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Formation of a Society

George West Van SiclenChapter One from the History of the Holland Society

The seed which grew to become the Holland Society of New York was planted during a period of revolutionary change. In the 1880's the fruits of the Industrial Revolution were transforming the American landscape and creating incomprehensible wealth in the process. At the same time the nation was experiencing a vast migration of peoples from eastern and southern Europe to work its farms, factories, and mines. The Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 had glorified this industrial change and simultaneously, in celebrating the roots of American growth, had awakened an interest in the seemingly gentler pre-industrial past. New York City, the mighty commercial metropolis of the emerging American industrial giant, seemed more than any other place overwhelmed by these changes. As the older culture of New York appeared to be submerged by new and alien ideas, many looked to the past in order to maintain a footing in a rapidly changing present.

George West Van Siclen was the first to propose the formation of a New York society composed of the descendants of the New Netherland settlers. The idea came to Mr. Van Siclen in 1880 when he appeared as a legal counsel for one party, and another gentleman of Dutch descent, Lucas L. Van Allen, appeared as the legal counsel for the other party, in a series of litigation before the Supreme Court and the Court of Common Please for the City and County of New York. When the case appeared before the Supreme Court, Aaron J. Vanderpoel was the associate counsel with Mr. Van Siclen, and the hearing came before Judge Hooper C. Van Vorst. In the Court of Common Please the hearing was also before another judge of Dutch descent. This conjunction of lawyers and justices of Dutch background suggested to Mr. Van Siclen that the massive immigration and economic change then in progress had not entirely submerged the Dutch founders of New York , and that an association of the descendants of the Dutch pioneers would not only allow for the "pleasures of friendly intercourse among people who had a common pride in their origin" but would also be a means of "augmenting the wholesome influence that the integrity, the wisdom, the tolerance, the industry, and the thrift which the Dutch had never ceased to exercise upon the nation." Mr. Van Siclen, however, was not certain that the descendants of a people, who had not only lost their ancient language and culture but who were also now the mainstream of the current culture, could be induced to come together to form and maintain a society in the memory of their ancestors. Desiring to know whether the views he entertained were shared by other, Mr. Van Siclen invited Judge Van Vorst, Mr. Vanderpoel, and Mr Van Allen, as well as George W. Van Slyck and George M. Van Hoesen, do discuss with him at his New York City home about the feasibility of forming such an association.

The first meeting of these gentlemen occurred at Mr. Van Siclen's home on February 21, 1885, where it was there determined to make an effort to establish a society in which every member should be descended from a Dutchman of New Netherland. A temporary organization was thus formed by electing Judge Van Vost as provisional president and Mr. Van Siclen as provisional secretary. It was also resolved to invite to the next meeting a number of other gentlemen whose patronymic gave proof of their ancestry. To the gratification of these gentlemen, the response to their invitation was enthusiastic. At the next meeting, held on March 21, 1885, in the library of the home of Aaron Vanerpoel, at One West 16th Street, the following gentlrmen were in attendance: Hooper C. Van Vorst, George West Van Siclen, Lucas L. Van Allen, Robert Van Boskerck, S. o. Vanerpoel, Aaron J. Vanderpoel, A. B. Van Dusen, F. F. Vanderveer, George M. Van Hoesen, David Van Nostrand, Gilbert S. Van Pelt, Richard Van Santvoord, Abraham Van Vleck, George Van Wagenen, And Edgar B. Van Winkle. It was obvious that the proposal to form a society of Dutch descendants had been warmly received and at this meeting steps were immediately taken to formalize its organization.

The first order of business was to find a name for the fledging society. Various names were suggested. But "The Holland Society of New York" was adopted because it was felt that "it was simple and it required no explanation." Although the intention of the organizers was to admit only those of Dutch descent, discussion was still necessary to define the membership requirements. Several at the meeting proposed that the membership be limited to only those living in New York City; other proposed limiting the membership to only those wealthy gentlemen who were "Society's leaders;" and one even humorously suggested that the membership be limited to those whose surnames began with "Van," so that it would constitute the "Van-Guard of civilization upon this Continent." (The rebuttal that the Society's motto should than be "Vanity! Vanity! Vanity is all!" caused this suggestion to be immediately dropped!) Since in the nineteenth century men usually looked ot the paternal side in determining to what stock they ascribed their origin, it then seemed appropriate to admit only those who could prove their descent in the direct male line from a man who had settled in New Netherland. The question was thus resolved with "typical Dutch equanimity" that membership should include all male descendants of the "early pioneers who had sworn allegiance to Holland," but not to admit to the membership descendants of those Dutchmen who cam to New York subsequent to 1776.

The seed of the Holland Society of New York was firmly planted and quickly sprouted. On April 30, 1885, the Society adopted a constitution at Clark's Restaurant, 22 West 23rd Street, and the following day, May 1, 1885, the State of New York incorporated the Society. The forty-six gentlemen who signed the Certificate of Incorporation have ever since been considered the founding fathers of the organization: W. A. Ogden Hegeman; William M. Hoes; Arthur M. Jacobus, M.D.; Wilhelmus Mynderse; Robert B. Roosevelt; Lucas L. Van Allen; Edwin E. Van Auken; Robert W. Van Boskerck; Cornelius Van Brunt; Elisha W. Vanderhoof; Frank F. Van Derveer; John R. Van Derveer; Aaron J. Vanderpoel; August H. Vanderpoel; Herman W. Vander Poel; A. B. Van Dusen; H. S. Van Duzer; George M. Van Hoesen; Alexander T. Van Nest; Warner Van Norden; David Van Nostrand; John E. Van Nostrand; Henry D. Van Order; Gilbert S. Van Pelt; Killiaen Van Rensselaer; Abraham Van Santvoord; Richard Van Santvoord, M.D.; H. Van Schaick; Jenkins Van Schaick; George W. Van Siclen; A. H. Van Sinderen; George W. Van Slyck; Francis H. Van Vechten; Henry C. Van Vechten; A. K. Van Vleck; Robert B. Van Vleck; Philip Van Volkenburgh, Jr.; Thomas S. Van Volkenburgh; W. W. Van Voorhis; Hooper C. Van Vorst; George Van Wagenen; Edgar Van Winkle; William Van Wyck; Benjamin F. Vosburgh, M.D.; and Jacob Wendell.

With these signatures the Holland Society of New York formally began its existence. Hooper C. Van Vorst was officially made the first president, and George West Van Siclen officially made secretary and treasurer. Four vice-presidents were appointed to represent regions outside of New York City (Albert Vander Veer, M. D., for Albany; Adrian Van Sinderen for the then separate city of Brooklyn; Augustus W. Wynkoop for Kinderhook; and Alphonso Trumpour Clearwater for Kingston; while Robert B. Roosevelt served as vice-president for New York City), and three committees (Finance, Genealogy, and History and Tradition) began their long service within the organization. As Hooper Van Vorst said "The sprout,' in the language of our mottos, 'has already become a tree;' and it is a tree which will produce more than leaves. In the proper season we may look for abundant fruit."

Holland Society: "A Centennial History",
by Dr. David Voorhees,
Trustee Emeritus,
Holland Society of New York

The Distinguished Achievement Medal is awarded by the trustees to recognize achievement by those who are not members of the Society, but who have made an outstanding contribution in some field of human endeavor.

Medalists of The Holland Society (click here)

The Holland Society of New York
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