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Behind the Scenes of Emigration: A Series of Letters from the 1840's
By Johan R. Reiersen;
Translated by Carl O. Paulson and the Verdandi Study Club
Edited by Theodore C. Blegen (Volume XIV: Page 78)

Some years ago, when I was exploring the backgrounds of Norwegian immigration to the United States, I became interested in the career and writings of Johan Reinert Reiersen (1810-64), a Norwegian immigrant leader who published at Christiania in 1844 a comprehensive and influential book entitled (in translation) Pathfinder for Norwegian Emigrants to the United North American States and Texas.

In the 1830's Reiersen was in Copenhagen, where he served as the editor of several short-lived magazines and as a translator of some of the novels of Bulwer-Lytton, George Sand's Valentine, and other books. After his return to Norway he founded and edited a newspaper called Christianssandsposten. It began publication in 1839 and soon stirred up some sharp newspaper controversies as a result of its liberal and vigorous discussions of public questions. Reiersen became known as the most outspoken advocate in Norway of emigration to America. He filled many columns of his newspaper with letters and controversial articles about the United States, which he pictured in a highly favorable light. He coupled his arguments for emigration to America with demands for reform in Norway. He declared that the men and women who emigrated were the most progressive and energetic of the Norwegians. They left their native land, he believed, for fundamental economic and social reasons. {1}

Reiersen favored planned colonization and attempted to put his theories into practice. In 1848, backed by a group of prospective emigrants as guarantors, he went to America on a tour of investigation that gave him a broad view of conditions in the New World. He landed at New Orleans, went north as far as Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, then made his way to Texas, where he met and talked with Sam Houston, and journeyed back by way of Cincinnati and New York.

Upon his return to Norway, Reiersen published his Pathfinder, which reported his findings to his countrymen, and in the spring of 1845 he set out for America again, this time as the leader of a group of immigrants who settled in Texas, founding the first Norwegian settlement in that state. It is indicative of Reiersen's literary interest and his belief in the power of the printed word that before leaving for Texas he founded in Norway a monthly magazine called Norge og Amerika (Norway and America) and that he continued to edit it for a year from far-off Texas. This magazine served as an organ for the publication of stories about conditions in the New World, especially in the Southwest, for immigrant letters, and for controversial articles about emigration. One narrative tells vividly of the journey from Norway to Texas.

It is not my purpose here to trace in further detail the interesting story of Reiersen and his Texas colony, but to tell of a sequel to my earlier studies of Reiersen. Some eight years ago, while attempting to secure a copy of the inscription on the gravestone of Reiersen, I wrote to the postmaster of Prairieville, Texas, and through him learned that a grandson of Johan R. Reiersen was living in Houston, Texas. He was Mr. Roy R. Reiersen, and I promptly wrote to him, inquiring among other things whether or not any diaries, letters, or other papers of his grandfather had been preserved.

Mr. Reiersen informed me that there were some old and faded family papers which no one had been able to decipher or identify. These were mailed by him to his brother, Mr. Charles L. Reiersen of New York City, who presently, after some correspondence, was kind enough to permit me to examine them.

As I had suspected, they turned out to be original documents written by Johan R. Reiersen in the Norwegian script of his time, difficult but by no means impossible to read. These papers had been preserved through the years since Reiersen's death in 1864.

Among the documents was a group of letters written by Reiersen in 1843 and 1844 to a friend, Christian Grøgaard, a sheriff who lived in Lillesand, one of the Norwegians who joined Reiersen in his Texan settlement, a man of good education who was expected to serve the colony as a teacher and minister.

The task of making exact transcripts of the letters was undertaken by Mr. Jacob Hodnefield of St. Paul, and the translations were prepared by Mr. Carl O. Paulson, with some assistance from Professor Einar Haugen of the University of Wisconsin.

These translations are presented herewith -- a group of letters now published for the first time. Five of them were written at Christianssand, Norway, in 1843, before Reiersen set out on his preliminary trip of investigation, and two were written after his return and before the launching of the Texas colonization plan.

The interest of this collection of personal letters is increased by translations of two long travel letters that Reiersen wrote to his friends in Norway during his American journey of investigation. One was written at Iowa City, Iowa, on January 24, 1844, and the other at Cincinnati on March 19 of the same year. They were published in Reiersen's newspaper, Christianssandsposten, for July 1 and 5, 1844, and I had typewritten copies made some years ago from a file of that newspaper in the university library in Oslo. These two letters give interesting details about Reiersen's far-flung investigations in America and help the reader to understand more fully the personal letters that he wrote after his return to Norway. The Verdandi Study Club of Minneapolis, an organization of women interested in matters Norwegian and Norwegian-American, has translated these letters into English.

Reiersen's letters take the reader behind the scenes of early Norwegian migration to America. They reflect faithfully the dominant interests of the immigrant leader who wrote them --emigration, conditions in the New World, the stir of interest among Norwegians, hopes and prospects and plans. Reiersen sometimes writes in a prophetic mood: he believes that "caravans will follow" in his wake. One sees the plans for his trip of investigation unfold. He talks about going to Brazil, Chile, and California, as well as to New York, the Middle West, and the southern states. Brazil in particular interests him as the possible goal of emigrants. He is an admirer of the writings of Washington Irving and plans to visit the American author in New York. He reads everything that he can find in print about the New World, including a book (Diary in America) by Captain Marryat which stirs his enthusiasm for Wisconsin. As he thinks about his forthcoming departure for the West, he says that he feels "like a captive who leaves his narrow prison." The last letter of the series is undated but obviously was written not very long before the departure of Reiersen's emigrant party for America. In it he tells of the preliminaries to departure -- " we are working with might and main to get started," Reiersen announced his plans publicly in January, 1845, and invited emigrants to join his party, which he said would go by way of Havre and New Orleans. The decision to settle in Texas was apparently not made until the immigrants reached New Orleans the next summer and learned there that the United States Congress in the preceding March had passed a resolution providing for the annexation of Texas.

As one comes to the end of the sprightly series, one cannot help wishing that the bundle of unidentified documents so faithfully treasured for two generations by the Reiersens of Texas had also contained a diary by this writer, leader, and prophet of the 1840's. For the letters are of such unusual historical interest and value to students concerned with understanding the backgrounds of the migration to America that they make one wish for the fuller detail of a day-by-day record. In the main the letters tell their own story, and have not felt it necessary to add many explanatory notes. For further information about Reiersen and the events of which he writes, the reader is referred to my Norwegian. Migration to America, 1825-1860, a brief sketch of Reiersen in the Dictionary of American Biography, and a translation of one chapter of his Pathfinder published in volume 1 of the present series of Studies and Records.

I am grateful to Mr. Roy R. Reiersen and Mr. Charles L. Reiersen for their courtesy in giving me access to the documents from the hand of their grandfather, and to Mr. Hodnefield, Mr. Paulson, and Professor Haugen for their aid in transcribing them and turning them into English. And I am indebted also to the Verdandi Study Club of Minneapolis for translating the two newspaper letters which so admirably fill out the story. The titles appearing at the heads of the letters have been supplied by me from phrases used by the author.

T. C. B.

[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]

CHRISTIANSAND, January 30, 1843

My heartiest thanks for the special good will and kindness that you and your good wife showed me during my brief stay in Lillesand. It would be a pleasure for me to repay you in some manner whenever you may visit our great episcopal city. For the conveyance I am likewise most obliged; at 5 o'clock I was at Aabell, by 6:30 o'clock at Kostøl; but there I got into a bad pinch, as another traveler had obtained the horse some minutes before, and it would have been necessary to summon transportation all the way from Bøen in the parish of Cvids [Tveit]. I therefore had to reconcile myself to walking, and with a pair of clampers I boldly strode, into the pitch-darkness of the woods, and, without being attacked by either robbers or wolves, arrived safe at Christiansand about 9 o'clock. The excursion did me good, and I wish that I could take such trips oftener.

I have not yet laid hands on any "Sketches of Life in the Western Hemisphere," transatlantic travelogues, or guidebooks, which I promised your good wife; I venture therefore to send some lighter material, namely "Figaro," which I beg your wife to accept as a little remembrance and a slight token of gratitude. {2} I shall see about securing the promised books, however, and send them at the first opportunity.

Immediately after my return home I received from my brother, who is established as a physican at Holt, an answer to my communication about my intended emigration. He approves of it in every way, and does not doubt that Father and the whole family will be glad to break away. He himself cannot go along immediately for several reasons, "although God knows," he writes, "that I am thoroughly tired of this country where so many masks and specters hover about that one actually becomes afraid of one's own shadow." He wishes first to earn a few hundred dollars and then he will follow us.

From Christiansand I have received an offer for my printing plant, etc.; and until this matter is concluded and I see how much cash I have to spare, I cannot form any definite plan as to whether I shall make a journey of exploration or take my wife and children along at once. My heart will quicken when I set foot on the ship, and I shall feel like a captive who leaves his narrow prison; I therefore long to start and to say good-by to Norway, and I think, yes, I am convinced, that caravans will follow in my wake. If I only had enough money to travel about properly in order to find the best place for a Norwegian colony, I would then visit Brazil, Chile, -- yes even the entire paradise of California. {3} However that may be, I shall no doubt contribute to our knowledge concerning the most suitable place in North America; and the further arrangement of affairs can be considered later.

Have you since talked with the people of Eide parish? I know that you will inform me of all that you may learn of their ideas and intentions. I have not yet received a reply from Gasman {4} and Bakke, but I shall immediately inform you of anything that may come to hand.

Whenever you have time and are disposed to write, then -- pardon my insistence -- send me some of those wartime yarns about Captain Florenæss and Abraham Skalle -- such matters interest everyone -- and likewise some notices of the Jewish question from the Constituent Assembly of 1814 -- this has greater interest for the more educated. I am tired of writing more about municipal affairs -- it is best to let everything take its old course if one cannot give it a new direction. As to the mill at Hamborg Sound -- have you received any further information?

By all means do not become irked at my bold requests, and write to me as soon as possible. As for the rest, may you and yours be commended to God from your

Truly respectful and sincerely devoted

[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]

CHRISTIANSAND, February 10, [1843]

Today you will get only a short, short letter from me, as the necessities of business correspondence kept me up until one o'clock last night. In the next mail I shall gossip a little more with you and amplify matters.

At present I can only thank you for the ardor that you show for my welfare, and the diligence with which you always remember me with a few lines that are a delight after the increased work that now galls me very much. I am always busy with plans for the journey and with conjectures about the real appearance and nature of those tracts of land to which we propose to go, and to which I fervently wish you could accompany me. My wife will under no circumstances remain behind, but I have nevertheless thought over means of reaching the intended goal -- of locating the most suitable place for a Norwegian colony, where we all may gather. The man who is most widely traveled and who is best acquainted with local American conditions is Washington Irving. He is as cultured as he is liberal and kindly, so I shall seek him out first of all, develop my plans in a written prospectus, and obtain his advice and suggestions about how best to shape our course. {5}

I am now awaiting the arrival of a buyer from Christiania to conclude the deal for the printing plant, house and paper, and I expect to get at least some four or five hundred specie dollars for a reserve fund -- no large sum, to be sure, but one which hope will be tolerably sufficient for an active man.

I am grieved to hear of your illness and disappointed that I cannot send the transatlantic books to your wife at this time either. Someone else has borrowed them from the Reading Circle, but I have entered a reservation for them as soon as they return. I am considering another little tour to Lillesand, and I shall inform you about it in advance. It gives me pleasure to carry out your instructions, and you will learn of the result as soon as possible.

Good health to you and luck for your entire family is the wish of
Your truly devoted and respectfully obliged

Thank you for the socks -- I cannot sing: [Now be] quiet, wanderer, and dig in these old socks -- because there is nothing to dig for.
[On the back of the letter is written in another hand: ] Concerning Grøgaard, Reiersen, and America.

[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]

CHRISTIANSAND), March 12, 1843

I am making use of a little time before the mail is distributed to greet you with a few words. Ordinarily I am so busy with the negotiations for the sale of my property that I get little time to correspond con amore. I thank you for your last friendly letter and earnestly beg you to write me some short epistles now and then, even if you should think that I am negligent, for I am now studying all the words about America that I can obtain, and my time thus grows all the more limited. More and more I am coming to the conviction that North America, after all, must become the first place for emigration. Captain Marryat has made me quite enthusiastic about Wisconsin, and has infused me with abhorrence for Illinois as a veritable pesthouse. In the next mail I shall enclose some selections from his Journal. {6} Would that I were over there. I am possessed by a feverish longing to go.

Just think, the people from Setersdal are also on the move. In several parishes most of the farmers have already fully decided to pull out, and they have only been speculating on getting someone to travel for them and to report to them. Besides, they too wanted to buy or charter a ship. One Ole Løvdal, a sheriff from the parish of Bygland, -- a rich codger who has about 15,000 specie dollars -- was here the other day with his son-in-law, and they told of their own and the people's decision. When I assured them that I was definitely going, they were especially pleased and wanted to postpone their departure another year. Besides, they declared themselves willing to contribute toward the defraying of traveling expenses. But how shall we handle this matter? The amount in your previous letter is altogether too large a sum. If I get only the most essential traveling expenses I should never want or demand a farthing for my time and trouble; and 200 specie dollars would be flush, as the bønder say. If an emigration society could be organized the project would easily get going. On many other grounds I believe that it will not only be useful, but also necessary, that my plan, with definite rules, should be laid before the colonization society. All future emigrants would have to and would want to join this society in order to attain that advantage and security which its rules would afford. Think this over -- I have so much to arrange that my head begins to swim. Here in Christiansand one person after another comes out in favor of emigration. They wish only to await my return; meanwhile they are arranging their affairs.

Enclosed are the "Sketches of Life in the Western Hemisphere.'' How life is lived there, how all activities are driven by the lively and restless spirit of the people; as by a powerful machine, are so plainly and vividly presented, and based on such internal standards of truth that one cannot but grow enthusiastic over this land of freedom. Send the book back to me as soon as you and your wife have read it, for I have already had it overtime. English dictionaries are hardly to be had here; I shall [ms. illegible] and then bill you for it. As soon as I can spare a few days I shall have the pleasure of talking with you in Lillesand.

Until then farewell, and greet your good wife from
Your constantly devoted

[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]

CHRISTIANSAND, April 9, 1845

You are almost justified in thinking that I have given up the whole emigration project and have been converted to the only saving belief -- that it is best to starve and die in the fatherland and let America take care of itself. That is not true, however, for never until recently have I yearned with such great longing to escape from the cage. Since I have been so busy breaking my chains, which are forged better than I had supposed, I have not had time to write con amore to anyone. Nevertheless, I now hope to clear up matters somewhat, as a printer has just arrived who will take over everything. The only remaining problem is to procure the cash. At all events, I shall come to Lillesand by steamboat on Friday to stay a few days with you and to confer about our plans. As a preliminary I shall communicate to you something of my thoughts and decisions.

I shall get, as I have told you before, some 400 or 500 specie dollars to spare. This is the entire material foundation for building my future. From this, of course, not much can be clipped off for carrying out any gigantic undertakings. My resolve is thus: either -- or: either to take the whole family with me, choose a place or a position, and work in isolation with all my might to secure my existence; or: if people wish that I should undertake a tour of inspection for mutual benefit, and if they assure me some sort of compensation for my traveling expenses, then to travel alone and in the quickest manner. Although for many reasons I should prefer the latter, nevertheless consideration for my family bids me carry out the first intention if no guarantee can be procured, as such a tour of inspection at my own expense would nearly strip me. If, on the other hand, people believe that it is desirable for the common good to get a clear and comprehensive idea of circumstances and conditions in the New World, and if they offer me a guarantee of 200 or 300 specie dollars, then my plans are already made. I shall go by steamer from England to New York -- then to lower Canada, through Wisconsin to Missouri, where I believe will be the only region in North America where a Norwegian colony could be founded, next, down the Mississippi to New Orleans, whence I shall go by steamer to Rio de Janeiro. There I shall investigate Brazilian conditions, and this done, I shall return by a merchantman to England or Hamburg.

After all my digging and reading of late, I have come to the conclusion that either North America or Brazil may become the goal for emigration. Buenos Aires must be given up because of the bloody disturbances which still continue to harry that country, and the soul-oppressing tyranny which still prevails there. On the other hand, social conditions are more stable in Brazil, and more essentials of civic welfare and security of property are present. Between the United States and Brazil a comparison should be made, the advantages and shortcomings of each should be impartially weighed, and the choice ought to depend upon the result of this comparison.

If I traveled for myself alone, I should be in the greatest dilemma as to which country to choose, and in spite of insufficient information about circumstances in Brazil, I believe I would choose that country. From my studies about this empire I have extracted this much, that one would risk nothing by going there. Vast stretches of land, which in fertility can fully measure up to the best in North America, are available. The government favors, in fact even supports, direct colonization by transferring land, actually whole districts, for nothing, and exempts emigrant ships from all duty. The vegetation and flora are the most profuse on the globe, for all that the heart can desire and luxury covet is here produced by the hand of nature. In spite of the eternal summer, the climate is as fine and wholesome as one can wish, and the heat never oppressive, indeed far less intense than the summer heat on the prairies of North America. German colonies are already flourishing only 80 English miles from Rio, and a town, Novo Freiburgo, is in a marked state of development. While Europeans can never be a match in enterprise, speculating spirit, and industry for the active Yankees, and must always fall behind these natives, the Europeans have a definite advantage over the languid and indolent populace of Brazil. That is why the English, French, and Germans are the chief and dominating tradesmen in Rio as well as in Bahia. Consequently my persuasion already inclines toward Brazil, and only that natural fear, which is always induced by insufficient acquaintance with conditions, maintains a kind of counterbalance in the mind against the inclination of the heart -- and this fear can be removed only by personal investigation.

The question, then, is this: shall I go just for myself, or also travel for others? As I have told you before, I myself cannot take any step in the latter direction, and here people must accommodate me. I have also told you that in my opinion an emigration society should be organized, which, however, you do not seem to approve. So regarding this I shall explain in some detail. If one desires to leave his fatherland and found a new society in a foreign country, then it is important what individuals lay the first foundation. Here the elements should be purified as much as possible so that the settlement in its initial organization does not contain the germs of its dissolution. This purification is the surest guarantee of future prosperity and happiness, and accordingly should not be omitted. I therefore wish that the society be constituted of men who, in the first place, have some means -- several hundred dollars each to spare for a beginning -- and who, in the next place, are known as moral, orderly, industrious, and friendly people. They should be limited at first to a fixed number -- 50 or 100 such men or families [omission in ms.] makes some provisional agreements for helping and supporting each other in case of emergency (although here I refer only to labor) and for working toward the right goal. Each member of the society would have the right to hire reliable laborers according to a contract subscribed to for a certain number of years.

The whole society would buy land in one location, and as large an area as possible. I have thought that each one should have not less than 160 acres, which for a hundred families would comprise around 16,000 acres. The whole society would pay pro rata for the most necessary expenses, as for example a saw, with either man or horsepower to cut lumber for houses, a gristmill etc., and would see to it that they have in their midst various professional men. Everyone able to bear arms should have his rifle and be obliged, whenever necessity commanded, to take his place in the field. Transportation for the whole expedition would be provided at common expense according to a proportionate ratio, and each one who joins the society should be obliged to contribute his equal share for the expenses incurred by the society in searching for or discovering an acceptable place. If we are but 50, then the traveling expenses apportioned to each would be only five or six specie dollars, which would be lessened still more as more joined. I did not contemplate having any public announcement made concerning the founding of the society. Some letters to the most prominent emigrating individuals in the various districts would be sufficient.

Here in Christiansand there are several with means who want to emigrate, and many without means who gladly would whenever they could. The establishment of such an exclusive society certainly could not hinder others from emigrating also. According to my ideas, it should form the nucleus of colonization, and this must be wholesome and healthy so that rotten seed does not get into the whole.


I gossiped so much that I did not have enough space on the previous sheet, so I must finish in a few words on this one. If I should travel for the prospective emigrants, ! believe that I ought to be provided with a kind of power of attorney or warrant from them in order to identify myself when I apply to the governments of the respective states. I consider it necessary, whether in the United States or Brazil, to go directly to the government with a brief presentation of our sentiments and of the probability of an extensive emigration in order to ascertain what the administration would do for a Norwegian colony, and whether it would consent to granting a whole tract of land in such location as we should choose.

In Brazil the government would undoubtedly grasp with both hands at such an offer, and support the young colony with all its might.

But I must break off and put aside all the other ideas that course through my head, until I can have the pleasure of speaking with you on Friday, if no unforeseen hindrances occur. I shall then also take with me some English books. I cannot lay hands on Tom Cringle. {7} In the meantime fare you well, and let formalitles take care of themselves.


[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]


You will receive these lines through Hielm, besides a package from the book dealer Thomasson containing English dictionaries, a conversation book, grammar, and reader. He has recently obtained the dictionary from Copenhagen, and there are two accompanying it, namely Olsen's Danish and an English-German one which I consider preferable to the former, but the choice is left to you. He does not have Marryat's Journal, but he has promised me to let you borrow the copy belonging to the Reading Circle as soon as it comes in, and you may then keep it two or three months as you please. Therefore I think that it is not so necessary to buy the book. So much for my assignments, whose tardy fulfillment you will kindly excuse. Now about myself and the journey.

The book publisher to whom I am to sell the printing plant has now come here after a long unforeseen wait, and I hope to get everything arranged in a fortnight so that I can start out. I believe that it will be most expedient to leave for England -- I can go there free with Mr. Howard's lobster smacks -- and from there to take the Great Western, by which I can get to New York in 11 to 14 days. The season of the year is so advanced that it is important to make all possible haste, as I would like to arrive in America before, or at the same time, that the Norwegian immigrants do. It is a matter, however, of getting Gasman and the foremost leaders to lay down a reasonable and well-considered plan before they settle, since we might then have the basis of a significant colony. Like you, I am apprehensive of the severe Wisconsin and Missouri winters. It seems to me that when one is to change residence and fatherland, one should not choose those which have some of the drawbacks that form contributing causes for the emigration. Every effort should be devoted to finding a place that combines the greatest possible enjoyments with the greatest possible advantages, where the essentials not only for wealth and prosperity but also for happiness and physical well-being are present. This conviction of mine I would earnestly desire to communicate to the emigrants of this year also, so that they could unite toward a goal. Upon arriving at New York it will surely be easy to get some information about the localities to which attention should be directed in founding a new colony, and which states are not to be considered. My favorite author, the noble, capable, and well-informed Washington Irving would herein be able to furnish sterling suggestions. I would have to determine my scheme partly according to these, since I trust I may assume that my sponsors would not object if possibly I should change the plan of the trip in ease I find, cording to fuller information, that it is not right.

Recently I have been amusing myself by reckoning and estimating how one might best and most easily get to California, and [ms. illegible] what hindrances and difficulties would have to be overcome; and if my calculations do not deceive me, I believe that with a definite plan they would not be so great after all. Now you will of course call this a wisp of fancy, and I shan't deny that my mind is forever and ever spinning its webs in my sconce. But all the strands cannot be contained in one letter -- you will soon get some of them in a hoped -- for conversation. Otherwise, how is the sentiment in your vicinity, and what progress does the idea make? Did my last letter bolster the weak in spirit? Has the article about California been read with any interest? By all means do let me have a really long, detailed letter.

My anticipation that the large newspapers would seize upon my trip as emissary has not deceived me. In an article full of such devilish malice that I assume every right-minded person will turn away with disgust, Granskevang has communicated the rumor that I am to travel for the bonder to North America and Brazil. I do not care to discuss the piece, but I shall send you the paper soon and then you yourself may judge whether in your district -- I mean in your neighborhood -- there should be any occasion for action. I shall make a cool and quiet reply very soon.

You shall have the list back next week; I do not have it now, since it is being circulated in U1vøysund by a goldsmith, one Bleising, who is most zealous for the cause. Space permits no more. Therefore, a thousand times farewell until we meet.

Your devoted

[Reiersen Mss.]

Official Message Rate
MR. CHR[ISTIAN] GRØGAARD, Sheriff, Lillesand
CHRISTIANSAND, November 1, 1843

We hereby have the pleasure of informing you pursuant to your order through our commission in Hamburg, the Messrs. George Behre & Co., that we have remitted via London to Mr. John Philippi in New Orleans on September 29:

$149.79 at 3 days sight on C. H. F. Möring in New York. This sum will be at the immediate disposal of Mr. J. R. Reiersen in New Orleans, to whom your letter is forwarded.

This exchange is accounted by us to the amount of 47 specie dollars together with

Postage to London

Commission & Brokerage in Hamburg and here


102 1/2 0/0 specie dollars
Postage to and from Hamburg

specie dollars
which we have debited you.

We thus have 4 specie dollars and 42/due from you.
With regards we remain yours respectfully,
By commission,

[in another hand is added:] Sent 4 specie dollars, 48 and 7/244

[J. R. Reiersen to Friends in Norway, Christianssandsposten, July 1, 1844]

January 24, 1844

For a long time I have wanted to write my friends more fully about my journey. Different circumstances connected with my roving life, however, have prevented me. To my friends especially, and to the Norwegian public in general, I wish to give as detailed a presentation of conditions here as possible, particularly regarding the earlier settlements in America. I also want to emphasize in this report the main results of my observations. At the same time, I wish to give these remarks a stamp of reliability and truth that the combined hue and cry of my enemies will not be able to shake.

After talking with Gasmann and Unonius, as well as with several other intelligent Norsemen who had been here for some time, I found that their opinions coincided with mine on all important points. I decided, therefore, to get their judgment of my comments, which I wrote in a letter to Gasmann, dated Galena, December 12th, 1843. This letter was to be submitted also to Unonius and the opinions of these gentlemen were to be returned to me. Guided by their remarks I planned to present them to my friends in Norway. Uncertain of the place where a letter could surely reach me, I had to ask Mr. Gasmann to send it to my address in New Orleans, where it would await my arrival. {8}

Meanwhile, because it is taking such a long time and I know that my countrymen are so eagerly awaiting my report, I have decided to write my commissioner in New Orleans to ask him to forward immediately, to your address, the letter I mentioned, together with the present one. He will send it by mail to New York. From there it will go by steam packet to Europe. Thus, you will get, I hope, this letter as well as the more complete presentation, without my having seen the comments of Mr. Gasmann and Mr. Unonius.

It is my wish that everything, including this letter, should be published as soon as possible in Christianssandsposten, if my sponsors agree with me on this point. I feel that I must apologize for the fact that my style is not so faultless as I should like it to be. A public inn, however, where a person never can get a private room, but must use a table in the main parlor, where one is constantly disturbed by people coming and going, is not, and never can be, the place for creating a stylistic masterpiece.

In my last letter from St. Louis, Missouri, I informed you that I had been in Ohio and was on my way to Wisconsin. I came by steamer to Galena, a town in northern Illinois, the center of the lead mining district. I left there by stagecoach for Mineral Point in Wisconsin, a new town with about 1,000 inhabitants. I stayed here for several days to secure the necessary information from the land office and then continued my journey to Madison. I stopped to talk with the governor of the territory, General Dory, who showed me all possible courtesy. {9} With the greatest considerateness, he gave me all the information I wanted.

From Madison I traveled about 25 miles west and stopped at Koshkonong Prairie {10} to visit the Norwegian settlements on this and the surrounding prairies within a radius of ten miles. Most of the settlers here arrived last fall. Only a few had been here two or three years and had put up good buildings for themselves. I met a man named Ole Knudtsen, a former sexton from Laurdal's parish, who had been in America for four years. He had arrived penniless but had now earned enough money to buy 160 acres of land and stock for his farm. He is a man of more than ordinary education and he gave me several valuable bits of information. {11}

After a week's stay I traveled on farther by stage through several small new towns to Prairie Village. Here I learned that Gasmann lived about eighteen miles to the northwest. Accompanied by a young Norwegian farmer boy I set out on foot to visit him. On the way I learned that Unonius and several Swedes, as well as a Dane, also lived at that place. I was surprised to learn that the Dane was Judge Fribert, who was very friendly and invited me in to have a cup of coffee.

Mr. Gasmann's house was about a mile away. My nervousness about entering it was fully as great as my surprise had been at meeting Judge Fribert. Rumor at home had reported that Mr. Gasmann, even before his departure, had secretly regretted his decision, and that his wife and children were inconsolable over leaving Norway. Therefore, I was prepared to find disappointment and despondency within his new home, but I was at once reassured. Mr. Gasmann, as well as his wife and the whole family, were in the best of spirits. Far from regretting their decision, they felt satisfied and were happy at having changed countries. He told me in detail his reasons for leaving Norway. These reasons completely agreed with those that had been expressed so often in Christianssandsposten as the opinion of the majority of Norwegian emigrants in similar circumstances.

Mr. Gasmann had put up a temporary log house, a stable, and a barn, as well as a smithy and carpenter shop. He had bought about 1,200 acres of land -- timber or forest -- also cattle and oxen. He had also bought a beautiful span of horses and a wagon, in which he and his family had that very day attended the dedication of a church in the neighborhood. Everything here breathed life and industry. He has almost all kinds of craftsmen in his own family -- smith, carpenter, builder, wheelmaker, saddlemaker, tanner, miller, and sawyer -- consequently everything accomplished here was the family's own work. Next spring he plans to put up a sawmill on his property, which is like a little kingdom.

Gasmann himself had been in good health and his wife, who had been ailing for a long time, had not felt so spry for many years as she had since coming to America. A similar remark was also made to me later in Muskego by Mrs. Hansen, the wife of the teacher of gymnastics.

I spent a week with Gasmann's hospitable family, who treated me with the greatest consideration. During this time I paid several visits to the Norwegians in the neighborhood, who were all contented and happy.

Chance has brought together here several educated and wealthy men -- Unonius, Gasmann, Fribert, St. Cyr, and several other Swedes and Norwegians. They have organized a kind of Scandinavian union, and, remarkably enough, the Swedes have settled on the east side of a little lake -- Pine Lake -- while the Norwegians live on the west shore. The "Constitution" and the "Union" are small boats in which the neighbors visit each other. Fribert lives among the Norwegians and many of these poor immigrants are indebted to him for work and good pay. {12}

The colony has organized itself into a congregation and has elected as its minister Unonius, who is a theological candidate and is to be installed by the bishop of the Episcopal church. The former is a cultured and very intelligent man with whom I spent many pleasant hours. {13}

I then went to Milwaukee, a town which in seven years has grown to a population of 6,700. I remained there several days in order to visit the land office to get information concerning the purpose of my mission. From there I made a trip on foot down to a place called Muskego, from a near-by lake of that name, located twenty miles south of Milwaukee. This settlement, of about 2,000 people, is the largest Norwegian one in America. Space forbids my giving a more detailed account at this time of this or the other Norwegian settlements. At a later date, however, I intend to do this. {14}

The first thing I did was to hunt up Hansen, the gymnastics teacher. He was right in his element, busy with hunting and fishing whenever he could spare the time from his farming. He also considered himself lucky in his change of fatherland, and happy over the independence that he thought he had gained here.

During the week I spent there I visited Bache, Johannesen, Even Heg, and Helgesen from Drammen, as well as several others of the most practical farmers. A seminary student named Clausen had been elected minister and had been installed by a German minister from a neighboring colony.

Elling Eielsen lives here and has also married here. He has been acting as minister and in that capacity has traveled around to most of the Norwegian settlements. Because of certain objectionable actions he has lost the confidence of most of the people. His faction is now quite unimportant and is losing ground daily.

On my return to Milwaukee I received information that made it seem necessary to visit the northern part of the territory. I went to Port Washington, thirty miles north on Lake Michigan. From there I made several excursions on foot within a radius of fifteen or twenty miles. I then continued my journey to Fond du Lac (40 miles) on Lake Winnebago. From there I made several shorter trips into the country. Then I proceeded to Winnebago (50 miles), and then farther down the Wisconsin River to a little town called He (57 miles). Continuing to Mineral Point and through the towns of Belmont and Sletville to Galena, I stopped en route in several places to inspect the land. {15}

It was now my intention, after a fairly thorough investigation of the natural conditions of Wisconsin, to cross the Mississippi to Iowa and to travel through that state to Burlington. {16} I wished, if possible, to go from there by steamer to St. Louis. Drift ice prevented any crossing and I had to content myself with staying in Galena, either until the ice became strong or the floes disappeared. I used this enforced stay to draft my letter to Gasmann. Since the Mississippi continued unnavigable I thought the best way to use my time was to visit some of my countrymen who lived up in Wista or Hamilton settlement, thirty miles northeast of Galena.

I spent Christmas at the home of a blacksmith named Knudtsen, from Drammen. He has established himself here and has built up an independent fortune. I visited the Norwegians living here, most of whom were busy with lead mining and smelting, and all of whom without exception earned good money. I traveled with Knudtsen to several other Norwegian settlements -- Rock Ground, Rock Prairie, and Jefferson Prairie, thirty to forty miles east on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. The most important agricultural improvements that I have seen in any Norwegian settlement had been made here.

I now returned to Galena where I found letters from home forwarded by my commissioner in New Orleans according to my written instructions. Upon the receipt of these letters I continued my interrupted journey over the Mississippi, which now could be crossed with horses, to Dubuque {17} in Iowa, where the main land office is located. I had a conversation with the governor, General Lucas, and was introduced by him to several members of the legislature, which had just convened. {18} All of these men, with the greatest readiness and eagerness, gave me information and friendly advice.

I stayed here two days, then traveled north to Turkey River (24 miles), and up that river to the so-called "Neutral Ground" (42 miles) and returned the same way. The road ran southward along the Mississippi through several small towns to Davenport, {19} directly opposite Rock Island. I continued west into the country, following 41 80' to Iowa City, in Johnson County (52 miles), where I am writing this letter. Here you have the account of my wanderings in "the glorious West," way out to the farthest limits of civilization. In a few days I shall have crossed even this boundary and shall be in the nearest Indian territory.

It is an easy matter to map out a travel route when sitting at home in one's parlor. In figuring on a map, distances seem so trifling and are so deceptive, that even though one figures accurately by degrees, yet it seems that one could easily travel the designated number of miles in a short time, If a person could only travel in a straight line without turning off to the right or the left, he might actually cover that distance quickly. But traveling with the purpose that I had, little benefit could be derived from such a hasty trip.

To be able to make any choice, or to give advice of benefit to others, one must see and examine the interior of the country. Furthermore, it would require years to become fully and intimately acquainted with the tremendous stretches of land in this wonderfully beautiful region. In spite of the pains I have taken, I must admit that my knowledge is incomplete and will remain so. My purpose was to get a full and complete idea of the main characteristics of the entire region -- its advantages and disadvantages in respect to agriculture and commerce. I hope to be able to accomplish my purpose to my own and my sponsors' satisfaction.

Regarding the choice of the states to which emigration from Norway should be directed, I think I am right in saying that it must lie between Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. For that reason I felt justified in turning my main attention to these territories.

In my last letter, if I remember correctly, I expressed my firm conviction of the inexpediency of any emigration to California as long as such tremendous difficulties of transportation exist. It is necessary either to cross the Mexican Peninsula with its extremely high mountains or to go up the Missouri River and across the western prairie wilderness and the Rocky Mountains. This I have learned by talking with people who have made the trip.

All that I have heard has greatly strengthened my original belief in this land's overwhelming advantages in productiveness and favorable climate. Therefore, instead of visiting California as I had intended, I have decided, as soon as I have traveled through Iowa and a part of Missouri, to go down the Mississippi to the Red River, up this river to Natchitoches on the border of Texas, to inspect the northern part of that state.

In this connection I have been furnished with letters of introduction from Mr. Bryan, the consul from Texas in New Orleans, to several Texas planters of his acquaintance. Although Texas and Louisiana are in the same degree of latitude, the climate of Texas is far more temperate and healthful because of the higher altitude of the section near the mountains in New Mexico. Since I am offered free land for several thousand families, if as many can be brought here, I have felt it to be my first duty to make all investigations within my power in order to advise for or against the emigration of my countrymen to this land. Letters from home have told me of a report by a fellow Norwegian concerning the region near the Gulf of Mexico. Both written and oral reports have it that the southern tracts of land which lie within one and a half to two degrees from the Gulf of Mexico are without exception more or less subject to the occurrence of yellow fever. Health should be the first consideration in the choice of a new fatherland. State of health, productiveness, and a market are the three main points that, to my mind, must determine such a choice.

I have begun writing a description of the West, to be as complete as possible, especially concerning Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. {20} This work will include a presentation of the natural conditions, the soil, climate, products, agriculture, commerce, industry, mineral wealth, opportunities for hunting and fishing, legislation, social conditions, and prospects for the future. It will be bound as one complete unit. Persons desiring to emigrate in the future may be able to judge from this work the wisdom or folly of leaving their own country.

I shall add to this a description of the present condition of the Norwegian settlers, the hardships that they suffer, and ways in which these may be lessened or avoided by future emigrants. In addition there will be an accurate account, based on fact, of the progressive work of a farm and an estimate of its increase in value, as well as useful information about many details which cannot be included under the main points already given.

This little work, which I hope to offer my countrymen, must be considered a small gift on the altar of my country. Since I myself was driven away by jealousy and envy from the valleys to which I had decided to dedicate my future feeble efforts, this is an atonement for the errors which in human weakness I have committed. If it is true that the seeds of virtue lie in our mistakes themselves, then I maintain the confident hope that this seed may grow to a tree whose fruit will give refreshment to thousands who now in slavish dependence gather the crumbs that fall from the aristocrat's rich table.

I have begun a correspondence with one of the largest ship companies in New York, Messrs. E. D. Hurlbut and Company. A merchant named Putram {21} in Milwaukee has given me a letter of introduction to them. I hope an arrangement can be made to allow this company's ships to call at Norway to take on emigrants on the return trip from Havre, Liverpool, Bremen, or Gothenborg. I hope we may be able to charter an entire ship if we can happen on a cargo of the same tonnage. This would make the crossing to America remarkably cheap.

For the benefit of my sponsors, I have decided to prepare a plan for a colony at one or another of those places whose location and natural advantages seem most suitable for a Norwegian settlement. I trust that my mission will not be regarded by them as useless or unsuccessful. If that happens, the blame cannot be put upon my eager efforts to carry out, in full measure, the purpose of my mission.

I am in good health and have been so during my entire trip, which has not been interrupted by a single day's indisposition. If all goes as expected, I hope to be in Norway the last of April. There I think I shall have enough to do for several months.


[J. R. Reiersen to Friends in Norway, Christianssandsposten, July 5, 1844]

CINCINNATI, OHIO, March 10th, 1844

Arriving in New Orleans from Galveston, Texas, the 12th of this month, I immediately called upon my commissioner, Mr. Philippi, and was disappointed to learn that he had not sent my letters to Norway via New York as I had requested. The reason he had not done so was that Mr. Gasmann had enclosed several other letters with my observations on immigration conditions which he wanted me to take back home. Besides there were two or three letters from my own acquaintances. Mr. Philippi, not understanding the language, was afraid he might misdirect them, so let the whole package await my arrival. Since a whole fleet of ships had just recently sailed for European ports, and it would be two to three weeks before another ship would sail for Havre or Liverpool, I decided it would be expedient for me to leave for New York immediately. At the same time, I had not received any answer from Hurlbut and Company in New York regarding my inquiry about freightage. Traveling by steamer to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and then by rail and canal via Philadelphia, I could reach New York, where packets leave daily for Europe. I can make this trip in thirteen or fourteen days and, because of the fast sailings from New York, gain about a month. At the same time I hope to make some arrangement, if possible, with this freight concern.

For the past month I have been indisposed because of an earache and a swelling behind my left ear. This necessitated my seeing a doctor before proceeding. I consulted an especially competent physician, Dr. Strader, who advised me to go to a newly built hospital, Hotel for Invalids. After an examination, he soon operated. Almost immediately after the release of blood and matter, the swelling and pain left me, but a buzzing in my ear remained. Upon further examination this morning, the doctor found a small polyp in the ear. Even though he says it does not mean anything and is not at all serious, he thinks it advisable to remove it, but cannot be certain how long it will be before I can safely leave. So here I am unexpectedly detained when with all my heart and soul I long to hasten home.

The state of my finances will change drastically. I must admit I am a little worried, although I hope to see my way clear. In the meantime, I can understand perfectly what painful uncertainty the delay of my letters has caused all those interested in me back home. It is now just about the time I had figured that they should reach their destination. I am using the first quiet moment I have found to send you also a short account of the last part of my trip to Wisconsin and Texas.

My last letter was dated Iowa City. From there I took a hurried trip over the border to the most important Indian villages and had a truly interesting conversation with two chiefs who both spoke English. I returned through Jones, Louisa, and Des Moines counties to Burlington (75) where I became acquainted with a young merchant from St. Louis, Mr. Dixon, who was traveling with his own horses and buggy. He suggested that I accompany him straight through the northern part of Missouri to Weston on the Missouri River. As this was the very part of Missouri -- Platte and Osage counties -- that I had intended to visit, I accepted his kind offer. After four days of strenuous driving through the most populated part of Missouri, we reached Weston, a young and prosperous little town in the southern part of Platte County. Two years ago it was added to Missouri. From there, I took a trip fifty miles north through Buchanan and Holt counties and returned the same way. Then I took a steamboat down the Missouri to Independence in Osage County on the south side of the river.

This is the town where caravans to Oregon and California or to Santa Fe in New Mexico annually assemble and make arrangements for the long journey across the immense western prairies. In spite of the early season (it was February 4th), two parties had already started preparations to leave. One party .was composed exclusively of merchants, chiefly from St. Louis, on their way to Santa Fe with merchandise. The other was made up of emigrants from all parts of the United States and a few Germans bound for Oregon. You can easily understand that I seized the opportunity to get all the details of this journey. I introduced myself to a Major Adams, who was to lead the expedition and who already had been in Oregon twice. He readily gave me all the information I desired, showed me maps and plans of the districts through which they were to travel. Had my purse contained one hundred dollars more, I think he could have persuaded me to go along to Fort Hall on the west side of the Rocky Mountains. From there, he said, he would guarantee passage to San Francisco or Monterey in California. In brief, here are the most essential points concerning the route and means of travel.

The way lies entirely over rolling prairies, at first along the Kansas River {22} and then over the flats of the Platte. It is so level and firm that one can use wagons, and carry along everything one wishes. During the last two years a new south pass through the Rockies has been discovered which is so low in elevation one can scarcely notice any ascent. The only perceptible slope was similar to a hill near Weston, he said, and that was hardly as steep as some of the highest hills between Lillesand and Laurvig. The stations, if I may call them such, are Fort Laramie, 700 miles from Independence, and Fort Hall, 500 miles farther on. Here the route forks, one branch leading to California and the other to Oregon. From Fort Hall, he estimated the distance to San Francisco Bay to be not more than 550 miles, and to the mouth of the Columbia, 700 miles. He himself had not been farther than Walla Walla, 450 miles from Fort Hall, to which place he was to guide the present caravan of 80 persons. He took me to an acquaintance of his, a Mr. Burnett, who had been to California. The latter gave me the most glowing description of that country's heavenly climate and fertility. He confirmed everything I had ever read or heard. He assured me, however, that it was very difficult to travel across the Mexican Peninsula and thence by sea, and it would be extremely expensive.

The present caravan had provided itself with light four-wheeled wagons pulled by two mules or oxen. Several emigrants intended to use cows instead of oxen and Major Adams claimed that this was an advantage in many respects. No wagon was to be loaded with more than 1,500 to 2,000 pounds. The provisions each person should take consisted of the following: 150 lbs. wheat flour, 40 lbs. smoked meat, 10 lbs. salt, 20 lbs. coffee, 20 lbs. sugar, tea, rice, dried fruit, and the like. Every person was obliged to take at least one good rifle, 6 lbs. of powder, and 12 lbs. of shot. Other articles included were tin kitchen utensils, axes, spades, plows, saws, saddlers' and lumbermen's tools, screws, nails, hoops, and so forth, besides extra shoes for the horses and mules. Loose cattle should follow the procession. They stand the trip well. Loose horses were to be used only in chasing buffaloes, which one would meet 300 to 400 miles from the farthest settlements. A day's journey being twenty to thirty miles, it would take about seventy to eighty days for the whole trip. In Oregon land can be obtained for nothing but the amount is uncertain. That is to be decided by the present Congress, and it may be assumed it will be 320 acres. In California one can get almost as much land as one wants and can defend. Do my friends have the courage and the desire for this little pleasure trip? But back to my interrupted journey.

From Independence, I took the stagecoach south to Harrisburg, then to Warsaw on the Osage River, from which this region derives the name of the Osage country (altogether about 65 miles). From there again east to Jefferson City on the Missouri (50 miles), where I boarded a steamer for St. Louis. I remained here only a day and sailed down the Mississippi to Natchez in the state of Mississippi and sent my trunk on to New Orleans. With only a light knapsack, I boarded another boat which went up the Red River to Natchitoches, Louisiana, on the border of Texas. From this town there was a diligence, or stage, to Nacogdoches and San Augustine [Texas]. I had a letter of introduction from the Texas consul in New Orleans to a Dr. Hald in San Augustine. He showed me every courtesy, gave me all the desired information, and took me around the vicinity. As there were no post stages established to the south, I had to hire a saddle horse to Austin, the new capital of Texas, located on the Colorado River, eighty miles west of San Augustine.

Congress had just assembled and I easily gained admittance to the president of the republic, General Houston, {23} who was intensely interested in having immigrants choose Texas as their new fatherland. He assured me that Congress would give a colony of Norwegians all the encouragement that could reasonably be expected, he believed that peace and quiet were as good as insured since the President of the United States, in his last message, had emphatically declared that a continuation of warlike invasions and forays from Mexico would not be tolerated. He doubted that Texas would be admitted to the Union in the near future. In his opinion, one could consider the Comanche Indian hostilities at an end after their last defeat, and after Texas had established permanent forts along the northwest course of the Brazos and Colorado rivers. Now it seemed that nothing could hinder the rapid progress of the republic in prosperity and wealth, with an industrious and virtuous people occupying the vast stretches of fertile land.

After staying two days in Austin, I took the stage through Bastrop and Rutersville to Washington on the Brazos River (Rio Brazos de Dios), crossed that and reached Houston, the former capital, after a five-day trip. On March 7th I arrived in Galveston on Galveston Bay, the most important trading center in Texas, of almost 4,000 inhabitants. The steamer "Harry of the West" (as Henry Clay is called by his party) was being loaded for New Orleans. Consequently I went on board. We left the evening of the 9th and reached our destination the morning of the 12th.

Here you have the barest outline of my two months' journey. Space forbids my giving even the merest description of the regions through which I traveled, the experiences I have had, and the conclusions to which these have led me in choosing a site for a Norwegian colony. The worst of it is that in spite of the investigations, I cannot come to any final decision in the matter. Even after conscientiously weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of the different places, I am still painfully uncertain as to what locality I can recommend as the best selection for our countrymen. Every region offers its advantages, which in turn are counterbalanced by definite hazards. There are countless things to consider. It really would require a whole year to be able to determine where the greatest number of favorable conditions are found. One can certainly not rely upon another's judgment in that respect. Inhabitants of the different states and territories always recommend the region where they reside as the place that should unreservedly be chosen by new settlers. For some, this must be written off as self-interest, but on the whole I really believe it is sincere. Most of the regions combine so many advantages that one overlooks and underestimates the deficiencies and the evils. This is especially true if one has had no special or personal experience elsewhere. The traveling observer is also influenced by this, so that he changes his mind as often as he traverses and examines new regions. At last he develops such a lack of confidence in his own judgment that he is caught in a web of doubt and uncertainty.

While I was in Wisconsin, I was almost sure that was the territory to select. My trip through Iowa considerably modified that opinion. Then my sojourn in western Missouri brought me to a totally new decision, which was again considerably shaken by the trip through Texas. With this uncertainty of choosing rightly, I can do nothing but give a careful and conscientious presentation of the facts and data of each region in respect to everything that may influence one's selection of a future place of residence. Then I can leave the decision to each individual's own choice. I have decided to use my involuntary and unexpected stay here, which the doctor today predicts will last three weeks, in preparing such a description from the notes and experiences I have gathered. Then upon my arrival in Norway soon, I can present it to my sponsors and to the public. Here is a very brief summary:

Wisconsin combines a wholesome climate and an especially good market, but lacks in most places enough trees to meet the needs of a long and severe winter. The cold can be compared to that of southern Norway and necessitates the harvesting of considerable fodder for the animals. The chief product is wheat, which seems to thrive best where the snow covers the ground for several months.

Iowa is better provided with trees for her prairies, and has perhaps, on the whole, a more fertile soil, but not as good a market. Ague and bilious fever are very prevalent in those regions that border the Mississippi, while the interior is as healthful as Wisconsin. Wheat in the north and corn or maize in the south are the staples. Both territories are well provided with river and spring water, and both have an inexhaustible supply of lead. Winter in the northern part resembles that of Wisconsin. In the south it is milder, but hardly agreeable on account of the sleet and cold rain instead of snow.

Missouri (the Platte and Osage country) is prairie land, with few trees, mild and short winters, a fairly healthful climate, especially along the Missouri, and exceptionally rich soil. Staple products are grain, corn, tobacco, and hemp, and the country is very well suited to the breeding of cattle and sheep. Not as well watered as Iowa.

Texas (the northern and interior parts) has a. healthful climate and no winter. It is prairie land poorly provided with trees, but quite well watered. Its chief products are cotton and corn, harvested two or three times, and it is excellent land for breeding cattle and sheep. Also, the southern part is well suited to vineyards and tobacco, as well as sugar. War with Mexico and with the Indians has hitherto hindered the progress of the country.

It is with a very strange feeling that one may pass in this country through the changing climates of the different seasons in a short time -- just a few days -- and plunge suddenly from winter into spring and summer. The winter this year was unusually mild in Wisconsin. It wasn't until New Year's that the cold set in in earnest. When I left Galena in the middle of January, it had frozen hard several days in succession. In company with nine other sleighs, I rode the "Father of Waters" the entire twenty-four miles up to Dubuque. In heavy traveling clothes, over which I had a huge buffalo skin, and with overshoes of buffalo hide, as well as buffalo mittens, I traveled from that point over the prairies. In spite of all those clothes, I just barely kept warm the first two days and nights in an enclosed sleigh. On the third day, sleighing was over. The sun burned sharper and the air was considerably milder. When I arrived at Iowa City, it was just like spring at home. Through Missouri the air was wonderfully mild and spring-like except that the sun burned sharper than at home. Down along the Mississippi the trees were beginning to leaf, and near Natchez, the cherry trees were in the loveliest full bloom. Coming into Texas, I found the prairie fresh and green. In Austin, I ate green peas brought into the market. It struck me as the pleasantest summer, not excessively hot. In New Orleans the mosquitoes and flies had already appeared in swarms.

On my trip through Texas I met emigrants almost every day who were seeking land in different places. Some had whole families in their wagons, which served as substitutes for houses or tents. Not far from Bastrop, I met a driver with a four-spanned wagon and a load of 2,500 pounds bound for Austin. He had been in Texas twelve months, and even though he was a native Virginian, he had resided a long time in southern Missouri. He considered Texas far superior to Missouri for all kinds of agriculture. He enjoyed better health there, he said, and was not plagued to death with mosquitoes. He lived on a high prairie, and when I asked if he did not find the sun unbearable on a clear summer day, he declared that he did not find the heat so oppressive here as in Missouri and Virginia, for the wind that blew steadily all day made the open prairie quite pleasant.

This must be enough for this time, probably until my homecoming. You have the privilege of using this letter at your discretion. As I am anxious to get this sent with the early morning post and will have no time to write another letter to my family, I beg you kindly to acquaint them with my condition. I am otherwise quite well, and am sure this incident will have no other injurious effect than to delay my return. I could ask about and wish to know many, many things, but to no avail. I shall close my last letter from America for the present with friendly greetings.


P.S. March 20th. Just as I was to seal my letter packet, the doctor came. The operation was performed, thus bringing that experience happily to a close without any particular pain. It was a polyp. A buzzing in the ear still persists however.

[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]

HOLT, October 29, 1844

Your welcome letter of the 25th inst. brought me out of my uncertainty as to whether you were dead or alive, since I had heard nothing either from you or anyone else in Lillesand for such a long time.

I had intentionally postponed writing, as I was waiting for my book to be ready, and then I intended to visit in town and the vicinity personally. The contents of your letter have for the time being altered my purpose, and with these lines you will receive the first five corrected sheets of my account, which will comprise eleven sheets. I have read proof on nine and await the others by the first eastern mail on Thursday. Alterations and revisions of individual sections have somewhat delayed the printing. No one is more displeased about the delay than I am, but now it neither will nor can be long before it comes from the press. In the meantime I have taken considerable pains and bother to provide the necessary paper, partly because the book has become longer, and partly because I have made the edition larger than at first determined, for I had relied on getting remittances from the guarantors.

In the first place, for a person to undertake a journey when his expenses must be advanced chiefly by himself, and when after his return home with an entirely empty pocketbook he must make further advances toward the cost of printing the account of his tour, before a settlement of his traveling expenses can be had from those for whom the trip was undertaken, is something that scarcely anyone would enter upon, but which I would gladly have done if I had only had resources. The chief difficulty is now cleared up, and I do not doubt that people will promptly fulfill their promises also without too much chaffering. Within two weeks I plan to be in Lillesand, and shall bring with me a number of copies for distribution among the guarantors.

What you say about the hesitancy of Oiuld Enge and others in selling their farms I cannot comprehend. My survey of the emigrant conditions in my last letter to Gasmann I thought could not be misunderstood, and in oral conferences with the bønder of Eide I gave all the explanation and information that they desired, and I seemed aware of such complete satisfaction with it and such firm resolution to break away immediately that I assumed that people were anxiously preparing to leave.

Now then, I shall not be angered because a person prefers to remain in Norway, but I shall not deny that I would have been sincerely pleased to see the uncommonly well-educated people of Eide parish join company with me. As matters now seem to stand, I have practically decided to leave shortly after New Year's with what little I can scrape together. As to this, I shall later acquaint you with my decision. In such an event, could you go along? I truly believe that no one will seriously hinder your departure, just as it clearly appears to me that the government cannot do so.

I must close these lines in order to get the letter in the mail on time. I would be especially pleased to hear from you often or soon about your thoughts and resolutions. It would pain me if you should not fully dare to confide in me your plans and situation. Greet your wife ever so much from your truly sympathetic friend and sincerely devoted


Convey my greetings to Ørbek and thank him for his last letter, and likewise also to Mme. Elise Tvede, {24} whose active desire to be of service I wish could be applied in more appreciative circles. Will you have the sheets fastened together so that the bønder can better manage to read them?

[Reiersen Mss. -- A.L.S.]


You are quite right in saying that I have been not a little remiss in letter writing, especially when my mood is not coleur de rose, as has been the case recently, for I have been making useful trips and short tours, some to Skien, some to Arendal, and others to the outer ports in Flougstad and Dybvaag parishes. I have thus postponed writing from time to time, as I have always had something or other which had to be attended to first.

Everything has lately contributed to my dejection. Instead of receiving a little revenue from my book as I expected, such a small amount has come in that as yet it does not cover half of my printing account, so on this point I am liable to embarrassments. In order to be able to settle at the time agreed, I had counted on the remaining amount due from the guarantors, but from that source I get only the information that nothing has come in, and that the prospects for contributions are doubtful. From Christiansand I am advised that an attachment has been served upon Thane so that I have nothing to expect, {25} and furthermore, that the justices of the quorum, composed of my intimate friends, the scoundrel Falit and that rascal Manthey, have assessed a fine against me to the amount of about 300 specie dollars (how I wish that the laws of Norway were a scrap of paper that I could tear into a thousand shreds and throw into the fire so as to have the delight of seeing them go up in flames and smoke!). And finally from Christiania comes news of crooked dealings which, however, chance has fortunately enabled me to expose. Do you not think that such a throng of troubles might well put gloomy notions into the head of the most patient man? I am as low-spirited as I can be, and am only longing anew to remove myself from the coasts of Norway so as to be able to breathe fresh air.

Now with reference to the guarantee, I do not know what to do. As willing and pleased as I should be to donate copies of the "Pathfinder" to those who in good will sought to redeem their pledges to me, I find it extremely repugnant to be forced into this sacrifice, especially after what I have already done, and as I can wait no longer, I think it best to have all those who display unwillingness summoned immediately, and for this purpose I am enclosing a blank power of attorney, which I ask you kindly to fill out in such a way as you find necessary. I owe it not only to myself to take this step, but also to Anders Holter, who has previously paid out money, and who neither must nor shall lose because of his willingness to give aid. It would, however, be best to talk to Oiuld Enge in advance, if you could meet him, in order to hear his idea of the matter before any further steps are attempted. Meanwhile, as I have urgent need of money, and as I must assume that Oiuld Enge as well as Sheriffs Steendal and Zimmerman have collected a part in their respective districts, I entertain the confident hope of receiving a remittance very soon. My dear Grøgaard! I must beg your pardon a thousand times for inconveniencing and troubling you about this matter when you have enough in thinking about your own affairs, which doubtless are not of the most agreeable nature either. But man is an egotist, and I partake of the common weaknesses of the race. Besides, I need assistance, and I do not know to whom I would rather appeal than to you, who have always showed me such good will. I have nothing else to plead as my excuse!

As for the rest, we are working with might and main to get started, and that is not so very easy, for the vessels which lie ready to sail first either have such small accommodations that they can take only one person in the cabin, or else are so crowded with their cargo that they do not have room for the necessary baggage. {26} There is one schooner at Arendal which has room for two cabin passengers, and for one in the forecastle, and unless we get some other opportunity we shall take that one, so that there will be room for your client from Lillesand. I think you know Gunder Fidje, the merchant in Blødikjær; he and his wife are ready to go along to America, and likewise a couple of rich people from Opland would gladly join us if there were a chance of getting to France on the same ship with Father and me. When our departure is definitely settled I shall write you once again.

With regard to you, something has just occurred to me. Could you not get a consular pass to France or America and travel on that? I do not believe that there can be anything in the way of your getting one. At least one stumbling block would then be removed from the road. If accompanied with a suitable reason, it could scarcely be denied, and the statutes about "persons lacking passports" could hardly be invoked if one had a consular pass.

I am expecting an answer from you as soon as possible. I should have written to Ørbek, but time will not permit, and you will be so kind as to confer with him about the contents of this letter as far as the guarantors are concerned.

I should also have written to Mme. Elise Tvede, but -- I am almost ashamed to present my apologies. My various trips, as already mentioned, have been the main reason. The last time that I was honored with a letter from her I was in Skien, and it had already been with me eight days when I got home. Be my advocate to her and plead my excuses so that in my letter to her, which she will have soon, I may skip all extenuations. To your dear wife, a thousand greetings from your ever devoted and obliged friend,


[In the margin is written: ] Pray greet Oiuld Enge and Peder Nielsen most cordially. Tell them with reference to the conversion of money that if they can buy francs at 20 to 21 1/4 skillings and sovereigns for 4 specie dollars and 60 to 66 skillings, they will do well. Tvesshou wants specie dollars for dollars.


<1>On Reiersen, see J. B. Halvorsen, Norsk forfatter-lexikon, 4: 526-529; and a sketch of him in Dictionary of American Biography, 15:487. Several interesting volumes of material on emigration could be brought together from Reiersen's newspaper Christianssandsposten. See the issues for June 3, 1839; "De nordamerikanske fristater," September 20, October 11, 1839; "America Letters," in the issues for September 30, 1839, March 9, 13, 16, 1840; a wide-ranging essay," Betragtninger i anledning af vore landsmænds udvandringer til Amerika," October 14. 17, 19, 1842; and additional articles, November 16, 1842, January 12, 19, February 9, 20, 23, 27, March 6, 9, 20, 1843; and "Et overblik og en afskedshilsen," June 16, 1843.

<2> Reiersen's literary interests are well indicated by the bibliography of his writings and translations in Halvorsen, Norsk forfatter-lexikon, 4: 526-529, which lists more than twenty volumes that he published from 1838 to 1844.

<3> It may be noted that Reiersen's interest in California antedates by five years the discovery of gold which made California a household word in Europe.

<4> Hans Gasmann of Foss, Gjerpen, Norway, a former member of the Norwegian parliament who emigrated in 1843 and settled in Wisconsin in the Pine Lake colony. Before emigrating, he sold his estate and mill at Foss for 7,500 specie dollars. The departure of this prominent Norwegian for America occasioned widespread interest. Pavels Hielm wrote a long poem addressed to Gasmann in which he speculated upon the reasons for his emigration. See Blegen, Norwegian Migration to 1825-1860, 206; and "A Farewell to a Norwegian Squire," in Theodore C. Blegen and Martin B. Ruud, Norwegian Emigrant Songs and Ballads, 52-63 (Minneapolis, 1956).

<5> An interview of Reiersen with Washington Irving on the prospects for Norwegian immigrants in the United States undoubtedly would have been an interesting event. Unfortunately, Irving was not in the United States when Reiersen made his journey. He had been appointed United States minister to Spain in 1842 and was at his station in Madrid in 1843. Reiersen's plan, therefore, was not realized, and no evidence has been found that a "written prospectus" by the Norwegian was ever submitted to Irving.

<6> Frederick Marryat's three-volume work, A Diary in America, with Remarks on Its lnstitutions, was published in 1839. In 1887 Reiersen brought out a Norwegian translation of one of Marryat's novels.

<7> The sea story, Tom Cringle's Log, by Michael Scott, was published 1829-33 in Blackwood's Magazine, republished in 1836, and has been issued in many editions since that time. One edition, with an introduction by William McFee, appeared in 1927, and another, with a foreword by Ernst Rhys, is included in Everyman's Library.

<8> When Reiersen brought out his Veiviser in 1844, he included the testimony of Gustaf Unonius, the founder of the Wisconsin Pine Lake colony, and of Hans Gasmann, to which he refers in this letter. See Veiviser for norske emigranter til de forenede nordamerikanske stater og Texas (Christiania, 1844). A long letter by Gasmann, dated March 20, 1846, in which he defends the accuracy of Reiersen's book, appeared in Bratsberg-amts correspondent, June 16, 1846. In preparing to write his book Reiersen not only traveled widely but also read many of the standard books on America, including writings by Lewis and Clark, Schoolcraft, Flint, Long, Peck, Lea, Delafield, and James Hall, as well as books by Washington Irving and Captain Marryat.

<9> James Duane Dory (1799-1865), a prominent western politician, had been appointed governor of Wisconsin Territory in 1841. See a sketch by Joseph Schafer in Dictionary of American Biography, 5: 390.

<10> Reiersen spells the name "Cascanong's Prairie."

<11> "Knudtsen" is more commonly known as Ole Knudsen Trovatten. For information about this interesting Norwegian immigrant, see Norwegian Migration to America, 1:197-200.

<12> For further information about the Pine Lake settlement, see Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 123-130 (Northfield, 1940). Translated material from the important book published by Unonius in Sweden under the title Minnen från en sjuttonårig vistelse i nordvestra Amerika (Stockholm, 1861-62) appears in a series of articles by Filip A. Forsbeck on "New Upsala" in vol. 19 of the Wisconsin Magazine of History.

<13> On Unonius and the Episcopalians, see George M. Stephenson, Religious Aspects of Swedish Immigration: A Study of Immigrant Churches, 201 ff. and chapter 15 (Minneapolis, 1932).

<14> Reiersen's account of the Norwegian settlements is included in the final chapter of his book. This chapter I have translated into English in Studies and Records, 1:110-125.

<15> The newspaper has "St. Wassington" for Port Washington. "Sletville" may possibly be Platteville. "He" is possibly a newspaper misprint.

<16> "Barlington" in the newspaper version.

<17> Reiersen writes "DuBuque."

<18> Robert Lucas (1781-1858), for two terms governor of Ohio, was made governor of Iowa Territory in 1858 and served until 1841. He was not governor when Reiersen met him. See a sketch in Dictionary of American Biographer, 11:487.

<19> Reiersen writes "Dovenport."

<20> The reference is to Reiersen's Veiviser, published after his return to Norway.

<21> Perhaps a typographical mistake for "Putnam."

<22> The spelling is "Conzas" in the original.

<23> The famous Sam Houston is called "Haustu" in the newspaper version of this letter.

<24> Elise Tvede is better known to students of immigration as Elise Amalie Wærenskjold (1815-95), a pioneer Norwegian schoolteacher who edited the second volume of Norge og Amerika and later joined Reiersen's Texas settlement. A series of charming letters by her, written in Texas over a long period of years, was published in the Norwegian newspaper Tønsbergs blad from May 11 to 26 1925. See Norwegian Migration to America, 1:184-189.

<25> Reiersen's successor as the publisher of Christianssandsposten was named H. R. Thane.

<26> The Reiersen party left Norway in the spring of 1845 and arrived in New Orleans on June 8 of that year. See a letter written by O. Reiersen, a brother of J. R. Reiersen, on June 9, 1845, from New Orleans, with a postscript dated June 12. Norge og Amerika, 1:17-19 (August, 1845). A detailed and interesting account by J. R. Reiersen entitled "Beretning fra Texas" appears in Norge og Amerika, 1:126, 138-144, 145-160, 171-175 (February-May, 1846).

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