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Free Colonies of Benevolence
Two hundred years ago, Johannes van den Bosch founded the Society of Benevolence. The goal of the society is to house poor families, beggars, and vagrants in Colonies. There they will have shelter, go to school, and work the land. This all with the aim that they can became self-sufficient after having spent a number of years in the Colony.
In 1818 Van den Bosch builds his first Colony. It's a test colony that will house 52 families. The Colony is built on and around the existing Westerbeeksloot estate. The former manor house, Huis Westerbeek, becomes the centre of the Society of Benevolence. Following a strict grid pattern, main and side roads are constructed. Colony houses are built along the roads at equal distances. Every house has its own plot of land on which the colonists can grow their own food. Later in the 19th century, larger farmers are added here and in other Colonies of Benevolence to raise the yields.
A New Start
Two months after construction started, on 29 October 1818, the first families arrived. When they get there, they are given sets of clothing containing a blue uniform, shirts, camisoles, clogs, and shoes. Then they are allowed to settle in their new homes. For the colonists, who had been living in terrible circumstances before or who had been homeless, this was a special event. The 310-hectare Colony was called Frederiksoord.
Two Additional Colonies in Drenthe
Between 1820 and 1822, the free Colonies of Wilhelminaoord and Boschoord were built. In terms of layout, Wilhelminaoord is very similar to Frederiksoord, with straight avenues along which Colony houses were constructed in an even pattern. A number of local amenities are also present, including a church, cemetery, basketry, and farms.
The schools in particular stand out. There is primary education for all children, at a time when general compulsory education was still a century away. There are also trade schools for agriculture and forestry, even with international appeal. The agricultural school in Wateren, for instance, was founded with the renowned Swiss educational expert Pestalozzi. Because of its poor soil, Boschoord was already converted into a production forest instead of agricultural land early in the 19th century. The Colonies of Wilhelminaoord and Boschoord, with a total area of 779 hectares, were combined into Colony II in 1825.
The third free Colony founded by the Society of Benevolence was Willemsoord in Overijssel. The 131-hectare Colony was built between 1821 and 1823. There is a crossroads in the centre, from which run straight avenues with ribbon development along them. You can also find large Colony farms there, as well as traces of a Jewish district. Van den Bosch himself was very happy with the open layout of this Colony, as he could observe all the streets from the central square.
In addition to the free Colonies, an Unfree Colonies were built in Veenhuizen and Ommerschans to house orphaned children and beggars.