IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA AND INTEGRATION WITH RCA
Groups of Dutch immigrants arriving on the shores of the U.S.A. were warmly welcomed by the brethren of the Reformed Church of America (RCA), a Reformed, ethnically Dutch denomination which had already been in existence in the New World for over 100 years. The RCA was founded in 1628 and is one of the oldest denominations in the U.S. For many years it was known as the Dutch Reformed Church (the official name was the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church until 1867, when it was changed to the present name, i.e., the Reformed Church in America).
The newly arrived groups felt spiritual unity with the RCA and officially affiliated with it. Yet being basically fiercely independent to the point of being isolationist and having the pioneer vision which drove so many of the new immigrant communities westward (government land grants could be expected for those who would settle the developing frontier), the new immigrant groups moved on under the leadership of Rev. A. C. Van Raalte to the frontier area of what is now western Michigan (locating mainly in the new community they call Holland, Mich.) and under the leadership of Rev. H. P. Scholte to Iowa, founding the community they called Pella. The groups proceeded to found new congregations, mostly affiliated with the RCA, and even a theological school and college for teacher and pastor education ( which remain today as Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, both of the RCA). They received significant moral and financial support from the largely eastern RCA congregations and much logistical and moral support from other local Christian groups they encountered.
There are many poignant stories about this immigration period which show the determination of these Dutch Calvinists to transplant their ideal church and its ecclesiastical structure into the soil of the New World. They endured incredible hardship and poverty for many years, but their persistence and devotion to their cause is almost the stuff of legend. They exhibited unshakeable faith in God's providence and were filled with thanksgiving for the freedom the U.S. afforded for them to work, worship and teach their children according to the demands of conscience. When they met with hardship, they were only encouraged more since they felt that the Lord was thus showing his love and approval by adding his fatherly discipline. As they sang their Psalms, they were constantly reminded of the hardships suffered by the saints of old, and they therefore were affirmed in their feeling that they were the true people of God.
Van Raalte, who left for the U.S.A. on October 2, 1846 with 53 souls, arrived in New York Harbor on November 17. His group was warmly welcomed by Revs. Thomas De Witt (of NYC) and Isaac Wyckoff (of Albany) of the R.C.A. Originally intending to go to Wisconsin but trapped by winter weather in Detroit along the way (the Great Lakes route was impassible because of ice), Van Raalte explored the West Michigan region and decided to build the colony there in what is now Holland, Michigan. He specifically required land which was forested, good for agriculture, well watered and isolated. The latter requirement was perhaps among the more important to Van Raalte and shows the determination of the colonists to build a brand new community according to their spiritual ideals. Colonists separated into towns and congregation in accordance with their Dutch dialects and organized themselves into a classis in 1848. By 1849, the West Michigan colonists numbered about 5,000 souls in 7 churches and with 4 pastors (Van Raalte, Vander Meulen, Ypma and Bolks).
It is noteworthy that in the year 1847, 2,631 people left the Netherlands for the shores of the New World. Emigration fever was sweeping Europe at the time. It was in 1847 that Rev. Scholte and his more wealthy group of 700-800 departed the Netherlands and founded Pella, Iowa. While not officially part of Classis Holland, these were Afscheiding Calvinists who were kindred to the Holland colonists. But financially they were much better off. The Pella colony particularly prospered as a way station in the 1849 "gold rush." The Scholte group never united with the Michigan group during Scholte's lifetime, though a group did join the RCA, and though he and Van Raalte were on good terms. Scholte himself was more congregationalist in his mentality and tended to think along the line of Jean de Labadie who envisioned a "true church" of the regenerate only. Denominational affiliations in Pella had to wait for the most part until Scholte was no longer on the scene.