First Colony of Norwegians to America

Originally published in A History of the Norwegians in Illinois, by Strand, A. E., Chicago: John Anderson Publishing Co., date unknown

Transcribed by Jane Willey-Fey

Just as the Puritans had their Mayflower, in 1620, and the Swedes their Kalmar Nyekel, in 1639, so the Norwegians had their little sloop, called Restaurationen, in 1825, in which the first party of emigrants was carried to America.

Lars Larson of Jeilane was born near Stavanger, Norway September 24, 1787. He became a ship's carpenter, and during the Napoleonic Wars in 1807, the Norwegian ship on which he was employed was captured by the English, and he and the rest of the crew remained prisoners of war for seven years. Together with the other prisoners he was released in 1814, whereupon he spent a year in London, stopped with a prominent Quaker widow, Mrs. Margaret Allen, whose two sons held positions at the English court. During his sojourn in England, Lars Larson acquired a good knowledge of the English language and converted to the Quaker faith. Some of his Norwegian fellow-prisoners also joined the Quakers. Having returned to Norway in 1816, they all immediately proceeded to make propaganda for Quakerism and to organize a Society of Friends. Two of them, Halvor Halvorson and Enoch Johnson went to Christiana and made an unsuccessful attempt at starting a Quaker society there. Lars Larson returned to his native city, Stavanger, and there he and Elias Tastad and Thomas and Mette Hille became founders of the Society of Friends in Norway. This society is still in existence, and according to the latest statistics, numbers about 250 adult members. The first Quaker meeting in Norway was held in Lars Larson's home, in 1816. He was not a married man at the time, but his sister Sara (Larson), who was a deaf-mute, kept house for him. In 1824, at Christmas time, he married Martha Georgiana Persson, who was born October 19, 1803 on Fogn, a small island near Stavanger.

At that time, religious tolerance could not be counted among the characteristics of Norway, where also some separatism from the Evangelical Lutheran Church began to show itself. In Stavanger amt the Haugeans were numerous, and the Quakers had quite a few followers. The later differed so much from the teachings of the established State Church that its officials began a persecution of the dissenters. On complaint of the Lutheran ministers, the Sheriff (Lensmand) would come with his men and take the Quakers' children by force, bring them to the regularly ordained minister, and have them baptized or confirmed, as the case might be. They even went so far as to exhume the dead in order that they might be buried according to the Lutheran ritual. If the Quakers did not partake of holy communion as did the regular members of the church they were fined; and they were assessed taxes to support the State Church, whether they visited it or not.

The cruel facts are perfectly authenticated, and there is not a shadow of doubt that this disgraceful intolerance on the part of the officials in Norway, as in the case of the Puritans in England, was the primary cause of the first large exodus to America. Of course there were economic reasons also; the emigrants hoped to better their material as well as their religious conditions.

It should be remembered that the common people in Norway were displeased with and suspicious of the office-holding class. There were many unprincipled officials, who exacted exorbitant, not to say unlawful, fees for their services, and with such officials ordinary politeness to the common man was out of the question. They were, on the contrary, intolerably arbitrary and overbearing. Thus poverty, oppression, and religious persecution cooperated in turning the minds of the people of Stavanger amt, toward the land of freedom, equality and abundance in the far west.

The man who gave the first impetus to the emigration of Norwegians to America was, according to all evidence, verbal and written, Kleng Peerson from Tysvaer Parish of Skjold's prestegjeld, Stavanger amt, Norway. In the year 1821 he and his bosom friend, Knud Olson Eie, from the same parish, left Norway and went by the way of Goethenborg, Sweden to New York to make an investigation of conditions and opportunities in America. There is every reason to believe that they were practically sent on this mission by the Quakers. It is nowhere stated that they were Quakers themselves, but it seems to be established that they were dissenters from the State Church. After a sojourn of three years in America, which time they presumably spent in the city of New York and in New York State, they returned to Norway in 1824.

When Kleng Peerson's report about the new country became known, many were caught by a desire to emigrate. Lars Larson in Jeilane, the man in whose house the Quaker meetings had been held in 1816, at once started to organize a party of emigrants. Being successful in finding a number of people who were ready and willing to join him, six heads of families converted their worldly possessions into money and purchased a sloop, built in Hardanger, which they loaded with a cargo of iron. Also the skipper and mate were interested in this speculation. Besides iron, they carried whiskey.

The largest share in the enterprise was held by Lars Larson, who with his thorough knowledge of the English language became in all respects the leader and had the general supervision of the preparations for the voyage in his skillful hands. The Captain, Lars Olson, and the mate, Erickson, were engaged by him.

This little Norwegian "Mayflower" of the nineteenth century was named "Restaurationen" ( the Restoration,) and on the American day of independence, July 4 1825 this brave little company of emigrants sailed out of the harbor of the ancient city of Stavanger. The company consisted of the following fifty-two persons, chiefly from Tysaer parish, near Stavanger, as mentioned above.

The Sloop Party

 

Lars Olson, the captain

Nels Erickson, the mate

  • The following six families were the owners of the sloop.

Lars Larson, from Jeilane, with wife. (During the voyage, a daughter, Margaret Allen was born to them September 2, 1825.

Cornelius Nelson Hersdal, with wife and four children.

Thomas Madland, with wife and three children.

Johannes Jacobson Steine, with wife and two children.

Oyen Thompson (Thorson,) with wife and five children.

Daniel Stenson Rosdahl, with wife and five children. [name changed to Rosdail]

The other passengers were:

Knud Anderson Slogvig.

Simon Lima, with wife and three children.

Jacob Anderson Slogvig.

Nels Nelson Hersdal, with wife Bertha.

Sara Larson, deaf mute sister of Lars Larson.

Henrik Christopherson Harvig [Harvick], and wife.

Ole Johnson.

George Johnson.

Gudmund Haukaas (Haugees).

Thorstein Olson Bjaadland.

Endre (Andrew) Dahl, the cook

Halvor Iverson.

Nels Thompson (Thorson,) a brother of Oyen Thompson

Ole Olson Hetletvedt.

Andrew Stangeland.

When they landed in New York, at ten o'clock in the forenoon on the second Sunday in October (October 9,) they numbered fifty-three. Mrs. Lars Larson having given birth to a girl baby on the second day of September.

Their fourteen-week's journey across the ocean was both romantic and perilous. When they passed the English Channel they ran into a small port, Lisett, on the English coast, where they took a fresh drinking water supply and started to sell the whiskey, which it was then prohibited to import there. When they found out how dangerous a business they were engaged in, the speedily set sail and escaped. Either through ignorance of the Captain or adverse winds we next find them altogether out of their course, as far south as the Madeira Islands. Here they picked up a cask containing Madeira wine, which was floating in the sea. They commenced to pump and drink its contents. The whole company was pretty well filled up, nobody steered the sloop, and it came driving into the harbor like a plague smitten ship without a commander and without any flag hoisted. A skipper of Bremen, whose ship was anchored in the harbor, advised them to hoist the flag instantly, or they would have the guns of the fort trained on them. Those were in fact already made ready for action. One of the passengers, Thorstein Olson Bjaadland, got hold of the flag, and with the assistance of others, ran it up to the top of the mast, thus averting the danger. Two customhouse officers then came on board the sloop and made an investigation, finding everything in good order. Much attention was paid to the sloop party in Madeira. The American Consul increased their store of provisions and gave them also an abundance of grapes, and before departure he invited the whole party to a grand dinner. They arrived in Madeira on a Thursday and left the following Sunday July 31, and as they sailed out of the harbor, the fortress fired a salute in their honor. Having experienced the above and many other perils, they finally reached New York on October 9. The voyage lasted fourteen weeks from Stavanger. However, all were in good health when they landed. It caused a sensation in New York when it became known, that the Norsemen had risked their lives on so small a vessel. Through ignorance or misunderstanding the sloop carried more people for its tonnage than the American laws permitted, and on that account the skipper, Lars Olson, was arrested and the vessel and its cargo of iron confiscated.

Whether the government officials out of consideration for our good countrymen's ignorance and childish behavior raised the embargo and released the captain from arrest is not known. More likely their American co-religionists, the Quakers, exercised their influence in their behalf. The fact is that the skipper was liberated from prison and the owners got back their ship and cargo. In the sale of the cargo they were unfortunate, as the ship and cargo did not bring more than $400. The New York Quakers took up a collection with which to help them on their way farther into the country. Two families settled in Rochester; the others bought land five miles northwest of Rochester, in Morris County. Land there was held at $5.00 per acre, but as they had no money with which to buy, they got it on the installment plan, to be paid in ten years. Each one got forty acres. The Land was heavily wooded and hard to clear up, wherefore they had a very hard time of it during the first four or five years. Not infrequently they were in real want and wished to be back in Norway. But there was no means of getting there except by sacrificing their last penny, and they did not want to go back as beggars. Liberal minded neighbors, however, lent them a helping hand and through their own diligence and frugality they finally conquered their land and got it in such shape that they could make a living. Indeed much better than they ever could in the old country. Kleng Peerson, instead of coming in the sloop, had again gone by the way of Gothenborg and was already in New York ready to receive his friends. He had doubtless found Quakers living in New York, who were prepared to give our Norwegian pilgrims a welcome and such assistance as they needed. These Quakers showed themselves in this case, as everywhere in history, to be friends indeed.

The Captain, Lars Olson, remained in New York, while the mate, Nels Erickson, returned to Norway. The Leader of the party, Lars Larson, also remained in New York to dispose of the sloop and its cargo. Having been a ship's carpenter in Norway, he moved with his wife and daughter to Rochester, New York where he settled as a builder of canal boats. He prospered and when he died in 1845, he left a handsome fortune. Thousands of Norwegians on their way to Illinois and Wisconsin during the following years, 1836-1845, called at his hospitable home, bringing him news from Norway and getting valuable advice in return. He went into business for himself, and already in 1927 he was able to build a house in Rochester, which house still stands on the original site, and which probably is the oldest house now in existence in America built by a Norwegian.



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