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Roelof Sleyster (1815-1882)
Thomas > Thomas > Willem > Jan Jurjen > Jan Willem > Roelof > Jan Willem > Roelof

Emigrant naar Alto USA

The history of the emigration of the "Afgescheidenen" ("separated') we can find it being interwoven in the historical novel "Landverhuizers" (movers into another land/emigrants) by P.J.Risseeuw. In that book some letters of emigrants are recorded, for example a letter of Roelof Sleijster dated 25 august 1846. Several reprints appeared of this book. It describes the track to three places in America: Wisconsin, Grand Rapids en Pella.

Roelof (1766-1835)
Roelof (Roelof's grandfather) was born in 1766.
We found his registration in the baptism bookof the Walburgiskerk of Zutphen on March 2 1766.
Behind the name of the pastor you find the name of child and the parents:

Baptism book Walburgiskerk: Roelof  [son of] Jan Willem Sleijster [and] Johanna Hendriks

Jan Willem (1792-....)
Roelof's father, Jan Willem
, was born in 1792, he was a housepainter and moved after a short while to Velp and also Roelof became a painter there. There are strong signs that he followed his son to Alto in 1858. In the immigrant registration I found that on May 4, 1858 John W. Sleyster (67) en Hanni (58) went to Wisconsin/Milwaukee/Franklin.

Roelof (1815-1882)
Roelof Sleijster was born in Zutphen in the Netherlands on 25 December, on the first Christmasday, in 1815.

Birth-certificate of Roelof, son of Jan Willem (look his signature left)

When Roelof's mother died in 1841 he decided to study theology.
You can find his story in the book "Landverhuizers" (I translated my Dutch extract also in English).

On 4 mei 1846 Roelof Sleijster departed from Velp, Arnhem to America, with the purpose of Wisconsin. That was just before the end of his study. He was a student of the separated ("afgescheiden") preachers Brummelkamp and Van Raalte.

He was an important pioneer and passed information on to The Netherlands. On 25 august 1846 he wrote a letter to Ref. Brummelkamp. See "Landverhuizers".

On 24 September 1846 Ref. Van Raalte departed from Holland with a group, also with the purpose of Wisconsin, but his choice was not made yet. At his arrival in America he did choose by the advice of American friends for Grand Rapids, where he had to survive many troubles and where many died that winter.


Johanna Liesveld (1822-1913)

In April 1847 Roelof's fiancée Johanna Liesveld came over to America. She departed from Rotterdam with the sailing vessel "Dank Caasliest".

On the 'shiplist' are standing the names of Jansje and Dientje Liesveld,  24 and 22 years old.
(But according to the book "Landverhuizers she sailed with the 'Nagasaki'. Probably a mistake of the author?).

On 4 June 1847 the ship arrived in New York and a year later, on 26 July 1847 Roelof and Johanna married in Milwaukee/Wisconsin and settled in Alto / Wisconsin.


Arend Sleyster
In 1848 Roelof's brother Arend bought "40 acres next to Roelof". So he also came to America.

Johanna Sleyster
On January 18, 1848 Johanna Sleyster married in New York with Manus Mensink.
Johanna was Roelof's sister, born on 30-11-1821, so also she emigrated to America !
A year later she went with Manus to Alto were they bought a land patent for 40 acres on 1-3-1850.
They had 9 children. In 1864 they moved to Minnesota. Johanna died in Minnasota on January 12, 1896.

Also read the excerpt of the book "Landverhuizers..."

In this book "Landverhuizers" are many aspects of the life of Roelof Sleijster and Johanna Liesveld in order. The writer, P.J. Risseeuw, after careful investigation did process much historical data in this book, such as:
    - The theological study in Arnhem
    - The role of mediator to find a suitable colony place
    - The letter addressed to "the believers in America"
    - The romance of Roelof and Johanna Liesveld
    - The letter of Roelof Sleijster dated August 25, 1846
    - The journey of Johanna Liesveld, starting April 11, 1847
    - Their residence in Alto / Waupun


Now I will give you some quotations. First about the journey from Holland to Wisconsin:
In Henry S. Lucas: "Dutch immigrants memoirs" 
we read the story of Arend Jan Brusse

On the first day of June 1846 we left our home at Dinxperloo, province of Gelderland, for Rotterdam; by way of Arnhem and the Rhine. At Rotterdam we took passage on the sailing vessel De Hollander. There were 100 passengers on board, of whom one-half were Hollanders; the others were Germans. Of the ten families of Hollanders seven came from Aalten, Varseveld, and Dinxperloo, from what is known as De Achterhoek. The others came from Velp near Arnhem and from the province of Zeeland.

Of the many Hollanders on board the ship I had only been intimately acquainted with Rademaker and family, from Varseveld. He was one of the elders of the Reformed [Afgescheiden] Church of Varseveld, a gifted and devout Christian. Of this church I had been a catechumen till I left for America, and of which I still retain many blessed memories. On board the ship everything was about as inconvenient and as untidy or dirty as it could be. We were herded together almost like cattle. We had to provide our own provisions for the voyage. There was little chance for cooking. The stove, or range, or whatever you might call it, had only two or three holes, where the many families could do their cooking. The water for drinking and cooking was nasty. I yet imagine that I can smell it. Those who did attempt cooking on the stove were not always particular about the fire. At one time through someone's carelessness the ship took fire, and but for its timely discovery might have turned out very serious. We had only one severe storm that was considered really dangerous.

When we left the ship there was one more passenger than when we boarded it.

After being forty days on the Atlantic Ocean we landed at Boston. Our aim, and that of the seven families mentioned above, was to reach Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But how to get there was a serious question. There we were, strangers in a strange land; we understood nobody, and nobody understood us. I could speak a little German, and so could Roelof Sleijster one of our fellow passengers. Well, as best we could we made a bargain with a German agent to get us to Milwaukee. Through our ignorance we knew nothing of the route we were to travel. This was in 1846, hence we were among the very first that left old Holland to open the way to the West.

At Boston we were put into the cars of a freight train that slowly took us to Albany. Arriving at Albany we had to stay there for a day, and stopped at a German hotel. While there the Rev. Dr. Isaac N. Wyckoff passed by. Hearing us speaking Dutch, he stopped and took some of us to his home. There Sleijster
who had been a theological student at Arnhem gave Dr. Wyckoff a letter from the Rev. A. C. van Raalte and the Rev. A. Brummelkamp [dated Arnhem, June 1846] directed "Aan de Geloovigen in de Vereenigde Staten van Noord-Amerika" [To the Faithful in the United States of North America]. Through this medium the Hollanders became acquainted with the Reformed Church in America.

At Albany we got on an immigrant canal boat. The horses going nearly always on a walk; in the day time, I walked a good deal of the time by the side of the boat. It was a slow and tedious way of traveling. Our daily fare on the boat was bread and milk, which we bought along the route of the canal. After being a week on the canal boat we reached Buffalo. From there, as steerage passengers on a steamer, we came to Milwaukee late in July 1846.

Then an article about the settlement and some personal circumstances written by Elton J. Bruins:
The Dutch-immigrant Congregations of Alto, Wisconsin 1845-1900

The journey
Albertus Meenk, a Gelderlander from the town of Winterswijk, was the first Dutch immigrant to arrive in Alto. When he came to America in 1845, he had heard about the area from a person whom he had met on his trip. He chose not to stay in Milwaukee, where several Dutch families had already settled, but proceeded to Alto. In 1846 ten families came to the area and settled near Meenk: Ter Beest, Loomans, Rensink, Vanden Bosch,
Sleijster, Rikkers, Niewenhuis, Hoftiezer, Boland, and HoIIendyke. In 1847 more families arrived: Bruins, Boom, Veenhuis, De Groot, Veernhout, Van Eck, and Walhuizens. Two brothers, Jan and Hendrik Straks, had also arrived in 1846. Nearly all of these Gelderland families were from Winterswijk, Aalten, or Dinxperloo. Meenk had undoubtedly written back to his family and friends, thereby encouraging emigration of many families known to him (also look here the complete pdf-file).

A greater encouragement came from
Roelof Sleijster, who had arrived in 1846. He had been a student preparing for the ministry in the Seceder Church of Antonie Brummelkamp in Arnhem when he decided to join the mass migration to America. On August 26, 1846, he wrote to his mentor, Dominie Brummelkamp and praised the Alto area as a place to settle. Brummelkamp decided to publish Sleijster's letter, along with others, including one from Van Raalte, in a pamphlet entitled Stemmen Uit Noord-Amerika, met Begeleidend Woord van A. BrummeIkamp (Voices from North America with a Foreword by A. Brummelkamp.) Brummelkamp favored the emigration of many Seceders to America, and for Brummelkamp there was evidence in these letters that the move to America had the blessing of God. Brummelkamp had this to say of Sleijster:

This brother wrote us many letters both from there [Milwaukee] and from Boston and other stopping places on his journey, pretty regularly one every three weeks, and we have not discovered any one of his letters to have been lost. He sent us many important messages. Although it pained us that he could not prosper in his studies, especially since we would very much like to have kept him as a preacher of the Gospel in the Fatherland, in the interest of those who must emigrate to America, his journeying ahead and sojourn there and activities and investigation will have great value. The Lord be with him and bless him further in this weighty work for the good of many sighing, worried, and faint hearts. If it be God's will, he will be able to become a preacher of the Gospel there.

In his letter to Brummelkamp, Sleijster had also written for permission to preach.

In the short time that
Sleijster was in Alto, he found it thoroughly to his liking. He purchased eighty acres and claimed another one hundred sixty acres. He built a home for his family, and he was able to earn extra money by carpentry, and painting, and plastering. Money was in short supply, so he earned wages to buy basic staples and provide a home for his family. He had chosen a site for his home near a creek of fresh water, but he could see the creek only from a hill because the prairie grass was so high and plentiful. He reported that the area was fertile, with heavy clay soil, with not much timber, but an adequate supply for building and fuel. The land was easy to cultivate. He also liked the unstructured and free life in America. Sleijster was a strong spokesman for migration to the Alto area.

The first families who settled Alto organized congregational life immediately. David A. Van Eck opened his home for services until a log church was constructed on his property in 1847. The site of the first church was one-half mile from the center of the present Alto village and the Alto Reformed Church. There is no record that Roelof Sleijster conducted the services, but since he had the blessing of Brummelkamp to preach, it is certain that he gave some pastoral leadership to the Alto congregation. G. Ter Beest, M. Duven, and Cornelius Veernhout provided the catechetical instruction. The new congregation was pleased when Gerrit Baay accepted the call to be its minister. Baay, a student and disciple of Hendrik P. SchoIte, arrived in Alto with his family in June of 1848.

was a strong defender of migration to the Alto-area. The first families who settled in Alto, organized immediately the community live. David E. Van Eck opened his house for the services until a wooden church had been build on his estate in 1847 ...

There is no indication that Roelof Sleijster leaded the worshipservices, but because he had the blessing of Brummelkamp to preach, it is sure that he gave some pastoral leadership to the community of Alto.

G. ter Beest, M. Duven en Cornelis Veernhout took care of the catechetical teaching. The new community was glad that Gerrit Baay accepted the call to be her pastor. Baay, a student and follower of Hendrik P. Scholte, came with his family in Alto in June 1848.

Note of Bruins: Although Sleijster was a prominent person in the Alto-community, there is no information about his life in Wisconsin. The familyname has become extinct. The Sleijster-farm was placed about one and a half mile west of the Alto-village.

Note of Lucas ("Nederlanders in Amerika", p 167): Sleijster visited the Van Raalte-settlement in Michigan but he became so discouraged by the woods and the swamps in the Black River area, that he decided to return to Wisconsin.

Alto in Googlemaps...

Alto in Googlemaps...
In 2013 I found on Googlemaps the place where Roelof Sleyster lived. It seems the house is still standing there.
Regrattable Streetview has not been there yet. Roelof's opposite neighbor was Gerrit Duitman. In 1886, some years
after Roelof and Gerrit died, their children - Henry Duitman and Effie Sleyster - married.
Roelof's oldest daughter Mary Evadina married 1867with Garret Ramaker. They stayed in their parents home.

This is a part of the original survey map of Alto (Click here for the complete original map...)
This is apparently the map that was used in the years 1840 for managing the "claims". On the map of 1862... you can
see there is already much changed in the estate. The name Sleyster fails in the 40 acres southwest of his house.

The common tree of Sleyster-Duitman when Henry and Effie married in 18 Sept. 1886 - - More about the Duitman-family...

The first two pages of the Member book (Lidmatenboek)
of the Gereformeerde gemeente in Alto: in 1846: ...Sleyster...


Member Book
of the
Reformed Church

The first Dutchmen came in 1845,
Albert Meenk; in 1846 de families of Looman, Meenk en Hollendijke.

 According a decision of the church leadership was the teacher pastor  J.T. Zwemer asked, to apply a new member book, for lack of some regular statements
in the old one; with some historical notes - 1886.

- page 2 - Albertus Smeenk came in 1845 to Alto

Short Histories of the Church
written by Rev J.T. Zwemer, 1886

1846 - During this year came the next persons: Br. Beest, Sleijster, van den Bosch, Rijkers, Boland, Hoftiezer, J. R....,Nieuwenhuis,

1847 - During this year increased the number of the settlers continual:
Loosman, Van Eck, Wallhuizen, C.Boom, H.Bruins, ....

During this year they started to have regular services in the house of mr. A. van Eck.
The brethren HG ter Beest and Veenenhoudt served the assembly in turn.

In Febr. '48 came ....

---- 1846-1870 ----

Ds. John H. Karsten/1897/about Alto:

   ... men like Van Raalte and Scholte served like stars to lead the people that had to follow. It is sure that religious views had somethings to do with determining their choice...

In Wisconsin the Dutch did not settle in the same way as in Michigan or Iowa. The pioneers had no leaders. Individualisme characterised the movement...

A number of Dutchmen occupied high and influential positions in the State.... The next have occupied positions of public confidence... ...Roelof Sleyster, member of the Assembly, 1870 ...

Alto, situated in a municipality of the same name in the south west of Fond du Lac County, 6 miles west of Waupun, 68 miles from Milwaukee, on the Chigaco-Milwaukee-St.Paul-Railroad, was founded in 1846 by the Dutch, espespecially from  the provence Gelderland. The first Dutch pioneers of Alto ware Albert Meenk en Nelson Hollerdyk, who came in 1845.

The area around Alto excist mostly in open places and woods in the east part of the settlement, but the western part is a fertile prairie having a great produce.

Not having much knoledge of the ground of the State, the Dutch pioneers fumbled haphazardly in this beautiful place. At first Alto was, before the railway came, extraordinarily isolated. But their church relations saved the kolonists from a stick isolation. They formed already soon a community of the Reformed Church in Amerika under the leadership of ds. Gerrit Baay from Apeldoorn. His small loghouse availed him and his family as a place of residence and the Dutch community as a house of worship, and as a school.  In was inside of that loghouse that the religiouse life of the colonists recieved her first direction. First influences never die. Alto still feels the effects of that divine and devoted man, who was taken up from earth into heaven just too early. He worked only one and a half year under his followers in Alto. We believethat this solid standpoint for teaching and necessary  god-fearing saved this community of the strangling materialisme.

The Reformd Church has always been the biggest churchorganisation, although in the course of time there came a Dutch Presbyterian an a Christian Reformd Church ....

The whole community of Alto is with some acceptions settled by Dutchmen. A few Dutch families have settled in the cities Waupun and Metomen. Public religious services are all found innthe Dutch language, although the people are fully americanized in everything, accept in the use of the English language. But the younger generation speaks English in everyday life.

---- 1881 ----

20-1-1881 Extract from the will of Roelof Sleyster from the city of Alto:

First ... to my wife Johanna H. Sleyster all my Personal Property ...

Second ... to Daughter Mary E. Ramaken, wife of G. Ramaken, to my son W.W. Sleyster, to my daughter Johanna H. Stelsel, wife of G.S. Stelsel, to my son Avon L. Sleyster, to my son Ralph H. Sleyster, to my daughter Coba R. Sleyster, to my son Henry J. Sleyster, to my daughter Evie H. Sleyster, to my son Benjamin U. Sleyster to be equally divided between them and their heirs share...

The spread of the Sleijster emigrants


In 1846 Roelof went to Alto/Wisconsin where he became 10 children
In 1847 Jan Hendrik went with 5 children to Brunswick/Chariton
In 1852
Warnerius went to Pella, Iowa.
In 1868 Philip Jacob went with 6 children to Missouri
In 1875 Berend with 4 or 5 children to New Mexico

Some pictures from Bing-maps in 'birdview' 

The houses of Roelof Sleijster and Gerrit Duitman

The house of Roelof Sleijster

The First Reformed Church and the Alto cemetary More Alto Cemetery...

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