By John E Norton

By the mid-1830s, unrest between native Americans and new settlers from the east had largely subsided, and migration into the American northwest had begun, not just by eastern “Yankee” settlers, speculators and veterans claiming bounty land, but even by European immigrants. Sweden was no exception.
The first midwestern Swedish seed communities appeared in the early 1840s in places like Pine Lake, Wisconsin. In our part of the midwest, they began in 1845, as immigrant farmer Petter Cassel brought a small group from Kisa in Östergötland, to what became the New Sweden settlement near Burlington, Iowa. It, in turn, spawned other communities along the Des Moines River to the north, in places like Swede Bend, now Stratford, Iowa, and Andover, Illinois.
The floodgates were opened in 1846-50, by the flight of some 1200 “Erik Janssonist” perfectionists from north-central Sweden, who created what became the “prairie utopia” of Bishop Hill in Henry County, Illinois in 1846.
These settlements brought newspaper stories, letters and great public interest back in Sweden. The experience of the Erik Janssonists at Bishop Hill also brought the decision of a pietistic Swedish Lutheran clergyman, Lars Paul Esbjörn of Hille, to minister to those Swedes. He took leave of his duties in Sweden, and in June 1849 led a party of about 140 from the Gävle area to settle in Andover, Illinois, a speculative Yankee community near Bishop Hill and Moline.
Then, in 1849-51, a remarkable Swedish author, feminist and keen observer of America, Fredrika Bremer, made a U.S. tour, leading to her writing "Homes in the New World," recommending the northern midwest to her countrymen as a possible “new Scandinavia.”
Until the 1854 crossing of the Mississippi by its first railroad bridge between Rock Island and Davenport, rivers had been considered among the safest and most pleasant ways to travel through the region, later encouraged by newspaper accounts of the 1854 “Grand
Excursion,” which promoted the midwest along the Mississippi as a place to tour, settle and prosper.


Petter Cassel. The earliest immigrant organizer to our area, arranged the group migration of some 30 farmers from Kisa, Östergötland in central Sweden, sailing from Gothenburg in August 1845, settling in what became New Sweden, Jefferson County, IA. His letters home were widely published, and even brought the first Swedes to Andover, Illinois in 1845-46, before the later party led by Rev. Lars. Paul Esbjörn in 1849.

Erik Jansson. This remarkable farmer-preacher led the single largest mass migration ever to leave Sweden, using eastern Swedish ports like Gävle and Söderhamn, beginning in late 1845, and continuing through 1850. It involved some 1200 followers seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. Their letters home, published in regional newspapers, were often critical of Jansson's leadership but almost universally praised the opportunity in America. Their prairie utopia of Bishop Hill remains almost unchanged today and is a national historic landmark.
Jansson and his followers used the Mississippi to export goods to thriving river communities like St. Louis, and to bring products, and even Durham cattle, from Shaker Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, back to Bishop Hill. They had a fishing camp on what is today Arsenal Island, where Jansson's first wife died of cholera, but which also supplied the colony's Civil War soldiers with occasional salt fish to supplement government rations.
The Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn was moved by the plight of many former Erik Janssonists who had fled the Bishop Hill Colony to settle nearby communities like Victoria, Galesburg and Moline. Finally, in June of 1846 he led his own flock of some 144 emigrants from the area near Gävle, Sweden, to Illinois. His work at Andover was supported by an April 1851 grant from the “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind, and helped him establish some of the first Swedish Lutheran congregations in the midwest, first at Andover, then others in Galesburg and Moline.
These congregations led to what became the Augustana Synod, considered the largest and most successful Swedish creation in the New World. It also brought the founding of Augustana College, first in Chicago in 1860, then for a short time in Paxton, IL, and finally in Rock Island in 1875, where it thrives today.
Carl Oscar Hultgren, one of Esbjörn's students at Illinois State University, accompanied Esbjörn on a weekend buggy “circuit ride” from Andover to Moline in June, 1854, describing it in detail. They ran into dense fog and became lost on the prairie. That delayed their crossing the Rock River, making it necessary to overnight with the ferryman, a Mr. Peterson, causing them to miss their Saturday evening service in Moline, at what is today First Lutheran Church. As a student at Illinois State University in Springfield, he also reported on the hazing experienced by Swedish and Norwegian students, at the hands of their American counterparts, including Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln.
Esbjörn returned to the Church of Sweden in 1863, and the young clergy trained at Augustana College and Theological Seminary became the builders of the Augustana Synod, now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Erik Norelius. Another of Esbjörn's discoveries was a 16-year-old immigrant, Erik Norelius from Hassela, Hälsingland. He left Sweden with a group of 115 pietistic “Luther Readers” from Gävle harbor, in November 1850, coming first to Andover, then Moline. At Esbjörn's urging, Norelius completed his education at Capitol University in Ohio. After ordination, he headed north on the Mississippi to begin a remarkable career in Minnesota, as church organizer, founder of the newspaper Minnesota Posten, organizer of Gustavus Adolphus College, and historian of early Swedish Lutheran Church in North America. Other members of his immigrant group went north on the river to found communities near the St. Croix River, later made famous by novelist-historian Wilhelm Moberg in his classic immigrant novels.

Fredrika Bremer. This internationally known Finland-Swedish author and champion of women's rights came to America in 1849, on a two-year tour of discovery, not just of scenery, but of the American people.
This resulted in the remarkable book "Homes in the New World." Here is an excerpt from her writings of her voyage on the Mississippi, concluding with Rock Island and Bishop Hill:
Galena, Nov. 3, 1850
Yes, in this Great West, on the shores of the Great River, exist varying scenes and peoples. There are Indians; there are squatters; there are Scandinavians, with gentle manners and cheerful songs; there are Mormons, Christian in manners, but fanatics in their faith in one man (and Eric Janssonists are in this respect similar to the Mormons); there are desperate adventurers with neither faith nor law, excepting in Mamon and club-law; gamblers, murderers and thieves, who are without conscience, and their number and exploits increase along the banks of the Mississippi the further we advance south. There are giants, who are neither good nor evil, but who perform great deeds through the force of their will, their great physical powers, and their passion for enterprise. There are worshipers of freedom and communists; there are slave-owners and slaves. There are communities we build, as bees and beavers do, from instinct and natural necessity. There are also clear-headed, strong and pious men, worthy to be leaders, who know what they are about.…
“I shall today go onboard the good steamboat Minnesota, to descend the Mississippi as far as St. Louis. Perhaps I may make a pause by the way, at the town of Rock Island, to visit the Swedish settlement of Eric Jansson, at Bishop Hill, a few miles from the town.…

On the Mississippi, November 2, 1850
We are lying before Rock Island. Some kind and agreeable gentlemen have just been on board, with a proposal to convey me to the Swedish settlement. (ed. Bishop Hill) I cannot be other than grateful to them for their kindness and good-will, but the nights are becoming cold; I am not quite well, and, what should I do there? We, my countrymen and myself, should not understand one another, although we might speak the same language.… Since the death of the(ir) Bishop as they called Erik Jansson, they have gone on more prosperously. He, however, by his bad management, left them burdened by a large debt of ten or eleven thousand dollars, and some of them have now gone to California to get gold, to endeavor by these means to liquidate it. Some of the Swedes at
Bishop Hill have unremittingly proved themselves to be honest, pious and industrious people, and as such they have the confidence of the inhabitants of the town (Rock Island), and obtain on credit the goods for which they are at present unable to pay. They have built several handsome brick houses for themselves, and manage their land well.
They have begun to grow and to spin flax, and they derive an income from the linen thread they have thus to sell. They continue steadfast in their religious usages their prayers, and their faith in Eric Jansson, who seemed to have had almost a demoniacal power over their minds. When they were ill and did not recover by the remedies and prayers of Eric Jansson, he told them that it was owing to their want of faith in him, and because they were reprobate sinners. Many died victims to the diseases or the climate, and for want of proper care…."

Erik Olsson Fors(se). This 34-year-old farmer, born in Malung parish, Dalarna, and member of the Swedish home guard, emigrated in November of 1850 with his wife and four children from the western city of Gothenburg, Sweden, bound first for New Orleans, in a party of 36 emigrants, all hopeful of escaping summer diseases by their late departure. They headed upriver, where Erik was stricken by cholera in St. Louis. He survived. A fellow emigrant, Anders Svensson, also arrived there penniless, and appealed successfully to the famous “Swedish nightingale” Jenny Lind, who was singing there, for a gift of $75.00, to complete his family's trip, ending in Chicago, Minnesota.
After recovering from cholera, Erik headed for our area, settling first in Galesburg where he worked for a short time as tailor for $0.25 per day, then in Moline, and finally to Bishop Hill by 1852. In 1859 he organized the “Swedish Union Guard” at Bishop Hill. The unit later volunteered for Civil War service as D Company, Illinois 57th Volunteer Infantry, serving with distinction at battles like Shiloh. He resigned his commission as Major in October, 1864. He returned to farming in Henry County, then in 1869 organized a colonization company on railroad land in Kansas. He founded the city of Falun, KS, where he continued farming. He later became postmaster of Falun, a county trustee, and was elected State Representative in 1873.
Following his 1889 death, his old home town newspaper Tidning för Falu län och stad, noted that Forsse, in order to fund his emigration, had apparently burned his farm home for insurance, and may also have embezzled Swedish Army funds intended to buy horses!

Erik Pettersson. From Herrnäs farm in Bjurtjärn, Värmland, Erik left Sweden in 1849 with his two brothers and a friend, heading for California´s goldfields. Erik, however, stayed in the midwest, working first as lumberjack on the St. Croix River in northern Wisconsin. Struck by the beauty of the Mississippi River, he registered Wisconsin claims in 1852 and 1853 on Lake Pepin. Erik and brother Anders returned to Sweden to recruit emigrants for their pioneer community, following a small group of 16, which had already left, to winter in Moline. Erik and Anders recruited some 210, sailing in April 1854 for Quebec, then continued by steamer to Detroit and rail to Chicago, on what became perhaps the most infamous voyage in Swedish emigrant history. It was immortalized by a song of warning, Vi sålde våra hemman (We Sold our Homes.) Stricken by cholera en route to Chicago, about half died before arriving at Lake Pepin in July of 1854 aboard the steamer War Eagle.
That emigrant song was based on letters about their ill-fated migration. It was published in Kristinehamn, Sweden in 1854, with this introduction, “Excerpts from two letters from America, describing the unfortunate, deluded and martyred Swedes who emigrated there in April 1854, and written by brickmaker Jan Jansson from Carlskoga parish, Örebro County.”

For more reading:
Conrad Bergendoff, Augustana, a Profession of Faith, Rock Island, 1969
Fredrika Bremer, Homes of the New World, Part II, , New York, 1853
Fredrika Bremer, America of the Fifties: Letters of Fredrika Bremer,
New York, 1924
William E. Connelley, A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans,
Olov Isaksson, Bishop Hill, A Utopia on the Prairie, Stockholm, 1969
Eric Norelius, The Pioneer Swedish Settlements and Swedish Lutheran
Churches in America 1845-1860, Augustana Historical Society, Rock
Island, IL 1984
Stefan Nilsson, ed., Kultur & Historia, Karlskogaemigrationen (web edition)
Robert L. Wright, Swedish Emigrant Ballads, Lincoln, NE 1965

The Augustana Historical Society
We are a non-profit organization of professional scholars, amateur historians and, above all, friends of Augustana College. We're bound together by our desire to preserve and tell Augustana's story.
Our mission is to preserve the history of Augustana College, its relation to the Lutheran Church and to Swedish-American immigration and culture.
We do this through publications, presentations and collecting written records and artifacts. Since our founding in 1930, we have traced the stories of Swedish-Americans who settled the midwest, built the Augustana Synod, and organized, taught and studied at Augustana College and Theological Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois. Like all histories, these often intermingle. In the past decade, we have focused on College history, as our publications indicate. We have found the Augustana stories to be moving records of vision and courage. Many still remain untold. We’re dedicated to recovering and telling them, believing that the more we know of them, the more fully we can understand who we are and who we want to be.

We tell Augustana's story in publications ranging from the scholarly work of distinguished professors like Conrad Bergendoff, Jules Mauritzson, Harry Nelson and Fritiof Fryxell, to biographies of outstanding figures in our history, and stories of the College itself. We sponsor lectures and presentations on a variety of topics — most recently, on the Augustana Synod and living history museums. We have restored historic areas on the Augustana campus, placed monuments, markers and displays commemorating them. Recently, work by one of our members received an award of commendation from the Concordia Historical Society.

Olof Grafström (1855-1933)
Swedish-American painter who was born in Attmar, Medelpad, Olof Grafstrom graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1882. After painting in Sweden for several years, he first came to the United states in 1886 and lived in Portland, Oregon where one of his paintings won a silver medal at the 1890 Exposition. Olof Grafstrom lived for a time in Portland, San Francisco and Spokane before moving to Kansas where he taught at Bethany College from 1893 to 1897. From 1897 to 1926 he headed the Art Department at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. and painted hundreds of landscapes, portraits and large altar pieces during his time there before suffering a heart attack in 1926 and returning to Sweden, where he died 30 March 1933 in Stockholm.
Samples of Olof Grafstrom's work reside at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, at several museums and the Stockholm Palace in his native Sweden, as well as in many private collections. His large altar pieces can still be found in several older Lutheran churches across America including his "Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane" 1899, at the First Lutheran Church, Lake City, MN, "Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane" 1894, in Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA, and "The Risen Christ" 1915, at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA.