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Norwegian-American Emigration Societies of the Forties and Fifties
    By Albert O. Barton (Volume III: Page 23)

Interesting in view of the later rise of the Bygdelags {1} in the Northwest was the formation in Chicago in the forties and fifties of organizations by the emigrants from the district of Moss in Norway. {2} Although the objects of the earlier Chicago group were not primarily the same as those of the present Bygdelags, the organizations had one result in common, the bringing about of a closer social contact among their members. The original Chicago organization designated itself a correspondence society, the purpose of which was to exchange letters with relatives and friends in Moss and to correct what its members considered erroneous statements and remove false impressions concerning America and the status of the transplanted Norwegian emigrants. Out of this organization, it might be said, grew a later one known as the Moss Emigration Society, the chief object of which was to aid prospective Moss emigrants to come to America.

As early as 1836 Norwegian emigrants had settled in Chicago. This was but eleven years after the arrival of the sloop "Restaurationen," from the coming of which Norwegian emigration to America is generally dated.

Rasmus B. Anderson cites Chicago as the third center of Norwegian settlement in America, with that at Kendall, New York, in 1825, as first, and that at Fox River, Illinois, in 1834, as second. Halstein Torrison of Fjeldsberg and Johan Larson of Kobbervig, who settled in Chicago in 1836, are given by him as the first Norwegian settlers there. {3} However, a sailor, David Johnson, is credited with having come there in 1834. {4} Also it is claimed that Nils Knutson Røte and his wife, said to have been the first emigrants from Voss, settled in Chicago in 1836. {5} Their coming was significant, for within a year or two there was a considerable colony of Vossings in Chicago, which soon exercised no little influence in all Norwegian circles there. As Chicago was the gateway to the Northwest, all streams of the earlier immigration flowed through it to the various settlements and thus came in contact with the Chicago group. Among these Vossings were a number of good and industrious letter-writers, who sent many well-written letters to relatives in the old homeland, letters which not only stimulated emigration but sought to correct many erroneous impressions then current in Norway concerning America and American conditions. It was this early activity on their part that led to the so-called correspondence society of 1848. Even earlier, however, this group was to play a significant part in the emigration movement.

Taking alarm at the proportions which emigration was assuming in the later thirties, the authorities in Norway made energetic efforts to discourage it and succeeded so far as almost to bring about its practical suspension by 1840. Everywhere there was agitation against it. In 1837 Bishop Jacob Neumann of Bergen issued a pastoral letter to the peasants of the diocese of Bergen painting in dark colors the hazards of emigration. {6} Ministers preached from the pulpit against it and public officials imposed difficulties and sometimes coercive measures upon prospective emigrants. More influential perhaps than these agencies, however, were the so-called "America letters" and other writings, sent home by dissatisfied emigrants in America, such as the pamphlet by Peter Testman, published in Stavanger in 1839, and a letter by Sjur Jørgenson Lokrheim from the Fox River settlement. {7} Such writings were not infrequently printed in the Norwegian newspapers or brought out in pamphlet form.

It was then that the Chicago Vossings, roused to action, made their first notable move to counteract these letters. News of the Lokrheim letter had come to Chicago through correspondents in Voss, and in the fall of 1840 Anders Flage sent home a stirring letter to Voss in the name of all the Vossings of Chicago, branding as false many of the statements in the letters of discontent and setting forth the true condition of affairs among the immigrants, together with much general information of value. {8} Knut A. Rene, a later historian, says of this letter: {9}

Knowledge of these letters soon came to the Vossings in America. Lars Nesheim {10} and Steffa Sonve had sent word to them and it was these letters which led Anders Flage to write his remarkable letter to Voss in the fall of 1840 as a message from all the Vossings in Chicago and signed by four of them. Flage denounces many things in the letters as pure falsehoods and deplores their tone. Instead of fourteen or fifteen of the Voss immigrants of 1839 having died, as reported, there were but six, whom he names, three being children and three adults. He describes the prevailing maladies and tells of his own experiences, which had been severe enough, but says his condition is now improved. The price of land is given. It may be noted what he says of the land, that "while, probably the best land in Illinois has been taken, those desiring land are now going to a state called Wisconsin, which lies northwest of Illinois. It is said the land is better there than in Illinois and cheaper in price." It is also stated in the letter that Nils Gilderhus of Koshkonong has just been in Chicago and also Elling Sundve {11} has returned from his Wisconsin tour. Flage tells of the labor situation and wages and what should and should not be taken on the trip to America. Then follows an account of nearly all the emigrated Vossings and of many other things. His letter is an historical document of the greatest value.

The Flage letter and others had a wholesome effect upon the people, and in the forties emigration to America was resumed on a large scale from many parts of Norway. Then came the Løvenskjold report, which led to the next notable step by the Vossings of Chicago, now a large, compact, and prosperous colony. In 1847 Adam Løvenskjold, diplomatic representative at Washington of the Swedish-Norwegian government, was directed to make a survey of the Norwegian settlements and write a report on them. He went to Milwaukee, visited various settlements, and on his return to New York prepared his report to the government, which was later published. {12} It does not appear that he visited Chicago. This report was generally regarded as an argument against emigration and was criticised by many leading Norwegians in this country as unfair and unreliable.

The Vossing group in Chicago decided not to let this document go unchallenged, and in 1848 they organized a correspondence society with the special objects in view of giving systematic enlightenment to the Norwegian people concerning the status of their emigrated countrymen and of refuting false assertions and correcting wrong impressions regarding America and the Norwegian immigrants. It was decided to send a letter to Voss each month and, if possible, to secure replies to such letters.

After some preliminary meetings an organization was formed, a constitution adopted, and officers elected whose chief duty was to carry out the correspondence program. Active in the organization were such men as Anders Nilsen Braekke, Ivar Larson Boe, {13} and Endre Nielsen Testdal. Anders Nilsen Braekke was elected ordfører (literally spokesman, or president), and Testdal secretary. The original secretary's book, which fortunately has been preserved, contains the constitution and copies of the letters sent to Norway. {14} The constitution is incorporated in the first letter, which follows, in part:

To our dear Fatherland and old Norwegian Friends:

Since many erroneous impressions exist in our fatherland concerning the political as well as the religious situation in America, particularly as relating to the emigrated Norwegians, and in order that these may be dispelled through correct advices from the immigrants here, which can be brought about only through a systematic correspondence, we have agreed and decided as follows:


That to attain the end sought we form ourselves into a Correspondence Society of Chicago, Ill., for the mutual purpose of meeting the costs which will ensue upon writing to Norway, and, possibly, of obtaining correspondence therefrom.


The officers of the society shall be a president, a vice president, a secretary, and an assistant secretary, who together shall constitute an executive committee. It shall be the duty of the president to preside at meetings of the society and in his absence the vice president shall do so. The secretary and the assistant secretary shall keep a careful record of the meetings of the society, its correspondence and business, and publish such matter as the society may determine. It shall be the duty of the executive committee to appoint each month a qualified man to write to Norway upon such matters as the society may order. No such writings shall be sent without the approval of the committee, the members of which shall subscribe to them in the name of the society.


The society shall hold a meeting each month and oftener if necessary for the transaction of its business. It shall also be the duty of the executive committee to report at such meetings on any correspondence received from Norway, and so forth.


Anyone having anything that might contribute to the objects of the society should give it to the executive committee, and if it appears to be of value it shall be forwarded, but if not so considered it shall not be sent in the name of the society. All proceedings must have the approval of the society.

In accordance with the above articles we would request that the organist and the deacon David Larson Lemme and Lars Nielsen Nesheim be so kind as to receive our letters and make them known to our relatives and others who might wish a correct understanding and also to make provision for correspondence to be sent us each month setting forth the political, ecclesiastical, industrial and trade situations, together with such other information as might be of interest to us.

In the event that David Larson Lemme and Lars Nielsen Nesheim are so situated that they cannot undertake to make public our correspondence they will do us a great service if they will secure some other qualified man to undertake this, as we believe there are many who would find satisfaction in doing so, particularly since we will pay the postage on letters both sent and received.

Several paragraphs follow, in one of which it is stated that there are about one hundred Norwegian families in Chicago, their total numbers about six hundred and fifty. Then follow these paragraphs:

In our next letter we shall seek to give an account of the report made by Consul General Adam Løvenskjold to the department, dated October 15, 1847, of his visit during the past summer to the Norwegian settlements in the western provinces of the North American states, to point out the many and great faults it reveals on the part of the author, possibly because of his lack of knowledge of the true condition of the Norwegians, or possibly because he has permitted himself to be led to give such untrue and distorted impressions.

* * *

A change in the postal regulations has been made by which a European can now prepay postage on all letters he may wish to send to his old home, which is a change greatly appreciated by us, as we hope now to be able to correspond with our old and dear Norwegian friends.

The letter is dated Chicago, September 30, 1848, and is signed by Anders Nilsen Braekke, Ivar Larson Boe, Endre Nilsen Testdal and Ole Thormodsen Gjerdager.

Eight letters, or "articles," of considerable length were sent to Norway, although it does not appear in the records of the society that any letters were received from Norway in return.

The second letter, dated Chicago, November 1, 1848, is an extended and caustic criticism of the report of Consul General Adam Løvenskjold on his visit to the Norwegian settlements in the West in 1847. In part, it says at the opening:

Neither time nor space will permit us to enter upon a full discussion as to the merits of Mr. Løvenskjold's observations concerning the Norwegians. Yet we cannot forego remarking that these errors show plainly enough how very difficult it is for one, either here or in Norway, to put himself in the common man's place and give an accurate and reliable report on such a short visit as Mr. Løtvenskjold made last year to the Norwegian settlements. For all that, we would cherish the hope that Mr. Løvenskjold would not wish to portray America in false colors. Nevertheless, we ask our friends in particular, and the Norwegian public in general, to remember that Mr. Løvenskjold is the Norwegian government's servant, and, as such, in order to win favor and distinctions he must carry out its purposes.

And that is nothing strange. Every friend of the common people in Norway has for a long time been distressed to witness how the Norwegian government has sought, both directly and indirectly, to frighten the working class away from America and thus hinder emigration, well knowing that by taking such a haughty stand the few could retain their servitors and thus insure to themselves unbounded ease and power. However, we hope the time is not far distant when everyone, be he high or low, will take the truth as neighbor. Mr. Løvenskjold is plainly misinformed as to the Norwegians in America, which may be partly because his informants were themselves ignorant and partly because he visited only a few of the Norwegian settlements.

Instead of a population of 12,000, as Mr. Løvenskjold claims, it is clear that the Norwegians in the United States number from 25,000 to 30,000, since it is reported, following the census of last winter, that Wisconsin alone has 15,000 Norwegians. And as to Illinois, we shall simply mention Chicago, which Mr. Løvenskjold did not include in his count. After careful investigation we find that the Norwegians here in Chicago have a population of from 600 to 700 and enjoy a general prosperity. Yes, we have the greatest cause to be thankful, since many among us who, on their arrival, did not own their own clothes are now in comparatively independent circumstances -- yes, even have several hundreds of dollars out at interest. And this has not been brought about by any chance stroke of fortune, but as a result of industry and economy.

The third letter (or "article," so-called) dated December 1, 1848, is interesting because it is devoted to a discussion of the financial status or rating of many of the leading Vossings of Chicago at the time and thereby shows the modest beginnings of some later fortunes in the rising western metropolis. {15}

A few paragraphs may be quoted:

We will first speak of Anders Nilson Braekke, who on his coming to Chicago had no more than a few dollars -- barely enough for two months' support for himself and his wife -- and who now has a considerable piece of ground, with a fine house on it and several hundred dollars at interest. He was this year elected street commissioner for a portion of the city known as the "north division." He is a church warden in the Biscopali [Episcopal] church.

Ivar Larson Boe has also acquired a considerable amount of real estate in the city and a fine home. Besides, he and his brother are half owners of a sailing vessel which he and another Norwegian bought for eighteen hundred dollars, and he is also employed at the postoffice and has now a wage of twenty-five dollars a month.

Knut Larson Boe is also in possession of real estate in the city, with a very good house on it. For two years he has been a farmer at Koshkonong, in Wisconsin, where he found a good farm which he has now sold for one thousand dollars. Since he returned here he has had from four to six offices to care for, make beds for the office tenants, build fires in stoves, and so forth, for which he has had from two to four dollars a month from each office. Besides he has been employed this summer at a soda water station. A sort of sharp drink is made there which is a good quencher of thirst, and for this he had twelve dollars a month.

Bryngel Halderson Løne is employed at the Sherman House and has fifteen dollars a month wages. However, he has decided to quit this employment in a short time to attend an academy and learn book-keeping.

Anders Flage has bought some land which he has improved and upon which he raises many kinds of fruit which he sells in town for a high price. On this he also has his house. He also has some land farther out in the state on which there is no house. We are sure that if he wished to sell his property he could get two thousand dollars. Thus has God blessed his industry and frugality since his coming here.

Ole Boe has also bought a small piece of ground and has also built a large fine house. For his house and lot he has been offered $800. His employment has been varied. This summer he cut hay on the prairies and sold it, receiving $1.25 to $1.50 a ton -- two thousand pounds, which he easily cut in a day. Now he is working in a turn shop and receives $12 a month. Sometimes he has sawed and split wood. For sawing and splitting wood a man gets $.75 a cord. A cord is eight feet long and four feet high and the sticks four feet long.

Claus Skjeldalen was this summer with Lars Istad at Quinong, but has now gone to Michigan, one hundred miles from here. His work is to cut timber, for which he receives eighteen dollars a month, board and lodging . . . .Anders Anfinsen Prestgaarden has gone to New Orleans.

On December 1 Anders Braekke sent one of our Norwegian newspapers to Nils Ygre and paid the postage on the same. {16} We wish you would inform us when it arrived and if there was any expense with it. If there is no further cost Anders Braekke and others will send other newspapers if desired. We believe from what we have learned of American laws there will be no further charges after we have paid here.

The fourth letter, dated January 1, 1849, discusses the political equality prevailing in America and also tells briefly of the gold rush to California. On the subject of freedom and equality it says, in part:

Here it is not asked, what or who was your father, but the question is, what are you? . . . Freedom is here an element which is drawn in, as it were, with mother milk, and seems as essential to every citizen of the United States as the air he breathes. It is part of his life, which cannot be compromised nor surrendered, and which is cherished and defended as life itself. It is a national attribute, common to all. Herein lies the secret of the equality everywhere seen. It is an American political creed to be one people. This elevates the lowly and brings down the great .... It would be far from our purpose to rouse a spirit of discontent, but as American citizens who have tasted the joys of being free of the yoke which tyrants ever bear with them, and having in common with you the Norwegian temper, love of liberty, and warmth of heart, we would say to you who dwell amid Norway's mountains: Show yourselves worthy sons of the north. Stand as a man for your liberties. Let freedom and equality be your demands, truth and the right your reliance, and the God of justice will give you victory.

Letter number five, dated February 1, 1849, discusses the religious situation in America and gives statistics on the various denominations and sects. In a postscript to the letter Anders N. Braekke, one of the three signers, tells of the birth of a daughter and that she has been baptized Marthe Lovisa Andrews, thus indicating that already the Norwegians there had begun to Americanize their names, another instance being that of his coworker Ivar Larson, who changed his name to Lawson.

The letter also tells of the excitement prevailing over the gold rush to California. That Ivar Larson was keeping in touch with the events of the day and was an admirer of General John C. Fremont, the California "pathfinder," is indicated in the fact that later he named his son, born September 9, 1850, Victor Fremont Lawson. {17}

Letter number six continues a discussion of church matters, and the seventh letter deals with the "Scandinavian Lutheran Church of Chicago." It sets forth that at a meeting of Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes held at Bethel chapel, Chicago, on February 14, 1848, the "Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chicago, Illinois," was organized under the forms and rules of the Franckean Evangelical Lutheran Synod of New York, with Ole Anderson as chairman and Pau1 Anderson, later pastor, as secretary.

That much zeal for this organization was kindled is indicated in the following paragraph from the letter:

We believe it would be not without interest to you to know how we are occupied on Sundays. At 9 o'clock in the morning we have Sunday school in the English language, to which all who wish may come. This continues until 10:30, when public church services are held, which concludes the religious exercises of the forenoon. At 2:30 in the afternoon we have preaching again and sometimes at 7 in the evening also, and every other Sunday afternoon we have services in the English language. We also have weekly meetings, such as prayer meetings, which are held every Thursday evening, while every Friday evening we have singing school.

The eighth and concluding letter, which is dated May 1, 1849, makes strong complaint because no replies have been received from Norway to letters sent by the organization. Some of the Chicago Norwegians, it says, believe the people of Norway think the emigrants unworthy of notice, while others think letters may have been sent, but have been lost or are lying unclaimed in postoffices. The communication states that in 1848 between four thousand and five thousand letters were sent to Norway by immigrants in America, while only one hundred to one hundred and fifty were received in reply.

The letter continues, in part:

We hope, dear countrymen, that you will not infer from the above that we bewail the day that we left our dear fatherland. No; do not misunderstand us; for we recall with gladness the day that we left the chill cliffs of Norway, and praise the Lord whose wisdom guided us so that our lot has been to dwell in a land where liberty and freedom prevail, for here we can enjoy all the privileges to which men are rightfully entitled.

A little of everything . . . . In this city Mr. Ogden has opened a factory where are made cradling machines [reapers] to cradle [reap] crops of grain. {18} In this factory 135 men work daily and receive from one dollar to one dollar and a half a day. The company aims to make eight complete machines a day and the price of each is one hundred and twenty-five dollars. With one of these, fifteen acres of grain can be cradled in a day. They are driven with horses around the fields and the machines cut the wheat and collect it into large bundles which they then throw off. To bind and shock these requires four men and these have no time for looking around if they bind and stack all that a machine cuts.

The eighth letter was apparently the last one written and sent out by the organization. In the original record book of the society an open space is left for "Artikel 9," with the simple notation: "Chicago, October 2, 1849. To Stephen Larson Boe, Knut Ivarson Glimme and Claus Knutson Skjeldal." It may be remarked that these three members of the society were on a visit to Voss in the fall of 1849 and the winter of 1849-50 and that a formal letter to home friends was therefore thought unnecessary. The fact that no replies had been received to previous letters has been given as a partial reason for their visit to the old home. Their Visit was so fruitful of results that it is said that about eight hundred emigrants left for America with them the following spring or in the course of the summer of 1850. This probably was also the reason for the correspondence society's ceasing its activities. Its Main purpose had been accomplished and a strong tide of Norwegian emigration had set in. {19}

In the spring of 1856 two of the most substantial Vossings of Chicago, Ivar Larson Boe (Lawson) and Anders Nilson Braekke, went on a visit to Voss. They had become well-to-do in Chicago and in them were exemplified the fruits of opportunity in America. Naturally they discovered many of their countrymen who were desirous of coming to America, but lacked the means for so doing. On their return to Chicago in the fall they were instrumental in organizing another society, somewhat similar to the earlier one, the object of which was to provide funds to aid worthy emigrants from Voss.

The records and activities of this later society as herewith set forth are gleaned chiefly from the files of Wossingen, a small monthly newspaper started at Leland, Illinois, near the close of the year 1857, which became a sort of organ for the Chicago organization. Fortunately a practically complete file of this paper as published in the United States is in existence and from it a fair idea of the activities of the Chicago society may be obtained. {20}

The society was organized on October 23, 1850, and was named "Det Vossiske Emigrationsselskab," the Vossing Emigration Society. A constitution was adopted on November 13 and on November 17 the following officers were elected: Ivar Larson Boe, president; Anders B. Johnson (Lassehaug), vice president; Anders Larson Flage, treasurer; Endre Nielsen Testdal, secretary. In addition an executive committee was elected consisting of Anders Nilsen Braekke, John Anundson Hoefte and Rognald Haldorson Løne. {21}

The constitution as adopted follows:

Constitution of the Voss Parish Emigration Society

1. The object of this society is to collect funds through free subscriptions to be used simply and only to help needy and worthy families to America, and whoever subscribes to this fund under this constitution shall be regarded as a member of this society.

2. The officers of the society shall be a president, a vice president, a treasurer, and a secretary, who with the other three elected officers shall form the executive committee of the society and who shall hold their positions for one year, or until their successors are elected and qualified.

3. This committee shall appoint a sub-committee of nine of the most reliable men in Voss, though whom the aforesaid collected funds shall be loaned to such persons only as this committee recommends and considers worthy, and in the meantime the society will hold the executive committee responsible to itself. The committee in Norway shall be responsible to the executive committee in its transactions with it. Furthermore, the executive committee shall have full power to prescribe rules under which the sub-committee shall serve, and the conditions which, in its judgment, shall seem necessary for carrying out the purposes of the society.

4. The funds collected shall be loaned, not given, to persons who may wish to emigrate to America, but the aforesaid committee is hereby authorized to make exceptions to this rule at its discretion.

5. The sub-committee in Voss shall, before it advances any of the society's funds, obtain written bonds or notes, executed according to American laws, for the repayment of loans in such time as the executive committee shall determine, and such bonds or notes shall be forwarded to the resident committee, which shall exert all diligence to redeem them.

6. The loans thus repaid to the aforesaid fund shall not be returned to the original contributors, but shall be used again as in the first instance and thus insure a perpetual fund in accordance with the purposes of the society.

7. Annual meetings of the society shall be held for the election of officers and the receiving of reports of each previous year.

8. Officers of the society may be reelected if it shall seem advisable:

9. This constitution may be amended at any annual meeting by two-thirds of the members present.

Ivar Larson Boe, President
Endre N. Testdal, Secretary
Chicago, December 18, 1856

A lengthy appeal signed by Ivar Larson Boe, president, and Endre Testdal, secretary, was issued as of December 18, 1856, and published in the Norwegian newspaper Emigranten. The society aimed to form local branches, or subordinate chapters, and one such was formed in the Jefferson Prairie, Wisconsin, settlement, which sent $106 to the head lodge in 1858, to add to the emigration fund. The officers voted that a third of the funds collected should be sent to Voss and two-thirds be put out at interest. A considerable number of families in Voss were thus aided in coming to America.

An outgrowth of the activities of the society was the appearance in December, 1857, as previously stated, of a small Norwegian newspaper called Wossingen, published at Leland, Illinois, by Nils T. Bakkethun. {22} It was the precursor by a half century of the present day Bygdelag organs in that it was designed to give information concerning the Vossings in this country and in Norway. It also served as an organ for the Chicago society and as a medium for the exchange of letters between Vossings and their relatives in Norway and America. {23} For these reasons, and because only one file of this publication is known to be in existence, a more extended notice of it may be desirable.

In addition to the constitution of the emigration society and other announcements, the first issue gives the names of the Vossings in and about Leland. tells of deaths among Vossings in Norway and of weddings among them in Chicago, and contains similar news items.

The issue of January, 1858, contains a long humorous letter from a Vossing in Wisconsin and a poem on a free press by Wergeland, in which a suppressed press is compared with a suppressed steam kettle. It also contains information about the new Norwegian movement to Kansas.

Issue number 3 gives a list of the Vossings who came to Chicago in 1857, with some amusing comments on individuals and families, together with reports of deaths and marriages in Voss. The slender subscription list of the paper is published, and a serial entitled "A Courtship in Hardanger" is begun, though it is not continued in succeeding numbers of the paper.

The March, 1858, issue states that about a hundred copies of the paper are being sent to Norway, while an advertisement from Emigranten, at Madison, says that C. F. Solberg has become its editor and that it has a circulation of two thousand. One Nils Bakkethun contributes a letter to relatives, saying that conditions are not so favorable at Leland as in Wisconsin; that the land at Leland is flat as the ocean, but swampy, and the air heavier than in Wisconsin. To this the editor replies, saying Illinois is as good as Wisconsin for a home.

The issue of April, 1858, tells of the arrival in Voss of Ivar Larson Boe, president of the emigration society, who has gone there to aid in the emigration of Vossings. It also tells of the arrival of a ship with five hundred Norwegians bound for Kansas.

Issue number 6 urges its readers to write to relatives through the paper. It states that the postage on twelve copies of the paper would be only eighteen Norwegian skillings, while the postage on a single letter would be from sixty to seventy skillings.

The issue of June, 1858, also contains more than a dozen letters, about an equal number being contributed from each side of the ocean. The letters from the homeland were usually written by the parish minister for the members of his flock to their relatives in this country. {24} A typical letter follows:

To Claus Anundsen Skjeldal and Lars Nielsen Gjernes: We hereby extend our thanks to you for the latest letter and greeting we have received from you. May the Lord strengthen you to bear the loss of a dear sister, sister-in-law, and beloved wife. We have sent you a letter this winter which we hope you have received. Will say that we, with our families, and parents, are well, and hope to see in the paper "Wossingen" that you are also well. With kind greetings.

Ole Knudsen Skjeldalen and Rognald Rognaldsen Nestaas
Skjeldalen, the 15th April, 1858

The issue of July, 1858, gives the number of Vossings in Chicago as about two hundred. In this number are included by name twenty-one families, three widowers, four widows, eighteen unmarried young men, and twenty-nine unmarried young women.

Up to this point the paper had appeared as a small three-column single sheet, but the issue of October, 1858, appears as a four-column, four-page paper about twice the size of previous issues. This issue makes the interesting announcement that Nikol L. Nikolson was to open an evening school for newcomers in the Methodist Episcopal Church at Leland for a course of two evenings a week, from six to nine o'clock, for ten weeks. The charge was to be a dollar and a half for the course, plus twenty-five cents for light. The ambitious curriculum as set forth included the following subjects: orthography, grammar, geography, astronomy, natural philosophy, arithmetic, writing, algebra, language, and song notes. The instruction was to be in English as far as possible. On singing school evenings admission was to be free, and young ladies were especially invited to these meetings. {25}

The perils of ocean navigation at the time are also suggested in this issue in a table showing the loss of nine ships since 1853 and of 2,598 passengers and seamen.

The November, 1858, issue contains the announcement that Marcus Thrane, the Norwegian agitator and labor leader, had been released on the preceding July 15 after several years of imprisonment. This was evidently regarded as "big news," and welcome, as it is set forth in large type with appropriate exclamation points.

The issue dated January, 1860, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, contains the interesting announcement that the paper had been suspended for a time and was now to be published at Milwaukee. No further particulars concerning the removal are given. Then comes an announcement in the March, 1860, issue that the paper would be again suspended in order to give the editor a rest and an opportunity to increase his subscription list.

The last number extant in the file is given as "No. 13, 3d year," and the place and date of publication as "Bakkethun, Voss, Saturday 30, Sept. 1871,'' with the parenthetical statement, "Earlier published two years in America."

Of the further work of the emigration society it may be said that it was continued for some years with no little success.

The Vossing organizations here discussed form an interesting study in their influence upon Norwegian immigrant life, in Chicago particularly, and in their associations with the names of many men who later became prominent, such as Victor Lawson, John Anderson, and Knit Nelson. {26}

Survivors of the period who were active in these organizations or have any distinct recollections of them are now very few. One such is Knud Henderson (Løne) of Cambridge, Wisconsin, now in his ninety-third year and still active in mind and body, who in 1927 again revisited his native Voss from which he emigrated seventy-nine years ago. Mr. Henderson is authority for the statement that the emigration society movement was but one phase of the organized social life among the Chicago Vossings. There were also church and social clubs and a debating society. Many of the activities of these groups were planned, he says, in Sunday afternoon meetings in the kitchens of wealthy Americans where bright Norwegian girls were employed as housemaids. Few Norwegians at the time had houses large enough for such gatherings. In a recent interview he says: {27}

At that time (about 1852) there was quite a colony of Vossings in Chicago. They were the leading element in Norwegian church and political circles. At first, they met in private houses. Then they built a small church on Superior street, the services being conducted by a Mr. Smith, an unordained lay preacher of the Hauge following. This first church blew down soon afterwards and another was built at the corner of Erie and Franklin streets and Rev. Paul Anderson, who came to Chicago from Beloit in 1848, was established as pastor. He had been ordained in the Augustana Synod and was the first Norwegian Lutheran preacher to open a church in Chicago, if we except Elling Eielsen, who preached chiefly in private houses. Eielsen had a sort of log meeting house on the north side before this.

The Vossings were quite active along business, political and social lines until after the Civil War, but gradually church troubles crept in and broke up their organizations. Among their leaders whom I remember were Ivar Lawson, Lewis Newton, Lewis Johnson, Lewis Brown (Lars Brun), Endre Testdal, Nils Ellertson and my two brothers Bryngolf and Rognald. The society raised quite a fund for helping poorer people to come to this country. Mr. Lawson and others made several trips to Norway in aid of this work. Mr. Lawson had been a tailor in Norway. He became quite a business man. At first he was active in church work and sang in the choir, but he left the church as he prospered.

Our social gatherings in those, days were very pleasant. The young people had frequent meetings, particularly during the long Winter evenings. We met in private houses, with occasionally a gathering at some public hall. The more mature men formed a debating society which was quite a feature of our life. A large room had been fitted up in the steeple of the church over the entrance and back of the organ and gallery and here weekly meetings were held. A great deal of eloquence was heard at these meetings from such men as Lawson and others.

About 1853, I think, we had a visit from Ole Bull, then at the height of his fame. We entertained him in Paul Anderson's church and gave him a banquet in the market hall on the north side. This building had a sort of city market below and a hall upstairs. Lawson acted as manager at the banquet and I was the hat boy. I sat opposite Ole Bull at the banquet and as I had once driven him on a trip through Voss he took quite an interest in me, asking me many questions about my life and plans. He spoke at both the church and the banquet, but I remember I did not think him half as interesting a speaker as a player.

Political upheavals and the gradual coming on of the Civil War brought new concerns to all citizens and changed conditions generally, with the result that the emigration society Ceased its activities. The purposes of such an organization had already been achieved, however. A deep and broadening stream of Norwegian immigration had continued to flow into the country in the fifties and assistance from American sources was scarcely necessary any longer. The Vossing element itself had begun to spread over much of the domain of the Northwest. Immigrant colonies were founded in Iowa, Minnesota, Dakota Territory, and many other states and territories. An important work had been done that was to influence sensibly the pioneer community life of the time and to lend strength and color to the story of the transplanted nationality.

<1> Bygdelags, or district leagues, are organizations for social and cultural purposes among emigrants or their descendants from the various Bygds or districts of Norway.

<2> Voss is a long and narrow inland district in south central Norway, near and slightly northeast of Bergen.

<3> Rasmus B. Anderson, First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration, 194 (Madison, 1896).

<4> Hjalmar R. Holand, De norske Settlementers Historie, 100 (Ephraim, Wisconsin, 1908).

<5> Vossingen, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 1-12 (December, 1924). This magazine, which is the organ of Vosselaget, is published at Madison, Wisconsin.

<6> Bishop Jacob Neumann's Word of Admonition to the Peasants, translated and edited by Gunnar J. Malmin, in Norwegian-American Historical Association, STUDIES AND RECORDS, 1: 95-109 (Minneapolis, 1926).

<7> Peter Testman, Kort Beskrivelse over de vigtigste Erfaringer under et Ophold i Nord-America og paa flere dermed forbundne Reiser, translated and edited by Theodore C. Blegen, as volume 2 of the Norwegian-American Historical Association's Travel and Description Series (Northfield, Minnesota, 1927). Testman is said to have died and been buried at Winneconne, Wisconsin. See Sonner av Norge, March, 1928. Lokrheim was probably identical with Haaeim, whose "Information on Conditions in North America" is published in this volume of STUDIES AND RECORDS.

<8> Vossingen, vol. 4, no. 3, p. 4-11 (1922).

<9> Vossingen, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 6 (December, 1924).

<10> Lars Nelsen Nesheim, born in 1792, was a bachelor farmer in Voss, given to literary pursuits, the collection of folklore and ballads, the dissemination of America-letters, and so forth. He acted as correspondent from Voss for the Chicago Vossing group and ardently upheld the side of emigration and the emigrants, although he never came to America himself. He died at a great age at Lemme, in Voss. See I. D. Hustvedt, "Nogle Erindringer om Lars Nelsen Nesheim," in Vosstingen, vol 6, no. 1, p. l0-16 (April, 1924).

<11> Elling Eielsen Sundve was a noted pioneer lay preacher and Haugian, who came to America in 1839.

<12> Report by Consul General Adam Løvenskjold to the Norwegian government, October 15, 1847, on Norwegian settlements in the United States, translated by Knut Gjerset as "An Account of the Norwegian Settlers in North America," in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 8: 77-88 (September, 1924).

<13> Ivar Larson Boe, one of the leading Vossings in Chicago, came to America in 1844. He became wealthy in real estate and early adopted the name of Lawson. He was a member of the city council of Chicago and of the Illinois legislature. He was also one of the founders of the Republican Party. His son, Victor Lawson, became the publisher of the Chicago Daily News. In 1866, with John Anderson, Ivar Lawson founded Skandinaven, with his wife's uncle Knut Langland as editor. He lost about $50,000 in the Chicago fire of 1871 and died the following year. It was on his motion as alderman that Lincoln Park was so named in 1866.

<14> The hand-written secretary's book containing part of the minutes of the Vossing Correspondence Society and copies of the letters written in 1848 and 1849 is now In the possession of Knut A. Rene of Madison, Wisconsin, historian of the Vossing society (Vosselaget), who obtained this precious document from Edward Williams of Chicago. Mr. Williams is a son of Knut Erickson Rjodo (Williams), who served as a lieutenant in the Civil War. See Vossingen vol. 4, no. 3, p. 27 (1922).

<15> The original of this third letter, sent to Norway eighty years ago, recently came into the possession of Knut A. Rene of Madison, Wisconsin.

<16> The newspaper referred to is presumably Nordlyset, founded in the Muskego settlement in 1847 by Even Heg and James D. Reymert.

<17> Victor F. Lawson was educated at Phillips Andover and Harvard. With Melville E. Stone, he became publisher of the Chicago Daily News and founder of the Associated Press. In 1880 he married Jessie Bradley of a prominent Chicago family, who died in 1914. Victor F. Lawson died on August 1, 1925, and left, besides his newspaper properties, bequests of over $2,000,000.

<18> William B. Ogden, an early day capitalist and mayor of Chicago, died on August 3, 1877. He adopted Pauline yon Schneidau, daughter of "Count" von Schneidau, one of the aristocratic Swedish settlers at Pine Lake, Wisconsin, in the forties. This adopted daughter later married Eugene Jerome, a member of a prominent New York family. Von Schneidau also served for a time as Swedish-Norwegian vice consul in Chicago.

<19> Vossintgen, vol. 6, no. 4, P. 10 (December, 1924).

<20> A practically complete file of Wossingen is in the possession of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The American numbers of the file had been taken to Norway by its editor, Nils Bakkethun. On his death, this file, with other effects, was sent to his old friend Lars Pederson Rogne in Chicago. On Rogne's death it passed to Nils Anderson Kvale (Raundalen), a brother-in-law, and from him to Knud Henderson of Cambridge, Wisconsin, then historian of the Vossing Society. In 1919 Mr. Henderson presented the file to the author of the present article, who deposited it with the Wisconsin Historical Society. See Vossingen, vol. 4 no. 3, P. 25 (1922).

<21> Rognald Haldorson Løne came to Chicago in 1844. He was an elder brother of Knud Henderson of Cambridge, Wisconsin.

<22> Nils T. Bakkethun, publisher of Wossingen, became a compositor in the office of Emigranten, at Madison, Wisconsin, after the Civil War. In 1869 he went to Norway and on June 13, 187x, began republication of Wossingen, at Voss, having purchased an old press at Bergen. Twenty-three numbers of the paper were published In 1871 and In 1872 it was issued as a weekly, but In the spring of 1873 Bakkethun sold the paper to O. L. Kindem and returned to Chicago to resume his work as a compositor. See Vossingen, vol. 9, no. 2-3, p. 44

<23> Albert O. Barton, The Beginnings of the Norwegian Press in America," in Wisconsin Historical Society, Proceedings, 1916, p. 186-212.

<24> Barton in Wisconsin Historical Society, Proceedings, 1916.

<25> In October, 1855, the Eielsen Synod opened a school at Lisbon, Illinois, known as the Lisbon Seminary. Bjorn Holland, still living at Hollandale, Wisconsin, was one of three pupils first enrolled. See Olaf M. Norlie, History of the Norwegian People in America. 218 (Minneapolis, 1925).

<26> Knut Anderson Saude, -- later known as John Anderson, -- who, with Ivar Lawson, founded Scandinaven in 1866, came with his parents to Chicago in 1845. He was then nine years old. Two other sons died on the trip to America. A daughter was afterwards born in Chicago. In Norway Knut Anderson had been a playmate of Knud Henderson, now living at Cambridge, Wisconsin, as also of Knute Nelson (Kvilekval), later United States senator, who was born in Voss in 1843 and who came to Chicago with his mother in 1849. John Anderson's father, Anders Knutson Saude, died of cholera in 1849, was a success as a newspaper from its beginning. Early in 1866 Marcus Thrane had started a paper, Den Norske Amerikaner, in Chicago, but it was soon absorbed by Skandinaven. John Anderson died on February 24, 1910.

<27> Wisconsin State Journal, June 29, 1924.

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