In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Regional Identity, Immigration, and Religious Community in the Nineteenth CenturyDutch Colonies, Church Conflicts, and Religious Influences on Regional Consciousness
  • Andrew Klumpp (bio)

On May 15, 1888, John H. Karsten addressed a gathering of the Western Social Conference of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The soon-to-be editor of the Holland, Michigan, religious weekly, De Hope, presented a talk entitled "Our Educational Institutions." In his address, he tried to inspire the continued development of flourishing Dutch Reformed colonies in Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Karsten ended his remarks with a full-throated religious appeal: "the establishment of educational centers in the Western States has for its final object the redemption of men from obedience to self to obedience to their creator … Colonization, without college, seminary and academy would simply be to invite failure of the object in view."1 In his view, the development of an educational network served a critical purpose for these Dutch Reformed immigrant communities in their new homes.

When Karsten spoke of the "Western states," he did not mean states like Washington, Oregon, and California. Even as late as 1888, he meant Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakota Territory. Other leaders of Dutch immigrant communities shared a similar regional imagination. For instance, Henry Hospers, the founder of the Dutch colony in Sioux County, Iowa, identified these same states as "the West" six years earlier when he helped to found Northwestern Classical Academy in the county seat of Orange City. In his boosterish appeal for the new school, Hospers insisted, "Sioux County is and will, we believe, remain the middle of the Dutch in the [End Page 93] West."2 A stalwart champion for his colony in northwest Iowa, he gushed about the academy's accessibility via the railroad and its promising agricultural and economic prospects. He emphasized that the county's proximity to the Dutch communities that were spreading into Minnesota, portions of the Dakota Territory, and Nebraska would surely help enrollments at the academy.3 "The West" in the regional consciousness of Dutch Reformed communities sat squarely in the center of the nation.

Recent scholarship has pointed to the emergence of midwestern regional identity as early as the mid-nineteenth century and identified a national consciousness of the Middle West as a region in the 1880s and 1890s.4 Yet, among these religious Dutch immigrants, regional consciousness developed differently. These Dutch Reformed immigrants continued to articulate a distinct regionalism, using terms like "the West" and partitioning U.S. regions in ways that conformed to their own sense of community throughout the nineteenth century. Their regional imagination developed in their ethnic enclaves, relatively disconnected from major figures like Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Hamlin Garland—central thinkers for building the foundation of midwestern regionalism. This parallel regionalism developed in conjunction with larger developments in midwestern regionalism, but it was ultimately more intimately tied to this group's religious and ethnic backgrounds. This brief essay offers an example of how a parallel but distinct regionalism, tied to religious identity and ethnic bonds, arose during this period of increasing regional awareness.

In 1846, a large group of Dutch immigrants bound for North America prepared to depart from the Netherlands. Some of their most prominent leaders, the Reverends Antonie Brummelkamp and Albertus Van Raalte, proclaimed: "Our hearts' desire and prayer to God is that on one of those uninhabited regions there may be a spot where our people … may find their temporal subsistence secured."5 Dutch Reformed immigrants to the United States wanted to build communities centered on their shared faith and a common ethnic heritage. They were prepared to settle in remote areas of the country in order to assure that they had ample land for their new homes and to minimize the threat of intrusion from outsiders. From 1820 to 1920, over 220,000 Dutch immigrants made their way to the United States. Three-quarters of these immigrants are estimated to have chosen to live in enclaves like those founded by Van Raalte and Hospers and primarily in the Midwest.6

Many rural Dutch citizens believed that they faced precarious economic [End Page 94] futures as other European countries...