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Warffum, Groningen, Netherlands
Year range
1800 - 1969

Dagloners/Dayworkers on the "HoogeLand"
Image:Locatie Hogeland.png

Around 1800 the couple Eisse Geerts Veldman and Pieterke Hendriks Groendijk and their four children Anje, Geert, Jantje, and Klaas lived in a small working-class house in what is now the Oosterstraat 35 [53°23'30.71" N 6°33'47.83" O] in Warffum. Both Eisse as well as Pieterke worked as day laborers in agriculture.

A day laborer or losarbeider is a person who is paid per day. These workers have no permanent job, but work by job or temporary assignment. Day laborers in agriculture often perform seasonal work.

The cottage of Eisse and Pieterke consisted only of one room. In this one room they cooked, ate, worked and slept. In front of the house there stood a shed, in which people sometimes kept flocks of chickens, a goat and in some cases, when they could afford it, a cow or a pig. It was also used as a storage shed for the harvest. The yield of the piece of land belonging to the house was often essential for a family to survive the unemployed winter months. In 1854 Pieterke died, after her husband died thirty years before. The house, the barn and the plot of land was sold to Jan Gerrits Wierts and Hiske Meints.

In this house "marked number 52b, with the lease of his yard, garden and apple orchard" both spouses raised their two daughters, Elizabeth and Hilje. Like so many inhabitants of this region in the 19th century, Jan, son of a peasant farmer from Breede, and Hiske, coming from Westernieland, were day laborers too. Remarkable for this couple is that not the man, but his wife could write. Deeds were signed by Hiske, while Jan put a cross. From a population of 40,000 people at the Hoogeland, on average more than half was directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. In the first half of the 19th century the number of agricultural workers grew by 50%. From March to November day-workers migrated from the villages to the farms. On each farm there were sometimes thirty day laborers at work. During busy periods, many women and children also migrated and worked on the land. They were often put in torque labor. This meant that they were lent by group via a "sub-contractor" to a farmer. Women and children typically earned less than men, although the work was at least equally heavy. Jan and Hiske's youngest daughter Elizabeth died already at the age of 10 in 1862. Less than ten years later Hiske herself died. Jan and daughter Hilje stayed and lived together in the little house. In 1874 Hilje married Evert Venhuizen.

With his mother, Jantje Tammes Stijfhoorn, Evert moves in with his wife and his father-in-law. Hilje and Evert's first child, Jan, was born in 1875 but died two years later. In the following year [1879] Jannette is born and six years later, in 1885, Jantje. In 1881, Evert and Hilje buy the cottage next to their father-in-law, but they don't move here. They rent it to have extra income. From a document of a bailiff we learn that father Jan Wierts also rented a part of his own house to the gardener Schelto Brouwer and his wife Martje. It seems illogical that this is the one-room house, in which Jan himself with his daughter, son-in-law, his mother and his granddaughters live. But perhaps the cottage was once a double house and Jan bought this part to rent. Like the previous owners of the house Evert and Hilje also worked as day laborers. As a day laborer you usually earned a little more than a permanent farm worker or farmhand. In contrast, a day-laborer didn't receive any benefits, such as free lodging at the farm or the use of a worker's house near the farm at a low rent, daily meals, leftover wool from sheep, straw and grass from the water-banks, free milk or milk at a discounted price, leftover "ears" and a small piece of land where they could grow some potatoes for their own use. And obviously a day laborer had not always the guarantee that there was work. During the winter months it was so hard to earn something. Laborers tried at that time to earn something by working on flax [1] or crushing boulders. But mostly the women made sure that a family survived the winter. They performed for a small fee home labor such as spinning, knitting, weaving, sewing or mending clothes. They also often washed the clothes of the more well-off families. But often these earnings were not enough. In order to survive the winter they lived from the pickled and dried food which was grown in their own gardens. For milk, butter and cheese they depended on the 'laborers-cow' or the goat. For dairying they used pottery bowls and a churn, often a wooden barrel or Cologne pot with a wooden stick churn dasherThe vegetables and fruits from the garden were briefly cooked in pans hanging from an adjustable damper pull in the chimney. The food was then preserved and stored in glass jars. Legumes were dried on burlap sacks or strung on wires. If someone had their own pig, it was slaughtered for the winter. Sausages and hams were smoked and hung on racks in the attic. When winter was over, they were usually relieved to work, because they were once again assured of an income and the winter stock was gone.


The permanent workers of the farmer usually worked as a foreman for the day laborers. They decided what work had to be done on land. As a day laborer you barely came in the yard of the farmer, for the permanent workers were charged with the care and use of animals and took care of the agricultural machinery and tools. So the driving of cattle and the handling of the harrow and plow was, therefore, exclusively assigned to these workers. Day laborers were asked to plant, sow, weed, mow, cut and dig. Also the digging and dredging of ditches and laying of drains was often done by laborers. During busy times day workers were not paid at time rates, but in performance pay, so the more beets or potatoes dug or more ears the greater the earnings. The pressure on the laborers and the mutual competition was, therefore, particularly great. In high season male laborers often took their wives and kids with them, if they had not already worked in couple work. Women and children earned hardly anything, but their production was added to that of the man, so the household income was increased. Typical female jobs were planting young plants, 'houken' the careful weeding between plants, finding stones (so that they didn't end up in agricultural machines) and the 'bikken' (binding and lofts of sheaves). And of course she looked after the household, the children, the private garden and she milked the goat. Children often assisted in weeding or were looking for leftover ears, potatoes or beets. Also often older girls of the family looked after their younger siblings. The working days of the day laborers were long. In high summer it began at the crack of dawn at 4 or 5 AM. Around noon, they had a half hour break, after which they walked home to eat there or if it was too far away at one usually brought food on the land. After lunch they worked on until about 6 or 7 pm on.

Late 19th century better economic times seemed to break for the couple Venhuizen. In 1888 they bought the home of their father-in-law and in 1896, the barn in front was demolished and replaced by a new, larger front house with several rooms. The old house then became the barn. After mother Venhuizen already had passed away in 1881 and father Jan Wierts in 1902, Evert and Hilje's daughter Jannette dies in 1905. She never married and was still living at home, as well as her sister Jantje. Evert died in 1911. Jantje works as a 'laborer' and in 1907 she was employed in Usquert. In 1920 she returned to Warffum and her mother. After the death of Hilje in 1937, Jantje led a very secluded life. Because she was hardly seen and lived very economically, soon rumors circulated in Warffum that Jantje not dared to leave the house because she feared that all of her savings would be stolen. In 1969, Jantje dies at the age of 84. It took a few days before her body was discovered. Under the headline "Unsociable woman would have been rich" is reported in the newspaper for the Eemsmond that "In the bitterly cold days before the turn of the last year, she died in solitude. For several days the baker had noticed not a sign of life at the cottage. The suspicion arose that there could be something going on. Police were also warned and after the back door was broken open in the presence of some distant relatives, they found the 84-year-old woman lying dead in her bed, wrapped in rags. Within her range only brand new gowns and other still-priced garments. "

When the house is eventually purchased by the Open Air Museum Hoogeland, villagers there pointed out to employees, that under the floor itself there must be a great treasure. A treasure, however, is never found, but the mystery of the 'richest resident of Warffum' lives on in the stories. In honor of her, Jantje Venhuizen, the last occupant, poor worker in life, at death 'wealthy' wife, the museum building was therefore called 'Venhoes'. The museum part of the house is the barn that was once the one-room dwelling. This has been restored to its original early 19th century condition. The interior gives visitors a good picture of how day laborers lived in the Groningen countryside.