Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom
By Rolf Strand of Edsbyn, Sweden

Introduction
The Igniting Spark
More Trouble
Emigration of the Janssonists
Swedish Element in Illinois- Bishop Hills Colony
First Houses and a Sawmill
The Brick Factory
The First Church
Hard life in Dogouts and More Emigrants - Founding the Community
Considerable Hardships; Heavy Death Toll - Material Development



Introduction

As did other European countries, in the middle to late 1800s, Sweden went through a religious change. The Janssonist movement brought about an emigration to American of several thousand Swedish people. The person who was founder of the Jansonnists was Erik Jansson.

Eric Jansson was first put in prison in the parish of Osterunda. He was set free by the courts shortly after, but it was not long before he was again placed in bonds and transported, this time, to the prison in the city of Gefle, then removed to another place. Through the intercession of four of his devoted co-workers at the royal court, Jansson was set free once more. In September of 1884 he was arrested for the third time but was released, though he was taken into custody soon after for his part in burning devotional books.

After another brief interval of freedom, Jansson found himself within the prison walls on Christmas Day. He remained there for nearly four months prior to release in April of 1845 through a petition to the King. Because of his bold utterances and increasing popularity, he seemed to be a target for the police authorities. He was in hiding for fifteen weeks when he decided to give himself up voluntarily to the court in the parish of Delsbo. Here he was put on trial. After the arguments in the case were over, the judge concluded to acquit the prisoner; but because of the bitter opposition to Jansson, it was thought best to conduct him to the prison of Fegle. While he was being conveyed, he was rescued in a daring manner by three or four of his faithful brethren, after which he made good his escape, wandering from one parish to another, hiding in this farmhouse and that, until he crossed the mountains and came to one of the ports of Norway whence he embarked for America in January of 1846. The party consisted of himself, his wife, two children and three other persons.

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The Igniting Spark

The Janssonistic disbelief in the use of books other than the Bible was emphasized before long as strongly as it could well be done. In a certain village, on the 11th of June, 1844, a large number of religious books (except the Bible, the hymn book, and the catechism) were thrown into a heap and ignited. The fire consumed one book after another, so that in a few minutes a few charred scraps fluttering about on the blackened ground were all that was left. In October of the same year, a similar event took place in another parish, when not even the hymn book and the catachism were spared. Still a third bonfire of theological tones was brought about in December, as if the passion for such deeds was becoming insatiable.

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More Trouble

Meanwhile, what befell some of Jansson's co-workers? In the summer of 1844 a complaint was lodged by a parish priest against a number of persons because of their religious faith and each one was fined a considerable sum of money. In December of the same year, the brothers Olof and Jonas Olson were arrested for preaching in the open air but were released when it was learned that they were summoned to appear before the church authorities at Upsala. A man high in judicial circles kindly helped them out of their delimma.

On New Year's Eve, Jonas Olson was arrested and brought to Gefle where he was incarcerated among prisons whom he himself as an officer of the crown had formerly sentences. He was shortly released. Some time afterwards the two brothers, Olof and Jonas Olson, were summoned, for the second time, to appear before an assembly of the clergy at Upsala. They were now threatened with banishment if they persisted in conducting devotional gatherings.

Mindful of the apostolic plan, Erik Jansson appointed seven men as leaders of the emigration, among whom were Jonas Olson, Andrew Berglund, Olof Johnson, and Olof Stoneberg. These were to have charge of a common fund out of which should be paid all debts which rested upon any individuals who were anxious to join in the emigration. The transportation of every emigrant was also to be paid out of this fund, while the surplus was to be used in the establishment of the new colony. The common treasury was created by the contributions of the Janssonists who sold their houses, lands, goods and chattels to that end.

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Emigration of the Janssonists

There being upwards of a thousand persons desiring to emigrate, the undertaking was no small affair for those days. Passes had to be obtained from the authorities, a difficult matter in some cases. Furthermore, an ocean voyage in those days was fraught with hardship. The vessels were at best small and uncomfortable, some old and unseaworthy. The emigrants assembled in the ports of Goteborg, Soderhamn, Stockholm and Gefle and from those points the ships for America made their departure. The first shipload of emigrants that left Soderhamn suffered shipwreck on the Swedish coast. One ship with a hundred passengers was lost without a trace. Another was wrecked on the coast of Newfoundland. One vessel was five months on the voyage, six or seven weeks being spent in England to repair the vessel.

As early as 1845 Olof Olson had left for America with a commission to find a locality suitable for a settlement. In New York he became acquainted with a countryman of his by the name of Olof Hedstrom, a Methodist minister, who preached regarly in an old discarded ship fitted up into a meeting- house. Hedstrom's brother, Jonas, lived a Victoria - a small village in Knox County, Illinois. Olof Olson was persuaded to visit the latter and examine the Illinois countryside, which was receiving considerable attention at that time because of its agricultural possibilities. He came to Illinois, he saw the rich praries - and he was conquered.

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Swedish Element In Illinois

In July, 1846, Erik Jansson together with a few followers, arrived in the village of Victoria. After further prospecting, a piece of property was bought in the next county on the north. This property was bought for $250, on the first day of August, in the name of Olof Olson, and consisted of sixty acres of land. On August 21, the party purchased on the same county for a consideration of $1,100, a farm of one hundred fifty-six acres with buildings, live stock and grain. Hither moved Jansson, Olof Olson and the rest of the party. After a further examination of the neighborhood, a location for the colony was picked out. This site was secured on September 26, 1846, when four hundred and eighty acres of government land was bought at $1.25 per acre.

The new settlement was called Bishop's Hill -- an exact translation of the name of the Swedish parish where Erik Jansson was born, but the name was afterward spelled without the "s".

(NOTE: We hope you will take a moment and visit the Bishop Hill Colony on the Internet. There is a history of the colony and a surname list , put together by Robert Nelson, where you can check out your Swedish surname to determine if your ancestor arrived through the Bishop Hill Colony. I found my ancestor, ERIK KNALL, there.)

In the fall of the year, a number of emigrants arrived in New York. Thence the journey was continued up the Hudson River to Albany, and on the Erie Canal to Buffalo. After that the travelers took steamboats on the Great Lakes to Chicago, whence many of the early emigrants went on foot to their destination, while wagon transportation was obtained for the luggage and those unable to walk. Other bands of emigrants went from Chicago by water to La Salle, or Henry or Peru, whence they walked or rode. Those who came in 1854 traveled by rail the whole distance from New York to Galva, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad being then completed to that point. The journey from New York before the days of the railroads required about three weeks.

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First Houses and a Sawmill

Following the increase in population and in material prosperity, better and larger buildings were erected. At first small houses of sod and rails were used for kitchen and dining room purposes. In 1847 a few houses were built of clay mixed with coarse grass, which stood for several years. In that year, the first frame house was built, part of which was occupied by Erik Jansson and his family. A sawmill was secured early by the colonists, then exchanged for another, and in 1848 a third one was bought, the colonists thus making their own lumber. But as not enough timber could be obtained from the neighboring woods, some finished lumber had to be hauled long distances from the nearest towns, as Peru and Rock Island.

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The Brick Factory

In 1848 the making of kiln-dried brick was begun. Both men and women were engaged in this work. The kilns were fired a short distance west of the village, where suitable clay was obtained. During the first month 100,000 bricks were made. It is said that in all, five million bricks were manufactured, both for the market and for home use. Of this material, a number of substantial buildings were erected, some of the bricklayers being women. From the chalk-stone in the ravine, cement was manufactured and sand was procured in the neighborhood.

A four-story brick building forty-five feet wide and one hundred feet long was begun in 1849 and finished in the next year. In 1850 the work of extending this building another hundred feet on the south was begun, the new part being completed in 1851, and the common kitchen and dining hall were extended to occupy the entire first floor, the dining hall in the north part being then used for the children and that in the south part for the adults. This structure, called the kitchen building, later came to be designated the "big brick". The three upper stories were partitioned off into six halls with four dwelling rooms opening into each hall on each floor. After the colony had disbanded, the first story was likewise fitted upon into dwelling rooms, making a total of ninety-six rooms, exclusive of the six halls.

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The First Church

From the instances given, it is evident that the Janssonists were subjected to persecutions. Furthermore, they were denied participation of the Eucharist. They were also deprived of the right to testify in the courts of law, being thereby rendered defenseless in legal actions again them. In view of all of this, itappears that these men and women were being shorn of those old-time rights, privileges, and pleasures to which they, as well as their forefathers, had been accustomed. Two courses remained open to them: the one, to renounce their newly-begotten ideas on religion and dwell unmolested among the lakes and moutains of their childhood days; the other, to adhere to their beliefs and leave they native land. They chose the latter course.

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Founding of the Community

A few loghouses and tents accommodated the first arrivals. But when the colonists came in large numbers in October, 1846, dugouts were made in the sides of the ravine passing north and south through the settlement. The rear wall of a dugout, as well as the rear parts of the side walls, were of earth, but the front parts and the front wall were of logs, there being a door at the front flanked by two small windows. The roof was of rails, sod and earth. A dugout was ordinally about eighteen feet wide and twenty-five or thirty feet long. There was a fireplace in the back wall. Usually two tiers of berths ran along the side walls, accommodating about twenty-five or thirty persons. Before the close of the year there were about four hundred persons in the colony, including seventy who made their abode at Red Oak Grove, a few miles northwest of the main settlement. In the following February there came to the colony a company of twenty-one men and a woman who served as cook. These had left New York the month before and traveled across the country by boat, rail, stage and on foot. In June, 1847, there came about four hundred additional emigrants who had reached New York by various ships during the winter and spring, those coming to that port in the winter being obliged to remain there and in Brooklyn until the waterways were again open.

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Material Development

The colonists who arrived during the first two or three years met with considerable hardships. This accommodations were not the best, the food supply was often scant, fasting was made compulsory; so maleria and dysentery attached the enfeebled settlers, and the death toll was heavy.

There was no supply of sawed lumber to make coffins for the dead during the first winter, and sheets alone had to suffice. Sometimes one grave was made to serve for several bodies. Funeral services were dispensed with and the place of burial was not always known. It is said that a number were thus buried in a large grave in the west part of the settlement near the southern edge of the grove, but the exact spot is unknown. At the east edge of Red Oak Grove, where fifty colonists were buried in 1846 and 1847, a monument was erected in 1882.

These hardships proved too much for some of the settlers, who accordingly went to other places to seek a more congenial environment. Some settled at Lafayette, others at Victoria, and a few went to Galesburg.

And for others . . . as the years pass . . . on to KANSAS, particularly Clay, Cloud, Republic and Saline Counties! New towns/villages are established and with land opening up and the coming of the railroad, our Swedish ancestors began carving out a place for their families.



Some of the more nationally known Swedish people who have contibuted to this country are:
Carl Sandburg, the Illinois poet
Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly across the Atlantic
Eric Wickman, the organizer of the Greyhound Company
Wendell Anderson, a governor in Minnesota
Glenn Seaburg, the Nobel Prize winner,
John Ericson, the inventor of the propeller and the constructor of America's first battleship the "MONITOR" of the Civil War.

If you take a look at the The Eurpean Emigration Web Page, they tell us that: "In 1966 an Emigrant Institute was started in Sweden. Its purpose is to collect and register all kinds of source material dealing with the immigration period. The Emigrant Institute is also active in the U.S.A. where church records and other sources of Swedish background are systematically being microfilmed. In Smaland, the heartland of Swedish emigration history, a House of Emigrants has been built, where exhibitions, archives and a library serve anyone interested in Swedish emigration history. This unique institution has up until now received a quarter of a million visitors. Thousands of them have been Americans searching for their ethnic roots. Many have been helped to re-establish connections with the Swedish branch of their family. The House of Emigrants is willing to do its best to help others, even if they cannot come and see us. Just write to The House of Emigrants, P.O. Box 201, S-351 04 Vxj, Sweden."

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If you have any questions or information you would like to share, please contact Patricia Adams.

 

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Updated

13-Feb-2003

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