A Pioneer Churchman: The Narrative and Journal of J.W.C. Dietrichson, 1844-1850


In view of the current interest in American ethnic studies and immigrant history the publication of this book possesses more than passing interest. The two documents that make up the major portion of the book were written by J.W.C. Dietrichson, a university educated pioneer minister among Norwegian immigrant communities in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin at mid-nineteenth century. A notable addition to the growing body of literature about one of the Scandinavian groups that settled in the America Midwest, this book reflects the frontier experience with mirror like candor. Religious, social, political, racial, and economic factors intermingle in the story that unfolds before the reader’s mind.

The central character, Pastor Dietrichson, excited a certain ambivalence of reaction: frontier democrats found him imperious and authoritarian but at the same time they recognized in him a genuine pastoral presence in the midst of the rough and tumble of the New World. The student of religious and cultural history will experience a distinct pleasure in meeting Dietrichson’s historical intelligence as he reflects on conditions in the 1840s. Noteworthy are his comments on the Americans  treatment of the blacks and the Indians, on church-state relationships, on religious pluralism, on frontier justice or the lack of it and on the American prison system. Although Dietrichson returned to his native land in 1850, his influence in America persisted into the twentieth century.

The two documents were translated by Professor Harris Kaasa, Luther College, Decorah Iowa, and Mr. Malcom Rosholt, Rosholt, Wisconsin. The Foreword was written by Professor Kenneth Bjork, editor of the Norwegian-American Historical-Association, Northfield, Minnesota. Professor E. Clifford Nelson, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, served as editor of the volume and author of the Preface and Introduction and also  provided the bulk of the annotation.

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