Harm Jan Huidekoper



Harm Jan Huidekoper





Harm Jan Huidekoper was a native of Holland, born in Hoogeveen, in the district of Drenthe, April 3, 1776. His father was Anne Huidekoper, and the maiden name of his mother was Gesiena Frederica Wolters. His mother’s family was one of considerable standing in Drenthe. It had long resided there, and one branch of it had attained distinction in the military service of the country. Our subject’s mother was a woman of amiable disposition and sound judgment—and to her influence should be attributed much of the success which he afterward attained.
Mr. Huidekoper acquired his early education in his native village. When he was ten years of age he was sent to a boarding school at Hasselt, in the province of Overyssel, where, excepting one year,—which was spent for the most part at home,—he remained until he was seventeen. The two years following were spent in the Institute at Crefeld, Germany. Now, for the first time, he had the advantages not only of good instruction, but also of a large and well chosen library. He made good use of his opportunities. In a little time, his diligence and abilities enabled him to take high rank in the Institute as a scholar; and his exemplary conduct gave him the esteem and friendship of both his instructors and fellow students. This period of his life was indeed a most happy one, and he always looked back upon it with the greatest pleasure.
On his return to Holland he was offered, by his older brother John, a situation in a commercial house he was then about to establish, or, if he preferred, the means to go to America. At this time no very inviting inducements were offered in Holland to young men of decided ability to enter upon a commercial career. A year before, the country had been conquered by a French army, under Pichegru; and the Thermidonians, who now ruled France, were drawing upon the wealth of the country to relieve the financial distresses of the French Republic. At this very time, too, Holland was engaged in a war with England. On the other hand, in America, ability, character and industry counted for more than money and family connections; and in this land, too, there was ample scope for individual exertion. Consequently the young Hollander, fresh from his books and wanting none of the prerequisites of success, sailed for New York. The voyage was begun August 12, 1796, and occupied sixty-three days. He spent this time in the study of the English language and so great was his advancement that when the voyage had ended he was able to express himself quite intelligibly.

He spent the following winter, and also a part of the summer of 1797, at Cazenovia, New York. Then he went to Oldenbarneveldt (Trenton), where he remained until he removed to Philadelphia, in 1802, to accept the position of bookkeeper to Mr. Busti, the general agent of the Holland Land Company. At about the same time, too, he was appointed secretary and bookkeeper of the Pennsylvania Population Company. From the very first, because of his abilities and industry, he had the confidence of the company, and in a little time was looked upon as the successor of Mr. Busti in the general agency.

During his first year’s residence in Philadelphia, an opportunity presented itself whereby he was further able to demonstrate his business talent, and at the same time gratify his love of travel. Major Roger Alden was then the general agent of the Holland Land Company for its lands west of the Allegheny river. Both Major Alden and his assistant were incompetent as bookkeepers, and as a result great confusion was produced in the agency’s accounts. To adjust these, Mr. Huidekoper was asked to go to Meadville. The trip was made on horseback, in company with Mr. Jabez Colt. the agent of the Pennsylvania Population Company for their lands in Crawford county. He remained in Meadville about four weeks. and then returned, by way of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and New York. He describes Meadville, at this time, as “a small village, containing twenty-five or thirty houses, chiefly log ones, and a population of about one hundred and fifty.” He also says. in describing his journey home, that “from the Pennsylvania line to Buffalo there were but three small cabins, two near Westfield and one on the Cattaraugus creek, and Buffalo had perhaps a dozen and a half cabins.”

Major Alden resigned his position in 1804, and immediately Mr. Huidekoper was appointed his successor. In the following November he removed to Meadville and entered upon his duties at the beginning of the new year. The condition of the agency was most unsatisfactory. The lands north of the Ohio and west of the Allegheny river had been sold to the company by the state of Pennsylvania, under a law of June 3, 1792, which required that within two years after the issue of a warrant for any tract of four hundred acres, a family should reside thereon; and further, that this residence should continue for five years “unless prevented by the enemies of the United States.” From the beginning, the company had faithfully endeavored to comply with the law, but failed, however, because of an Indian war that had begun in 1791, and which continued until the decisive victory of General Anthony Wayne, late in the summer of 1794. The company then renewed its efforts for the settlement of the lands, but now it was claimed by some persons that it had legally forfeited its title by its failure to make the settlements within the required time. When Mr. Huidekoper assumed the management of the agency,"a local rebellion had sprung up." Squatters had settled on the lands, and not a few persons who had gone into possession under written agreements repudiated their contracts. Shrewd speculators, too, endeavored to so deter-mine events as to make it possible for them to have a share in the spoils. Bitter antagonisms were created, which were intensified by numerous anonymous letters. Confronted by such difficulties, ordinary men would have shrunk from the responsibilities which Mr. Huidekoper now assumed.
It was his work, however, that brought order out of chaos. One of his first steps was to have the company’s title judicially established. This was done by a decision of the United States supreme court in 1805, in the case of Huidekoper versus Douglas. The decision, which was delivered by Chief Justice John Marshall, held that a faithful attempt had been made to comply with the law within the required time ; and that after the close of the “interrupting invasions,” the warrantees were excused “from further and subsequent efforts at settlement.” (Dallas’ Reports, volume 4, page 392.) Perfect fairness characterized all of Mr. Huidekoper’s dealings with the settlers. Where patience would do good, he was patient, even to indulgence. There are many instances where fifteen or twenty years elapsed before settlers found it convenient to pay for their lands ; and in some cases they were not paid for until after twenty-five and thirty years. On the other hand, if firmness was needed, he was not wanting in that quality.

The decision of the United States supreme court helped very materially to improve matters ; but the angry feelings which the contest had engendered continued for a long time, and more than once the life of Mr. Huidekoper was in danger. On one occasion, when returning home alone over a wilderness road in Warren county, he was fired upon by a would-be assassin. Fortunately he escaped injury, but his horse was severely wounded. An attempt was made to bring the perpetrator of the outrage to justice. The evidence against him was strong, but it was purely circumstantial, and the jury failed to convict. Years afterward the accused, when he was on his death-bed, admitted the shooting, but denied that he had intended murder.

The last legal controversy about warrant titles connected with the office at Meadville was decided by the Pennsylvania supreme court nearly forty years after the decision of the United States supreme court. (Barr’s Reports, volume I, page 463.) In 1836 the company decided to close out its interests in New York and Pennsylvania. Mr. Huidekoper now purchased all its lands in Erie, Crawford, Warren and Venango counties, paying for them the sum of one hundred and seventy-eight thousand dollars. Earlier than this he had made some purchases of considerable magnitude from the Pennsylvania Population Company. The purchase of 1836, however; was his most important one, and was the last one that he made. It should be said also that he had other interests besides his land business. In 1817, in co-operation with Judge Griffith, of New Jersey, who was later clerk of the United States supreme court, he was engaged in the introduction of merino sheep into the country. In the following year he erected west of French creek a grist and saw mill, which was of the greatest benefit to the farmers of the surrounding country, though it was never very remunerative to its owner.

On September 1, 1806, nearly two years after his arrival in Meadville, Mr. Huidekoper was married to Miss Rebecca Colhoon, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A year earlier he had purchased thirty acres of ground adjacent to the town, and had erected a house. Miss Colhoon was of Scotch-Irish descent. She was of pleasing personal appearance, amiable disposition and a thorough-going housekeeper. Their married life was a most happy one, and extended through a period of thirty-three years. Seven children were born to them, two of whom died in childhood; the other five survived both parents. Mrs. Huidekoper died October 22.

Throughout the whole period of his life Mr. Huidekoper was a diligent student. The employment of the larger part of his leisure in reading gave him an extensive general information. He was especially fond of history and biography. It has been said, by one who knew him well, that “to converse with him on our colonial connection with European history” one would find him “as familiar with it as though he had made it the study of his life.” Probably his knowledge of the Scriptures and ecclesiastical history was still more profound. Very early in life he had become a faithful student of the New Testament. It was his habit, in the study of mooted theological questions. to examine all of the evidences of the Scriptures before coming to a conclusion. In this way he reached definite opinions, which he was always ready to explain and defend. Early in life he had united with the Dutch Reformed church; but even before his student days had ended at Crefeld he felt the need of a more liberal creed. Eventually his daily study of the Scriptures caused him to renounce Calvinism and accept the doctrine of the unity of God as opposed to that of the trinity. Mainly through his efforts, the. Independent Congregational Church of Meadville was organized. At first the society worshiped in the courthouse, but after a few years a church building was erected, by money he generously furnished.

The attacks which were now made upon the Unitarians caused Mr. Huidekoper to engage in written controversies in the local papers. During the years 1831 and 1832 he himself edited a periodical called The Unitarian Essayist. He states the purpose of its publication as follows: “These infringements not of Christian charity merely, but of our Christian rights, forbid our silence. We are forced to come forward in defense of ourselves and of what we believe to be the truth. We desire discussion not for the sake of controversy, but that the public may have an opportunity of judging which of our opposing systems accords best with the teachings of our Saviour. The time must come when this question must be decided by evidence; and for the sake of Christian peace and charity we hope it may come quickly.” Nearly all of the papers in the Essayist were written by Mr. Huidekoper. Between the years 1836 and 1842 he contributed twenty-eight articles, mostly on religious subjects, to the Western Messenger published by the Unitarian Association in Louisville, Kentucky. In all ‘of the articles he contributed to these periodicals, is evidence of most thorough preparation. He wrote frankly and honestly, and in a directness and clearness of style that is seldom excelled.

Mr. Huidekoper was the founder of the Meadville Theological School, which went into operation October 1, 1844. It was not incorporated, however, until February 24, 1847. From the date of its organization until his death, Mr. Huidekoper stood toward it in a paternal relation. He was the first president of its board of trustees. Faithful to all its interests, he labored assiduously to place it on a permanent foundation. He husbanded its resources, wisely invested its funds and contributed largely to its endowment.

As a business man, Mr. Huidekoper was prudent and practical. He was prompt in all business engagements and scrupulously honest. As a citizen he was most exemplary. His influence was always for the right, and the impress he made upon the community where he lived so many years is still felt. In politics, he sympathized with the doctrines of Alexander Hamilton, and favored the protective, or as it was called by Henry Clay, the American, system. He loved children, which, together with his religious affections, made him “for years, a constant and faithful teacher in the Sunday-schools, both in the town and country, connected with the Unitarian Society. Always interested and interesting, he continued till the end of life in this work, and was with his class on the Sunday before his death.” He was benevolent to the poor. A contemporary journal has said that “he expended the fortune which he amassed largely in administering to the comfort of the indigent, and especially during the latter part of his life he seemed to take peculiar interest not only in replying with liberal hand to the frequent calls made upon his benevolence, but also in searching out objects worthy of his notice.”

The biography of few men will exhibit greater rewards of ability, industry and integrity than does that of Harm Jan Huidekoper. In business circles, in his home relations, in the church and the town, his life was exemplary. In all that he did, he was actuated by the great principles that should govern humanity. He died at his residence in Meadville, May 22, 1854.

Our county and its people: a historical and memorial record of Crawford County, Pennsylvania by Samuel P. Bates, 1899, pages 675-679


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