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The Gasmann Brothers Write Home
    Translated and edited by C. A. Clausen (Volume 23: Page 71)

America Letters have been called "the lifeblood of the emigration story." Among the most influential writers of such letters were the Gasmann brothers, Hans and Johan. {1} Hans, a well-to-do bonde who had twice been elected to the Norwegian Storting (parliament), caused considerable surprise when he sold his holdings near Gjerpen and in 1843 left for America. A contemporary writer, Pavels Hielm, wrote a long farewell poem to Hans in which he vainly tried to solve the riddle of why a man of such standing should want to abandon his native land. Gasmann himself undoubtedly offered the solution in one of his early letters: "I believe I have achieved what I desired: a better life for all my children" — of which he was to have thirteen. He joined a Scandinavian colony on the Ashipun River in Pine Lake, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, founded two years earlier by the famous Swedish emigrant leader, Gustaf Unonius. There Gasmann took out a claim to a quarter section and soon bought an extra tract of 1,000 acres near by. In the letters here presented he gives an [72] account of his experiences on the frontier and of his reactions to American life. {2}

Hans Gasmann and his family sailed on the emigrant ship "Salvator," whose captain was Johan Gasmann. Johan won an enviable reputation in emigration history for the care he took of his passengers and for his recommendations for improving conditions aboard the ships which plied the Atlantic in those days. {3} Apparently the captain was not at first enthusiastic about emigrating; but in 1844 he had an opportunity to visit his brother in Wisconsin. This firsthand introduction to conditions on the frontier changed his thinking radically. Not only did he write enthusiastic reports about Wisconsin as a land of promise for prospective emigrants, but in 1847 he himself yielded to its allurements. The letters here translated indicate, however, that despite the many advantages he found in his new home, he — like so many other emigrants — could never forget the old country. To the end of his days he was haunted by loneliness and by longings "for old friends and for dear old Norway."


An extract from a letter written by Hans Gasmann from Pine Lake, Wisconsin, July 27, 1844, to a relative in Norway; it appeared in Morgenbladet (Christiania) , December 19, 1844. {4}

My whole family and I are doing well, thank God — better than I could have expected. I believe I have achieved what I desired: a better life for all my children. As for myself, I must, [73] of course, be satisfied so long as I can live free of worries about the necessities of life. And I hope that, with God’s help, I shall be able to do this. My greatest enjoyment in Norway, namely, to mix with educated and noted people — which, as you know, not infrequently fell to my lot — has been decreased, of course. But I have pleasures here, too; because, thank God, I am not entirely deprived of companionship in this country that some people have called a desert. Besides some good Norwegian families, we have in this neighborhood several refined Swedish and Danish families, among whom are some educated men. Furthermore, I have the pleasure of knowing that if I am permitted to live awhile I can work up one of the most beautiful landholdings imaginable. You know that I have always greatly valued such property. People can say and write whatever they please about this country, but I assure you that it is both scenic and fertile. I believe that both my family and I will be able to live quite pleasantly here and, with God’s help, free from anxiety about our livelihood. But even though we believe that we can get along here, this would not necessarily be true of everybody. A person must have either labor power within his family corresponding to its size, or enough money [for hiring it]. I pity those who arrive lacking both these factors. This ought to be plain to anyone who realizes that he comes to a land largely uncultivated and partly covered by the densest forests.

There is, however, a great deal of land in Wisconsin already cultivated, and it presents to the eye the most luxurious fields and meadows. But if you want to buy such land it costs lots of money. A quarter section, . . . if under the plow and supplied with proper buildings, will not sell for less than five or six thousand dollars. {5} If a person has enough money to buy cultivated land, the size of the area [needed] will, of course, depend on the size of the family. They say here that a small [74] family can get along on 40 acres and a very large one on 160; and very little additional capital or labor will be needed. Once the land has been cultivated, it is extremely easy to work. And since many even maintain that a person can live very well off one acre, it is obvious that the necessary money can be raised when he sells the surplus produced by the rich harvest. However, if a person hasn’t enough capital to buy cultivated land, then he must have ample labor help, besides enough money to defray his living expenses for one or two years until crops can be harvested.

Bringing new land under cultivation is done as follows: Openings [aabningsland], as they are called — that is, land on which there are only a few trees, as in an orchard, or even fewer — can be plowed without further ado, since the few trees will not harm the crop. To keep the leaves from casting too much shade, it is customary to cut a circle through the bark around the trunk of the tree, causing it to die. Later it can be cut down at a person’s leisure. To break this kind of land, four or five yoke of oxen are needed — horses are not used for this type of work, as they are not suited to it — and a man to steer the plow, besides a boy to drive the oxen. About an acre or an acre and a half can thus be broken in a day.

If a person breaks this kind of land in June or early July and seeds it in August or early September, he can be certain of a pretty good crop — but not so large a crop the first year as later, because it [the land] increases in productivity each year without being fertilized. I have been told that there are farmers who, without using any manure, have had the most bountiful crops for twenty successive years, simply by sowing and harvesting. Ditches or water furrows are not used here, and are unnecessary. Wheat and everything else grows very well in the deepest marshland and on the most level plain without being harmed in the least by water.

If a person does not himself own oxen or a plow, he can get such land plowed, or "broken," as it is called, for three dollars per acre. Once the land has been broken, it is very easy to [75] work — much easier than in Norway. The soil is so light and loamy that it resembles a well-worked garden more than a field.

The wooded land is cleared in the following manner: The trees are cut down and those parts which are not saved for some use are piled up and set on fire. When everything has been burned, the ground is harrowed and seeded to either wheat, turnips, beets, beans, or peas, or planted to potatoes or corn. Since the soil in such areas is much looser than in the openings, a person can raise exceptional crops for two or three years without plowing — merely by harrowing. People here claim that wooded land is of better quality and produces good yields much longer than the openings. But also, it costs much more to get it broken. If you have to hire labor, you must usually pay four or five dollars per acre to get the wood cut and two or three dollars extra to get it burned. Anyone who cannot do such work himself, but has to hire help, must have money. The process is easier, however, than at first thought it would seem to be. When a piece of land has been put under cultivation, it soon yields so much that the owner can sell part of the crop and pay the laborers; and thenceforth, step by step, it becomes easier.

I know that people in Norway wonder — as I did myself —how a farmer over here can sustain himself, seeing that labor costs are so high and the market price for his produce is so low. When a person becomes familiar with conditions in this country, however, it is easily understood. If as much help were needed to cultivate the soil here as in Norway and if the yields were as small, it would be impossible to make ends meet. But we must bear in mind that over here, once the soil has been broken, very little help will be required. In this region there is no work connected with fertilizing, ditch digging, or clearing away of rocks, because there are no mountains. Neither is much help needed to care for the cattle, because they forage richly for themselves outdoors most of the year. In short, there is so much less work than in Norway. [76]

Furthermore, a person is free of so many other expenses that you have in Norway. The taxes are negligible. Local [civic] expenses are practically nonexistent, poor rates absolutely unheard of, as are fees for drawing up documents and salaries for the officials. When we consider the rich crops and the little work connected with harvesting them—crops of which the farmers can sell a large part instead of buying extra, as most of them must do in Norway — then I believe we can understand why a person gets along better here than over there.

From this you will get a fair understanding of what is needed by those who wish to settle here. If a person does not have money corresponding to the size of his family or if he has little capital and little labor power, then I would not advise him to come.

One class of people I do, however, believe can come, even though they have little money: free and single working men and ordinary, industrious servant girls. They never have any trouble finding jobs. And I think the time is far off when the need for such people will decrease. You might suppose that with the great influx of immigrants the demand for help of this kind would decline, but I do not think this need be feared. We must note that conditions are different from those in Norway. When a young, vigorous man has worked for others a couple of years he will be so well established that he can buy land of his own, and thus he needs [hired] help instead of further employment. A laborer — a good worker — has no difficulty getting ten to twelve dollars per month plus good board during the summer, and from six to ten dollars during the winter. A good maidservant will get from four to six dollars per month.

From the foregoing it will be easily understood that there cannot be many paupers or beggars here. There is not only always opportunity for employment for those who can and will work, but food supplies are very cheap. And if it happens that a couple have more children than they can care [77] for — which was the case with one Norwegian family that came over with me — the Yankees (Americans) are immediately willing to receive such children and bring them up as their own without any expense to the community. You can imagine what a joy it is for a sensitive person not to be aware of any poverty or any beggars. I can assure you that I have not seen a beggar since I touched American soil.

Report has it that, unfortunately, poor people are to be found; but to the best of my knowledge these are all Norwegians — I am sorry to say — and so far as I know they are located in one region, namely, a place here in Wisconsin called Muskego. And this is not surprising, because in that area —where at first there were only a few and, I believe, less industrious Norwegians — several hundred of our countrymen have congregated. Most of them had little or no capital and there was no one in the settlement who could give them work. Furthermore, they were stowed together in the few small houses found there. This caused severe sickness and many deaths. Anyone will realize that the result had to be poverty and misery. Also, the area is swampy and flat with very poor water — factors which always cause sickness over here. {6}

It was there that the carpenter Anders Brynildsen settled, the one who has given such an unfavorable account of America. I am not at all surprised that he found conditions bad— a man like him who is a good carpenter, but can do no other type of work, settles in a place where a whole crowd of miserable, sick, poverty-stricken and partly unemployed people have packed themselves together like bees; people who have not the wherewithal to sustain life, let alone give employment and income to a good carpenter! It seems to me that if he had had a bit of common sense he should have realized what the result would be. As far as I know he did not visit any other [78] part of this country. Consequently it does not surprise me when he states that a settler here must buy all his food grain the first three or four years. This undoubtedly holds good for the area where he stayed. According to what I have been told by reliable people — in fact by one of the first Norwegians to arrive there, a man with money aplenty—the settlers there hardly worked at all on their land. Very likely Brynildsen clung to those fantasies which we sometimes met with in Norway, that over here everything should rain down upon us and roast doves fly into our mouths, thus making work unnecessary. Any reasonable person will certainly admit that blame for this state of mind cannot be ascribed to the country or its institutions but solely to the notions of naïve individuals. {7}

I have not enough experience or sufficient knowledge of the country and its institutions to give you or anyone else complete information; it will be late, or probably never, before I will be in a position to do this. My letters are based on what I have observed in my community and during my travels in the country at large — which have been rather extensive. My own impressions have been supplemented by other reliable observers. However, I cannot, at least not immediately, give either my countrymen or the Norwegian government the desired evaluation. But I believe that everyone has or soon will get an opportunity to secure a far more complete account than I could ever hope to give — the account by Mr. Reiersen of Kristiansand. Last fall he traveled through a large part of this country. He spent several days with me, and before he left for home he sent me the account he had written about the United States. On the whole I found it to agree so completely with my own observations that I had no reservations whatsoever in endorsing it. {8} [79]

I still live near Pine Lake where, as you know, I claimed a piece of land and built a house. You probably know, too, that later I bought a thousand-acre tract five and a half English miles from here. This land is covered largely with fine woods, that is, all sorts of deciduous trees such as oaks, elms, lindens, poplars, walnut, apple, and plum trees, gooseberry bushes, and many other varieties. Furthermore, there are numerous maple trees which in spring yield sap, from which sugar is made. This is very profitable, for from one tree alone as much as twenty pounds of sugar can be obtained annually. We also have lots of grapes. Through this property of mine runs a beautiful river where I have set up a sawmill, because I have plenty of timber. As soon as possible I will also set up a flour mill. As yet I have only one saw, but we still cut some six or eight dollars’ worth every day. We do not work at night. As we have trees in abundance right around the saw, I make pretty good money. I do not believe there will be any market shortage, because a great number of people have settled in my neighborhood and I suppose more will come. All of these are going to build houses and consequently will need lumber. I believe the demand will be lasting because at present all the settlers are merely building modest log houses. When the land is partly under cultivation, however, and people have more time and money, it is customary in this country to build more elegant dwelling houses — which, of course, demands still more lumber.

My land is about twenty-eight English miles from Milwaukee, or about four Norwegian miles. Communication with the city is by land, but construction of a canal from Milwaukee has been started. It was supposed to pass close to our place. But God knows whether it will ever be completed, because the company which has the contract has already stopped digging and is now involved in a legal battle with the government. But I hope we will soon have towns closer at hand. One [80] by the name of Pinevill [sic] is already growing up twelve miles south of us and another called Watertown eight miles to the west. I wish I could have lived closer to Milwaukee, but I came five or six years too late, because all the land clear up to here was already bought. In my neighborhood there is still unclaimed land and I believe that many of my countrymen who are coming this year will settle here. Some of the Norwegians who came with me located near Pine Lake — among them Bellerud from Kongsberg. The highly respected landowner from Hitterdal, Ellef Bjørnson Tungen, also lives close by.

I am now building a house on my new tract and hope to move in sometime next fall. Before my eldest son left for Norway I partitioned my land between my four grown-up sons. {9} But I retained 260 acres for my own use. When this is under cultivation I will have a beautiful farm. My son-in-law, besides, received eighty acres from me, on which he has built a house.


Hans Gasmann wrote to friends and relatives in Norway from Pine Lake, March 20, 1846. The letter appeared in Bratsberg-Amts Correspondent (Skien), June 16, 1846.

I had the pleasure of receiving your letter of September 15 last, but not the copy of Reiersen’s work, "Pathfinder," mentioned. I suppose the reason is that both items were sent to America by ship and they couldn’t forward the book from the port by mail. Fortunately, however, I received the book through my son, who was in Norway last year. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether or not I get the copy you sent me; but it is very unfortunate that I do not have access to the issues of Morgenbladet in which Pastor Dietrichson’s letters were published. This prevents me from commenting as fully as I [81] might wish on these most remarkable utterances. I assume, however, that I am in a position to say something in this connection, since people who have read them have, to the best of their recollections, relayed the contents of the letters to me. {10}

I suppose you have been expecting an answer from me for a long time; but as I did not receive your letter until the sixth of this month, you will realize that I must be excused. It provokes me very much, however, that I did not get it earlier, because my comments might possibly — under prevailing circumstances — have had some value to those of my countrymen who were thinking of coming over this spring. Now, I assume, it will be too late for them. I have carefully read and considered Reiersen’s "Pathfinder." I am unable to find much in it which does not agree with my convictions and my bit of experience. My knowledge of the country is, to be sure, rather limited. It does, however, extend to a large part of Wisconsin; and I dare assert with absolute confidence that what he says about this area is accurate. Furthermore, it shows that he has, with the greatest competence, acquainted himself with every detail and given such complete descriptions as could be expected only from a man of Reiersen’s ability and determination. Since he has sensed and learned the truth about conditions in one part of the country, I assume that he cannot be so far off in his description of the rest of it. This conviction has been reinforced by information I have gathered from talking with reliable men who live in the regions where I am not acquainted. Their statements coincide with Reiersen’s quite well. I do believe, therefore, that I can safely recommend Reiersen’s book for guidance to my respected countrymen if they read it with common sense and understanding. I merely want to make the following observations: [82]

1. About the calculation or estimate he made on pages 40— 46 concerning the management of a farm and the economic progress an able landowner can make if industrious and well informed — it should be noticed that this estimate is based exclusively on the tillage of prairie land and cannot be applied to woodland. Since, however, not everyone may have either the opportunity or desire to settle on prairie land but may choose either openings or woodland, it follows that not everyone can expect to make such rapid strides toward affluence. I have examined the estimate carefully and find it to be reliable — or possibly too conservative. I believe that if no mishaps occur the estimate may be put higher. But calamities may strike, among them, sickness. Wisconsin is, to be sure, a rather healthful region; still, a large proportion of the immigrants fall prey to the climate fever or ague. Last summer it was more general than in previous years. The reason is said to have been the very hot and dry summer we had. That malady caused a serious setback for numerous people. There are many, however, who escape sickness, and the ague is seldom fatal — never, if a doctor is consulted.

Prairie land has both advantages and disadvantages. It provides no wood for fuel or other everyday necessities, and it does not yield as good crops the first years as woodland. A man who lacks money to buy four or five yoke of oxen and a breaking plow will do far better on woodland where, with his own strength alone, he can soon put enough under cultivation to make a living. Therefore I do not agree with Reiersen that poor people ought to settle on the prairie rather than in wooded areas. I do not believe, on the other hand, that a man who has the necessary capital can become rich in any quicker way than by owning and cultivating prairie land.

2. I agree entirely with Reiersen that emigrants will not gain much by coming through New Orleans rather than through New York or Boston. It must be emphasized, as Reiersen does, that if they choose the former route they should make certain to arrive in New Orleans by April at the latest. Later [83] in the summer it is impossible for Norwegians, fresh from the sea, to endure the heat. Many would assuredly pay with their lives. I am unable to say whether — as Reiersen asserts — a person is more likely to escape being cheated by following this route. If emigrants take ship directly from Norway to New York or Boston and are fortunate enough to come with a good captain who knows how to draw up a correct contract for his passengers with the transportation companies, I believe they are less exposed to cheating than if they go by way of Havre, unless they have an able man along with them who knows the language. One warning, however, I want to give my countrymen who intend to come with either a Norwegian or a Swedish ship: Investigate carefully before leaving whether or not it is too heavily loaded. This was the case with the vessel my brother, Johan Gasmann, commanded last summer. During a storm they had to cast a lot of iron overboard, and it was a God’s wonder that the ship and so many passengers were saved. It is deplorable that the despicable greediness of one man [the shipowner] should expose so many to the possible loss of life.

I really have no other observations to make concerning Reiersen’s book. Furthermore, I suppose it is futile for me or anyone else to write things that are commendatory about America or may inform the Norwegians that they might possibly do better here than in Norway. There is a class of people over there who do not hesitate to stamp as lies anything from here written in that vein; and they declare that we are motivated partly by a false feeling of shame and partly by greedy self-interest.

This particular judgment has been passed on Reiersen. They have tried to tell people that the signatures of Pastor Unonius, myself, and several respected men from this community are forged — signatures we attached to a letter Reiersen sent me; this, despite the fact that the printer, Mailing, has testified that the original manuscript was followed. This strikes me as a particularly stupid accusation and I hope some friend of [84] Reiersen will expose it. This can easily be done. An examination of the manuscript will reveal that the signature is in my own handwriting—I know that many are familiar with it. Furthermore, I made a copy of Reiersen’s above-mentioned letter to me, including the signatures; and since I have his book, "Pathfinder," where the letter is inserted, I can testify — if they will believe me — that it is copied verbatim. I therefore declare those who accuse Reiersen of forgery in this matter to be slanderers and liars.

A certain official in Norway is also said to have accused the Norwegian farmer, Ellef Bjørnson Tungen (who now lives in this community), of being absolutely unreliable, despite the fact that this man, both at home and now here, is respected as a very dependable, intelligent, and honorable person. But cases like this are matters of course in Norway.

Pastor Dietrichson’s writings, on the contrary, are esteemed as oracles. And why should not people believe that all utterances by such a man of God are pure and unadulterated truth? But may God forgive me my gross sins! I cannot trust him. When he tries to tell our countrymen that the accounts we give our own relatives and friends are not trustworthy, but are motivated by a false feeling of shame or greedy self-interest, then I do declare in plain Norwegian that he is not telling the truth. {11} If anyone regrets that he came over, he is surely someone who is not much troubled by a sense of shame. And I cannot understand how self-interest could play a part. Presumably it would be the hope of getting cheaper labor if a great number of people came across, or possibly someone who wanted to sell part of his land expected to get a better price. But it does not seem to me that there is real substance to either of these suspicions. Few, if any, of the Norwegians who settled here have more land than they themselves need. [85] Most of them have too little, and consequently nothing to sell. And I cannot understand why anyone should go ahead and buy at a high price as long as there is God’s plenty of land available at the customary low price. Since everyone has small tracts, there are few or practically no Norwegian farmers here who hire laborers; and I am certain that as yet hardly any have made such headway that they can afford to hire help.

Furthermore, even if some people should be inspired by such ignoble motives, it ought to be plain that not all and every one of us would urge our relatives and friends to come over. I have advised many of my friends to come and will continue to do so. I therefore beg Pastor Dietrichson to be good enough not to frighten them by making them believe that I intend to use them as beasts of burden. Some "big shot" in Norway has told his people that Gasmann will hitch them to the plow when they come here. Pastor Dietrichson also says that "the lovers of truth" among those who have lived a longer time in America admit that they would go back immediately if it were possible for them to get the very same jobs that they had before. Yes, there are some, he tells us, who with bitter tears of regret have begged him to petition the king to let them return. Their houses here are poorer than their barns were back home, we are told, and their condition, on the whole, is much worse in America than it was in Norway. Well and good — even though I have once committed the gross sin of accusing the pastor of falsehood, I will not persist in this error but assume that some grains of truth are found in his reports. Undoubtedly he is correct in saying that there are some who wish themselves back home again. But, I must ask him, what kind of people are they? If he had said that these "lovers of truth" were drunkards or lazy, worthless people who came with the idea that they could live without working, then he would have told the truth. I assure you that industrious, decent people who have been here some time are not the ones he classifies as "lovers of truth."

About fifty or sixty Norwegian families live in my [86] community. Some of them came the same year I did, some later. I dare maintain that I know only one person who regrets that he came over and probably would like to return home; and this man has several grown-up children who under no circumstances would go with him, they are so very well satisfied here. All the others whom I ask how they like it here smile and reply: "Where would we be satisfied if not here?"

It is true that many of our people have poor houses, but even in this connection I believe the good pastor has used the notoriously poor Muskego as evidence. As far as I know, his knowledge of America does not extend much beyond that community and another settlement called Koshkonong. In an earlier letter to Norway, which has appeared in the public press, I described Muskego and I do not want to bother repeating myself. That some of the houses there are poor is understandable, but it is not true that this is generally the case. At least, practically all the above-mentioned families who live in my neighborhood have built good and beautiful houses — about like good farm homes in Norway. To be sure, there are many excellent barns in Norway and if the pastor has them in mind he is, of course, correct. To my way of thinking, the pastor reaps little honor from telling how Mrs. Hansen met him with a stub of a candle when he came to their house in the middle of the night. Mr. Hansen is a respectable man in very good circumstances, so it was not poverty which caused that bit of candle to be used, contrary to what the anecdote presumably meant to imply. I am tempted to believe that Mrs. Hansen had in mind the Norwegian saying: "Two lights on the table for a hammersmith and a tallow dip for a peasant."

It is a wonder that Pastor Dietrichson wishes to come back to this miserable land and live among so many cheats and liars. But I can imagine it is brotherly love which drives this man of God to sacrifice himself — certainly it cannot be self-interest. Still, he has assured himself no mean remuneration for his self-denial. The Norwegian settlers at Koshkonong have been obliged to enter into a written contract with him [87] wherein they bind themselves to pay him five hundred dollars per year besides special fees for all such services as weddings, baptisms, and burials. Furthermore, he is to have a forty-acre farm with a parsonage on it. Many of the settlers are poor folk, a fair number of whom have no land, just mere claims which they may be forced to abandon. Consequently the pastor has been discreet enough to make his parishioners sign, one for all and all for one.

In that settlement there is also a Swede who is quite well fixed. The Swede thought he was shrewder than the Norwegians and figured that this [contract] might become a devilish affair for those with some means. Therefore he refused to enter the agreement. But what happened! The Swede has a daughter whom he asked the pastor to confirm, offering to pay him properly. The pastor refused, however, since he did not belong to the parish. Then the silly Swede went about claiming that this was paltry vindictiveness on the part of the pastor because he refused to sign the contract. He cannot understand that the pastor acts out of pure altruism and a stern sense of duty. In this manner he hoped to compel the Swede to join the church and thus save him from becoming an accursed heathen — of whom there are supposed to be so many in this country, as the pastor, no doubt, has heard in Norway. With the same aim in view the good pastor has barred very respectable persons from being sponsors at baptisms if they were not members of his church. And people here are so benighted that they also criticize him for this. But that’s the way of the world: A man is misunderstood even when he acts out of the noblest and purest motives.

Thus it came to pass that the parson brought a lawsuit on himself before he left for home last year, simply because he wanted to introduce the good old practice of excommunication. The situation was, namely, that among his parishioners was a man addicted to drink. The pastor therefore ordained that on Sundays this individual should seat himself near the church door. The man was so callous, however, that he would [88] not submit to this well-meant chastisement. Proud and arrogant, exactly as if he were not under the ban, he strode up the church aisle and sat down among the other people. It was, of course, impossible for a Norwegian minister, aware of his rights and obligations, to tolerate such behavior. He therefore ordered his assistants to throw the man out. But can you imagine how confused people become when they get over here! The excommunicate did not consider it a sin at all to sue the man of God. And as evidence of what our judges are like, I am correct, I believe, in reporting that a fine was slapped on the pastor, while the excommunicate goes about freely both to church and other places.

I assure you solemnly that what I have written is by no means inspired by either personal hate or friendship, because I am not well acquainted with either Pastor Dietrichson or Mr. Reiersen. But when I learn that a man has been very diligent in searching out the real truth and has published a most competent account of his observations (as Reiersen has) in the hope that it may further the welfare of his countrymen —and when I then discover that others who have no information whatsoever about the localities concerned undertake to belittle such a deserving work, even to the extent of branding it a concoction of lies and chicanery, then my obligation to both Reiersen and many of my countrymen is to sift facts from falsehoods so far as my abilities permit. Pastor Dietrichson and many others picture America as a desert region so miserable that people are even in danger of starving to death. But I believe that everyone who is slightly acquainted with this country and knows how productive it is, how great the opportunities are for those who can and will work, and how low the cost of living is — I believe every such person, if sane and rational, will realize that tales like Dietrichson’s are distorted; and I hope all those who want to be convinced of this will have the opportunity. Whether the authors believe that their gloomy sketches tally with the facts, and whether they are inspired by brotherly love—or, by chance, that [89] self-interest which they ascribe to those of differing opinions plays a part in their calculations — this I will leave to them to decide.

In my previous letters to Norway I have always advised every industrious and reputable person to come over; and this I still do. But I have also indicated that it is not easy for those who come here with absolutely empty hands. It should be plain that a person cannot expect jobs and earnings to be waiting for him, so long as he does not know the language or at least understand it somewhat. Furthermore, many of those who come over are at first subject to the climate fever or ague and may thus be exposed to want. I dare affirm, however, that none of the Norwegians who settled in my community have suffered want in any form. They got along well on their own, even though many had little money and some of them, perhaps, not any at all. Among the Norwegians in this settlement we have had only two paupers, an old couple who came here without money. The husband became sick and the wife had to beg. But as this situation was most unusual among the Americans, she was helped so liberally that they got along very well — better than many a farmer in Norway. When the husband recovered they took care of themselves and are now doing fine.

If this letter can reassure those of my countrymen who would like to believe that Reiersen’s book "Pathfinder," is reliable and that he is not an impostor, then I will be extremely pleased.

P. S. I almost forgot to report that one of Pastor Dietrichson’s "lovers of truth" has returned home, namely, a man from eastern Norway — from Ringerike, I believe — by the name of Gubberud. He had quite a bit of money when he came here but spent every penny on liquor. Then he got married to a Norwegian girl from Telemark who had a farm in this community. Shortly after the marriage, however, he left her and returned to Norway. This was about the time that the pastor left, but I do not know whether they went together. [90]


Johan Gasmann wrote from Kristiansand, January 10, 1847, shortly before leaving for America, to Captain Rye, his brother-in-law, in Bø, Telemark. {12}

I did not have time to write you before my departure, which happened at a breathless pace. I must ask you to excuse me, but still more I beg you not to be angry with me for failing to redeem the 100-specie-dollar bond which you have endorsed. I will not resort to any subterfuges to excuse myself but simply tell you that it was impossible at the time. Jacob Muller promised me that it would be redeemed by the time I returned from my last voyage and I set aside 10 specie dollars per month from my salary for this purpose. But Mr. Muller had found it more convenient, now as formerly, to deliver his warehouse trash to my wife at high prices, thereby liquidating my monthly salary so that nothing was paid [me] after I set out last year. Now, God be praised, my embroilments with those honorable Norwegian shipowners or merchants have ended. As soon as possible I shall send you successive installments on this debt. I hope it will not take very long, if I obtain the shipbuilding job I expect to get in Milwaukee. You may feel assured that, far or near, I shall not forget what I owe you; and I know full well that you too, dear Rye, are in need of money.

If I get the shipbuilding work in Milwaukee I will be on top because then I can earn from $500 to $600 per year; and I have 360 acres of good land on Round Lake. Here "mutter" and the boys can work — so I hope we will be able to get along. I expect to get sixty to eighty tønder of wheat or rye there in the fall because I have seeded twenty acres; and the boys already have a fine bunch of pigs, two oxen, and sheep and hens. {13} If I get there early enough in the spring — as I hope to — I will plant some more plots to corn, potatoes, etc. [91] I wish I had some more money to start with, because I must get four to six cows and two more oxen. Well, some way may be found. I have paid for the land and the house — that’s the main thing. But, enough of this. I must chat a bit with you and sister Christiane. {14}

First I wish you a happy new year. May every blessing come your way! Next I congratulate you on Mr. Mathias’ recent examination, which, I understand, he passed with all possible honors. And no less do I congratulate you on Dick becoming a cadet. Now he will receive free instruction — and ankerknapper and smørstikker besides. {15} I can imagine your joy; and a hard pull you have had, my dear Rye. I suppose you will still feel the pressure for awhile, but the future must appear brighter for you now than formerly, and this is a great blessing. Man lives more in the hope of a better future than in the enjoyment of the present. I hope your sons will be good boys and appreciate what you have done for them.

I received a brief letter from you, dear Christiane, before I left, but I have not had time to reply. You say that we have been together too little in this world. Yes, God knows we have; but that is fate, and soon the little play is ended, dear sister. I am now fifty, and you are older. Gladly would I have ended my days closer to my relatives and friends and on the soil of the old land. But these are small matters. This world is, of course, merely a brief schooling. We will be gathered together again in better realms — of that we are certain. And whether I live in America or Trondheim makes little difference. From either place we can write each other; this means everything. If I should become rich or, rather, somewhat well off — with my boys a bit older — then it would not be so serious a matter to take a trip across the back of my ancient [92] friend (the Atlantic Ocean) to the old places. The Yankees are not stingy about giving an old sailor a free passage.

I cannot say that I leave my fatherland purely out of desire for a change or because I regard America as distinctly superior to Norway. Preferably I would continue to live amidst the ancient mountains. But when, after thirty-six years of hard toil on the sea, I have nothing except sorrow and empty pockets; when I see the calling I have followed—a calling I always regarded as worthy of a man — when I see this calling derided; when as an old, worn-out man I see no chance for a livelihood, and when all opportunities for a seaman in our land are blocked — then reason must take precedence over emotion.

I do not expect to harvest gold in America, any more than elsewhere. But I hope and expect that with God’s help I will be able to earn a secure though simple livelihood. And I believe for certain that my children will be better off there, because I cannot give them any training which will put them into comfortable circumstances in Norway. I do not leave Norway with bitterness toward anyone or toward the state or any social class. But I leave with a heavy heart because it was impossible for me to remain here — circumstances made it thus. If I should despise anyone it would have to be our miserable class of hucksters who parade as merchants, and who harm the country much more than they serve it; those — those dumb curs.

As soon as I have gotten things arranged a bit at Round Lake you shall hear from me. I promised my good friends Ch. Blom and City Marshal Cappelen that I will write them often, and this shall be done. And you also will receive letters. I do not suppose the soil in America will devour my yen to write, as seems to have happened with many who went across. But I believe that few who emigrated from Norway had either much desire or ability to express themselves. If you are willing to write to me at times I will, in my first letter, give you [93] my address and hints about the cheapest way of carrying on a correspondence.

Now may God keep you, my dear relatives. You have not entirely neglected an old salt and I am certain that from time to time you will hold me in fond remembrance. Lotte and I will always think of you and your home at Otterholdt with kind and tender thoughts.

Farewell. Soon we will be on the vast ocean. May God soon let us joyfully see our new homeland!

Lotte asks me to greet you most cordially. She has so little time and is so busy writing to her sister.


Johan Gasmann wrote his sister and brother-in-law from Wisconsin, December 15, 1855.

It is now very long since we last wrote. I must therefore send you these lines so you can see that we are still alive; and I hope that you have not quite forgotten us. I assume that you received my eight-page letter of about a year ago.

Now then, what do I actually have to write about? Not very much. Even though we live in this giant America where mighty things happen every day, life in our neighborhood flows along as smoothly as if we were still in the valleys of old Norway.

First I must say something about ourselves and those nearest to us. My Lotte and I now live very quietly, and — thank God — we are in fairly good health. Carl and Henriette are presently the only ones we have at home, and so the whole household is accounted for. We work and putter around one day after another; thus time passes rapidly by. There is enough for us to do, I can assure you, since we have no hired help. It comes too high. But when one gets used to it, things go pretty well, especially because of the convenient way in which the Americans arrange everything. Harvesttime is the most pressing because then everybody has more than enough to do. At that time you cannot get a man for less than $1.50 [94] or $2.00 per day. Last fall was especially difficult because the crop was unusually heavy. There were not enough people to do the harvesting. But since we are farming on a small scale we got along well and could also help others. There is little use in farming on a large scale here because as yet help is too expensive.

Niels and Constance are doing well. They have four fine boys who are developing rapidly. He has a good farm and is making steady progress. The same is true of Maren and Gotfried. He is the best farmer hereabouts and will soon be a well-to-do man. They have one son — a real giant of a child. Caroline and Sørensen live in Indiana . . . Mishiwauki [Mishawaka]. They are doing well. . . . [It is a] region I have as yet not visited . . . even though one can go by [train]. .

Probably it can be done next summer when the passenger trains will run to Oconomowoc. From there we can get to Milwaukee in two hours, and then to Chicago in twelve hours, and finally to Mishiwauki in five hours. Anne is at present with Sørensen and Caroline. I do not remember whether I mentioned earlier that she is engaged to a student named [William] Stoy. He will become a minister in two years and is a very fine man. I must laugh, and so will you also: my family is becoming very ecclesiastical. In three or four years Johan too will become a pastor. As you undoubtedly recall, I was not very clerically minded. But this is all very well. There is room enough here for ministers and enough for them to do, because the country is growing rapidly. It is commendable the way the American nation with all its vigor concerns itself about religion and education as the population increases. A person would hardly believe that Wisconsin is such a new state when one sees the many churches springing up everywhere and the well-equipped schools now found in every township, besides the more advanced schools.

But I will have to tell about our own affairs and not involve myself in statistical observations. We make a little progress as time goes by. The cultivated area expands every year. At [95] present I have 25 acres (or somewhat more than 100 maal) under the plow. So we already realize that we can pull through, free of the daily worries; and now we can improve this thing and that which in the early days we had to get along with as best we could. I have fixed the house up nice and neat; have secured better furniture, etc.; have added a new barn for ten cattle, and this winter I will build a new storehouse — in short, the place is beginning to look quite civilized.

Believe me, there is enough to do when everything has to start from scratch. I would scarcely have believed that so much could be accomplished by me practically singlehanded, or by two men, namely, Carl and myself. I have hired some help for woodcutting, but that is all, except a bit of help from the neighbors for housebuilding. A person can do a lot if only he has the will. I cannot deny that I have had many a hard tussle here, and there were times when I wished I had remained where I was. But now I thank God for what I have done. I have a pleasant home and live well and comfortably and see things going forward every year both for us and our children. This is a peaceful country and no one lacks the necessities of life. It is a great blessing to live in a land where there is no real want. Of course, there are poor people here also, but they are few and they are helped liberally. The laws here, in this respect, are excellent.

I must not forget to tell you that I have become an official, namely, supervisor; that means en formand. There are three in each township who constitute a so-called board or council. Our function is to oversee roads and bridges, to divide [the community] into districts, to appoint road bosses, to see that the [road] work is being done, to permit or prohibit the sale of liquor, and to see that the poor are taken care of — these are the main duties, besides seeing that order is maintained and reporting all disturbances to higher authorities. I am paid a dollar per day but this is spent in the course of duty. Every year there is a general meeting of all the supervisors in [96] the county. We meet in the courthouse at the county seat and everyone then hands in his account.

In this connection I have been able to acquire some knowledge about our system of government. And I must admit that for a new country affairs are about as well ordered as they need to be. Everything is arranged about as in Norway, but life is freer and founded on equal rights. I have not been able to settle for myself, however, which is the better system of government, a free republic or a constitutional monarchy. I doubt that this democratic system of ruling the country would work well if the population and the struggle for bread were as great here as in many European areas. Were this country inhabited solely by Americans, things would possibly work better, because they are on a higher rung of civilization than the masses of people in Europe. The difference becomes very obvious here — coarser people can hardly be imagined than those who come from Ireland and some of those from Germany. The Norwegians also are uneducated, but in general are peaceful and they have some moral concepts. On the whole there is no racial group which the Americans rate higher than the Norwegians. The Americans always say, "The Norwegians make very valuable citizens." On the other hand, the ill will against the Irish is rising — and against Catholics in general. Many bloody scenes have, unfortunately, been staged in the large cities, and people are somewhat anxiously wondering what the end will be.

The misfortune is that the foreigners, of course, are uneducated people, and since practically all official positions — except those connected with defense, toll collections, and the post office — are elective, the candidates running for office know very well how to win the votes of the immigrants, whom they can fool with promises, fine speeches, and presumably whisky. Very likely the next Congress will correct this matter by extending the period required by foreigners to gain full citizenship. This question and Negro slavery will probably create stormy scenes when Congress meets again. A tremendous [97] hatred of the Southern slave owners has developed, and what the outcome will be is not easy to foretell — possibly a division of the nation. The Northern or Free states have a population of about fourteen million; the Southern states only about six million. The general opinion is that the North should, and shall, rule; slavery must be abolished, since it is a national sin. It seems reasonable that this tremendous land must, sooner or later, be divided into several independent countries — possibly three: the South, the North, and the new states on the Pacific — and Canada. All of these regions have resources enough to become powerful nations in time.

Today is Sunday. It has snowed since yesterday and a foot of snow covers the earth. We have a real Norwegian winter. Dear God, I cannot forget old Norway. We carry many sad memories with us from the old homeland, but still there is something which draws us toward it.

And how are you getting along, dear folks, at the new Horten? {16} I imagine that it must be a very lively place. At any rate I believe I would like it there. Where are Dicken and Mathias? Has Dicken been in the Baltic this year and seen the big fleet which is keeping an eye on the Russians? {17} What is the opinion back home about the war? Can Sweden avoid being dragged in? There will be tough fighting before Russia gives up. But England and France must conquer, otherwise the war will not end soon — and it would be a blessing if the overgrown Russian bear could lose some of its skin before it gobbles up everything around it.

Dear Christiane, please write to us very soon and tell us about everything back home: how you are getting along —about your children, and about conditions generally. If you see Berge . . . Søren . . . you must greet him from us. He is, of course, busy building steamboats or rather machines for. . . . I should be happy if Dicken could come over sometime. [98] I suppose he is the only one we might expect to see out here in the wild West. But no doubt his time is well occupied and I do not suppose he is much interested in visiting us poor farmers. Johan speaks of taking a trip home when he is through with his studies. Believe me, Johan has become quite a man. He is taller than I; and without bragging, I can say that he is undeniably one of the finest-looking young gentlemen at the college. He is very well liked by his teachers and fellow students. He and Stoy, Anne’s fiancé, pay us a visit about every third week. The latter is a kind fellow and has a very good head on him. I like him very much and I believe that in him Anne is getting an excellent husband. His father, an officer, fell in the war against Mexico. His mother lives in Indiana. I have seen her picture, that’s all.

You asked me, dear sister, to send you a picture of my place. I will do that next summer. But will you be kind enough to send me a view of Horten so I can see where you are living? I have a picture of Porsgrund. How dearly I would love to have some pictorial sketches from Norway! You can send the picture to Consul Habicht in New York with an emigrant ship or by whatever means available. But do not go to much trouble, because the places I loved are clearly imprinted in my memory — among these Otterholdt is not the least memorable. No, these places will not be forgotten. I ought to be happy here because I would scarcely have attained my present place and contentment back home. The sea would, of course, have remained my lot in life as long as my strength had endured, and after that — the fate of so many sailors — poverty and sorrow. But there is always a longing which nothing can erase. I do not really know what I am longing for. The people? No. The ones I associate with here are just as good as the ones back home. On the whole they are probably better, if there is any difference, because back home there was quite a bit of silly pride. I had few friends of any real worth. What is it then that I long for? The old mountains [99] and fjords and lakes? A strange loneliness comes over me when I think of that land which I shall, most likely, never see again.

I would never have left Norway if shameful treatment had not driven me away. But this also must be the ruling of fate. We do not understand the ways of God. My children will be happier here than in Norway, because there the prospects were not bright for the poor. As for my Lotte and myself, I hope that we can live the rest of our lives without any great changes. This is best when one gets old. If the opportunity comes, however, we might move once more in order to secure more land, so that Carl can be a respectable farmer when he takes over.

I wish you and your good Mr. Rye a happy Christmas. Tell him not to go out and fight the Russians. It’s not worth the trouble. It would be better for you to come and buy a good farm in Wisconsin and slaughter pigs rather than those poor, stupid Russians. That cousin of yours, Nicolas, must be a real cur. If we had him here we would tar and feather him.

If I ever become rich I will take a trip home and bring along all sorts of machines. We have transportable threshing machines which can thresh five or six hundred bushels a day at four cents a bushel; a machine which cleans the grain instead of winnowing by hand; machines which mow and machines which sow — everything goes with speed. . . . Farmers here sell grain for several thousand dollars a year. . . . You ought to see the roads leading to town . . . in the fall — wagon after wagon with grain and loads with [cattle and] hogs. A person must ask: "Is this a new country?" . . - People do not allow money to rest here — railroads, canals, towns, and grand buildings spring up as by magic. Elegant diligences with four horses run along, as in England. Hotels as large and beautiful as in France [are now] found everywhere. Even the farmers here have healthful [dwellings] . . . instead of primitive log houses. . . . The land now is adorned with beautiful, yes elegant [houses] . . . built in the most tasteful style —this is America. But do not let anyone believe that ignorance [100] and laziness will get ahead any better here than in Norway. By no means! But we have material resources. If intelligence and energy [are put to work] things go forward.


Johan Gasmann wrote his brother-in-law from Wisconsin, November, 1860.

A long time has passed since I wrote to you. I will not make any excuses — what is the use? The main reason is that I have been unable to send you any money. The thought that I could not meet this obligation has pained me very much. But impossible is impossible. Now, however, fate has given me an opportunity to fulfill in part my wish to pay you. My wife has received a little inheritance from a relative in Christiania. I have instructed Nils Vauvett in Porsgrund — who is our commissioner in this matter — to send you 50 specie dollars as soon as the money has been collected. If you will, upon receipt, write and let me know how much I owe you, I shall do my best to pay the remainder. I am happy now that the debts to my friends back home are practically cleared. They will not conclude that we forgot all obligations and duties merely because we were forced to seek a new homeland.

It grieves me greatly to learn about the present state of your health, dear Rye — you who used to be so strong and active. But we must bow to the will of God; and this I know you do, as a Christian. How often do I not think of the days I spent in peace and friendly associations at Otterholdt! All has vanished like a dream. How many gloomy hours have I not experienced since then! Still, God has been good. We have much to be thankful for. Even in this strange land he has helped us — yes, given us much more than we deserve. So far we have not lacked anything that we needed. And I have seen our daughters well cared for, that is, well married to able men; and our two sons have grown up to become useful and respected citizens. What else is there to wish for? Some more personal wealth might, of course, be desirable. What we have [101] is not much — a little farm which gives us our daily bread; that’s all. But even this is not so bad for an old salt who came here with two empty hands at the age of fifty. Now I am in my sixty-fifth year and still quite spry, so I must thank the good Lord for his fatherly concern.

It pleases me greatly that your children also have gotten along so well, Mathias already a division chief in the government and Dick a lieutenant. I would like to see Dicken — how he appears on the deck of a man-of-war. Tell him that he must take care not to become haughty. But as this is not a family trait I hope there is no danger. Your two girls are also so able that their fame has even reached us on this side of the Atlantic.

I, my wife, and children are getting along well, and their children also; that is to say, our grandchildren, of which we now have fourteen, all of them American born, who in time may become senators, yes, even presidents, because here nothing is impossible. We have just chosen a man to be president, Lincoln, who at one time was a laborer.

There is an infernal rumpus here during elections, but as soon as the matter is decided, everything becomes quiet again. We had the satisfaction this time of seeing the Democrats driven off the field; and it was high time. But according to my humble political opinions I fear that this country will face many turbulent scenes in the future. I do not have as great confidence in the merits of the republican system now that I observe it close at hand — it appears more brilliant at a distance. But humanity must struggle on in this world. We do not grasp the whole scheme of things.

It would please me greatly to receive some lines from you people now and then — from your girls or from your sons. But, of course, they have more important obligations than to tell us old emigrants about our beloved Norway. Despite the fact that I have nothing to complain about in this country I often find myself longing for the old shores and the old mountains — they are not easily forgotten. [102]


Johan Gasmann wrote from Amherst, Wisconsin, August 7, 1864, to his niece, Elisa Rye.

I should long since have answered your friendly letter; but you must excuse my negligence. There is so much going on at present that makes me weary of the whole world. We will have to remain here, however, until our time is up. It delights us to hear that you and your sister are very able girls and in good circumstances. It is great — yes the greatest of good fortunes in this world — to be able to depend on one’s self. And even though the teaching profession undoubtedly can often be depressing, it is still an honorable occupation which brings you in touch with many respectable families. May God grant you success and happiness! Mathias is now a prominent man, and I saw in Morgenbladet that Dicken has been appointed first lieutenant. In time he may become an admiral. If he were here now he would advance rapidly, because there is a great need of officers.

But probably he is better off where he is. God alone knows what will happen here. I get more satisfaction from seeing that our ancient Norway is making progress along all lines than I get out of all America’s grandeur. Fate decreed that I had to leave; but it was not from any great desire that I did so. And even though I must admit that God has done well by us in this new land, the eternal longing for old friends and for my dear old Norway is so great that here I neither am nor ever will be really contented.

I will now tell you about our family, and since this is the first time I write to you, I must go into some detail. My old Lotte and I are still alive and in fairly good health. We live on our farm, which, however, I have handed over to my son Carl, who is now primarily responsible for the management — because I am getting tired. We have a fairly good farm, especially if all of it can be put to proper use. But this is a slow process because wages are high and the yield low, so it does not pay to do things on a large scale. We have a good [103] house and a fine garden. The region where we live is very attractive, with hills and valleys and beautiful forests of oak, maple, ash, fir, and birch trees. We also have many beautiful little lakes and streams. On the whole it resembles the less mountainous areas in Norway, but the climate is not so pleasant. The winters are terribly cold and the summers burning hot. It can be said that the climate here resembles the character of the people: it runs to extremes.

Our daughter Maren, who is married to Gotfried Gasmann, lives right next to us on their farm and they are doing fine. They have five children. Niels and Constance live a quarter of a [Norwegian?] mile from us in a new little town (Amherst) where he has a store and is doing right well. Caroline, as you undoubtedly know, is married to a Dane, Sørensen, who is pastor in the town of Waupaca, twelve English miles from here. They are getting along extremely well. He is an especially fine man and well liked by everybody. They have seven children. The oldest son is in college already and is an able boy.

As you probably know, Johan is a pastor in the English Episcopal church. I was fortunate enough to get him enrolled in the theological college here, where he studied for six years and was immediately ordained. {18} He has been a pastor in California some four or five years and he has gotten along well; but he wants to return to the eastern states as soon as possible, because California is here looked upon about as Finn-mark was by the pastors back home. He is married to a girl named Clarkson, a pastor’s daughter from Chicago, where he [Johan] was assistant pastor for awhile. The salary, however, is larger in California than here — he is paid $2,000 per year — but the cost of living is high there.

Anne is married to a pastor, [William] Stoy. They also are in California. They have three children. Carl was married to [104] a Miss Blikfeldt from Molde. He lives with us and is a farmer. So there, you have the whole list. But, no — Henriette, our youngest. She is still unmarried and lives with us or her sisters when she is not teaching school. She is a "schoolma’am," a profession much sought by young ladies here. She spent some time at a ladies’ seminary, and she is a very good teacher in English, arithmetic, etc. The pay runs from $16 to $20 per month, but school lasts only some four or six months a year. This, however, pays for her clothes, etc.

Thus you see that we are getting along tolerably well, and if I were sensible I would be quite contented. But I do not like the way things are run here. American republicanism looks well on paper, but in practice it is a helter-skelter affair which allows too much leeway for scoundrels. This becomes particularly plain now during wartime. Our president is undoubtedly a good and upright man, but all his best efforts are frustrated by endless skulduggery. And the constitution, which was supposed to protect and support the state, is often so interpreted as to have the very opposite effect. Royal power in the hands of a poor king is bad enough, but even worse is our anarchical rabble regime. Money is the real god; and what pleasure is there then to live in [such] a country, even though it be richly endowed by nature?

The miserable war still goes on, and God alone knows when and how it will end. If we are fortunate enough to escape a revolution in our own Northern states it will be well. There is much dissension here. It would probably be best if Abraham Lincoln himself assumed command. The army is very loyal to him. But he is not a Napoleon; no, he is an excellent man. It is possible that he will win re-election this fall, and then I believe everything may still turn out well. But if the Democratic party should win — then it would be well if every decent man could leave the country. This is the state of affairs.

To be sure, after the most terrible battles our armies have moved forward, but as yet nothing has been decided. And now 500,000 more men are to be called up, partly to relieve our [105] weary and depleted regiments and partly to enlarge the forces. The people are still willing to sacrifice, but scoundrels are working in the darkness. Oh, if only the cause of humanity would win at last — and this war is the cause of humanity. The struggle would have ended long ago if only that shopkeeper, England, had not aided the South. But England will undoubtedly soon have to suffer for this assistance. It is England that has committed murder and now sees with unconcern the murder of Denmark. {19} God’s judgment must strike the rotten aristocracy in England. And that comedy figure,

Napoleon: How long will the proud French people tolerate this tyrant who cringes and fawns before the Russians, Austrians, and Prussians? Why this servility? Presumably so that he can hang on to the crown awhile longer. His new emperor in Mexico will soon find that country too hot. And when this war is over (may it be soon) the hegemony of France in Mexico will be ended.

Sweden and Norway should have aided Denmark. We, over here, certainly expected that they would. But they thought they were too weak. If Denmark falls, however, then Sweden and Norway also will fall and, finally also, the perfidious England. No one can imagine the hate which has developed here against John Bull since the war began, while Russia and America have been drawn closer together. The Scandinavians must fight for their freedom! The people are courageous; we can see that here. The Norwegians are respected for their bravery and endurance. But, but — the "higher ups" lack courage. Discretion is a virtue, but there can be too much of it.

Brother Hans’s two sons, August and Fin, have served in the army during the war. August rose to be captain but was wounded and has been discharged. Fin started as a sergeant but is now first lieutenant and is still alive. He is presently with the Army of the West near Atlanta, Georgia. A decisive battle is expected there any day. May God be with our men! [106] If the South loses there and Richmond is taken by General Grant’s army, then the rebellion will be over and we will have an army of half a million hardened warriors, ready to march on Mexico; but a tenth of this force will be sufficient.

Everything is quiet hereabouts. Groceries and dry goods are expensive, so we must do without many ordinary things. On the whole, however, life in the Northern states runs its normal course. Our money has fallen in value; but this is really no danger for a land with such resources. If there only were more unity this country would be invincible. America will probably become a happy land if freedom wins and slavery is eradicated. Many changes must be made, however, in the system of administration. The Americans are a vigorous and able people, but a stronger government is needed to rule them.

This has been a poor year in Wisconsin because of the severe drought. For a long time now we have had terribly hot weather, so people have suffered much during harvesttime. We will not get one third of a normal crop. There will be more than enough for the people [here], but there will be little left to sell. Wheat already brings eight dollars per tønde; normally it sells for three dollars. Fortunately, we do not need to buy any, but we do not live by bread alone.

This summer I have often longed for the Norwegian coast with its fresh sea breezes. Here, inland, the heat has been almost unbearable. If people can get along somewhat decently back home it is best for them to remain there. Even though they can eat a bit better here, there are many things to keep people more contented back home. The climate has great influence on one’s state of mind; and then there is that instability and insecurity connected with all our institutions. Many Norwegians are doing well here, but still I do not see any more happiness here than over there — in fact less.

If a goodly piece of gold should fall at my feet, then, as truly as my name is Johan, I would go back and live and die "where the North Sea foams against stony strands"; and I believe many of my countrymen would say the same. The Americans [107] have a word, "humbug." Its exact meaning would be something like fjas or løgn. This term can indeed be applied to many things here. But everything is new, and I suppose things must bubble and effervesce, as the case has been with other peoples before they settled down in an orderly community. And when we look at the present behavior of the old nations — exactly those who claim to be at the apex of world civilization — we can hardly expect more from this people which is a lobscouse of all the races. {20}

Now you and Freden must accept this rigmarole for the present. Twill do better next time.

We greet you, dear girls, most cordially. Please write to us when you have the time and inclination. It does give a refreshing release to thoughts and ideas. Caroline, Constance, and Lotte will, no doubt, write to you very soon. I had hopes that Cousin Sørensen would not begrudge me a few lines, but I suppose he is so busy with his smiths that he has no time to spare.

May God be with you and guide you as in the past.

"Mutter" sends her special greetings. She has warm memories of the pleasant days at Otterholdt.


<1> For information about the Gasmann brothers, see Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825—1860, 135, 138, 151, 178, 206—208, 228n (Northfield, 1931); Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest: Utvandringen fra Norge til Amerika 1825—1865, 93—95, 267—269 (Oslo, 1942).

<2> Gjerpen is in Telemark County, southern Norway. Hielm’s poem, translated with an introduction, is in Theodore C. Blegen and Martin B. Ruud, eds., Norwegian Emigrant Songs and Ballads, 52—63 (Minneapolis, 1936). Gustaf Unonius’ Minnen has been translated and edited by J. O. Backlund and Nils W. Olsson under the title A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841—1858: The Memoirs of Gustaf Unonius (Minneapolis, 1950, 1960).

<3> These recommendations were made in a letter to Consul J. Gasmann, a third brother, who served on a special commission appointed to draft laws pertaining to the emigrant traffic. A translation of the letter is in Theodore C. Blegen, Land of Their Choice: The Immigrants Write Home, 99—102 (Minneapolis, 1955).

<4> Transcripts of letters 1 and 2 are in the archives of the Norwegian-American Historical Association, part of a collection of America letters gathered by Theodore C. Blegen in 1928—29 from newspapers in the library of the University of Oslo. Pine Lake is in Waukesha County, twenty-six miles west of Milwaukee. Excerpts from the captain’s account of his visit are translated by Carlton C. Qualey in Norwegian-American Historical Association, Studies and Records, 5:30—49 (1930).

<5> Elision marks indicate lacunae in the transcripts.

<6> Muskego, in southeastern Wisconsin, was the first Norwegian settlement in that state and became, despite its drawbacks, one of the most influential communities founded by Norwegians in the Middle West. See Blegen, Norwegian Migration, 1825—1860, 118, 146, 202, 268; Carlton C. Qualey, Norwegian Settlement in the United States, 47—52 (Northfield, 1938).

<7> Brynildsen’s letter is quoted in Blegen, Norwegian Migration: 1825—1860, 205.

<8> Johan H. Reiersen was one of the most famous Norwegian proponents of emigration. His controversial Veiviser for norske emigranter til de Forenede Nordamerikanske Stater og Texas (Pathfinder for Norwegian Emigrants to the United North American States and Texas) was published in Christiania in 1844. For a discussion, see Blegen, Norwegian Migration: 1825—1860, 243—248. See also Reiersen, "Norwegians in the West in 1844: A Contemporary Account," translated and edited by Theodore C. Blegen, in Norwegian-American Historical Association, Studies and Records, 1:110-125 (Minneapolis, 1926).

<9> The following footnote was found in the newspaper version of the letter: "Hans Gasmann’s oldest son, Niels E. Gasmann, who brought this letter from his father, has arrived in Porsgrund on family business. He will return to Wisconsin with the first available ship."

<10> The Reverend J. W. C. Dietrichson was the first pastor ordained in Norway to work among his countrymen in the United States. He served congregations in Wisconsin in 1844—45 and again from 1846 until 1850. Always a "storm center of theological controversy," he denounced "the entire emigration movement with almost fanatical fervor" in letters to Norway and in a book, Reise blandt de norske emigranter i "De Forende Nordamerikanske Fristater" (Stavanger, Norway, 1846). See Blegen, Norwegian Migration: 1825—1860, 251—253.

<11> The newspaper in which the letter appeared ran a footnote: "In the original a stronger expression is used"; Bratsberg-Amts Correspondent (Skien, Norway), June 16, 1846. The same paper stated that Morgenbladet (Norway’s leading newspaper at the time) had declined to publish the letter. Its editor, Adolph Stabell, attacked Reiersen and other advocates of emigration.

<12> Transcripts of this and the following letters are in the NAHA archives. They were furnished by Ingrid Semmingsen, professor of American history in the University of Oslo.

<13> A tønde equals four bushels.

>14> No documentary evidence has been found to account for Captain Gasmann’s activities between 1844, when he visited his brother in Wisconsin, and his eventual move there. This letter indicates that although he was in Norway in January, 1847, winding up his affairs before his final departure, he had taken his family to Wisconsin and bought land there during a recent trip, probably late in 1846.

<15> Ankeknaper (anchor buttons) on a marine officer’s uniform bear the picture of an anchor. Smørstikker (butter piercer) is used figuratively for a sword.

<16> Horten is a town on the Oslofjord.

<17> During the Crimean War an Anglo-French fleet bottled up the Russian Baltic fleet, and bombarded Russian fortifications along the Finnish coast in 1854 and 1855.

<18> Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary near Milwaukee, was founded in 1842 and is still active. John Godfrey Gasmann and William Henry Stoy graduated in 1858; Nashotah House, Alumni Directory, 19 ([Nashotah, Wisconsin,] 1966). The directory was furnished through the courtesy of Dean Donald J. Parsons of the seminary.

<19> Denmark was then involved in war with Austria and Prussia.

<20> Lobscouse is a nautical term for a stew of meat and vegetables.

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