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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Scholte, Hendrik Pieter
(1806–August 25, 1868)

–Dutch immigrant leader in Pella and Marion County, Iowa—was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and educated at Leiden University's theological school. He figured prominently among a small group of Calvinist clergy who broke away from the Her vormde Kerk, the Dutch national church, as part of a spiritual awakening that culminated in the Secession of 1834. The Seceders' initial efforts to gain recognition for their free church movement met stiff state opposition. Scholte's civil disobedience earned him fines and court costs totaling $3,200 as well as an 18-month prison sentence in 1834, although he was soon released on bond. As official persecution gave way to reluctant tolerance, Scholte was able to forge the "Christian Seceded Church" from his Utrecht congregation in 1838, but thereafter Seceders continued to struggle under social ostracism, economic boycotts, and job discrimination. In the spring of 1846 Scholte, after much deliberation, concluded that emigration from the Netherlands to the United States offered Seceders the only meaningful chance for religious liberty and economic opportunity.

    By year's end, Scholte had formally organized the Christian Association for Emigration, and he served as president of the society that numbered about 1,300 members. Scholte and a governing board chartered four sailing vessels and handled financial arrangements for the departure of nearly 900 emigrants from Rotterdam to Baltimore in the spring of 1847. Scholte and his family traveled separately by steamship. He joined the immigrants in Baltimore, and the entourage moved by train, canal boat, and riverboat to St. Louis. There most of the immigrants acquired temporary residences and jobs while Scholte and four committeemen traveled to Iowa, where, with the help of a local Baptist circuit rider familiar with the area's land market, Scholte's group examined the region between the South Skunk and Des Moines rivers and purchased 18,000 acres in Marion County. Scholte and his committee returned to St. Louis to escort a vanguard of about 600 Dutch pioneers to Marion County; the remaining immigrants arrived the next spring. The relocation was not, however, without sacrifice amid risks. Death claimed 24 immigrants during the journey from Rotterdam to St. Louis, 126 in St. Louis, and 3 on arrival in Iowa, 1 out of 6 of the original 900 immigrants. Nonetheless, this historic ethnic transplantation under Scholte's leadership rooted a robust Dutch cultural enclave on Iowa soil.

    For the next 20 years Scholte remained a pivotal ecclesiastical and political personality within the Pella settlement. He worked diligently to foster community growth but also at times engendered sharp controversy. Scholte served as one of five elders/preachers for the first community church steeped in the Calvinist tradition but professing nondenominational affiliation. The Seceders experienced recurrent internecine religious squabbles. One of the most serious erupted in 1854. Since the late 1840s, some critics within the colony had distrusted Scholte's land and financial dealings, accusing him of paying too much for initial land claims, reselling them to immigrants at prices set too high, and generally failing to keep accurate accounting of association funds. When Scholte continued to transact land sales contrary to what some detractors thought reflected the colony's public interest, congregants suspended his right to preach. He and his supporters subsequently left the central church body to form a separate Second Christian Church that survived largely on the strength of Scholte's driving personality and, according to some, his "fanatical zeal," until Scholte died, when it disbanded.

    Scholte also influenced community life as a businessman and civil administrator. He invested in banking and sawmill partnerships and served as a land agent, notary, justice of the peace, and agent for the New York Life Insurance Company. He promoted the need for educational facilities as school inspector charged with establishing school districts and opening schools. Scholte and other community leaders worked with local Baptists in 1854 to found Central University–in fact, a modest academy. In 1855 he started the Pella Gazette, an English-language newspaper that lasted five years. Scholte wrote articles and pamphlets promoting the settlement, but also expressed his strong and at times polarizing political views about contemporary issues such as slavery, immigration, and secession. At first he identified with the proimmigrant Democratic Party, but he gradually distanced himself from the Democrats' proslavery position. He took up the antislavery cause, writing editorials that he published in book form and that garnered statewide attention. By 1859 he had publicly switched party loyalty and participated as a delegate-at-large from Iowa in the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago, where he urged the Iowa delegation to support Abraham Lincoln for the presidency. Scholte wrote campaign endorsements for Lincoln and later attended his inauguration in Washington, D.C. Scholte likewise championed the Unionist cause during the Civil War. He pledged a free house lot near Pella to every returning war veteran. When hostilities ceased, 129 Dutch Civil War veterans received their promised claims.

    Described as strong-willed and resolute and acknowledged as "prophet, priest, and king" by some in the Pella settlement, Scholte died at age 62. The family home in Pella, considered an imposing structure fit for the leader of the colony, still exists today as a historic residence.
Sources include Lubbertus Oostendorp, H. P. Scholte: Leader of the Secession of 1834 and Founder of Pella (1964); K. Van Stigt, History of Pella, Iowa and Vicinity, trans. Elizabeth Kempkes (1897); Jacob Vander Zee, The Hollanders of Iowa (1912); Ronald D. Rietveld, "Hendrik Peter Scholte and the Land of Promise," Annals of Iowa 48 (1986), 135–54; Jacob Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America: A Study of Emigration and Settlement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in the United States of America, ed. Robert P. Swierenga (1985); Henry S. Lucas, Netherlanders in Amer ica: Dutch Immigration to the United States and Canada, 1789–1950 (1955); and Richard Doyle, "The Socio-Economic Mobility of the Dutch Immigrants to Pella, Iowa, 1847–1925" (Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1982).
Contributor: Brian W. Beltman

Cite as: Beltman, Brian W. "Scholte, Hendrik Pieter" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 21 January 2018