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  Emigrating to America : the letter from Roelof Pieters Ruiter

This English translation of the letter that Roelof Pieters Ruiter wrote on April, 23 1906, a few weeks after his arrival in America, was prepared by his daughter Emma. It paints a lively picture of the long voyage from Holland, first by boat from Rotterdam to Ellis Island, and then by train to Grand Rapids.
The pictures in the text have been discovered on the internet. They are all from around 1905. For better understanding I have inserted some remarks of my own (like this - JR).

De originele brief in het Nederlands vindt u hier.

  Foreword by Emma Ruiter

his letter was written by my father, Mr. Ralph (Roelof) Ruiter on April 23, 1906 after he had emigrated, at the age of 28, from Vroomshoop, in the Netherlands, on March 10, 1906 to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the United States of America. He was accompanied by his wife Elizabeth (Lammechien), also 28, who was five months pregnant, and three children - Nellie (Niesje), who was five years old on March 21, the date of their arrival in New York; Elizabeth (Lammechien), who was three years and three months old; and Peter (Pieter), who was one year and six months old. The letter was written to mother's only brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Arend Bosscher of Zuidwolde, Drenthe, in the Netherlands.

                This is Vroomshoop in the year 1904. - JR

        It was translated into English by his daughter, Emma Ruiter, in October 1974, so that his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could read it and know about the joys en hardships that their parents (grandparents) experienced in leaving their homeland and emigrating to a strange land, but especially so that they might understand and appreciate the great spiritual heritage which they left to them.

I can only add that this is exactly the reason why I have now chosen to publish this letter on the internet, so even more people can learn from this interesting letter. - JR

Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 23, 1906

Dear Brother and Sister and children and other relatives:

Once again I shall undertake to tell you one thing and another. In the first place, we can say that through the goodness of our Lord, we are well and that we may experience the presence of God and His blessings continually.
As I have written you, we arrived here fourteen days ago after a long trip, which in itself was really a pleasure, if we overlook the ugly things which one sees and hears and experiences. When we went on board our ship in Rotterdam on Saturday, the tenth of March, we really saw a picture of all the hustle and bustle of the swarming crowd of human beings here upon earth. Oh, what a crowd of people! All the passengers who were to travel on this ship were allowed to go aboard at about one o'clock. What a stream of people that was! I thought, 'If all those people are going with us, then this ship will become almost a little city.'
Well, it really was colossal when we approached it after leaving the depot at the seaport. The day before I had seen the ship lying at the wharf-side on the Maas River, but from a distance, since we were then standing on the opposite bank of the Maas, which is about a mile wide.

The 'Statendam' was built in 1898 in Belfast.
According to a description on the internet it could carry 1400 passengers. Roelof mentions 2300 in his letter. It appears that the extra 1000 people were just stuffed in... - JR

The ship was 600 feet long (180 meters) and 60 feet wide (18 meters) and about 117 feet deep (35 meters). The whole ship was divided into small rooms for first, second and third class. In each class there was a large dining room, also kitchens, bakeries, large storage rooms for supplies and space for all the baggage of the passengers. The machine room and coal bins were in the middle, in the Very lowest part of the ship. Besides all of these, the ship also had hospitals and drug stores--in short, everything you can think of was here, just like in any city. As far as God and His worship was concerned, there was no place. However, everyone was free to serve God in his own way and no fun or mockery was made of those who sang a psalm or hymn. At least, we never saw anyone do so in our presence.
However, I'm straying from my text a bit. Let me first tell you a little more about our departure. As I have said, we went aboard about one o'clock. Our parents, my brothers and sisters, an uncle and aunt from Rotterdam, with whom we had lodged for two days, and another uncle of mine from Breukelen, near Amsterdam, brought us aboard the ship. We spent these last hours with them very enjoyably. After we had entered the room that had been assigned to us and had placed all of our baggage in it, we returned to the deck to watch the ship's departure. For a few moments we all stood together to speak the last few words that lay upon our hearts.
Then the signal was given that all who had brought their friends and relatives aboard the ship had to leave and return to shore. Now that really went well, thanks be to God. Though the farewells were warm and cordial, no one became overly nervous or overcome with emotion. We might remind are another of the hope that was ours, which gave us strength in our leave-taking. We hope and pray, beloved, that you too may find your comfort in this same hope as we have departed from you. Your letter, which we received the Thursday before our departure (letter from mother's only brother, Oom Arend), was for my wife especially, but, also for me, a matter of some distress, since you were suffering much because we were going so far away.
We have besought the Lord dear brother, that He might give you strength and relieve you of your sadness, since we could decide no other way than that we had to go to America. We hope therefore, with all our hearts, that you may suffer no bad effects from this and that together we may share in God's blessing upon our departure.

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Laatst gewijzigd : 06-FEB-2005
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