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Settlement characteristics in Poland

While defining the Dutch settlement, it is important to point out that it was defined not only by the ethnic origin of the colonists and the natural environment of the land cultivation, but also by Dutch law. The law, which came with the first Dutch land drainers, was respected by both parties signing the settlement agreements. It was a variant of the Chełmiński and German laws.[1]

The colonists were always settled either along rivers, or in lowland and marshy and often forested areas. That is why they were obligated to clear forests, in addition to draining of wetlands. The settlers were able to handle both tasks very well.

The colonists were settled based on contracts that were signed between the landowner and the entire community, or its representative acting on the community's behalf. This situation was different from settling under the German law, according to which the settler was acting on his own behalf as a future superior entity in the community's hierarchy. The contracts were signed with settlers treated as free individuals, at the beginning for a dozen or so, or several dozen years, and later, the most common duration of a contract was forty years. The contract reserved the lessee's priority to extend the contract. Before the partition of Poland, the contracts for the royal land lease were subject to the king's approval. Dutch settlers, or their descendants, had the right to renew the contract; however, in such an instance the tenant could expect a rent increase. In the later period (17th - 18th century), the contracts were perpetual. For a certain fee, a settler was able to acquire the perpetual right to the leased land. If the landowner decided to replace the tenants, he was required to pay compensation to the former tenant for the erected buildings. However, if the settler intended to move to a different area he was able to hand over the right to the leased land to a successor. The farm was usually inherited by a descendant, who was appointed in advance by a settler (frequently the eldest son). In the case of the settler's heirless death, the estate was transferred to the deceased's siblings or more distant relatives. If the deceased had no relatives, the estate was inherited in half by the manor and in half by the community.

The initial period (so called "wolnizna") following the colonists arrival was rent-free for 5 - 7 years. During this time, the colonists were required to erect dwelling houses, clear the land (riverfront scrub, bushes) and develop the drainage system.

The entire village was responsible for fulfillment of contract obligations towards the landlord. This solidarity, which mainly consisted of a joint rent payment, was either clearly stated in the contract or was assumed. As a result of the equal status of all members of the village community in relation to the landlord, all settlers had equal rights in the community's internal relations, which created a strong sense of community.

A well-developed system of administrative laws (so called Wilkierz) related to self-government was a manifestation of this type of relations. As a result, the residents of a Dutch village had more impact on the community administration than the colonists settled under the German or Chełminski law. The sołtys (village leader) was elected for a period of 2 years, and his power was limited. OsadĽca (land-owner's agent, who later would become a hereditary village leader) similarly was deprived of benefits to which he was entitled to on account of his function.

The village leadership was not hereditary, neither was it associated with any tax advantages. The sołtys was responsible for contacts between the community and the landowner. This function was associated with certain judicial authority (communal courts for settling non-criminal cases), whose scope was usually defined in the Wilkierz.

In practice, all Olęders' obligations towards the landowner came down to rent paid in money; whereas, in villages settled under the German law, the villeins, in addition to minimal payments in labor, were obliged to pay in produce. However, starting in the 18th century, the contracts of the Dutch settlers also included additional obligations, for example: corvée labor, carriage obligation, propination law, milling obligation, fishing ban, and others. The Kazuń settlement was required to "deliver ashes and wood fathoms collected on the leased land to the manor" [2]. The payable rent was proportional to the owned land acreage and the fee was collected once a year from the entire community at once.

Dutchmen, their descendants, and colonists of other nationalities who were settled under this law retained their independence (they were free peasants) even before they were granted the freehold. The settlers held the right to abandon the land even if the contract was still in effect under the condition that they find a successor, the right not to extend the contract after its expiration, and the right to choose an occupation for their children, etc.

The characteristic feature of the Dutch village was the fact that they maintained their own school and teacher and performed their own religious observances. This way they preserved their language, culture, traditions, and religion, in certain isolated communities separated from the entire peasant community. Therefore, these settlers were not Polonized before Poland was partitioned. Later, many of them were Germanized as a result of the internal policy (among others: inflow of German settlers) adopted by the Prussian government during the period of Poland's partition. This process also occurred in villages located in Mazowsze.

The Frisian settlers constituted a dominating group (Saska Kępa, Nowy Kazuń) only in the earliest period. With the passage of time, the settlers were predominantly of German and Polish origin, and later, at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the majority of settlers were of German origin. Arriving from Polish lands under Prussian rule and settling in the Kingdom of Poland, they practically dominated this type of settlement. They continued to be settled under the Dutch law, but differed from the original settlers in their denomination (Evangelical) and origin (German).

Despite the fact that the German element dominated, the religion of the original settlers survived; there still existed Mennonite congregations, for example in Kazuń. Even though their community underwent a periodical decline in the middle of the 19th century (many followers converted to Protestantism because of the old religion's severity), it was reformed and underwent revival, (Mennonite Brethren - a very powerful religious faction - was founded).

The Olęder economy was practically entirely agricultural. It was founded on the growth of grains (barley, oats, and wheat), potatoes, sugar beets (especially in the 19th century) and pure-bred cattle and horse raising[3] . One farmstead usually kept 5-15 cows, whose milk was used to manufacture traditional Dutch cheeses (e.g. Gouda).

In addition to cows, peasants kept pigs, mostly for subsistence, but also for sale (G±bin's town butcheries, which in the 19th century were usually owned by Jews, provided a perfect selling place). Poultry was also raised: 5-11 chickens and 5-7 geese. In suitable places, settlers planted wicker, which was used to make baskets and then sold at the market. Fruit farming was also well developed; the peasants grew a very popular variety of apples, plums, and pears, which were previously unknown in Polish lands.

The Dutch economy was predominantly agricultural; therefore, the majority of village residents were employed in land cultivation and fruit growing. In reality, even this seemingly uniform group could be divided into smaller subgroups. This division was based on the amount of owned land and affluence level (some farmers hired farmhands).

Nonetheless, in every Olęder village, there existed a group of people who made a living not exclusively on farming. Even though the Mennonite doctrine favored the community's self-sufficiency, settlers would occasionally employ specialized craftsmen, especially in the period until the middle of the 18th century, when the Dutch-law villages were inhabited by Dutchmen, Germans, and Poles.

In the 19th century, the Olęder village provided opportunities for smiths, carpenters, woodworkers, potters, cobblers, sawyers, clockmakers, and canvas weavers, whose workshops proved to be a competition for trade guilds thriving in towns. And, of course, one should not forget the usual Olęders' occupation, that is, tasks related to river regulation: dike construction, dam building and maintenance, maintenance of channels and ponds, which were designed to collect rising groundwater. These works also included planting willow and poplar trees, which make up the characteristic landscape of Dutch villages.

[1] S. Inglot, Kolonizacja wewnętrzna a napływ Niemców do Polski od XVI do XVIII w., Kraków 1945, p. 41.
[2] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Main Office of Public Records; hereafter AGAD), Metryka Koronna (Royal Register), 253 I 60.
[3] I. Baranowski, Wsie holenderskie na ziemiach polskich, "Przegl±d Historyczny", vol. 19, 1915, p. 80.

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