In this post I will show you a ride in the north of the Netherlands in the provinces of Drenthe and Friesland. I started and ended the 34.2 kilometre long tour in and around Frederiksoord. A village named after a prince of Orange and that is because this is the site of the Netherlands’ first “Colony of Benevolence” of which prince Frederick of Orange-Nassau was the patron. The Colonies of Benevolence (Koloniën van Weldadigheid in Dutch) were a 19th-century social experiment designed to reduce severe poverty in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (now the Netherlands and Belgium). The idea came from Johannes van den Bosch. The establishment of the seven colonies can be seen as one of the earliest initiatives to exterminate poverty on a national scale. Built between 1818 and 1825, and based on the ideas of the Enlightenment, the colonies can be seen as a utopian concept to re-educate the poor and needy. Poor families, often from the larger cities, were given their own homes and a section of land so that they could learn to support themselves as educated farmers. Additionally, their children were forced to go to school. In exchange, the so-called colonists converted previously unused land into profitable agricultural areas. The resulting cultural landscapes of the Colonies of Benevolence still exist and have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in June 2021.
A video explains the Colonies further: “In the so-called Free Colonies paupers lived with their families in small houses with a piece of land. In the Unfree Colonies vagrants, beggars and orphans lived in groups in large square institutions. Seven Colonies of Benevolence were founded in seven years. The new residents cleared 80 square kilometres of uncultivated land and tree-lined alleys were constructed. All of this followed a linear structure designed by Johannes van den Bosch. This attracted considerable international interest and visitors. There was a high level of public services in the Colonies of Benevolence; a health insurance fund, care for the elderly, a hospital, agricultural training and compulsory education for boys and girls from the age of 6. While in many European countries and in the Netherlands and Belgium this would not be regulated by law for another 100 years. But the large-scale and utopian experiment turned out differently than expected. As the 19th century progressed, utopian idealism was replaced by pragmatism. The idea was to return the colonists to society as better citizens, but in practice it often didn’t work out that way. In the Unfree Colonies the focus shifted from eradicating poverty to tackling vagrancy, treating mental health issues and even traditional criminality. This stigmatized the people who lived in the colonies. Nonetheless, some 100,000 people were re-educated here. Today at least 1 million people are descended from them. The cultural landscapes of the Colonies of Benevolence are still clearly recognizable. The straight tree-lined alleys and the structured landscape, and of course the mottos on the facades of the historic buildings, the majority of which are still standing. Some of which have gained new functions.”
I am one of those 1 million decendants. In 1826, two of my ancestors, a mother and a daughter, were convicted for begging and vagrancy and brought to the Unfree Colony in the Ommerschans. The mother perished there in less than three months, but the daughter earned her freedom with forced labour after three years in 1829. Ten years later she would become the mother of the first person in history by the last name Wagenbuur (a misspelling of her husband’s name Quagebuur). This is the reason I feel connected to the history of the Colonies of Benevolence.
One thought on “A long ride in the north of the Netherlands”
Thanks Mark for personal touch to the story.
Informative. Well presented.