Drenlias: inmate registers of poor colonies

The archive of the province of  Drenthe, Drenlias, has put the inmate registers online of the poor colonies founded by the "Maatschappij van Weldadigheid". If one of your ancestors lived in Frederiksoord, Willemsoord, Wilhelminaoord, Boschoord, Veenhuizen or Ommerschans, then it certainly is worth having a detailed look at. It is very likely that they were inmates of one of these colonies.

So what are these poor colonies anyway? After the fall of Napoleon in 1814, the Netherlands were left in a deplorable state and especially in the big western cities families lived in extremely poor circumstances. It soon became apparent that something had to be done about this. It was not so much compassion for the poor, but rather the nuisance caused by the growing mass of beggars and desperados that turned to burglary that motivated plans to turn the poor into "decent people".

In 1818, in an effort to solve this social problem, count Johannes van den Bosch came up with a bold plan. Why not transport all the poor to the uncultivated eastern province of Drenthe, where they could learn to farm. As farmers, they would then be able to provide for themselves and to produce a surplus that could be sold to finance the expansion of the colony. Those who were too old or otherwise incapable of farming could produce other items for sale. The colonists would be supervised to ensure that they would learn to live a "decent" life.

The colony started out as a project on a voluntary basis. Poor people were attracted with the promise of a better life. However, it soon became apparent that living in the colonies was hard work and many could not bare the strict rules of "decency". Soon, the new, penal colonies of Veenhuizen and Ommerschans were added to the "free" colonies of Frederiksoord, Willemsoord, Wilhelminaoord and Boschoord. Colonists that broke colony rules ( by drinking, gambling, fornication, desertion or insolence) were locked up there along with beggars and vagabonds.

In 1859, the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid became a State institution. Over time, the free colonies became regular towns that still exist today. Ommerschans was closed in 1890, but Veenhuizen is still a prison today. Nowadays, the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid has a very different role, operating a National Park in the same location and a small museum dedicated to life in the colonies.

Suggestions to dig further:

Museum De Kolonie
www.dekoloniehof.nl (original Dutch version)
www.dekoloniehof.nl (English translation by Google)

Drenlias inmate archives
www.drenlias.nl (original Dutch version)
www.drenlias.nl (English translation by Google)

Prison Museum Veenhuizen
www.gevangenismuseum.nl (original Dutch version)
www.gevangenismuseum.nl (English translation by Google)