Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Origins of the Esveldt family in Eastern Washington, as told by Jeannette Esveldt, my grandmother

While I have regrets that I didn’t ask more questions of my uncles, aunts, cousins and parents before they passed on, I did one thing right. I interviewed my grandmother in 1977 about her life, and later I recorded and transcribed the results.

Jeannette Esveldt was born Aug. 14, 1892, in Spokane, Washington to Jan Pieter Esveldt and Hendrina (Henrietta) Munnik. Her five older siblings were born in Uithoorn in North Holland, where her father operated an ironworks business that manufactured parts for ships.

“It was during the great, almost worldwide, depression, the early 1890s,” she said. “So Dad’s company had suffered very much because there were people that couldn’t pay him, the ones that he worked for.

“His brother George had come over ahead of him as just a kid of 18. And George wrote and said there were more opportunities here in this country and would be in the future. Dad had three boys already, and so there would be more opportunities for them.”

The family departed from Rotterdam and arrived in New York on May 31, 1892. Henrietta had five children—Cornelia, Maartje, Pieter Jan, Jan Pieter and Gerardus “George”—aboard to look after, and another, my grandmother, well on the way. After her birth came four more—Henrietta Marie “Mae”, Fred, Harold and Virgil.

As for the five born in Holland, Jeannette said, “The folks insisted on their learning English as fast as they could. When that is done, they don’t have any accent because they were still young. The oldest one was 10. And they had absolutely not a trace of accent of any kind.”

Her parents could not escape having a Dutch accent. “Of course, Dad had had English in high school,” Jeannette said. “He could speak French and English and Dutch. Mother hadn’t, so she had to teach herself. She just began with the primer and taught herself.

“When Dad came over here, there were no ships to build, so he was just a blacksmith. But they were especially fine people. They were real aristocrats, is what they were, though they didn’t belong to the aristocratic caste in Holland.”

When Jan Pieter left Holland, he bade his mother, Neeltje Blom, good-bye, but he had no other immediate family except aunts and uncles left to see him off.

“His mother was the only one that was living,” Jeannette said. “He had no other relatives then. He was from a family of 10 children. Most of them had died from diphtheria. In those days, when diphtheria struck a town, it’d just wipe the kids out like . . . just like mowing hay, and so she had lost a lot of her children, and so when he left, why, there were no children of her still living (in Holland). The only ones that were living were John and George, that came over. So she came out, too, soon after.”

She lived with George, who was a bachelor; he never did marry, so she lived with him. But she died very soon; she wasn’t here but just a very short time . . . and strangely enough, I was a darned homely little kid, but I was her favorite. And I can remember going up to her house, and she’d seat me on a big chair that had a book on it so I could reach, and she’d butter up and sugar up a slice of bread and cut it in little squares. I was only three when she died, but I still remember her quite vividly.

Neeltje Blom died in Dartford, near Spokane, in 1896, at age 69.

“I was only two when they left Spokane; they came out to Dartford, and George, who was working with Dad, the two of them built a house and a blacksmith shop,” Jeannette said. “They went to blacksmithing for the farmers that came through town, and they’d shoe horses. And Dad was quite inventive. He invented quite a number of things, but he wasn’t familiar enough with what you had to do if you needed a patent, so he never made any money out of his inventions, but he did invent three or four things.

“We lived in Dartford until I was 17, and during that time Mother died, and we had just a streak of terrible luck, and poor Dad was just about to give up, I guess. Anyway, then we moved up to Cheweleh to a farm, and Dad, never having been a farmer, wasn’t very successful at that either.”

Starting a farm proved difficult, but through hard work and persistence, it paid off. “I don’t think we ever really went hungry, not even when we first came to Spokane in the depression . . . oh, they didn’t call them depressions then, they called them panics,” Jeannette said. “It was on, and it was hard to get work, but dad and uncle George managed some way. Of course, they had money from Holland, too, for that matter. Dad had sold his business, you know, so I suppose the first few years they probably lived on that. I don’t know. But when they got out to Dartford, usually they’d try to pay in money, but if they couldn’t do that, they paid in produce. That’s what people did in those days.”

The bad luck she spoke of consisted mainly of deaths and illnesses.

“Well, mother died (1906),” she said, “and Nell, the oldest one of the girls, she was married and had one little boy, and her husband at the time was living with us. Mother was sick then, and Harry, Nell’s husband, went over to the sawmill one morning before anyone else was there, and he was trying to do something he shouldn’t have tried to do, something beyond his strength, and a log rolled over and killed him (1908).

“And George, who was about 16, he had pneumonia, and he had to be operated on. And Margie, the second girl from the top, had what we now would call rheumatoid arthritis. And Mae, who was next younger to me, had a virus that they called in those days St. Vitus Dance, but it’s only a virus, and she was sick all one winter. So all of that just within a couple of years, so Dad was just devastated.”

The farm had been owned by Jan Pieter’s brother George. “Dad bought it from him, and we had a rather hard time up there for the first year or so,” Jeannette said. “And up there, Dad raised strawberries and we picked strawberries and Fred would take them downtown and sell them. They did quite a bit of selling wood.”

A large family from Indiana moved to town in 1910, and their coming had a significant influence on several members of the Esveldt family. The Wagoner sisters inspired Jeannette and her sister Mae to become teachers, and two of the brothers married Esveldts—including my grandfather John Ernest Wagoner, who married Jeannette in 1918.


(to be continued in future posts)

5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Oh my gosh, I was so excited to read your posts! My grandmother was Jeannette's sister Mae (Esveldt Maddox)! From what I heard from my father, they were very close. Mae was a teacher, too. I knew some of the family details you relate, but would love to read more if you have them. My dad, Mae's son, is turning 96 next week. He grew up in Kettle Falls, WA, but moved to Michigan as a young man and still lives there, as do I.

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  3. Wow, it's great to hear from you, Jane. Aunt Mae and Jeannette were very close throughout their lives. Mae even came to live with Jeannette for awhile later in their lives, and that was right next door to me. Wonderful, sweet women, both of them. There was a home-made book on the Esveldt family history printed some years ago. Have you seen it? Other than that, I don't have any other information to give you.

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  4. Thanks for responding! I have seen the Esveldt book - Dad has a copy. I didn't mention it because I couldn't remember which Esveldt had written it, but now I want to read through it again. I am visiting my dad this weekend, so will be sure to pick it up. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures of Uithoorn and Mijdrecht on your other post and will have to show them to Dad this weekend. He has been to the Netherlands several times, but I'm not sure that he made it there, specifically (I have not travelled there, yet, but hope to). Thanks again!

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  5. Thanks for responding! I have seen the Esveldt book - Dad has a copy. I didn't mention it because I couldn't remember which Esveldt had written it, but now I want to read through it again. I am visiting my dad this weekend, so will be sure to pick it up. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures of Uithoorn and Mijdrecht on your other post and will have to show them to Dad this weekend. He has been to the Netherlands several times, but I'm not sure that he made it there, specifically (I have not travelled there, yet, but hope to). Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete

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