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A recent outstanding graduate from Northwestern College, with double major in history and public relations, William Minnick is a guest writer for today’s post. William has done quite a bit of research for me as my teaching assistant and gave me the idea of the Real Housewives of the CRC a few weeks ago, so it seemed fitting to have him tell the story of Adriana van Pelt.
by William Minnick
Let’s travel back to March 1851 in Pella, Iowa, a newly founded town by Dutch immigrants, where The Rev. Antonie Jacob (AJ) Betten and Adriana van Pelt have just been married.
Adrianntje (Adriana) van Pelt was born in Charlois, South Holland, the Netherlands in 1829. In 1848 at the age of 19, she married Cornelis Kuiper, son of the Dutch secessionist elder A.C. Kuiper. A year later, the Kuiper family immigrated to Pella.
After three years of marriage, Cornelis died of cholera, leaving the 22-year-old Adriana childless and widowed. Only seven months later, Adriana was married to Rev. AJ Betten, who was three months widowed himself.
Apparently, this union was not a happy one. At the time, Rev. Betten was serving the First Reformed Church in Pella as acting pastor, and reports of AJ and Adriana’s marital problems surfaced and became the discussion in multiple consistory meetings. According to consistory meeting notes, AJ and Adriana were not getting along and apparently several of AJ’s children moved out of the house, likely due to this discord with their stepmother. Betten’s eldest son, Jan, left the home never to return. He ended up moving to Missouri, lived with a family with Southern Confederate sympathies, and enlisted with the Confederate Army.
Family lore even says that Adriana would hide her husband’s clerical robes shortly before he would have to preach on Sundays. Can you imagine? As a joke, that could be funny, for a few minutes. But to seriously hide his clothes? Quite a scandal.
Due to AJ’s home life, the consistory of the First Reformed Church decided to remove him from his role as acting pastor. For the next decade, he would jump around from congregation to congregation, never finding a long-term church relationship.
In 1869, Rev. AJ Betten returned to the First Reformed Church in Pella to supply the pulpit. Still in an unhappy marriage to Adriana, the consistory met and ruled that Adriana was to abstain from taking communion as long as she and her husband were living in disunity. It is interesting that Adriana is punished for the unhappy marriage. Did the consistory only hear from the Reverend AJ about his marital issues? It would be fascinating if we could find evidence of her narrative, but as far as I know, nothing exists to tell her side of the story.
By 1875, AJ and his wife were divorced. AJ eventually moved to the newly settled Orange City, Iowa colony and lived with his son and daughter-in-law, away from his ex-wife and Pella’s many gossips and whispers.
A few years later, in a move that surely raised eyebrows, Adriana followed her ex-husband to Orange City, possibly drawn by the presence of her brother who resided in the area. By 1878, Adriana ran a successful business with her two sons. One might think that a former pastor’s wife would own a business of something modest like a bookstore or dress shop, but that wasn’t be true for Adriana. She, alongside two of her sons from her marriage with AJ, was the owner of a saloon and billiard hall. Scandalous! This establishment was described in Charles Dyke’s The Story of Sioux County “of which not much good was said” and catered mostly to outside travelers and businessmen. One can only imagine the stories that came from there and the disapproval from the locals.
Adriana died unexpectedly in 1887 at the age of 58 in Orange City, Iowa. In another plot twist, despite once being banned from taking the sacrament of communion, her funeral was conducted by the highly esteemed Reformed Minister Seine Bolks. Her body was laid to rest in the town cemetery and a large pyramid-shaped headstone still protrudes over the modest and more common knee-high white markers of others interred there.
Despite all that happened, Adriana carved out a life for herself among the Dutch immigrants and amidst the scandal. The historical accounts only tell a fraction of her story and neglect her own voice in the stories of her life, but I’m sure if she was thrown into the mix of characters like those found in the Real Housewives series, she would have been able to hold her own and increase viewership.
Dyke, Charles. “The Story of Sioux County.” Accessed May 23, 2023. https://digitalcollections.lib.iastate.edu/islandora/object/isu:IowaCountyHistories_3054#page/233/mode/1up.
Kennedy, Earl Wm. “A.J. Betten: The Other Pioneer Pella Dominie.” Accessed May 23, 2023. https://dutchamericans.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/1997_10_kennedy.pdf.
Photo by zelle duda on Unsplash