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From "Oppressed Flanders" to the "Most Beautiful Country in the World"

 pg     2

Among the early arrivals of Belgians in Wisconsin, was Charles Louis Desmedt from Diksmude, Flanders, probably born about 1815. He came in Wisconsin in 1844 and wrote next year to his family.  This letter, in Flemish, was sent to his brother-in-law, David Jansseune, miller in Dixmude.

Excerpt were published in the Flemish newspaper "Standaard van Vlanderen" in 1846. In 1953, M. C. Jansseune of Dixmude published the letter, adding subtitles and notes, in the “Het Wekelijks Nieuws” a newspaper from Poperingue, Belgium. The same year the same text was published in the “Gazette van Detroit” Michigan, USA. Dr. Jan Albert Goris, head of the Belgian Government Information Center in New York during those years, translated in English the letter from the “Gazette van Detroit”.  It was published in the “Wisconsin Magazine of History" Summer 1959, Vol 42 n° 4.   

He speak a lot of the horrible situation of the Flanders during the years 1840. Paupers increased a lot in those rural areas, in West Flanders, from 90,000 in 1843 to 160,000 in 1847. The potato crisis – the same as in Ireland – raged from 1845 to 1850.

This situation was at the base of the many attempts of the Belgian government to build Belgian colonies in South and North America between 1848 and 1855.  But it’s another story you'll also find in this web site. 





From "Oppressed Flanders" to the
"Most Beautiful Country in theWorld"



Translatred and Edited by Jan-Albert Goris



published in

Wisconsin Magazine of History

Summer 1959 - Vol. 42 n° 4 pp. 275-281




Reprinted with permission of the
Wisconsin Historical Society


- 1 -

THE PART THE BELGIANS played in the settlement of Northeastern Wisconsin bas been carefully studied by Antoine De Smet in his publication, La Communauté belge du Nord Est du Wisconsin; Ses Origines; Son Evolution jusque vers 1900(1). De Smet recalls that Father L. Hennepin was first among his countrymen to reach Door County. A century and a half later a number of Belgian missionaries followed in his footsteps. The first group of Belgians who settled in Wisconsin came from the province of Belgian Luxembourg. In 1855, there were already 450 Belgian families living in two townships.

Among the early arrivals was one Charles Louis Desmedt, who reached Milwaukee in the winter of 1844. He came from the small village of Woumen in West Flanders arid settled at "one hour's distance" from Milwaukee. He was at the time probably twenty nine years old. Having suffered hardship in Flanders, he felt very happy about his status in America and wrote a long letter to his brother in law David Jansseune, a miller of Dixmude. This letter is still kept in the family archives of the descendants of Jansseune (2).

This document is of great interest because Desmedt gives a detailed and interesting description of conditions in and around Milwaukee in 1845, and constantly contrasts them with the poor state of his homeland.

Desmedt was a man of strong character, enterprising, and proud, but he could not hide his resentment against his family. He was the son of a well to do farmer who married in his family's estimation, at least below his rank. He married a girl from the "center of the village." which means that she was not a farmer's daughter arid probably came from a poor household. This mésalliance displeased his parents, and the rest of his family espoused the parents' quarrel. Desmedt opened a textile shop in Woumen and found out drat he was boycotted. fn five years, no member of his family crossed his threshold. When he went visiting them, they did not even bother to offer him mid his wife a glass of water.

published by the Cercle Historique et Archéologique de la Region, Wavre, Belgium, 1957.

(2)The Dutch text of the Desmedt letter was published
several times in Belgium, the first time in the weekly Standaard van Vlaanderen March 12, 1846. It also appeared In the August, 1953, Het Wekelijks Nieuws and the Gazette van Detroit, August 14, 21, and 28 of the same year. Excerpts were published in an article "The Most Beautiful Country in the World:" which the author wrote for the Bclgian Trade Reriew, September, 1953.