David Kronemyer

Family Ties

August 16th, 2006 by David Kronemyer · 4 Comments

DAVID KRONEMYER: I suppose I should tell you something about our family history – not as an apology, or in contrition, but rather, by way of explanation, more as a harbinger of things to come. Originally our people came from Friesland, now a province of The Netherlands. From what I can discern, the Frisians always have been an ornery and disputatious group. They started off as an autonomous Teutonic tribe. Their territory was roughly from the northern part of The Netherlands down to what is now the northern part of Germany. Over time they were infiltrated by the Anglos and the Saxons, and became traders. One of their main products was slaves. Somehow they survived the famines, plagues, political machinations and internecine wars that were characteristic of the lowlands during the late Middle Ages. Much of the fighting, such as the 30 Years War, concerned religious issues. Being right in the middle of things, from a geographical standpoint, they fell variously under German, then Spanish, rule, becoming a part of the Netherlands in the mid-17th century.

It was around this time that two brothers named Kronemeijer emerged, having fought for the Swedish army around Hanover. They settled in Bentheim, which had been an independent province for 700 or more years. Bentheim was right on the edge of Friesland, as it then was constituted. Bentheim’s independence ended in the mid-18th century, when economic problems forced the Count of Bentheim to mortgage his territory to George I. He never was able to pay the loan back, and evidently what happens in those situations is that the mortgaged territory falls under the jurisdiction of the creditor. So, Bentheim became Hanoverian, and later, Prussian and German. Its close proximity to The Netherlands, though, gave it closer ties to the Dutch, than to the Germans. “Kronemeijer” probably means that some of our ancestors were connected with the crown in some way, either by working for the Count of Bentheim, or renting land from him. We lived in the Bentheim area for the next 200 years.

Jan Gerhardus Kronemeijer was the first to immigrate to the United States, in 1847. He brought with him his wife and five children. Their motivation for leaving The Netherlands seems primarily to have been religious. They were adh erents of one Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte, a minister of the Reformed Church in America, which is a Calvinist Reformed Protestant denomination that formerly was known as the Dutch Reformed Church. They settled near what is now Holland, Michigan.

They were not well equipped for rural life. Even though land was going for $1.25/acre, Jan used what little gold he had to buy a cow and a fat hog. He moved onto land owned by the State, which he eventually acquired, after he had saved enough money. The land basically was a swamp. They built huge smudge fires in an effort to deter mosquitoes. There were swarms of blood-thirsty deerflies. In fact, it is said that some settlers were driven temporarily insane by their incessant buzzing. There also were poisonous snakes, bears, wildcats, panthers, and wolves. Another danger on the frontier was sickness and disease, such as ague, smallpox, diphtheria and dysentery.

It was hard to clear the land. On his second day of work, Jan misjudged the fall of a tree, and a large branch fell on his left arm, and broke it. This made it difficult to build a cabin in time for the coming winter. It also was a challenge to find food. Rats, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, woodchucks and porcupines nibbled away at the crops. While deer and other game were plentiful, Jan did not know how to hunt. A good-sized tribe of Ottawa Indians lived nearby. It is said that, from time to time, the settlers would take their crops and provisions, believing they were the providence of God.

But, somehow, Jan and his family survived, eventually becoming modestly prosperous. Jan’s wife passed in 1874, and a few years later Jan made the trip back to Bentheim to visit his relatives. While there, he decided to marry one of his first cousins. The old country had a law against first cousins marrying each other. As there was no such law in Michigan, the marriage was deferred until after the return trip. Hmmm, this is strangely explanatory, and may account for some recessive genes like: blonde hair, blue eyes, longer second toe, unusual ideations, etc.!

Around this time, dissension began to brew in the Reformed Church. Many parishioners felt it had in general become “too liberal,” and it was time for rededication and commitment to time-honored creeds. Being one of these persons, Jan left the Church in 1882, and was instrumental in the formation of what we might refer to as a Reformed Reformed Church. His children grew up and moved away. Jan died in 1892, having lived to be 81 years old. Let’s see, that would make him my great-great-great-great grandfather.

There are a couple of other interesting family facts I would like to share. Somehow we are distantly related (through my father’s mother’s side) to Grover Cleveland. Before he became President, Cleveland had an affair with a store clerk named Maria Halpin, who gave birth to his son. This inspired the famous negative-campaign jingle from the 1884 presidential campaign, “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House – ha! ha! ha!” We also are related to Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth, who shot Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors. Afterward, he went to a prayer meeting and ate a meal, before going for medical treatment. He is said to have been inspired by Matthew 19:12. In 1878, Corbett moved to Kansas, where he lived in a cave and collected firearms. Some time later, in 1887, he opened fire on “heretics” whom he heard mocking a prayer being said in the State Legislature. No one was hurt, but Corbett was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. He escaped a year later.