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Lars and Martha Larson: "We Do What We Can for Them"
    by Richard L. Canuteson (Volume 25: Page 142)

On October 11, 1837, Martha, wife of Lars Larson, prosperous canal boat builder in Rochester, New York, wrote to Elias Eliasen Tastad in Norway, reporting on conditions among Norwegian immigrants: "Twelve Norwegians came here today, and are now sitting at the table eating their supper. About two weeks ago there arrived from ninety to a hundred people. They stayed at our house about a week, and we furnished meals for nearly all of them. Most of them have now gone to Illinois. . . . There are still five families at our house, of the first emigrants who arrived." {1}

This statement expresses clearly the role that Lars and Martha Larson were playing in the migration of Norwegians to their American homes. But something of the strain which the Larsons were feeling and the efforts they were putting forth appear in a later paragraph of Martha’s letter: "People who are making a comfortable living in Norway ought to stay where they are, and not come here. When they come to this country, most of them are without money, cannot speak the language, and have no friends. They refuse to bide their time and be patient. Elias, I want to ask you as a friend that you advise no one to come here who cannot help himself, because practically all of them come to us and we cannot help so many. [143] We, of course, do what we can for them all. I have gone around town looking for work for them, and Lars has taken many of them out into the country. We spare no pains to make them satisfied." {2}

The story of the little band of immigrants called the Sloopers, who in 1825 founded the first settlement of Norwegians on United States soil, has been told and retold. Some of the retelling has been based upon careful investigation, part of it on erroneous interpretation or translation, and part on family tradition — which by its very nature and the method by which it has been passed down from one generation to another may be less than accurate.

Previous writers have focused attention on the half hundred people who, jammed into a tiny craft no larger than some of the cabin cruisers that now ply the "Great Western Canal," braved an ocean journey lasting ninety-eight days. One of the fifty-three passengers, Lars Larson, was later a source of salvation for incredible numbers of immigrants, who — hungry, homeless, discouraged, and more or less penniless — descended on his hospitable home and made Rochester a familiar name in the homeland.

In retelling what is known of Larson and his activities, one must also give due credit to his devoted, devout, and courageous wife. Babies have been born in all sorts of situations; not too many, perhaps, have been ushered into the world in a tiny ocean-tossed craft such as that in which Martha bore the first of her children. Not only was she to be the mother of eight children, but when her house was later besieged by hordes of immigrants, she was to take the burden of providing food, helping to locate shelter, and often of finding work for these people. It would be impossible to estimate the effort and time she spent and the miles she walked in the process.

Lars Larson (his name is variously spelled Larsen or Larssen) was born September 24, 1787, on the farm Jeilane, or Geilane, just outside Stavanger, Norway. Little or no [144] information is available about his childhood and youth. All we know is that he became a carpenter and eventually a ship’s carpenter. A turning point in his life occurred when he sailed on a voyage the nature and destination of which is the subject of some difference of opinion. J. Hart Rosdail maintains that he was aboard a ship carrying a cargo of lumber to Holland; others say that the ship carried lumber to France. Rosdail also states that he had evidence that Larson was serving at the time in the Danish navy. {3} Theodore C. Blegen asserts that Larson had been on a merchant vessel when taken prisoner by the British, who were then at war with Denmark-Norway. {4}

Despite this disagreement among the authors, there is general agreement that Larson and some of his countrymen were captured and imprisoned for about seven years in England after the Scandinavian countries had become embroiled in the power politics of the Napoleonic era. They were released after the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 brought an end to Norway’s hostilities with Britain.

Larson and his fellow captives, including Elias Tastad and Enoch Jacobsen of Stavanger, were held in prison ships near Chatham, where they were visited by Friends, who showed typical Quaker interest in their welfare. As a result, some of the prisoners adopted Quaker principles, and, when they returned to Norway, continued to practice their new and illegal religion under continual harassment from the government.

Although Norway was constitutionally a Lutheran state, in which all children were required to be brought up in the orthodox faith, a trend in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the direction of religious dissent had grown out of the preaching of Hans Nielsen Hauge. Born of devout parents on a small farm in Østfold, Hauge during boyhood was obsessed with feelings of guilt and sin. Eventually, at the age of twenty-five, he came to believe that he had been called to [145] preach the word of God. Frequently arrested and imprisoned, he continued to carry his beliefs to the people. As a result, being a man of great moral strength and an excellent revival-type preacher, he gathered an increasing number of followers. A later phase of his career involving a concern with business and trade spread extensively among his followers and provided a sound financial basis to his movement.

Hauge’s pietistic preaching had several effects which became an entering wedge for later dissent. People could accept his teaching of strict moral principles, and rural folk gained a personal faith that they had not absorbed from their state-controlled religion. At Eidsvold in 1814, where a national assembly drafted a constitution for an independent Norway, "there were a number of Haugians among the farmers’ representatives [and] Haugians were the solid core of the agricultural bloc in the Storting in the years immediately after." {5}

It is difficult to measure the true degree of influence of the pietistic movement, but it is a reasonable assumption that Hauge’s teaching increased the dissatisfaction with the economic conditions that encouraged later migration to America.

Dissenters from the state religion, however, never did amount numerically to sizable numbers, possibly because many who might have actively resisted the established church simply followed others of their countrymen to America. In this country, a number of evangelical sects had developed both before and after the earliest immigration. These religious groups often gave dissatisfied Norwegians an anchor which they might not have had in Norway.

Norwegian war prisoners in England, when released, returned to their homeland. Elias Tastad stated that before they were freed about thirty Scandinavians had been meeting with the Friends. Of these, he listed four by name. {6} After they got [146] home, two centers of Quakerism were established in Norway: a little group led by Enoch Jacobsen in Christiania and a small coterie at Stavanger. The latter unit eventually included Lars Larson, who with Enoch Jacobsen had spent an additional year in England; there Larson was in the employ of Margaret Allen, mother of William Allen, the Quaker leader. {7} Undoubtedly, as a result of this employment, Larson acquired the knowledge of English that later made him of great assistance to the Sloopers in New York — and to the many other immigrants who later passed his way.

It may be presumed that Larson had only a working knowledge of English. To his associates, however, who knew little or nothing of the language, his facility seemed quite remarkable. Henry J. Cadbury, quoting from the journal of Thomas Shillitoe, the English Quaker, indicates that the visitor from Britain considered Larson’s English "deficient." Although Shillitoe expressed a preference for another interpreter, he still kept Larson constantly at his command "as a watcher, lest . . . any unsound principles should go forth to the people as mine." Later, however, Larson evidently accompanied Shillitoe as interpreter on a sea trip to Bergen. {8}

In spite of Larson’s limited ability in translation here emphasized, we may very well assume that the passage of about ten years, between his settling in Rochester and the arrival of the large bodies of immigrants at the Larson home, had resulted in improvement in his English.

According to Tastad, the Quakers in Norway, few in number in the beginning, nevertheless persevered. He wrote: "On our return . . . we kept up our meetings for worship, two or three times in the week, constantly; when a few others sometimes came and sat with us, either in a loft or in a chamber. We were then as a strange and despised people . . . but the Lord preserved us in our testimonies, through many and various trials and afflictions, which we then had to endure for the truth’s [147] sake. Our sufferings were principally caused by the clergy, who stirred up the magistrates to persecution." {9}

In 1818 the Quakers in Norway were encouraged by the visits of William Allen, who was largely responsible for the conversion of Larson and his friends while they were in prison. Similar encouragement came from Stephen Grellet, a French Catholic, who had fled the revolutionary troubles to spend twelve years in America, where he too was converted to the Quaker faith. Allen tells of being at a meeting in England at which Grellet was present. Soon thereafter they obtained the necessary travel documents from the Swedish ambassador and set off on August 8, 1818, accompanied by Enoch Jacobsen, bound for Stavanger. Concerning their experience in Norway, Allen reported on two contacts with Lars Larson: "We then went [August 26] to the house of Lars Larsen, a carpenter, who is considered firmly settled in the principles of Friends. . . . We sat down together to wait upon the Lord." On August 27 Allen wrote: "We went a little way out of Stavanger to Lars Larsen’s to attend the usual meeting; there were seven men beside ourselves, and about as many women, also two children." {10} Both missionaries were present at a meeting in Stavanger at which Larson was appointed one of the overseers of the society, which had been organized by four men and four women. {11}

Although the Norwegian Quakers were aware of the risks they took in carrying on according to their principles, they were variously subjected to persecution and discrimination. "[The] persecution of the Quakers is particularly a dark chapter in the modern ecclesiastical history of Norway. On complaint of the state priest, the sheriff would come and take the children by force from Quaker families and bring them to the priest to be baptized. People were fined for not going to Holy Communion. Parents were compelled to have their children confirmed, and even the dead were exhumed from the grave [148] in order that they might be buried according to the Lutheran ritual." {12}

A royal commission created to study the problem proposed in 1817 to restrict the Quakers to a specified group of towns, in each of which would be appointed a local committee before whom individuals must appear and state their reasons for leaving the state church. They would then, according to the proposals, be free to carry out their customs as to baptism, marriage, burial, and other matters, and be freed of obligations such as oaths and the payment of taxes for support of the clergy, church, and military. But to prevent the use of their faith to escape military service, no one would be recognized as a Quaker until age twenty-five. The minister of religion reduced the number of towns listed as approved for Quaker residence, eliminating Stavanger among others, but the proposal eventually was lost in the parliament. {13}

In 1819 Knud Halversen, whose marriage in 1816 by Quaker ritual had attracted attention, was given royal permission to remain in Norway. When in 1821, however, he buried his child in unconsecrated ground, he was haled into court and fined ten specie dollars and costs. That same summer Elias Tastad’s twin daughters died. When he interred them in an unconsecrated area, after being refused permission to bury them in consecrated ground, he was fined five specie dollars a day until they were disinterred and buried suitably. He got into similar trouble the following year when Ole Franck died. {14}

As a result of the intercession of William Allen and Thomas Shillitoe, the church department in Norway decided to extend to Stavanger Quakers the principles outlined by the royal commission, on condition that they furnish evidence of proper membership and report births, deaths, marriages, and other matters normally under church supervision. Later this rule was modified to require that the Quakers refrain from [149] proselytizing and admitting new members. In the fall of 1823, ten members of the Stavanger Quaker group addressed a petition to the government, prepared by Tastad, praying for permission to practice their faith. Although supported by a favorable affidavit from the sheriff of Stavanger testifying to the diligence and good qualities of the petitioners, permission was not immediately granted. A second petition was sent in 1825, but official permission was not given until after the Sloopers had emigrated. {15}

The story of the mission of Cleng Peerson and Knud Olson Eide (Eie) to America in 1821—1824 has been adequately told, {16} and particular aspects of the first Norwegian migration to America have been dealt with by a number of writers in both English and Norwegian. Since we are here concerned primarily with the activities and experiences of Lars Larson, we shall content ourselves with a relatively brief summary of the familiar story.

Peerson and Eide arrived in New York in August, 1821. Eide apparently was the victim of an unnamed malady which caused his death. {17} Peerson proceeded on his own to locate land in what a little later became Orleans County, New York. He worked through Joseph Fellows, agent for the Pulteney estate, English investors. Returning to Stavanger in 1824, he found a ready audience for his reports, and as a result in 1825 a body of emigrants numbering fifty-two prepared to leave their homeland. {18}

While these emigrants were making their preparations, Peerson, accompanied by Andreas Stangeland, returned to [150] America. They worked their way to the Rochester area, whence Peerson proceeded to Fellows’ office at Geneva, New York, and made arrangements to buy six tracts of land. {19}

A small ship, known to us as the "Restoration," was bought for 1,800 specie dollars. Johannes Steen was the largest shareholder, having invested 1,200 specie dollars, the entire proceeds from the sale of his own ship.

Five of the six heads of families in the group contributed the balance. {20} The sloop was 54 feet long with a beam of 16 feet and had a draft of 7½ feet, the certified burden being 18 ½ commercial lasts, or 38.48 tons.

In addition to the preparations made by the individuals and families who were preparing to sail, two major tasks had to be performed. The first was to remodel the little ship to provide space for its too numerous passengers. Lars Larson’s skill as a carpenter probably made him the leader, although he may have had assistance from Halvor Iversen. Rosdail provides some idea of the problems: "The deck area . . . could not have been more than 480 square feet, about 9 square feet per person. Assuming a minimum of space between bunks and tiniest of companionways, only 250 square feet was available for sleeping. Even with double bunks this was less than two-thirds the room needed, for 2 ½ by 6 foot bunks for all of the immigrants. Besides, space had to be provided for the chests containing their possessions and provisions. . . . On deck . . . there was the galley for cooking food, and tanks for fresh water . . . enough to last 52 people for at least two months. Then there were lockers to hold fuel for the stove, extra canvas for sails, ropes and other sailing gear." {21}

Along with his preliminary tasks, Larson found time on [151] December 25, 1824, to marry Martha Jørgensdatter Eide. He was 37 and she was 21. {22}

The second major effort was to find a supply of iron, as ballast, recommended by Cleng Peerson because Swedish iron would find a ready sale in America. Eventually a cargo of 3.2 tons of iron bars and plates was rounded up from four Stavanger firms, and on June 30, 1825, Lars Olsen Helland, as skipper, obtained clearance for the ship and cargo from the Stavanger customs house. Three days earlier, Helland had filed the record of his crew — giving for each man his rank, age, and amount of pay — and had obtained shipping papers. {23}

The traditional date given for the departure of the "Restoration" from Stavanger is July 4, 1825, but Blegen devotes the better part of two pages to discussing whether the actual date of departure was July 4 or 5, without actually resolving the matter. {24}

The little ship fortunately encountered good wind and weather conditions as it entered the English Channel and coasted along the south shore of England to a first landfall at Lizard Head in Cornwall. Ignorant of English law, the Sloopers began replenishing their supplies by illegally exchanging brandy from their stores for what they needed. {25} When they discovered their error, they quickly weighed anchor and set their course southwest, then south toward the trade winds which were intended to speed them on their way. Approaching the Madeira Islands, they found, according to oft-told legend, [152] a barnacle-covered cask floating in the ocean, which they retrieved and discovered to be full of good wine. Further traditional lore relates that Lars Larson narrowly escaped losing a hand to a shark as he aided in fishing the cask from the sea. {26} Possibly as a result of this "find," the little ship drifted into the port of Funchal without displaying its colors, and hence was in danger of being fired upon by the harbor defenses. Prompted by the crew of a Bremen vessel, the Norwegian sailors found the flag and displayed it. Thus far the voyage had lasted about 27 days and covered 2,070 nautical miles.

The emigrants enjoyed a week’s stay in the sunny climate of Madeira. The inhabitants were hospitable and the American consul, John H. March, helpful. With their papers properly endorsed by the Swedish-Norwegian consul, and supplies replenished, the Sloopers set sail again on August 7, 185. {27}

Rosdail, who has accumulated a great deal of information concerning the voyage, graphically portrays the perils of ocean travel in the tiny ship: "They were most conscious of the risks when it stormed. For then the Sloop behaved like a thing demented. It rocked violently from side to side. It pitched upward at precipitous angles, leveled momentarily on the crests of great waves, and then plunged downward into troughs so deep the descent seemed endless. Sometimes the Sloop yawed like a tiny tub, or heavy seas smote it so that it shuddered fore and aft, yet had no time to brace for the next blow. The very beams and planks groaned aloud; and while the winds howled outside the immigrants tried to soothe the frightened children and prayed to God that the ‘Restoration’ might be saved."

Concerning another aspect of their life during the crossing, Rosdail says: "It is most probable that religious meetings were held on board. It had been the habit of the leaders and others to sit down in each other’s company to wait upon the Lord [153] about twice a week. . . . The leader in such meetings was undoubtedly Lars Larson. . . . Certain it was that all of the adult passengers and crew had their Bibles and turned to them often for pastime and comfort through the long days of the voyage."

Two months after sailing from Stavanger, Martha Larson provided additional interest for the emigrants by giving birth to a daughter on September 2. The child was named Margaret Allen, honoring the prominent Quaker woman for whom Lars had worked in England.

The long voyage came to an end in New York harbor on Sunday, October 9, ninety-eight days out of Stavanger. Met by Cleng Peerson and passed by the medical authorities, the disembarking Sloopers had their great occasion marred only by the unfortunate loss of Jacob Slogvig’s tool chest in the harbor waters. {28} The New York Daily Advertiser reported their arrival on October 12, and the story was reprinted in Boston, Rochester, Cooperstown, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati papers. Peerson had been able to obtain aid for the immigrants among New York City Quakers, who "gave many of them shelter under their own roofs and supplied them with money to relieve their most pressing needs." {29}

The aid of the New York Quakers was immediately needed in another situation. On October 13, the United States Customs Service seized the "Restoration" and jailed Captain Lars Helland for violation of an act of 1819 relating to the maximum number of passengers which might be carried by a ship entering United States waters. This law limited the number to two persons for each five tons of the ship’s weight. According to the formula, the "Restoration," with a weight of 38.48 tons, could legally carry only 16 passengers, instead of 46, including the Larson baby. Although the American officials were generous and set the tonnage of the sloop at a fraction over 60 tons, the number of passengers was still 21 too many. At the rate of penalty set in the law, $150 per person over the limit, the fine [154] would have been $3,150, an amount that was far beyond the limited resources of the Sloopers. {30}

Aside from a paragraph in Ole Rynning’s True Account of America, the full story of this near disaster remained untold until Blegen and Carlton C. Qualey found the documents pertaining to the case in the National Archives in Washington and in the federal court records in New York.

On October 13, 1825, four days after the "Restoration" arrived in New York, the United States attorney for the southern New York district filed a formal document in district court, declaring the sloop "seized as forfeited" by the surveyor of customs. Asserting further that "some person or persons to the said Attorney as yet unknown" had taken on board at "some foreign port or place" passengers exceeding the legal number of two for each five tons, the excess amounting to 21 persons, the district attorney prayed that the court cite all or any persons "interested in said Sloop or Vessel" to answer to the charges. On the same day, the sloop was bonded for $600, surety on the bond being provided by Francis Thompson, whom Blegen identifies as a prominent New York Quaker. The bond bears a further statement that the judge of the United States district court, William P. Van Ness, authorized the clerk to transmit official copies of the petition to the secretary of the treasury. {31}

On October 14 a hearing was held before Judge Van Ness, at which Lars Larson, Johannes Steen, and Lars O. Helland appeared as petitioners. The petition which they filed with the court was presented to Judge Van Ness on behalf of themselves and others who were owners of the sloop. The document recited the facts concerning Cleng Peerson’s first visit to the United States in 1821—1824: he had made contact with the land agent for the Pulteney estate; he had then returned to Norway and reported to his friends. The petitioners and others [155] had purchased the sloop and the cargo of iron, and had departed from Stavanger with New York as their destination. On their arrival, they had found that they were carrying more passengers than the United States law allowed, and the sloop had thereupon been "seized and Libelled" by customs officials, the master being subject to a fine totaling $3,150. The petition then continued: "And your Petitioners further represent that they and the said Passengers are all entirely ignorant of the language and the laws of this Country. That they came hither for the purpose of forming a settlement on some of the uncultivated lands in this State, and are anxious to set out for the place of their destination before the ice shall obstruct their passage by water. And the Petitioners declare that the penalties aforesaid have been incurred in consequence of their utter ignorance of the laws of this Country and without any intent or expectation whatever to violate any law of the United States."

The petition further prayed that the court "enquire in a summary manner" into the circumstances of the case, and cause the facts to be submitted to the secretary of the treasury "to the end that the forfeiture of the said Vessel and the aforesaid penalty . . . may be remitted." {32}

The clerk of court transmitted a copy of the petition and accompanying formal documents to Washington, with the court order for presentation to the secretary of the treasury. A copy of the petition reached President John Quincy Adams, and on November 5 he endorsed the copy: "Let the penalty and forfeitures be remitted on payment of costs so far as the United States are concerned. (Signed) J. Q. Adams." A formal presidential pardon was issued November 15, signed by the president and Henry Clay, secretary of state. The president’s action was remitted to the marshal of the southern district on November 15 and was sent to New York the following day. {33} [156]

In the meantime, the Sloopers were anxious to start for their new homes in western New York — partly because the onset of freezing weather would complicate their travel, and partly because they did not wish to impose further on the hospitality of those who had given them aid and shelter. A notice concerning the Sloop party in a Christiania newspaper, January 23, 1826, pointed out: "The public has . . . shown these inexperienced people much sympathy by giving them considerable gifts, both of money and of clothing, before their departure for the interior of New York." {34} Rosdail states that New York Quakers had contributed to the cost of transportation to Orleans County, amounting to $6.00 per person.

The majority of the Sloopers took passage on a Hudson River steamboat for Albany on October 21, 1825, a journey then requiring about twenty-four hours. {35} Although the Erie Canal was not completed and officially opened until the immigrants were on their way from Albany westward, they were able to continue on it because various segments were being used for travel when completed. The last section opened prior to the official festivities, which began October 26, was the "long level" from Brockport to Lockport. Holley, the immigrants’ destination, was east of that section; therefore they could proceed to that point without interruption. One can only theorize a bit as to where they encountered the official Clinton party and the flotilla of boats traveling east to "marry the waters" by pouring a keg of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic. Holley is approximately 280 miles from Albany by canal. If the Sloopers left Albany on October 22 and the official craft departed from Buffalo on October 26, it is probable that if the immigrants encountered the governor and his party on the canal, it would have been between Rochester and their point of debarkation at Holley. {36} [157]

From Holley, the Sloop party traveled on foot approximately ten miles from the canal to the site of the Kendall colony along the present Norway Road.

When the pardon from President Adams released the sloop, it was sold for $400, and Lars Larson was then free to join his family. He traveled by boat to Albany, and finding the canal frozen and closed to traffic, he is said to have bought skates and skated to Holley on the canal.

Larson remained with the Sloopers during the first winter at Kendall, but in 1826 — after a short period of employment by an unidentified boatbuilder — he moved to Rochester and established himself in business constructing canal boats. Successful in his venture, Larson in 1827 built a substantial home at 19 (later 37) Atkinson Street. {37} Although at the time this was on the edge of the settled area west of the Genesee River, it was later to become a part of the third ward, known in the post-Civil War era as the "Ruffled Shirt" ward because of the fine homes and social quality of the vicinity. {38}

Larson’s home became a famous way station for Norwegian immigrants during the period when they were streaming across the ocean and traveling the Erie Canal-Great Lakes route to the Middle West. In spite of strenuous efforts to save it, the house was destroyed about 1940. {39} When this writer first visited the spot, the site was a vacant lot in one of the present ghetto sections of Rochester.

The Larson family lost little time in identifying with the Quaker element in the Rochester area. While making final preparations to leave Norway, Larson had obtained from the Quaker society in Stavanger a certificate enabling him to transfer his membership: "As this our friend and member Lars Larssen Geilen with his family, think proper to leave us, to spend the rest of his days in the United States of America, we can give him no farther help than to recommend them to their [158] friends in that country who no doubt will give them the best advice; in other respects we must recommend him to the help of his Maker. Stavanger, the 30th of the 6th Month, 1825."

The minutes of the monthly meeting of the Rochester Friends for May 26, 1826, show that "sundry papers were produced at this meeting by Lars Larson, certifying his right of membership, etc." A committee was to examine them "and propose such as would be proper to read in the meeting." {40}

Rosdail reports the result of the committee consideration:

"We have examined several papers which are translations from the Norwegian language, one of which purports to be a certificate from Friends of Stavanger in Norway which testifies to his [Larson’s] membership among Friends; and other recommendations from officers under their general government expressive of his good moral character. Although the certificate does not follow the form of regular certificates issued by the Yearly Meeting of London, yet we are of the opinion it would be best to accept it and insert the names of his wife and child when recorded." {41}

When the division among the Quakers in the United States occurred in 1828, solid Martha stayed with the Orthodox Friends, while Lars was included among the Liberals or Hicksites in a paper published by the Rochester Historical Society. {42} The authors seem to have erred in their listing or the original records were erroneous, for the then three Larson children — Margaret, Inger Marie, and Lydia — were enrolled with Lars as Hicksites. This classification raises some doubts, for Margaret Allen, as we have seen, was born at sea in 1825, Inger Marie was born in 1827, and Lydia Glazier in 1828. It does not seem likely that these infants would have been registered among the dissidents instead of with their mother. [159]

Apparently Lars changed his mind about the Hicksites, judging from a paragraph in a letter written by Martha Larson in 1837 to Elias Tastad: "I am glad to say that, as far as I know, my dear Lars no longer associates with them [Hicksites], which is the greatest joy I could desire here on earth. He is greatly interested in church work, is diligent in his work, and we live together with great happiness, for God has blessed us with both temporal and spiritual gifts." {43}

The pleasant home of the Larsons and the prospering boat-building business were apparently what the family needed to keep their roots firmly in Rochester soil, when, beginning in 1834, the Sloopers began moving west to settle in La Salle County, Illinois. He and Martha became the parents of seven more children in addition to the daughter born at sea: Inger Marie, February 18, 1827; Lydia Glazier, November 18, 1828; Elias Tastad, July 9, 1831; Martha Jane, July 30, 1832; Clarissa Elizabeth, July 30, 1834; George Monroe, July 8, 1841; and Georgiana Henrietta, July 19, 1844. {44}

During the first half of this twenty-year period, there was only a driblet of Norwegian immigration passing along the big canal. These people undoubtedly were known to the Larsons, and most of them stayed for at least a short time in the Kendall colony. Regardless of nationality, established settlements have almost habitually been the orientation points for newcomers, until they have accumulated some money for further travel and have acquired some knowledge of English. Many of these people wrote to their compatriots back home, optimistically but sometimes in discouragement. The Norwegians were no exception. Blegen, who has delved deeply into these letters, says that "the story to be told is a human story of everyday people, and their letters are basic. . . . They will help to clarify . . . the image of America in the minds of millions of Europeans who read the simple documents that, [160] decade after decade, were mailed to relatives and friends across the Atlantic." {45}

Of particular interest to us, among this flow of correspondence, are two letters by Lars and one by Martha. In the first letter to his countrymen in October, 1837, Lars, because of the love he felt for his native land, undertook to provide those who planned to come to America with answers to some of their questions. He advised them first to consider that they did not know the English language, nor did they realize how much money they would need when they arrived in America and set out to travel the great distances to inland points. Many who had previously emigrated had been ignorant on both points. He continued:

"If the Norwegian and Swedish vice-consul had not been kind enough to help them with money, they would generally have suffered great need. . . . From the consul they usually come to me in Rochester, and when they arrive here . . . their money once more has given out. Then they ask me for help. . . . They ask me for advice and I have made all efforts to help them. . . . But because of the great numbers who come to me, it is almost impossible to satisfy all of them. The last ship from Stavanger brought about ninety of my countrymen here, most of whom came to my house and stayed . . . almost three days. I sent about thirty of them on to Illinois. . . . The rest are still in my house, with twelve more who arrived one day after the others; these are housed in one of my boats."

Larson pointed out that those who came to America without adequate funds were worse off than they would have been at home, because they had no knowledge of the language and no one to speak for them. He reported that he had looked around day after day for jobs for the immigrants, only to have them sent back to him because they did not know English. He was sure that many of them would return home if they had the means to do so. {46} [161]

Larson’s letter was published in Stavanger Adresseavis, and, judging from the context, excerpts appeared January 4, 1838, in another Norwegian paper, Rigstidende. Immediately below his remarks in the latter paper was a letter from an unidentified Norwegian in Chicago, who wrote that when the party of immigrants to which he belonged arrived in New York after a 74-day voyage, most of them were without funds. The consul paid their fare to Rochester, where Larson and Ole Eie fed and lodged them and loaned them money to get to Illinois. {47}

On September 9, 1838, Larson wrote to Elias Eliasen Tastad in Norway that he and his family lived well, although he realized that many immigrants wrote home in a very different vein. He went on: "I want to tell you that we . . . have our troubles, just as well as you do. . . . I cannot complain, because I have my daily bread and have enough so . . . I can share with the needy. But many of my countrymen are in a rather bad position. . . . They are steadily moving west . . . how far . . . I do not know. I wish to say . . . that those who plan on coming here must be prepared to meet many difficulties that they have never thought of." {48}

The letter from Martha, also to Elias Tastad, was undated. Although it does not refer to the major problem of the Larsons — the stream of migration through their hospitable home — it does express a deep religious feeling, which must have helped to sustain her during the difficult years past. This spirit was also to comfort her in the forthcoming loss of her husband. She first reported that she had "not for sometime past been very well but at present I am better. I and my husband went away last 5th month on account of my health." She details a journey to New York, after which they traveled by boat and railroad to "Berlington," the home of Stephen Grellet. After attending Quaker gatherings, they returned to New York for the yearly meeting. "I had the comfort to be in company with our dear friend Steven Grellet, also, with a great minister from England [162] of the name Joseph John Gerny. . . . The meeting lasted about 5 days. O my dear Friend Elias, thou cannot have any idea what a good meting the yearly metings are. It has felt to me as a kingdom on the earth, and, if I may express myself, the friends has piered to me like angels for their love and chareity are very great towards each other. I have often thought of thee as well as the rest of the friends there and I feel a great love towards you all, more than I can with pen express." {49}

The economics of caring for the immediate needs of so many immigrants undoubtedly posed a tremendous responsibility for the Larsons. Unfortunately, little remains in the way of record to indicate how their problems were managed, other than the few statements in the foregoing letters. Rosdail gives us the only specific information, reporting a story that Larson provided some of the food for the visitors by buying the carcasses of sheep at the Front Street stock market. The sheep, dressed and cleaned, could be cooked in a large iron pot in the backyard. As we have seen, Martha wrote of walking the streets looking for work for immigrants and of Lars employing some of them in his boatyard and of his going into the countryside to seek further employment for his guests. {50}

Many questions remain unanswered about this massive aid project. How many of the 6,200 immigrants were helped by this generous couple? How much money was loaned to enable them to reach their destinations? How much was repaid? Certainly the totals were enough to earn the Larsons greater attention in the annals of American immigration history.

During these years, Larson also managed to acquire some property. Without going into greater detail, one should list a sampling of the acquisitions found in the grantor-grantee indexes for Monroe County, New York: [163]

On July 28, 1828, Larson bought Lot 15 containing .27 acre on Atkinson Street for $100. On December 23, 1833, he acquired Lot 14 on Atkinson Street for $50. {51} On April 26, 1832, Larson and John Sanders of Penfield were parties to a mortgage given by Tennis Van Nest on the Van Nest residence and Lots 5, 6, and part of 7 in the town of Penfield, in the amount of $1,250. Curiously the first payment of $300 could be made in the form of four horses worth that amount, to be appraised by two men chosen by each party and an additional person chosen by the four. On July 15, 1833, with $660 still due, the mortgage was foreclosed and the property was advertised for sheriff’s sale on December 31, 1833, at which time it was bid in by Larson and Sanders for $620. On April 11, 1836, Lars and Martha sold the property for $700. {52} On April 13, 1839, Larson purchased part of Lot 50 on Buffalo Street, and parts of Lots 16 and 17, for $1,000. On September 8, 1839, he bought Lots 233, 234, and 235 in Cornhill subdivision for $450. {53}

Rosdail found these acquisitions on the assessment rolls with the moderate figure of $1,500 for all; total taxes came to only $7.26. {54} The increase in the stated purchase prices over the years indicate that Larson was investing in property in a rapidly growing town.

Lars Larson met an untimely death at the age of fifty-nine. An item in the Rochester Daily Democrat reported the sad news: "DROWNED—We learn that LARS LARSON, a Norwegian, well known to many of our citizens as a boat builder, and residing on Atkinson St., in the city, was drowned at Rexford Flatts, about four miles below Schenectady, on the night of the 12th instant [November 13, 1845]. It seems he fell from the little bridge running across the lock. His body had [164] been in the water about an hour before it was recovered. The body arrived here last evening, and at the request of the family a Coroner’s Jury will be convened this morning." {55}

An undated letter from Martha Larson to Ovee Rosdail {56} detailed what she believed to be the cause of her husband’s death: "I will tell thee how I think he came by his death. . . . A man by the name of Hotaling came to Lars and wanted him to buy an old boat in company so Lars sold his new boat and bought an old one he thought he would do better than to run his new one for that would make it seconded handed he took this man as Captain, he never liked to go Captain. This man was to [have] half of the boat as soon as he should pay his part Lars paid one hundred and fifty dollars down the rest to be paid this Spring [1846] Lars repaired the boat and made a good boat of it then he took a load of flour from Buffalo to Albany $1.00 dollar a barrel, six hundred and ten Barrel they got as far as Schenectady or rather four miles below Rexfords flatts where he was drowned It happened five o’clock in the morning; they were to be in Albany the next day this happened the last night the last hour of darkness how can we but think it very strange now he [Hotaling] claims the boat he has got all the freight money and he claimed the horses the horses we got back but the rest is lost. Somehow or other he got the bill of sale in his hands he knew if Lars was out of the way he could claim all so we have every reason in the world to think he was pushed into Eternity. . . .

"Lars sold his new boat for a thousand dollars because he stood so much in need of money to pay some crowding debts then he went away He paid $300 on a mortgage of a thousand dollars two hundred dollars comes due the 1st of May and if it is not paid we are in danger of losing it." {57}

Rosdail’s comment on this story of distress and possible [165] crime should be quoted also: "This sum [$300] plus $150 paid on the old boat left Lars $550 out of the $1000; but as a prudent business man he surely would not have carried more than $50. with him. Even so, Hotaling’s temptation included $610 for the freight, say $350 of which would have completed payment for the boat, leaving him with $260 cash, a boat worth perhaps $500, and a lucrative boat business." {58}

This writer has exhausted all possible sources of information which might have yielded a further clue to the exact cause of Larson’s death. The Rochester Daily Democrat and the Advertiser in the same city provided no further comments as to the coroner’s inquest. No official report of it was found in the county clerk’s office in either Monroe or Saratoga county. The Albany and Schenectady newspapers give no further clues.

All that can be done, it would seem, is a little "surmising," which will in the end offer nothing better than a few unanswered questions. To what extent was Larson familiar with the character of the man Hotaling? Other than the bill of sale, was there any document involved in the agreement? If not, why would a canny businessman embark upon such a deal without further legal protection?

Lacking a coroner’s report, we have no information whether there were evidences of foul play upon Larson’s body. Was he simply pushed off the catwalk, or was he given some disabling blow which prevented him from saving himself? It might seem logical that he could swim at least a little, and this would lead further to the implication of foul play. However, one must consider Larson’s age and the shock of cold water.

This accident occurred in mid-November. The catwalk — or "the little bridge"— is atop the lock gates. In the larger present-day locks, the walk is no more than eighteen inches [166] wide; in those earlier times, it might have been no more than a foot. During November, frost might have formed overnight; a little jostling could make a man slip from such a surface.

The evidence offered by Mrs. Larson’s report of the business aspects of the trip, plus the possibilities raised by the questions asked above, would seem to suggest something more than an accident. At any rate, a fine man lost his life prematurely; Martha lost a beloved husband, and her eight children were left fatherless. {59}

On November 24, 1845, letters of administration were issued by the Monroe County surrogate, the New York equivalent of probate judge, to Martha Larson and Silas Cornell, listed as "a friend of the deceased." Out of respect for Martha’s religious beliefs, the official form was modified by changing "Sworn to" to "Affirmed." Bond was fixed at $2,000, signed by Mrs. Larson, Cornell, and two others. {60} No further papers were found in the surrogate’s office to indicate that there was a final accounting of the estate, which was estimated at $1,000.

Martha Larson continued to live on Atkinson Street during 42 years of widowhood. Rasmus B. Anderson, who met her when she was 72, spoke of her as "a woman of great intelligence and force of character. I . . . was struck with her stateliness and commanding dignity." {61} She died October 17, 1887, aged 84 years, 7 days.

We have attempted to underscore for the present generation the good will, the human kindness of this Norwegian immigrant couple, who expressed, in their deeds of unselfishness and in their words of advice, a deep loyalty to their countrymen. To our knowledge, no monument praises their sympathy for and encouragement of those who, like themselves, sought a new home and greater opportunity. Perhaps it is not too late to correct the oversight.


<1> Quoted in American-Scandinavian Review, 13: 361—362 (June, 1925).

<2> American-Scandinavian Review, 13:363

<3> J. Hart Rosdail, The Sloopers: Their Ancestry and Posterity, 3 (Broadview, Illinois, 1961).

<4> Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825 -1860, 27 (North-field, Minnesota, 1931).

<5> Jørgen Bukdal et al, eds. Scandinavia, Past and Present, 2:712 (Odense, Denmark, 1959).

<6> The four Quakers listed by Tastad were Lars Larsen, Ivar Halvorsen Revem (father of Halvor Ivarsen, later a Slooper), Ole Pedersen Franck, and Elias Eliasen Tastad. Rosdail, The Sloopers, 9; George Richardson, The Rise and Progress of the Society of Friends in Norway, xi (London, 1849).

<7> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 28.

<8> Henry J. Cadbury, "The Norwegian Quakers of 1825," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 1:74—75 (Minneapolis, 1926).

<9> Richardson, Friends in Norway, 16.

<10> Life of William Allen, 272 (Philadelphia, 1847).

<11> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825—1860, 29.

<12> Rasmus Anderson, The First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration, 1821— 1840, 49—50 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1895).

<13> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 30—31.

<14> Richardson, Friends in Norway, 33—34, 36—37.

<15> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825—1860, 34—35.

<16> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, chapter 2; Rosdail, The Sloopers, chapter 1.

<17> Baltimore American, October 22, 1825, cited by Anderson, First Chapter, 74. Rosdail, The Sloopers, 562, explores this report, casting doubt on its accuracy.

<18> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 9. Rosdail lists twenty-seven of these people as being Quakers. "The families of Cornelius Nilsen Hersdal, Daniel Stensen Rossedahl, and Johannes Jacobsen Steine, and the unmarried folk: Halvor Iversen Revem, Ole Jonsen Eide, Henrik Christophersen Hervik and his sister Bertha, Nils Nilsen Hersdal, Knud and Jacob Andersonner Slogvik, Ole Olsen Hetletvedt," also Lars Larson Jeilane and his wife-to-be, Martha Jørgensdatter Eide, and his deaf-mute sister Siri Larsdatter Jeilane.

<19> Richard L. Canuteson, "A Little More Light on the Kendall Colony," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 18:86 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1954); Rosdail, The Sloopers, 12.

<20> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 15. The five families making up the remainder of the cost of the sloop were those of Lars Larson Jeilane, Cornelius Nilsen Hersdal, Tormod Jensen Madland, Daniel Stensen Rossedahl, and Aanen Toresen Brastad.

<21> "Rosdail, The Sloopers, 18.

<22> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 404. O. M. Norlie, Rasmus B. Anderson, and Henry J. Cadbury give her name as Martha Georgianna Peerson, the last name being a version of her father’s name, Pedersen. However, Rosdail’s genealogical study of the Eide family, based on Erik Bakkevig’s research, shows that she was properly Jørgensdatter, as the daughter of Jørgen Pederson, and Eide, since her father after his marriage to her mother had gone to live at Eide. In a letter to this writer, August 30. 1970, Rosdail speculates that the "Georgianna" may have been assumed after arrival in America, as others had middle names, and "Jørgen" was the equivalent of the American "George."

<23> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 17—19. This reference gives details concerning the cargo.

<24> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825—1860, 393—394.

<25> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 25, says brandy was exchanged; Theodore C. Blegen, ad., Ole Rynning’s True Account of America, 12 (Minneapolis, 1926) asserts it was whisky.

<26> Anderson, First Chapter, 58.

<27> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 26. Anderson, First Chapter, 59, gives the dates of arrival and departure as July 28 and 31.

<28> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 27—30.

<29> Anderson, First Chapter, 63, 69.

<30> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 601— 602 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1940).

<31> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 603—605.

<32> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 609—611.

<33> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 613— 618. All of the documents here referred to are reproduced in Blegen’s monograph, John Quincy Adams and the Sloop "Restoration," included as an appendix to Blegen’s Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition.

<34> Cited in Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 625.

<35> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 34—35.

<36> Data for the foregoing paragraph are from the writer’s lecture notes for a course in New York state history.

<37> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 38, 45—46.

<38> Samuel Hopkins Adams, Grandfather Stories (New York, 1947).

<39> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 48 n.

<40> John Cox, Jr., and Percy B. Clapp, "Quakers in Rochester and Monroe County," in Rochester Historical Society, Publication Fund Series, 14: 102 (Rochester, 1936).

<41> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 848, citing John Cox, Jr., Friends Intelligencer, October 24, 1825.

<42> Cox and Clapp, "Quakers in Rochester," 98—99, 106.

<43> Theodore C. Blegen, Land of Their Choice, 30 (Minneapolis, 1955).

<44> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 405—407. Lydia was named for a member of a New York City Quaker family that sheltered Sloopers after their arrival in America.

<45> Blegen, Land of Their Choice, xi.

<46> Blegen, Land of Their Choice, 27—29.

<47> American-Scandinavian Review, 13: 362.

<48> Blegen, Land of Their Choice, 30—31. This letter was written during difficult times following the panic of 1837.

<49> Cadbury, "The Norwegian Quakers of 1825," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 1:89. In a footnote, Cadbury states that Joseph John Gurney, according to his journal, attended yearly meetings in New York in 1838, 1839, and 1840, but visited Rochester only in 1838. Cadbury therefore assumes that this undated letter was written in 1838, and that the Larsons’ visit to New York and Philadelphia occurred the same year. Spelling in the letter is Martha’s own.

<50> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 88.

<51> Monroe County, New York, Grantee Records, Liber 27, 131, Liber 69, 577. On November 29, 1869, Larson’s son George sold his one-eighth interest in Lot 14 to his sister Inger for ten times the entire purchase price of the lot.

<52> Monroe County, New York, Mortgages, Liber 11, 361—362, Liber 14, 101— 102; Deeds, Liber 36, 12. Martha signed this deed with her mark; in view of her letter writing, one wonders why. See also footnote 60.

<53> Monroe County, New York, Deeds, Liber 47, 321, Liber 45, 95.

<54> Rosdail. The Sloopers, 128.

<55> Rochester Daily Democrat, November 15, 1845.

<56> Ovee Rosdail was J. Hart Rosdail’s great-grandfather, who had migrated from Kendall to Illinois.

<57> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 120-121. This letter lacks punctuation in the original. It will be noticed that there is a slight difference in the location of the accident in the two accounts quoted. The newspaper story states that Larson was drowned "at Rexford Flatts." A map provided by the New York state department of transportation shows Lock 21 of that time located at the village of Rexford Flats. Martha Larson’s account states that the accident occurred "four miles below Rexford flatts." A second map from the same source shows Lock 20 by measurement 3 1/3 miles east of Lock 21. This could have been the site referred to by Mrs. Larson.

<58> Rosdail, The Sloopers, 121.

<59> The children, ranging in age from one to twenty years, were all at home at the time.

<60> Monroe County, New York, Surrogate’s Records. Martha signed this application with "X."

<61> Anderson, First Chapter, 63.

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