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Ziemia Łęczycka is a historical region bordering Mazowsze, Kujawy, Wielkopolska, and Ziemia Sieradzka. The Olęders also settled in this region.

The first Dutch (Olęder) villages in Ziemia Łęczycka were not established until the end of the 1770s. At that time, the main areas colonized by the Dutch settlers were located along Poland's principal rivers, the Wisła and Warta, where the skills of draining periodically flooded areas were the most desirable. However, in time, starting in the second half of the 18th century, the settlers began to arrive in areas that required draining or (some) thicket or tree clearing of the land. Such areas, which were previously economically undeveloped, were also present in the Ziemia Łęczycka region.

The majority of Dutch settlements in this area were founded between 1779 and 1793, i.e. between the first and second partition of Poland.

The villages founded under Dutch law, which were established later (after freehold had been granted), were of a different character. However, it must be acknowledged that residents of these new tenement villages, which were founded as Dutch settlements after the third partition, frequently came from among settlers living in the "old" Olęder villages.

During the later period, when the region was under Prussian rule (1795-1806), the government of the annexed territory favored Frederician colonization; nonetheless, the impact of both of these trends was quite insignificant.

The remaining undeveloped areas were colonized during the Kingdom of Poland period as a result of a decree issued by the authorities in 1816. At that time, the idea of settling German colonists chiefly from the Poznań region, Silesia, and Germany in undeveloped areas became very popular, especially among owners of private estates that were destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars[1].

The most important reason for bringing the Olęders into the region was the economic system that they represented, i.e. the tenant system, which was inseparably associated with these settlers and was spread by them. In Ziemia Łęczycka, the only way to introduce pecuniary rent at the time was by founding new villages. Therefore, the Dutch colonists were highly desirable[2], the more so because this legal arrangement also seemed to work well in the neighboring regions, mainly in Mazowsze and Wielkopolska, where hundreds of villages had been founded on the Dutch law. The landowners that settled the colonists were primarily motivated by the prospect of profit. By entering into contract with the Olęders, they were guaranteed that after a few years of wolnizna (rent-free period) their income would be increased by the rent collected in cash from the previously undeveloped or newly-cleared land. After all, new tenant farms were established and developed at the cost of wasteland acreage, which, at the same time, enlarged the area of ploughland.

Additionally, the introduction of Olęders was due to their widely recognized and appreciated skills and assets, such as modern farming methods, the high profitability resulting from the size of arable land that they settled (larger plots than those of serfs'), the raising of dairy animals on a large scale (including manufacture of dairy products), and fruit farming[3]. Another aspect was also considered when deciding whether to bring in colonists: the case when the settlers were required by contract to provide additional services, for example draught animals. In this case, landowners acquired a supplementary workforce to use in their own estates, for example, in the manor.

In the Ziemia Łęczycka region, landowners settled Olęders primarily in the northern section, in the vicinity of Grabowo and Dąbie, where the most fertile soils occurred. Farming on these soils contributed to the faster growth of profits of both land agents and especially tenants, who were able to make a decent living and grow wealthy through hard work. They were less willing to settle in other areas of Ziemia Łęczycka because, on one hand, the soils were less fertile, and, on the other hand, they would not have benefited from living among their fellow countryman in areas with existing settlements established under the Dutch law.

Development and cultivation of previously uncultivated areas (wastelands, forests, and thickets) were the most important tasks of the colonists. The characteristic feature of colonization of Ziemia Łęczycka was the link between the economic function that was assigned to Olęders, and the type of estate on which they settled.

In royal estates, more frequently than in church or noble estates, the Olęders were developing areas that had been previously populated, but were abandoned due to wars or natural disasters. The main task in these other estates was to enlarge the area of cultivated land through draining as well as by clearing forests and thickets.

Initially, the settlers' revenue was not very high. The colonists invested substantial effort in terrain development, the erection of buildings, and organizing the household space and the entire acreage. Therefore, necessarily, raising animals became the primary source of their livelihood. This form of farming required the least amount of capital. And also, after the rent-free period expired, animal husbandry (including manufacture of cheese and butter) brought in considerable profit.

Even though this occupation was in practice inseparably linked to this type of colonization, it was sometimes the case that a landowner secured in the contract a requirement that the farmer allocate a section of the land for cattle pasture. On the other hand, the landowners, being aware of the specificity of Dutch farming (a large fraction of animal husbandry), sometimes included the opposite conditions in contracts: the settlers were forbidden from appropriating pastures belonging to neighboring villages, which, according to J. Goldberg[4], was often the case in Ziemia Łęczycka.

The Dutch colonization in Ziemia Łęczycka included primarily the Łęczycki district. The development of settlements and the growth of settlers' populations were not due to expansion of existing villages (arrival of further colonists), but of the founding of new settlements or sections of settlements with different names. As a result, increasingly distant areas were cleared, and, simultaneously, the ploughland acreage of an existing Olęder village was enlarged. This fact had a simple and rational explanation; each colonist needed to possess appropriate land acreage in order for his undertaking to be successful. When this condition was satisfied, the settlers were able to pay rent and increase their wealth.

The Olęder villages in Ziemia Łęczycka share many similarities with those located in Wielkopolska. Due to the specific natural conditions (soils of lower quality than, for example, on the Vistula river), cattle husbandry developed in both regions to a much higher degree than land cultivation and crop production, and precisely this husbandry constituted the basis of the economy. However, full confirmation of this thesis is not possible due to the absence of sufficient sources that would enable historians to thoroughly research crop production and its role in the Olęder economy in this region[5].

The Olęder colonization in Ziemia Łęczycka, as in the other colonized areas, contributed to the enlargement of the acreage of ploughland and pastures. The newcomers developed both wasteland as well as uncultivated and depopulated areas, which resulted from war damage and natural disasters. On the whole, the settlers did not farm on fertile soils, and yet were able to make their farms extremely profitable and modern by focusing their efforts on cattle husbandry.

The considerable acreage of their farms, in comparison to peasants' plots, also contributed to their success. According to settlement contracts, the colonists received between one half and one huba of land allotted for development (1huba - 31 morga). It was found that no less than 40% of farms had acreage of 1 huba, with the remaining farms having a half huba[6].

The central period of Dutch colonization can be summarized by statistical data found in J. Goldberg's article (p. 92-93). In 1789, the Olęders constituted 2% of the Łęczycki district population (they settled in this district in greatest numbers) and amounted to 1088 individuals. On average, each farm was inhabited by 6.3 persons. In 1793, there were 540 farms in all Dutch villages with a total of 3400 residents, which constituted 4.9% of the total number of inhabitants of the Łęczycki province. The greatest number of settlements was founded in 1789 (12 - 3 in royal estates, 1 in a church estate, and 8 in private estates) and in 1790 (14 - 2 in royal estates, 2 in church estates, and 10 in private estates).


[1]J. Lech, Tradycyjny dom chłopski i jego użytkowanie na obszarze środkowej Polski, Kultura wsi Polski środkowej w procesie zmian. Vol. 2, Manuscripts and Materials of the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Łódź, Seria Etnograficzna no. 20, Łódź 1979, p. 17.
[2]J. Goldberg, Osadnictwo olęderskie w dawnym województwie łęczyckim i sieradzkim, Scientific Publications of the Łódź University, set I, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, pub. 5, p. 73.
[3]Ibid. p. 76.
[4]Ibid. p. 81.
[5]Ibid. p. 96.

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