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Hospers, Henry
(February 6, 1830–October 21, 1901)

–leader in the establishment and development of a Dutch immigrant enclave in Sioux County, Iowa, in 1870—was born in Hoog Blokland, Gelderland, The Netherlands, the eldest son of Jan and Hendrika Hospers. The Hospers family joined the emigration society formed by Hendrik Pieter Scholte to facilitate an overseas transplantation of religious separatists to the United States in 1847. Henry, at 17, was among the nearly 900 people who traveled across the ocean and overland to Marion County, Iowa. In that youthful undertaking, Henry was his family's "advance man" in a chain migration, for two years later his parents and seven siblings followed to the new Dutch colony centered at Pella. The family's immigrant sojourn was fraught with much risk and sacrifice, for two sisters and a brother died en route.

    In Pella, Henry Hospers first served as a reserve schoolteacher, but by 1848 he was a chain puller and surveyor on the Iowa prairie in the burgeoning land office business of the frontier. In 1854 he opened a real estate office and was elected a supervisor for Lake Prairie Township. In 1856 he became the first Dutch American to run for a countywide office as a Democratic nominee for county supervisor but lost to a Know Nothing candidate. Hospers was also a notary and by the end of the decade an attorney. After the Panic of 1857 that dimmed the land business, he turned to journalism and in 1861 started the community's first Dutch language newspaper, Pella's Weekblad. For 10 years Hospers was the editor of this Democratic-leaning weekly. He served as mayor of Pella (1867-1871), and in 1869 he ran for a seat in the state legislature but lost in the Republican landslide during the Reconstruction era.

    By the late 1860s Hospers was an enthusiastic supporter of forming another Dutch colony in the Midwest. In 1860 he had visited St. Joseph, Missouri, witnessed firsthand the throngs migrating westward, and toyed with the possibility of resettling in Nebraska. The outbreak of the Civil War, however, delayed the undertaking. The pioneering urge was rekindled in 1869, when several Pella residents, eager to secure cheap, new land through internal migration to northwest Iowa, won Hospers's cooperation to head an organizational committee, form a colonization association, promote the idea of relocation in the Weekblad, and investigate the land market in Buena Vista and Cherokee counties. Rampant land speculation in those locations, however, turned Hospers's attention to Sioux County after he visited the government land office in Sioux City in mid 1869. He and three others then reconnoitered sections of Sioux County, and Hospers prepared the necessary papers at the land office for about 75 Pella homesteaders to acquire claims in the spring of 1870. Hospers continued as a leader, promoting Dutch settlement in northwest Iowa by accepting in 1870 a commissioner's appointment to The Netherlands for the Iowa State Board of Immigration. He traveled overseas, opened a recruiting office in his birthplace of Hoog Blokland, and advertised in newspapers in six cities to encourage emigration. He held numerous meetings in at least a dozen cities and distributed copies of an official state brochure titled "Iowa: The Home for Immigrants" as well as his own promotional pamphlet, "Iowa: Shall I Emigrate to America?" After three months as a recruiter, Hospers returned to Pella, ended his business associations there, and in May 1871 relocated to Orange City in Sioux County, dwelling there until his death.

    For 30 years Hospers remained the "first citizen" of the Dutch American community in Sioux County. During his first year in Orange City, he built a general store that doubled as a post office. In 1872 he opened a bank and was elected to the county board of supervisors, which he chaired for 15 years. In 1874 he resumed newspaper work by publishing De Volksvriend, a weekly that served the Dutch ethnic readership, promoted immigration, and advertised Sioux County land. Hospers was an indefatigable real estate agent and booster, even during the lean years of the mid 1870s when economic depression, drought, and locusts beleaguered the settlement. Hospers received a third of the town lots in Orange City from the colonizing association to reward his efforts in founding the colony, but he did not turn that into a private fortune. One-fifth of the proceeds from town lots went into a fund to support a future college, and Hospers personally donated several acres as the site for an academy built in 1882 (precursor of Northwestern College), for which he acted as treasurer of the board of trustees. In 1887 voters elected him to the Iowa House of Representatives, where he served for two terms (1888-1892). In 1895 he was elected state senator and served one four-year term.

    Hospers died on October 21, 1901, at the age of 71. The small Sioux County town of Hospers, originally founded in 1872 as a depot stop for the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad and called North Orange, was renamed in 1895 to honor its namesake.
Sources Twenty letters of Henry Hospers and a travel diary kept by his father, Jan, are in Robert P. Swierenga, ed., Iowa Letters: Dutch Immigrants on the American Frontier (2003). Additional sources include Jacob Van der Zee, The Hollanders of Iowa (1912); Charles L. Dyke, The Story of Sioux County (1942); G. Nelson Nieuwenhuis, Siouxland: A History of Sioux County (1983); and Brian W. Beltman, "Ethnic Territoriality and the Persistence of Identity: Dutch Settlers in Northwest Iowa, 1869– 1880," Annals of Iowa 55 (1996), 101–37.
Contributor: Brian W. Beltman