Hendrik Pieter Scholte was born in 1805 in Amsterdam during the time of Napoleon. His family was part of a colony of German sugar industrialists who had settled in Amsterdam many years before. Hendrik’s grandfather was an Amsterdam sugar refiner and his father was involved manufacturing boxes for the sugar refiners.
As a young man, Hendrik studied art in Amsterdam. He also served as an apprentice in his father’s box factory. During this time Hendrik experienced a sad series of deaths. His father died late in 1821 (when Hendrik was 16), his grandfather in 1822, his mother and his brother in 1827. At the age of 23, he became the sole survivor of his family, the inheritor of great wealth, a business, and a house.
Although he had worked in his father’s factory, the business did not interest him, so he sold the family business and studied theology, philosophy, and political subjects at the University of Leiden. After graduation, he became an ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church.
Scholte married Sara Maria Brandt, daughter of a wealthy Amsterdam sugar refiner, only a month after finishing his ministerial training at Leyden in 1832. The young dominie (reverend) and his wife began their successful ministry in Noord Brabant. Later in their marriage, they moved to the city of Utrecht.
Five daughter were born to Hendrik and Sara Maria. Only three - Sara, Maria and Johanna - survived infancy.
The young mother died a year-and-a-half after the birth of Johanna and was buried in Utrecht only days before her 38th birthday.
Scholte figured prominently among a small group of Calvinist clergy who broke away from the Hervormde Kerk as part of a spiritual awakening that culminated in the Afscheiding (Secession) of 1834. The Seceders' initial efforts to gain recognition for their free church movement met stiff state opposition. Scholte's civil disobedience earned him fines and court costs totaling $3,200 as well as an 18-month prison sentence in 1834, although he was soon released on bond. As official persecution gave way to reluctant tolerance, Scholte was able to forge the "Christian Seceded Church" from his Utrecht congregation in 1838, but thereafter Seceders continued to struggle under social ostracism, economic boycotts, and job discrimination.
After much deliberation, Scholte concluded In the spring of 1846 that emigration from the Netherlands to the United States offered Seceders the only meaningful chance for religious liberty and economic opportunity. The group did considerable planning and firmly established Iowa as their destination. They also decided to name their “City of Refuge” Pella.
Scholte married Mareah Kranz in 1846. Shortly after the birth and death of their first son, Dominie Scholte, Mareah, his three daughters, and de kolonie emigrated to America in 1847. Scholte and his family traveled in style on the steamship Calidonia, reaching Boston after a 13 day journey. Their 900 fellow immigrants travelled on four much slower, less comfortable sailing ships that took about 2 months to cross the ocean, reaching Baltimore in late May and early June 1847.
The entire group then traveled by road, railway, and riverboat to St. Louis, where they settled temporarily. Led by Scholte, the leaders traveled to northwest Iowa, where they purchased 18,000 acres of farm land for $1.25 per acre and contracted to have log cabins built on this land for the settlers. The majority of the group, about 600, arrived to settle Pella, Iowa, on August 26, 1847, and found that, not surprisingly, the log cabins had not been built. They built temporary shelters by digging depressions in the soil and building temporary walls and roofs from whatever material they could find, often using sod. The remainder of the group arrived in spring of 1848. The immigrants lost about 150 members between leaving the Netherlands and finally reaching Pella.
Scholte and Sara had eight children, but only three - Henry, David, and Dora - survived infancy.
Scholte provided leadership in the colony's early years. He not only was the pastor of its nondenominational Calvinist congregtion, but also served as the overall leader of the colony. Scholte laid out a plat of the town, chose names for the streets and avenues, and built a “make-do” church. He took care of legal affairs and started a lime and brick kiln as well as a sawmill. Scholte opened a bank and established a newspaper. He became the postmaster, the notary, and the land agent. In addition, he served on the college board, was a school inspector, and became active in local and national politics, even attending the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.
First and foremost, Scholte was a dynamic preacher. He continued to preach in his little white church until his death in August 1868, days shy of his sixty-third birthday.