In the late 1880s through the early 1900s, Providence, Rhode Island, Boston and other cities in New England became a destination for many Swedish immigrants with industrial skills. Lorraine Colson Bloomquist interviewed members of five Swedish immigrant families that settled in Rhode Island in this series of stories.


Both of Nellie’s parents arrived in the U.S. from Sweden through Ellis Island but at separate times. Her mother came from Småland; in 1906, her father came from Skåne. The family’s burial ground is located there. Borrner’s two brothers had emigrated before him and a younger sister remained in Sweden. The men were seeking “a better life.”


Borrner is an unusual name and has a unique history of origin. Nellie’s father’s father, her Farfar, Lars Olausson, married Pernilla Grandkvist, whose nickname became Nellie, which was passed down to Nellie Borrner (and Lovisa, Nellie’s middle name, was her aunt’s name).
Farfar’s son (Nellie’s father) Larson came from the area of Borringa Kloster. When he arrived in the U.S., he dropped the name Larson, and like his two brothers who arrived before him and took their name from Borringa, he too called himself Borrner.

Her father settled in Springfield, Massachusettes, working as a toolmaker. Nellie’s mother went first to East Hampton, Massachusettes to join her sister who was a cook. Eventually, she became the caregiver of an elderly couple in that household. The young immigrants met each other through Vasa Lodge.

The couple married in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and moved to North Providence, Rhode Island, where they remained. They became U.S. citizens but returned to Sweden when Farfar died. Remaining there longer than expected, they were pleasantly surprised by the birth of Nellie, in Lund. Her birth was registered in Gothenburg but she was still a U.S. citizen. A boy, Ernest, was born later in Providence.

As soon as the Borrners had arrived in the new country they took English language lessons as they refused to shop and point rather than speak their new tongue. They insisted on learning the language of their new home. When relatives visited they spoke Swedish, otherwise English was always spoken at home. Nellie and Ernie could understand Swedish but did not learn to fluently speak it. Nellie never felt as if she was a minority or discriminated against. The many Swedish immigrants were good, skilled workers and often sought after; they were likeable, hard workers, especially in homes and domestic work.

Raised in Gloria Dei Church, they were confirmed by The Rev. Andeen, part of his last class. Their parents made sure they started early — Nellie remembers attending Sunday School as early as age 5. Now they attend St. Andrew Church, Charlestown, Rhode Island.

The Borrners joined the Quahog Lodge where they have attended many sponsored events. Most of their friends of many years are connected with their churches and Vasa Lodge. In every room of their home are Swedish artifacts: paintings, handiwork, crystal, china dishes, Dala horses, kitchen tools, vases, and of course, a flag. Nellie is indeed proud to be of Swedish heritage. They have the custom of opening gifts on Christmas Eve. Over the years, Nellie and Ernie have returned five times to Sweden and many cousins have been to visit and stay with them in their seaside home.

By Lorraine Colson Bloomquist, Professor Emerita of University of Rhode Island Dept. of Kinesiology, member of Quahog Lodge, Vasa and member of the Board of RI Swedish Heritage Association