Monday, December 12, 2011

Dutch or Deutsch

This article should be revised over time.

In her history of  the VAN HOOSE VAN HOOSER VAN HUSS FAMILY IN AMERICA, Joyce Lindstrom states:

Jan Frantz Van Husum wasn't Dutch as many people have supposed. Neither was he German. He was a Schleswigan subjected to Danish rule. He spoke low German, probably with a Frisian or Danish dialect. However, after three generations of living among the Dutch settlers in New Netherlands, his descendants gradually became Dutch by association. There were also more emigrants in New Netherlands who were Danish, Frisian and Schleswigan than Dutch.

At a gut level, I have doubted this thought primarily because the strong Dutch characteristics prominent in any of the paintings by Rembrandt, Hals, or Vermeer, are also visible in the facial features of my wife's father and the other ancient images of Van Husses, Vanhoosers, and Van Hoesens that have been saved over the years.These features include the angular nose, the sharp chin, the brown eyes and hair, and, over time, the silver hair that comes with age. To walk among the paintings of the great Dutch masters in the Rijksmuseum, one sees the merry and sometimes somber faces of the Van Huss men and women. Rijksmuseum.

Then as now, populations were constantly on the move and the peninsula now called Jutland, where the province of Schleswig and the town of Husum are located, was no exception to the forces of history and events. As pointed out in Cor Snabel's story of the Nordstrand flood of 1634, the area was ravaged by the bubonic plague in 1603, then thrown into the turmoil of the Thirty Years War in 1613, and, worst of all, subjected to a catastrophic flood in 1634 that forever altered the landscape and the lives of the Jan Van Husum and his bride to be Volkje Juriens.

Frisia from Wikipedia
A broad historical overview of the area give us the impression that the people who lived in the area were like the tides of the ocean subject to the forces of nature. The Romans called the tribes who inhabited the area Jutes, hence the name Jutland. The area's geographical significance was in the fact that the peninsula was a conduit for the transfer of goods between the Baltic and Russia to the east with the Rhine River valley and the Atlantic to the west. During the Middle Ages, the Danes established Viking control of the area. And even today, the northern part of Jutland remains Danish territory.

But, as Joyce Lindstrom observes there was one other group that figured predominantly in the region, the Frisians. Roman history records that the Frisii began settling the area along the northern coast of present day Netherlands and northwestern Germany around 400 B.C.. Ethnically, they were a Germanic people who spoke Frisian, a language related to the English. Like those who live in the area today, the Frisians struggled with the North Sea, constructing their homes on terps, man-made hills. They gained their living both from the sea, but also from the small farms they built where they kept their cattle and sheep.

There is a good discussion of  the Frisian language, still spoken by a few people on North Frisian Language,Wikipedia.

The Netherlands and the people we call the Dutch includes a much larger area than that indicated on the map. Instead, today's Netherlands are what was known as the United Provinces who rose in revolt against their Spanish overlords during the Eighty Years War.

Joyce Lindstrom is likely correct that Jan and his wife Volkje spoke a form of German. But, the distinction between German and Dutch is more one of dialect than distinct linguistic differences. In any event, the people who lived and worked along the North Frisian islands that included Nordstrand and the town of Husum, likely thought of themselves more as Dutch than German.

We know this for many reasons. First, name spellings of Jan and Volkje are common Dutch spellings and not German. The German spelling is typically Johann, but sometimes Jan or even Hans. Moreover, Jan Fransse Van Husum is the Dutch spelling. Even more telling is the name Volkje, which in Dutch means folk or common people. The German spelling is "volk" as in Volkswagen. Volkje family name Juriens, sometimes spelled "Juriaens", is often found in Holland, less so among Germans.

Other evidence of the Dutch association comes from the excellent historical article of the Flood of 1634 by
Cor Snabel, mentioned above. The flood of which Cor Snabel speaks must rank as one of the most catastrophic of that century. More than 15,000 people lost their lives, and on the island of Norstrand, where Volkje lived with her parents and sister, more than 6,000 died. Whole cities were washed away, the island of Norstrand was inundated and broken up into three smaller islands. Farm lands, which were covered by sea water, were ruined, with the result that many farmers packed up and left.

map of Nordstrand by Johannes Blaeu 1652
What Cor Snabel tells us is that four years prior to the flood, the German prince then ruling (he replaced a Danish ruler in 1627 during the Thirty Years War), hired a Dutch overseer, Jan Adriaansz Leegwater, who lived in the town of  Dagebull, a few miles north of Husum. His recounting of the terrible details of the flood and the names of the victims indicates that most if not all of the victims were Dutch in ancestry.
On the day before All Saint’s in the year 1634, when I was working as an engineer and a surveyor in the Bottschloter project, a big southwesterly storm came from the sea. At seven or eight in the evening, I visited the house of master carpenter Pieter Jansz, who was from Friesland, and who worked on a big new sluice in the project I was supervising.
Leeghwater continues, describing the aftermath of the flood.
Next morning, we saw and heard that all 37 houses of the workers were washed away, including all the people therein. Dikes, which had held up for more than 100 years, were destroyed. That day I took a boat and sailed to the village Dagebüll. The priest told me that the water had reached the level of almost five feet within the church, where people had found shelter. The house of master carpenter Pieter Jansz and the house of Pauwels Harmensz, where I had been before the storm, were vanished. Pieter Jansz and his wife and children had drowned, as had Pauwels Harmensz and his servant, who had accompanied me to my house. And there is more: early in the morning, my house was washed from the dike. The mansion was severely damaged, the cellar was like a ruin, and all the wine and beer had washed away. Big sea ships were stranded on high dikes, as I have seen myself. Several ships were stranded in the higher streets of Husum. I’ve been on the beaches, where I have seen horrible things. Countless dead bodies of people and animals, along with beams of houses, smashed wagons and lots of wood, straw and rubbish.

Aside from these few facts, we know that after the flood Volke was taken to the city of Husum. She met Jan, they moved to Tuinstraat in the city of Amsterdam.  The word "corte" is Spanish for court or section - not unusual since the Spanish had ruled the area for years. Tuijnstraat or Tuinstraat, as it is now spelled, is still to be found in Amsterdam, close to Anne Frank's House.

In 1639 Jan and Volkje embarked on a voyage to the New World. Whether Jan Fransse Van Husum was Dutch or Deutsch by birth, he certainly became Dutch by association, and to anyone who knows Bob Van Huss, it is the Dutch in him that we see.


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