was Wilhelmina’s only living sibling, and he was single. They lived in the town of Oud Vossemeer, in Zeeland, on an island in the southwest of The Netherlands. The area was rural, and the economy in The Netherlands at the time was bad. The Gunst family saw a future for their three sons and one daughter in America. Besides Jacob, no family or neighbors joined them, and no one awaited them in their new country. They left all they knew and loved behind and had no one to greet them.

On November 12, 1892, the family boarded the S.S. Dubbeldam in Amsterdam and took a 14 day voyage to New York. The voyage was a difficult one. At that time a voyage across the ocean would take about 10 days. Many other people sailing with the Gunsts were also on their way to the new colony in Colorado. The colonists numbered 28 families and 33 single persons They were about 200 people in all, including 117 children. Their group was to be the first to arrive in Alamosa, where the land and immigration company had purchased 15,000 acres with an option to buy more. The Gunst’s passed through Ellis Island, and immediately boarded a train in Hoboken, New Jersey. Journeying with them on the train were Albertus Zoutman and Cornelis W. Van der Hoogt, men from the company who had arrived earlier from The Netherlands.

The people of Alamosa were eager to welcome the colonists when they arrived on November 30. They prepared a special supper for them and gave speeches. The Dutch, clad in their wooden shoes, sang a Dutch national hymn. The immigration company wanted the colonists to stay the night in the train, but the welcoming towns people insisted on having the women and children sleep in their homes and municipal buildings.

The next day they boarded a train to their destination, a place called Willis Switch, about 4 miles west of Alamosa. The immigration company had hastily named the place Utrecht. The colonists were shocked and upset to discover that things were not as they had been told. Not much had been done in preparation for them. Only two small homes were ready and the rest had to live in two flimsy and hastily constructed two story buildings measuring 36 x 60 feet until their homes were built. They saw that very little land was broken and ready to farm. Much of the land was too hilly to be used for crops. The climate was not at all like Italy; the nights in Colorado proved to be frigid.

Facing disappointment and the unknown, and despite the fact that the immigrants had no minister among them, on their first Sunday in America, December 4, 1892, the colonists held a morning and evening worship service. They were led by one of the colonists, Arnaud J. Van Lummel. In the morning service he exhorted from Joshua 24:15, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve;…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” In the afternoon a Sunday School was carried out for the children of the colony, and after the evening service a meeting was held for the men of the colony. At the men’s meeting two committees were formed: one to look into forming a church and the other to look into starting a Christian school.

The Gunsts had made it to Alamosa, their planned destination, but now knew that starting a life in their new homeland was going to be difficult. The colony seemed destined to fail. How would they deal with the misrepresentations of the immigration company? Would God be faithful to them and give them deliverance?



Peter De K1erk. “Maarten Noordtzij, the President of the Holland-American Land-and Immigration Company. “ Proceedings of the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies Conference. September, 1985 (Grange City, IA: Northwestern College, 1985) 49-76.

Peter de Klerk. “The Alamosa Disaster: The Boldest of Swindles” Origins (Spring 1986): 22-26.

Peter De Klerk. “Dutch Settlement In Crook, Colorado in 1893.“ Dutch Chicago Conference of the Advancement of Dutch American Studies (Palos Heights, Illinois: Trinity Christian College, 1987): 1-21.

Peter De Klerk. “What Possessed Them? Leadership Credibility Of The Dutch Immigration To Colorado In 1892-93” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies (Fall /Automne 1991): 5-10.….pdf

Henry Stephen Lucas. Netherlanders in America. Dutch immigration to the United States and Canada, 1789-1950 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1955): 88-104.

Gertrude Korver. The Swier Family History. ”The Swiers in Colorado” (Unpublished manuscript, Thomasville, Pennsylvania, 1989):35-42.

Idzerd Van Dellen.  In God’s Crucible. (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1950): 65-66.

The original ship manifest for the Dubbeldam’s voyage can be viewed at

Dutch newspaper articles and ads about the immigration company can be found at

Gunst Origins

I was born with the last name of Gunst. Although it is not a common name, it does originate in a few different nations, including Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, France, and The Netherlands. My Gunst family came to North America from The Netherlands.

Over time the Gunst name has spread from Europe to other nations across the globe. There are Gunsts in Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain. There are even Jewish Gunsts in Argentina that immigrated from Germany. The nation with the largest concentration of Gunsts today is Belgium. This is followed by The Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, and France. The United States and New Zealand are not far behind. The region with the highest concentration of the Gunst surname is the province of Zeeland in The Netherlands. Zeeland happens to be the province where my Gunst family originated. The other regions in the top ten are located in Belgium (1), Sweden (2), New Zealand (2), France (1), Netherlands (1), and Germany (2). A search of the surname Gunst at the Public Profiler Worldnames website gives maps and statistics of the frequency of surnames worldwide, including the Gunst name.

The nation with the most Gunsts is probably Belgium. In Belgium there were 675 persons with the Gunst surname in 2008 (and 685 in 1998). Most of them live in the northwest tip of the country. In The Netherlands there were 226 persons named Gunst in 2007, down from 241 in 1947. The region with the greatest concentration of the surname is in Zeeland, more specifically on the island of Tholen, the same place where my grandpa Gunst was born. In the 1940 U.S. census, the 9 members of my Gunst family were among the 257 persons in the United States with the Gunst surname. I am unsure of how many Gunsts exist in the U.S. today, but I know of 12 Gunsts in my family.

The first documented Gunst baptized in the Netherlands is Bartel Gerritse Gunst, who was baptized in Nieuwe Tonge in 1596 and died in Middelharnis in 1654. Both towns are on an island named Goeree-Overflakkee, which is an island to the north of Tholen. Bartel’s father was Geraert Bertelsz Gunst, who was from Merxem in Flanders, Belgium. It’s possible that he fled from Belgium fearful of the Spanish invasion, worried that he would be drafted into the Spanish army.

There has been no connection or missing link found between Bartel Gunst and my earliest known baptized ancestor, Pieter Hendrikze Gunst, baptized in 1657 in Sint Annaland on Tholen. But it is very likely that they were related and that the Dutch Gunsts came from Belgium.

The Gunst name, whether Dutch or Belgic in origin, is a Dutch word, as Dutch (or Flemish as the Belgians call it) is spoken in both regions where the Gunst surname is concentrated. The word “gunst” in Dutch is a noun meaning “favor” or “good deed.” I remember in 6th grade reading an excerpt from Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and coming across my last name. In the story “Gunst!” is used as an exclamation, sort of how we might say, “Goodness gracious!”

I’m proud of my last name, it’s meaning, and my Dutch heritage. And now all you Dutch Gunsts out there know that you may have more of a connection to Belgium. Besides liking Belgium waffles and Brussel sprouts, you may have Belgic ancestors as well.

Are you interested in learning about the distribution of your surname? has a page with links to Surname Distribution Maps. My favorite is Public Profiler Worldnames, which shows maps and statistics for the world, continents, and regions.

The Beginning

It all started back in 2002. My Westra relatives, my mom’s mom’s side, were planning a reunion. My mother was putting together a family tree that would be part of a history book distributed at the reunion. Her focus was on the Westra family in North America. I was living out of state at the time and my husband, Doug, and I came to visit my parents the summer of the reunion. One day I got to wondering about some information my mom had been trying to find, and it caused me to do in-depth online genealogy research for the first time. Prior to that I had done a little, mainly looking at the Ellis Island Records site (now to find information about the Westra Family’s passage to America from The Netherlands for my mother.

Early in my internet research at my parents’ home I ran across a 3rd cousin of mine, Tanya, who was also doing genealogy research. She was a Sinnema relative, related on my mom’s dad’s side. My mom had met Tanya’s mother, Adriaantje, once when she was a teenager. Tanya was also new to online genealogy research, and like me was researching her Dutch ancestors. We began to email, and she told me she was finding something new every day. I was too. Tanya went on to create a website of her family tree later that fall. You can still view it here. There’s even a page of Sinnema Pictures that include two photos I gave her: one of my wedding and another with my Sinnema grandparents’ gravestones.

top of Grietje's box - 1859

My mom possessed a wooden box that had belonged to our common ancestor, my gr gr grandmother, Grietje Nammens Andringa.  Etched into the top of the box was “G N Andringa  1859.”  She was 21 at the time, and would marry Rinse Simons Sinnema a few years later.  When my great grandfather, TJ Sinnema, lost his home to a fire, this box of his mothers, which contained his important papers, was the only thing he was able to rescue.  I scanned the top of the box, and sent a copy to Tanya.  Today I am the owner of the box.

In the week I stayed at my parent’s home, I spent a lot of time on the Dutch archives website, (now, making a basic outline of the lineage of my Westra ancestors and their children. I included about three generations of ancestors that lived in the province of Friesland. I listed names of all children and included known birth and death dates with locations. I printed this out. Copies were made of my Westras in The Netherlands document, and it was handed out at the reunion with the Westra family history books.

After returning home I continued to research my family tree.  Doug began to work on his as well.  We got genealogy magazines from the bookstore and bought binders to record all our names and dates on family group sheets.  I downloaded a free copy of Legacy Family Tree genealogy software and began to create a digital copy of my family tree.  We didn’t have any children yet, so without any “branches” to occupy our time, we researched our “roots” and expanded our family trees one name at a time.