Izaak A. de Visser: Making a Fresh StartIzaak de Visser (Isaac DeFisher in America) is my great grandfather. He was born in Groede, Zeeland, Netherlands on January 1, 1875 to Adriaan de Visser and Levina Maria Missielje. His parents were farmers trying to make a living to support their large family. Izaak was the fifth born out of nine living children. He had five sisters and three brothers.
Izaak married Sara Susanna Wisse on April 16, 1896 in Schoondijke, Zeeland, Netherlands. She was the daughter of John Wisse and Maria Susanna Uxem. At the time of their marriage they had a son, Adriaan Johannes that was born on September 23, 1895. Izaak and Sara would eventually have an additional sixteen children, one being my grandmother Elsie DeFisher.
Izaak and Sara made the decision to emigrate to America in 1900. The emigration record states that the reason for emigration was "verbetering van bestaan" -- translation amelioration of existence or to improve their livelihood. In other words they wanted to make a fresh start. They were living in Schoondijke at the time and had four young boys. Izaak was a farm laborer.
The Dutch emigrants from Zeeland had many reasons for choosing to leave their homeland. One was hunger. The Netherlands were hit hard with crop failures in the 1800's and Zeeland relied heavily
on farming as a way of life, more than 60% of them worked the land. In the mid 1840's, the Netherlands saw a severe potato famine which led to hunger and poverty. In the 1880's, world wheat prices dropped and Dutch farmers couldn't compete with the new farms in America, and farm laborers didn't have work.
Many also left due to religious suppression. Zeeland was the most conservative part of the Netherlands, and was the "bible belt" of the country. They practiced religious conservatism and were genuine Calvinists and were traditionalists in their religious beliefs and practices. Many opposed contraception, resulting in large families, and they opposed many of new scientific advancements such as the small pox vaccination. King Willem I made the church part of the government and made all public officials affiliate which made it impossible to discipline nominal members that neglected worship, lived scandalously and were free thinkers.
Given the religious and economical situation, a large group of Zeelanders left the Netherlands for the New World between 1845-1848. Those from northern municipalities of Zeeland migrated to Michigan and Iowa creating close knit Dutch communities were they could practice their religious beliefs. Those from the southern municipalities started out for Wisconsin but two-thirds of those from Zeeuws Vlaanderen settled in New York, many in the Wayne County area. The land in Wayne County was full of wetlands where they were able to use their knowledge of hydrology to drain the swamps to create muck, rich black soil, that was excellent for raising crops of potatoes, celery, lettuce, onions, carrots and beets.
The emigrants from the 1840's sent letters back to their homeland encouraging family and friends to come to the land of plenty. This meant that by the 1880's when the Zeeland farm communities took another hard hit and there was a second mass exodus of Zeelanders headed to America. It helped that there were more than 2,000 agents working for the Holland American Steamship Company recruiting emigrants and offering them free lodging in Rotterdam before they sailed to America.
Izaak's sister Levina de Visser emigrated to the United States in October of 1896 with her husband John Mulendyk and their three children. They settled in East Palmyra, Wayne County, New York. Izaak soon followed with his family in 1900.
Izaak traveled with his wife and four young boys from Rotterdam on the Ship Rotterdam in March of 1900. They arrived in America on April 2nd. In Izaak's immigration record it states that he arrived with $2.00 and was headed to East Palmyra, NY. His ticket was paid for by himself. Sara and the children's passage was paid for by her father.
The following story appeared in the "Marion Enterprise" on March 1, 1962 entitled A Holland Family by John S. Rich.
Marion-- The other day I was stopped on the street in a nearby town by a senior citizen who said, I enjoy your articles in the local paper about the Holland families...I have a story that might interest you."
He went on to say: " My people came here from Holland a few years before I was born -- the only language spoken in our home was the Holland language which helped me to get a job in the general store in East Palmyra. My duty was to run the grocery cart and clerk in the store that sold nearly everything, wait on the new arrivals, for I was the only one in the store who could understand their language.
"One day a man, his wife and four children arrived at the station, having been sent for by a nearby farmer who had paid his transportation. He had only one dollar left and as I was the only one he could talk to he asked how the family could eat as the first money he earned must go to refund the transportation. I told him the store would give him credit, they must live as cheaply as possible and the whole family work and earn as much as possible. The new comer's family grew and so did the store bill for we sold nearly everything that they needed." This man soon found that he could earn more near East Williamson and left this section.
"By now the owner of the store told me that I had given too much credit and he would have to take it from my wages if the bill was not pain within a year. I knew the man was honest and I was so right for in eight months the man walked back from East Williamson and paid his bill in full. Then he said to me, John, you must have know that man, he was Isaac DeFisher."
The DeFishers arrived in East Palmyra early in 1900, and although they have both passed on, raised a family of 17 children. Some of them went into industry, some moved away, but the majority of sons, and sons-in-laws, and grandsons became farmers.
This family is one of the largest producers of farm crops in this section. As a produce dealer once said to me, " I like to buy fro the DeFisher family, they are not afraid to use fertilizer, their crops grow quick and crisp."
With the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren they will number nearly 100. The children went to district school, the grandchildren attended high school and some of the great grandchildren are in college. They are active in church and social groups and in the span of 60 years it is hard to believe what one family can do in the development of a community.
It looks as if Izaak got his new start and was able to find a better livelihood here in America, however it did come with a cost. He had to leave his parents behind as well as many of his siblings.