April 1907 was a busy
time for officials at Ellis Island. During this historic month of American
immigration, the Port of New York received 197 ships and more than a
quarter-million passengers from around the world. Most of these arrivals were
immigrants intent on establishing a new life in America.
The busiest day ever recorded at the Ellis Island Immigrant Processing Station
was April 17, 1907.
On that day, officials processed 11,747 arrivals — a typical day saw just
While most immigrant family stories include sacrifice and hardship, few compare
with the journey endured by the Natte family of Ermelo, province of Gelderland,
Holland. Evert Jan Natte and his wife Cato had arrived at Ellis Island in March
1907, but would become temporary residents of the island for the entire month
of April 1907, finally departing for Minnesota on Friday, May 3rd.
family journey to America began on February 23, 1907 as their ship, the S.S.
Potsdam, departed Rotterdam for America. Parents Evert Jan Natte and Cato, both
in their 30s, were traveling with their eight surviving children – one infant
son had died the previous year. The two boys and six girls traveling with their
parents ranged in age from 12 to 3. Sons Willem and Barend were the eldest and
After just a few days at sea, 8 year old daughter Marie fell ill and died of
diphtheria two days later. To prevent risk to the more than 2,000 passengers on
board, the parents were forced to bury their daughter at sea. Sadly, a second
daughter, 6 year old Klazina, was also infected, died, and buried at sea within
days of her sister.
Upon their arrival in New York harbor, officials decided it was in the best
interest of the many immigrants being housed at Ellis Island to send the Natte
children to St. Mary’s Hospital in nearby Hoboken, New Jersey. The children
were separated from their parents – the mother was pregnant and due to give
birth. The parents appear on a “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry” and
noted as a “Likely Public Charge”, citing the specific cause of detention as
“PGT” or pregnant.
Notes on the original manifest, record of special inquiry, and two entries in
the New York Times allow us to further piece together the events as they likely
While the children were in St. Mary’s Hospital, Hoboken, the father was with
his wife as she gave birth to their tenth child. Fearing deportation, the
father asked for and was able to obtain a personal meeting with Port Commission
Robert Watchorn. The Commissioner granted permission for Mr. Natte to meet with
a Lutheran Pastor (Pastor Deering of the Lutheran Immigrants Home) so their
child could be baptized. At the request of Mr. Natte, the Commissioner also
agreed to serve as Godfather and the child was therefore given the name Robert
Careful examination of the documents from 1907 seem to indicate the parents
were held on Ellis Island for more than 45 days (possibly as many as 57 days),
ultimately leaving New York by train for Minnesota on Friday, May 3, 1907. The
Holland America line would later be required to reimburse the U.S. government
for the 279 meals (92 breakfasts, 95 dinners, and 92 suppers) provided during
the Natte’s detention on Ellis Island.
The couple would eventually settle in Minnesota and have five more children.
Sadly, Robert Ellis Natte would die as an infant before the family appeared in
their first U.S. Federal Census in 1910. The census schedule notes that Mrs.
Natte had given birth to 12 children, with just 7 still living. Three children
would be born after the 1910 census was taken.
The Natte children who were passengers on board the S.S. Potsdam in 1907 are no
longer surviving. Conversations with a daughter of then 4 year old Cato recall
details of the loss suffered by this family. Today, there are more than 100
direct descendants that share a common tie through the sacrifice of Evert Jan
& Cato Natte and their 1907 voyage. A special thanks to their
granddaughter, Marion Bernice (Reitsma) Bose — daughter of Cato Natte and
Fred Reitsma — for sharing her family photos and memories of her
Evert Jan & Cato Natte with children
Willem, Grace, Minnie, and Maria
Nine of the fifteen Natte children as adults living in the Midwest.