Winterswijk Land Owners

The Winterswijk “Scholten”

If you want to get some idea about the Te Selle family’s circumstances during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is necessary to say something about the situation and daily life of the Winterswijk farmers. The first Te Selles we know were all farmers. This is nothing special if you remember that in the 19th century, agriculture for most Dutchmen was still the principal way to earn a living. What really was special was how the circumstances in which the Winterswijk farmers had to live and work differed somewhat from the social conditions in the rest of the Netherlands.

The Winterswijk countryside in large part was in the possession of a group of gentlemen farmers, the so-called Scholten, the great men in power in the surrounding area. The history of this remarkable Winterswijk agricultural elite (about 20 families) is rather special and can even be traced to the Middle Ages. In the early Middle Ages men with the title “Scholte” (Schulte, Schultze, Schultheisz) were designated as the rulers of the large “feudal” manors in East-Gelderland and Westfalia. Centuries later in the eastern Achterhoek (“Achterhoek” means “Back Corner”) Winterswijk region, this name transferred to a category of serfs. Literally, this word meant “people belonging to the ground they live on.” It was possible, in case of a change of power or ownership, to sell them as a part of the lands.

The power in Winterswijk was held by the Lords of Bredevoort, the Counts of Gelre (Gelderland) and by the Westfalia and Munster monasteries. These rulers appointed from their principal domains a number of serfs as trustees, because the number of domains had increased to about 20, although the areas remained somewhat smaller. This group of gentlemen farmers, which gradually became known as Scholten or Scholteboeren, seized the opportunity, especially after 1600, to strenghthen its position. The purchase of new grounds and the start of trading grain and linen were, among other factors, responsible for the increasing power and influence of the Scholten in local society. In fact, they increasingly took over the positions of their mostly absent Lords, which after 1600 were members of the House of Orange. The House of Orange, however, hardIy worried about the remotely located Ambt Bredevoort[1. Footnote 1 here.]. Probably in their view, it was a poor and backward land where little profit was to be obtained. In 1882 an itinerant reverend named Craandijk[2. Footnote 2 here.], characterizes the Ambt Bredevoort as follows:

“Situated at the borders of the state, far away from all big cities, and especially in former times separated by vast, immense fields of heather and peat moors from the focus of culture and traffic, the “Spot” with its wooded surroundings therefore was isolated for centuries and was a small world in itself; little in touch with the mainstream of human society”

The fact that the Ambt Bredevoort continued to drift further into oblivion did not mean, however, that all remained the same as it had been in former times in this “back corner” Achterhoek. The very fact of this “political neglect” by the rulers at higher levels made it possible for the principal occupants of the chief manors to work their way up to a rank of distinguished gentlemen farmers. At the same time they gradually adopted the name of “Scholte(n)”. Since its origins in the Middle Ages the word has always expressed a clear difference in status and power among farmers. This upward development was formalized with the abolishment of serfdom in the period of the Batavian Republic ( 1795-1806, the pre-Napoleon period in Dutch history). Then the ‘Scholten’ succeeded in obtaining the legal ownership of the old manors. Between approximately 1800 and 1860, the period that the Te Selles were thinking about emigration to the United States, the Scholten were at the height of their power and prosperity. During the partition of the common grounds (fields of heather, pasture, and woods), the Scholten seized the largest portion of the formerly commonly managed wastelands. (In earlier days pasture and woods were shared by all under rules established by common consent). About twenty Scholten families then owned thousands of hectares of ground, and hundreds of tenants were completely at the mercy of this untitled landed gentry.

So it is no wonder that mother Dela te Selle chose for herself and her seven sons a tenant’s farm that belonged to somebody who was not a ‘Scholte’. As a result of great power and wealth the Scholten developed a lifestyle known as “grand seigneur”. Their tenants and farm hands footed the bill. One factor in Winterswijk that helped to stimulate the emigration to America was an aversion to the heavy lease obligations and contracts of the tenants. The relation between tenant and Scholte was partially recorded in written lease contracts, especially the part relating to the use of the land. Most of these contracts were of a short term, mostly just for one or two years. However, they were tacitly prolonged and passed from father to son. As an example, the Te Selles lived at the farmstead “de Selle” for a very long time. In rare cases a lease contract was not to be renewed, and the tenant had to leave his farmstead at ‘Sunte Peter’ (Saint Peter’s Day, February 22nd). These cases reminded everyone that living at a farmstead was not a right but a privilege. The obligations of a tenant were a heavy burden, as shown by a lease contract between Scholte Willem te Lintum at ‘Meerdink’, and Berend Meerdink-Veldboom, who in 1821 had registered a lease contract for the farmstead ‘Meerdink-Veldboom’. (Notice how Berend is referred to by the name of his farm!)

Farmstead Meerdink-Veldboom was leased for three years, beginning in 1821. It was possible for either of the contracting parties to end the contract provided that notice was given a half year beforehand. The tenant had to “deliver the following performances”: a year’s payment of 12 guilders (mostIy the rent of the farm or the house); 20 ‘help days’ (obligatory work days to for the Scholte without wages, 10 days from the tenant and 10 days from the tenant’s wife) “to be settled whenever the landlord wishes so”; “the tenant has to restitute all the land taxes” (some kind of community tax of fields and edifices); “the tenant has to fertilize weIl the arable land and will not be allowed to gather in the third bushel of the corn” (share cropping: always provided more than 30% of the crop for the Scholte). Further the tenant has the obligation to deliver “the third bushel” to the mansion of the landlord (Scholte) where it has to be threshed “at his (the tenant’s) cost”. The tenant is not allowed to sell “neither straw, manure or firewood, nor cutting sods from the farmlands.” Cutting wood is forbidden, too. If a tenant is not able to fulfill his obligations, the “fruits of the farm lands are at the disposal of the landlord.” Without an explicit request to end the agreement, the contract was renewed every three years.

The “help days” that had to be performed whenever the landlord preferred, were mostly requested in the time of the harvest. Many Scholten mansions had a bell or clock for that purpose in the ridge of the house. If this bell rang, the tenants had to stop their own daily activities and come to the mansion of the Scholte. It was for this reason that this bell in the colorful language of the tenants was called “groewelbelle” (“bell of horrors”).

A part of the female help days was spent weaving and spinning at the mansion of the Scholte, for which the tenants’ wives brought along their own spinning wheels. In addition to the prescribed “helpedagen”, the tenant had the obligation to work at the mansion, for low wages, a couple of days per week.

Most lease contracts did not mention the common custom that a tenant’s child had to work as “little maid” or “little man” at the mansion as soon as the child had reached the proper age. There were few alternatives for tenant children. In any case, for the tenant’s family it provided board and lodging; for the Scholte, cheap, extra workers once again.

As the Scholten became more powerful and wealthy, increasingly they behave as a separate group of elite gentlemen. They marry primarily among themselves because “the grounds must be kept together”. They also occupy themselves with the typical activities of landed gentry, such as hunting and forestry.

At the same time frequent moral and ceremonial obligations arose for the tenants. Thus, it became customary that a tenant’s child who wanted to marry had to ask the “lordship’s” permission to do so. At the marriage celebration the Scholte was offered a hat and the ” Scholtinne” (his wife) a dress. The “Scholtinne”, in turn, was expected to give a present to the newly weds. If they became the official tenants at the same time, the Scholte sometimes granted the newly weds, in cooperation with other local residents, a dung car filled with manure to show his benevolence.

Also the annual gift of fowl to the Scholte and the bringing of Easter eggs were part of the rituals between the “Scholte” and his tenant. Yet this aristocratic behaviour might have been much worse around 1850. The aristocratic writer J.A. Klokman paid a visit about that time to the Scholten estate named Leessink. For Klokman it represented the nearly past romantic era that glorified simple life in the countryside. Scholte Leessink was still a farmer, plainly housed, living soberly, and averse to grandiose outward displays.

After 1850 the Scholten became socially and culturally isolated because of several different developments, including the decline of various trade activities. But as their powers and influences decreased, their descendants increasingly sought ways to show off their wealth and importance. More than ever they held on to tradition. “The honor of the Scholten prescribes” became a well-known expression. For example, “the honor of the Scholten” prescribed that possession of woods and forests had to be retained at any cost, that no land was to be sold, that marriage with a non-Scholte was a disgrace. “The honor of the Scholten” led to a useless pursuit of status and luxurious living.

Well-known examples were the large-scale Scholten marriages and Scholten balls, and the construction of large, square Scholten villas in the last part of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Also there was an eruption in the construction of very luxurious villas on the Scholten estates. Dating from this period are the well-known square Scholten houses of several floors which still attract attention in the Winterswijk countryside and which are characterized by the so-calIed “Saxon” architectural style. (See the pictures of the old farmstead “Fökkink”!) A big rivalry arose between several Scholten families to see who could build the most beautiful and largest villas. The magnitude of these villas was judged by the number of windows. Sometimes competition among the Scholten was so intense that false windows were built into the mighty facades!

In the field of agriculture the Scholten continued for a very long time in the unprofitable cultivation of rye and in forestry. Switching over to dairy cattle and cattle breeding only happened very late and very slowly. To the extent that they actually did breed cattle, they proved to be poor cattle breeders. Men formerly from Scholten farms could tell interesting stories about cattle breeding. About 1930 Scholte Mensink at Wissink still swore by the old fashioned “potassium and iron flour,” once a year, on the pasture land, even though there was an abundance of cheap, modern, fertilizer mixed with nitrogen. In combination with the correct proportion of other elements, nitrogen especially would have provided a high yield of grass. In general, for that matter, the Scholten were scared of using fertilizer with nitrogen because they thought it would “exhaust the ground.”

An excellent anecdote is told about this fear of nitrogen. Scholte Hendrik Christiaan Roosen at “Meenk” customarily fertilized his fields by spreading only “slakkenmeel” (“iron flour”, a waste product of blast furnaces), and guano, one of the oldest mineral fertilizers. After the Second World War, out of pure desperation, the farm was leased to a modern farmer who originally came from the north of the Netherlands. AII of a sudden fantastic yields of grass were achieved. This success resulted from the unforeseen combination of a very high percentage of iron and phosphate already in the soil, combined with the nitrogen that this farmer from the north scattered as weIl.

In general the Scholten only supplemented the grass diet of their dairy cattle with “rye and oats”; modern enriched grain mixtures were not used. As a result, the production of milk was abominably low. “If you got half a bucket of milk from a newly milked cow, well then you had much,” said a former farmhand from Wissink.

Ironically enough, however, in the present day, one might view these Scholten as modern, biologically dynamic farmers. Probably, among “environmentally conscientious consumers,” there would be a great number of willing customers for their natural dairy products.