Chapter 7

“the Smallest Fishing Village of Europe”

In looking at the Vogelzang family, one would be remiss not to include the hamlet of Laaxum, or in Frisian Laeksum. It is the smallest fishing village in Europe with the smallest fishing Europe. Yet in spite of its size, Laaxum has a remarkable history, which includes the Vogelzang family

The village is located on the south west corner of Gaasterland on the edge of the Zuiderzee. It dates back to at least 1200 A.D. and possibly longer. Near it, in the 1800’s a “hunnebed” –a megalithic grave- was found and excavated. The reason for its long history is that Laaxum is a part of the “Westergo” (See page 23) and sits on a sand ridge deposited during the last ice age. The name of the hamlet seems to mean “home of Laek”.In Dutch the ending “sum” comes from the old Dutch word “heem”, “heim in German, “home” in English. When added to another word the “heem” gets modified to “sum” (E.g the Dutch towns of Bussum and Hilversum) or “kum” (e.g the towns of Dokkum, and Blarikum)

Landing of Willem IV near Laaksum.

The above map shows the high area on which Laaksum was located and the two nearby lakes- Northern Lake and Southern Lake. The monolith was near Warns.

You will recall that in 1345 the Dutch Count Willem IV attempted to conquer Friesland. He assembled a sizable fleet off the Town of Enkhuizen on the West side of the Zuiderzee. Crossed it and ended up near Laaxum. Off the coast of Laaxum is a sandbar-the Mokkebank-.Willem IV’s vessels got stuck on it several hundred yards from terra firma. Because he could not get his vessels afloat again, he decided to disembark, leaving his horses on board, however, wearing his armour. Once ashore near Laaxum, he found that the hamlet was abandoned and burned the empty homes. He then proceeded to Warns, which also had been abandoned and the same process repeated itself- he burned the homes

Frisian Peasant Soldier in the 16th century as pictured by Cornelis Kempius’ in De origine Phrisonum.

Warns is a hike of about 2.5 km. Being dressed in their armour, and without their horses, the walk tired out Willem IV and his entourage. Hence when the local farmers attacked them near Warns, they were soundly beaten and clubbed to death. A monument to the battle stands just outside Laaksum (Roode Klif.- Red Cliff) Each year on September 26, a memorial gathering of the battle is still held at the monument. The wording on it in Frisian says “Leaver dea as sleaf”- Better to be dead than slave.

Foto van Wikipedia  Rode Klif.- Red Cliff.

We also referred to the friction between the Schieringers and Vetkopers. This reached its summit on June 10, 1498 when Albrecht of Saxony, who tried to pacify Friesland after having become its ruler, amassed an army near Laaxum to beat the Schieringers once and for all. His opponents were the local Frisian farmer/soldiers. They were, however, no match for Albrecht’s well trained and well armed German army. The reason for this was not so much because the Frisian could or would not fight, but more so because they lacked the leadership to drill them in putting up an organized battle. They acted as a disorganized mob, reasonably well armed with a sword, clubs, field tools- such as forks and threshing utensils- and spears, and thus got licked once and for all. The result was the end of the Frisian “state” as such.

The connection with Laaxum and the Vogelzangs dates back to 1808 when Harmen Jans- later called Vogelzang built a fishermen’s home in Laaxum. He had moved to Laaxum and become a fisherman.

Construction of the home was started by a carpenter from Melkwerum. However, he died while in the construction process and the job was finished by Harmen Jans. He was fairly handy. However, like many of his name sakes, not the most skilled builder. As a result, many of the walls etc. are out of square.

Vogelzang home in Laaxum in the 1930’s.

The home is still standing and is shown as house 2 and 3 on the following diagram of Laaksum in the 1920’s.The villagers were all Protestants in those days, but for the catholic Vogelzangs who attended church in Mirns- a 2.5 km walk from Laaxum.

Occupants of the Laaxum homes in the 1920’s.

1. Yke and Marie Visser
2. Johannes Vogelzang
3. Auke Vogelzang
4. Wiele and Anne Visser
5. Douwe and Siementje de Vries
6. Jan and Neeltje Visser
7. Hylkje De Vries (single)
8. Teake and Siebeltje de Vries
9. Otte and Tetje Heyes
10. Oanne and Geske Bakker
11. Wietze and Martje Boersma
12. Wabe and Akke Visser
13. Setse and Baukje Visser
14. Oanne and Geertje Visser
15. Jan Visser
16. Popke and Griet Visser
17. Harmen and Trijntje Visser
18. Trijntje Visser

Laaxum has the distinction of being the smallest fishing harbour in Europe. It had a relatively large fishing fleet of about 18 vessels, prior to the building of the “Afsluitdijk”- the sea dike closing off the Zuiderzee from the North Sea. At that time the sea fish such as herring, sole etc were caught. At present there are only three fishing families left who catch eel, and anchovy.

Laaxum harbour in 1927 showing some of the fishing boats.

Painting hanging in the Laaxum Vogelzang house, of same.

The Vogelzang house has been partially restored to its original state by its new owners.. On the village plan it shows that two families lived in the “Vogelzang” house and hence the plan shows house #2 and # 3. Since its erection, house # 2 was occupied by the following:

View of the Laaxum Vogelzang house-2004.

Harmen Jans d.o.b. 20 09, 1767, who died in Laaxum Jan 10, 1830 and his wife Geeske Jans Krol and their 11 children. He was fisherman by trade, and built the Vogelzang house in Laaxum.

The oldest son was Jan Harmens born around 26 9 1796, died in Laaxum 11 04 1862 and his wife Neeltje Aukes Sonsma and their 5 children. He also was fisherman by trade.
Their oldest son, Harmen Jans (Johannes) Vogelzang, was born in Laaxum 19 05 1834 where he died on 17 07 1872. His wife was Trijntje Liewes van der Veen. He also was fisherman. They had 4 children

Their oldest son was Johannes Harmens Vogelzang was born in Laaxum 22 02 1864 and he died there 22 05 1924. He was married to Marijke Fimmes de Vries. They had 9 children. He also was a fisherman. He was called “Greate Jehonnus”- the big Johannes. He was a tall man, well over six feet and had curly reddish hair. Some people called him the “mayor” of Laaxum. He was the only Catholic in the hamlet in a period of time where friction between Catholics and Protestants was not uncommon.

He came by that name by the fact that once a year the fishermen living along the Zuiderzee coast from Laaxum to Stavoren had to bid for the coastal fishing rights from the Provincial Government. The rights, thus bought would allow the successful bidder to place his nets in certain spots along the coast. For a while one of the Protestants in the village looked after this and he would then sublet certain areas to his fellow fishermen from the village. Since some spots were better “fishing holes” then others, the subletting was not always done in the most honest way and Johannes felt that he and his boys were not treated fairly.

As a result, one year he went to the governing authorities and placed a bit for all of the fishing rights along the whole coast, and at a price considerably higher than the regular bidders. He thus ended up with owning the rights and his fellow fishermen had to come begging to him to be let in on his deal. He agreed to do so, but because he was a man of integrity he subdivided the rights in an honourable way, to the satisfaction of most. As a result he was from then on delegated to negotiate the rights and divide them equitably among the locals.

Auke Vogelzang.
May 6 1896-Jan 23, 1977

Harmen Vogelzang jr.
Sep 19, 1892-Nov 6 1953

Marijke de Vries.
Apr 24, 1868-Apr 19, 1953

Bachelor daughter and sons of Greate Jehonnes.

Akke Vogelzang.
Dec 27, 1907-Nov 3 1996

Jozef Vogelzang.
Mar 23, 1906-Sep 7, 1969

Frank Vogelzang.
Nov 10, 1901-Dec 28,1987

Birth Certificate of Pieter Vogelzang #487 4th son of Greate Johannes.

Dutch text: In het jaar Een duizend acht honderd acht en negentig, den veertienden der maand Februarie is voor ons Ambtenaar van de Burgelijke Stand der Gemeente Hemelumer Oldephaert and Noordwolde, Provincie Friesland, gecompareerd: Johannes Vogelzang our drie en dertig jaren van beroep vischer wonende to Scharle welke ons verklaarde, dat op den twaalfden dag der maand Februari dezes jars, des middags ten twaalf ure, te Scharl een kind van het mannelijke geslacht is geboren uit zijn echtgenote Marijke de Vries, zonder beroep inogelijks te Scharl woonachtig aan welk kind hij verklaarde de voornaam to geven van Pieter.
Deze verklaring is geschied in tegenwoordigheid van Inne de Vos out vijf en dertig jaar, van beroep veldwachter wonende te Koudum en van Klaas Visser oud twee en dertig jaar van beroep schipper wondende to Koudum.
Waarvan wij deze acte hebben opgemaakt, die na voorlezing is getekend door ons, den comparant en de getuigen
J H Vogelzang, K Visser; G H Tromp; I de Vos

He had eight sons, most of whom were unmarried. A good number of the locals were young fishermen with young families. In those days there was no workers compensation or other government plans to help if one got sick or injured. Hence when his fishermen neighbours got sick or could not find affordable help, Johannes would tell one of his sons to go and help them out. A noble gesture, but one not always appreciated by the sons, as the helping was to be done “pro Deo” or free of charge.

He was a man with a social conscience. To convert his fish into cash, he would peddle them in the nearby towns. The story goes that he sold some flat fish to the local doctor for one guilder and to the cleaning lady of the doctor for fifty cents. The doctor approached hem and asked why he charged him a guilder and his cleaning lady only half. His reply was that he had sold the doctor the best species of his flat fish and the cleaning lady the ones of a lower quality. Besides, the doctor could afford to pay more. Hence he was entitled to do so.

If by the end of the day he had fish left over, he would clean them and give them away to widows, or folk with big families and who were not too well of.

The oldest son- a fisherman –Harmen Johannes Vogelzang was unmarried. He was born in Laaxum 19 09 1892.and died in Groningen of a brain tumor on Nov 6, 1953. His brother Fimme, initially also was a fisherman but with the building of the “afsluitdijk” became policeman in Amsterdam, lived in the house. He was married to Antje Willems de Vries. When he went to Amsterdam the house was turned over to his bachelor fisherman brother Auke. When in Amsterdam he got kidney disease and was put on disability. He then returned to Laaxum and with his fishermen brothers took up fishing again.

Back view of the Laaxum Vogelzang house – 2004.

In House #3 lived Auke Johannes Vogelzang born in Laaxum 17 10, 1845, and his wife Froukje de Vries. He and his oldest brother Harmen Jans Vogelzang owned a fishing boat together. It was probably the HL2. (HL identifies boats from Laaxum) He had 9 children. His oldest son (a twin) Johannes Aukes Vogelzang died within 16 days of birth. Hence the next son got the same name.-Johannes Aukes-Vogelzang. He was born 2 11 1876 and died in Laaxum on 2 12 1921. He also was a fisherman and a bachelor, as well as a hot head.

The Hang in Laaxum.

After the building of the “afsluitdijk” the fish caught were auctioned off at the local “auction hall” called the “Hang”. The auctioning was carried on till the operation moved to the nearby larger fishing town of Stavoren. Hang stands for the place where fish were strung on strings and smoked

Prior to the closing off of the Zuiderzee, the Hang was used to salt and smoke herring-(bokking) a way of preserving the fish. The stone building is still standing just off the harbour, though it is no longer used for anything but storage.

The “Hang” in Laaxum, 2004.

Additional view of rear of Laaxum Vogelzang house.

Laaxum Vogelzang house in 2010- available as vacation cottage.

Laaxum Vogelzang house, winter 2010 (picture by Peter de Jong)

Original fire place in Laaxum Vogelzang house, 2010.

One may wonder why the Vogelzangs suddenly became fishermen in Laaxum. The reason for this is that during most of the reign of Napoleon, 1795 – 1814, the British fleet under Admiral Nelson, enforced a blockade of the North Sea ports. It was an effort to cripple the economy of the French Empire. As a result the fishing ports along the North Sea were pretty much out of commission and the fishermen were unable to catch, let alone market, their livelihood. Because at that time the Zuiderzee was still open water, and because it was rich with herring, anchovy, and similar fish, the fishermen located along the Zuiderzee prospered. Fish was scarce and thus the price of it soared. Hence it was logical for the Vogelzangs to tie in to this prosperity by purchasing a fishing boat and earning enough money to build the Laaxum Vogelzang house.

In her book “Land en Mens van Gaast en Klif” the author, Mrs L. Post Beuckens, makes mention that a Harmen Jans from Laaxum, obviously our ancestor, regularly bartered with the French occupiers and supplied a good deal of food for their kitchens. He, as well as many of his neighbours, were not at all pleased to see the French beaten and cease their occupation of the Netherlands as supplying them helped him to make a living.

Unfortunately, once Napoleon was defeated and the blockade lifted, an over supply of fish resulted, dropping their price and making the life of a fisherman anything but prosperous. Many could hardly make a living and look after their families, including the Laaxum Vogelzangs.

The following are typical figures as they apply to a fisherman in those days. They are based on the fact that fishing for herring and anchovy is done for about 20 weeks of the year. The remainder of the time would be spent in miscellaneous work activities, such as subsistence farming.

  • References: and
    Land en Mens van Gaast en Klif, by L Post-Beuckens.
    Gaasterland, Eeuwenoud Land tussen Mar an Klif- Friese Press and Boekerij.