The Emigration

by Terry Hogan


It was early summer of 1850. The decision had been made. The meager family assets had mostly been sold. There was no longer an option to turn back. For all practical purposes, their home in Sweden was gone. Their home in America had yet to be found. Their emigration papers had been issued on June 10, 1850. They had booked their passage on the Swedish sailing bark, ''Maria.'' The Atlantic Ocean and America lay ahead. All else was now history. He had not planned on his wife being pregnant. But such things were beyond planning. It was God's wish. He worried about her health, the health of the unborn child.

Olof Olofsson had made the decision. He was the father, the husband. It was the way. He knew he was in bad health. He had ''consumption'' (tuberculosis). He knew that Sweden offered little opportunity for hope or success to his family. He wanted to know that they had more opportunity - before he died.

Olof Olofsson was born in Hansa, a village of Nybo, in the Jarvso Parish, Halsingland, in the north-central portion of Sweden, on August 8, 1808. He was the sixth of seven children born to Olof Jonnson and his wife, Kerstin-Hansdotter, of Ulvsta. Olof Jonnson was a farmer, like most farmers of the region, trying to extract a living from too small a farm. His ancestors could be traced back in this region for 200 years.

In 1832, Olof Olofsson married Margta Olsdotter. She was born on November 23, 1813, the daughter of Olof Persson and Margit Olofsdotter of Vaga. She was born at Eric-Mangs. Olof Olofsson and his wife, Margta, were to be blessed with six children, born in Sweden: (1.) Olof, born 1833; (2). Jonas, born 1836; (3). Per, born 1839; (4). Hans, born 1841; (5) Margaret, born 1844, and (6). Kerstin, born in 1847. They were all bound for America, to the port of New York.

Times were tough in rural Sweden. The parcels of land for farming were small. Crop success was uncertain and the work was all manual. For farmers, there was no opportunity to do anything other than farm-- no opportunities for advancement, for success, for a better life for his family. But things sounded different in America. Letters from America were trickling back to Sweden, some being printed in newspapers. Land was cheap, or sometimes free for the price of toil. Food was plentiful and a man could advance himself with hard work. There were no classes, other than what a man made for himself. Tattered letters made the rounds in small Swedish farm villages, being read and re-read, telling of a better life-- a life with hope. But it was a life across an uncertain and uncaring sea to a country that spoke a foreign language.

It would have been an easy decision for a young man without a family, or for those who were fired with religion and were the followers of Eric Jannson, heading for Bishop Hill. Olof had heard and read some of Bishop Hill. It sounded like a place to be-- the land that is, not with the colony. It was a hard decision for Olof, but it was made. He could not turn back. The new baby would work out. He told himself that life of a boat couldn't be any harder on his wife than life on their farm.

The Crossing

They loaded up what was left of their possessions and traveled southeast by wagon to the port city of Gavle. They spent a few days in Gavle, waiting for the right time to board the Maria. It was a smaller ship than he expected. But it was Swedish owned and he felt better on a Swedish ship. It seemed to delay leaving the homeland and there would be no language problem.

There few remaining goods were packed in a large wooden trunk, sporting large thick metal bands to give the wood extra strength and large hand-wrought iron handles on each end to help carry. Their money, to buy food, passage, and land in America was also secured in the trunk. It was all that he and his oldest son, Olof, could do to carry the trunk onto the Maria. The trunk carried nearly all they had. It became the most important possession that he and his family had. It would stay with the family throughout the trip, never far from sight. He promised himself that if the trip was successful, that this trunk would remain with the family.

Quarters were cramped on the Maria. Steerage class families were separated only by blankets hung to provide minimal privacy. There were over 100 passengers, all steerage class. They were vaguely separated so that families occupied one portion, and single men occupied another. Cooking was done on the deck. Each passenger was responsible for his own food during the trip but the ship provided water. Most of the daylight hours that weren't involved with family chores were spend on the deck. The air was fresher, it did not reek with the smell of fellow travelers, many sick will ailments ranging from seasickness to other more serious, unspecified diseases. Olof had been told that death was often a companion on these ships. He had been told that people were buried at sea but at least some Swedish captains kept a barrel of Swedish soil that was sprinkled over the corpse before it was cast overboard.

Initially, the trip was pleasant, all things considered. Their fellow passengers were optimistic and of good spirits and good health. Passengers met and exchanged histories and hopes of the new land. As Gavle was on the east coast of Sweden, the full force and fury of Atlantic storms were not experienced. Olof's wife, Margta, was experiencing some discomfort. She was ''big with child'', probably about 8 months pregnant when the left the relative safety of Gavle harbor. She had six children and a husband to attend to, and no older daughters to assist her in the task. Some of her new shipboard ''neighbors'' helped cook for the family when she had bad days.

Olof had hoped that they could get across the ocean and land in New York before the birth of their seventh child. It was not to be. Adverse winds blew the small sailing ship north of its intended route, among the icebergs. The unanticipated delay caused a water shortage and water became rationed. On July 10, 1850, somewhere in the Atlantic, Olof and Margta became the parents of another healthy son. He was named ''Magnus (Moses) Ocean Olofsson'' to commemorate his birthplace.

This event did not go unnoticed by Captain John Asander, who also was the ship's owner. He and his wife had been married for several years and were still childless. He approached Olof and Margta and asked if they could adopt little Magnus as their own son. He was the first child to have been born on the Maria while under his ownership and command. Despite the extra difficulties posed by a newborn, Olof and Margta declined. It is likely that the Captain believed the life that he could give Magnus was far better than what awaited him in America.

Little Magnus (or ''M.O.'' as he was later to be known) became the 113th passenger, all steerage class, on this tiny vessel whose sails were set for New York. Most of the passengers were farmers, or members of farmer's families. There were five ''Jonas Jonsson'' (John Johnson), four of whom were adults and farmers. The fifth was a lad of 7, the son of John Persson, age 39, a farmer from Alfta Parish in Gaveleborg. Magnus Ocean Olofsson was the youngest passenger upon arriving in New York, and Brita Johnson, age 70, wife of John Johnson, age 69, was the oldest. Their daughter, Brita Johnson, who was 33 and had been a maid, accompanied them.

Anders Naman, age, 52, a soldier from Kallmyr in Lujusdal Parish was on board, traveling with his son, Anders Naman, age 20. The wife and mother, Carin Johansdotter, did not emigrate. They had received their papers in Gavle on June 20, 1850. They would make a new life on their own.

Also on board was Pehr Rehnstrom, who had been an army sergeant from Lujsdal Parish in Gavleborg. He married Carin Pehrsdotter. They had two children, both born in Ljusdal Parish, a daughter named Brita Margarete, born January 26, 1845 and Pehr Eric, born March 11, 1848. They received their papers to emigrate in Gavle on June 18, 1850. Pher Rehnstrom was to travel to Victoria, Ill. His American name was Peter Rehnstrum. He became a member of the Swedish Methodist Church on August 30, 1854.

The Maria arrived safely in New York Harbor on September 3, 1850. Her passenger manifest for the ''District of New York Port of New York'' was dutifully completed and filed by the ship's captain. The manifest lists names, ages, occupation, and if a family member, the association. Little did the captain or the passengers imagine that this handwritten document would still be carefully preserved in the National Archives in Washington nearly 150 years later. The manifest reflects Olof Olofsson, age 42, farmer; Martha Olofsson, 36, wife; Olof Olofsson, 16, son; Jonas Olofsson, 14, son; Pehr Olofsson, 11, son; Hans Olofsson, 9, son; Martha Olofsson, 6, daughter; Christina Olofsson, 3, daughter; and Magnus Olofsson, 12 mos., son.

The Maria was apparently fortunate that one passenger was apparently not a member of the trip- cholera. Another vessel, the Aeolus from Soderhamn, arrived in New York about two weeks later, on September 17. Among its passengers were Swedes bound for Bishop Hill. Included in this group for Bishop Hill was Jan Jansson, a farmer from Ostansjo in Mo Parish, Vasternorrland, his wife Cajsa, and their six children, all born in Mo. Cajsa and five of the six children died of cholera on the way from New York to Bishop Hill. Similarly Marten Ersson from Ostanjo in Mo Parish and his wife Annika Jonsdotter were bound for Bishop Hill after arriving on the Aeolus. Marten died of cholera on the trip from New York to Bishop Hill. Annika, his wife, died shortly after arriving at Bishop Hill.

Knox County, Illinois

The Olofsson family traveled west from New York. The family traveled up the Hudson River by boat and then traveled by canal to the Great Lakes and then by boat via the Great Lakes to Chicago. Here, they traveled down the Illinois and Michigan canal to La Salle. From La Salle to Victoria, the trip was made by ox train (per M.O. as printed in the Oct. 18, 1921 Galesburg RegisterMail). They may have spent some time traveling in Wisconsin before heading to Victoria (per obituary of William). The large wooden trunk made of Swedish hardwood traveled with them-- keeping their possessions safe and dry.

Olof Olofsson purchased 60 acres of timberland southeast of Wataga for $100. On this land, they built a log cabin. The trunk was their first piece of furniture for their new home. This was their first home in America. The father, Olof Olofsson, continued to suffer from tuberculosis and his health deteriorated. The eldest son, who now went by the name ''William'' instead of Olof, stepped into the position of taking care of the family. A former Pennsylvania coal miner taught William how to mine the coal that was abundant near Wataga

By 1853, Olof's son, William (now Williamson) bought his first 60 acres of Illinois farmland that was to become the Williamson homestead, south of Wataga. In June of 1854, his father, Olof, died and was buried near their log cabin. The grave has been lost to time. His wife, Margaret, and the small children moved to Wataga. Margaret lived on until 1886 in Wataga.

Olof Olofsson lived long enough to get his family to America, to Illinois, and to see his son, William Williamson, start on a path of self-improvement. He did not live long enough to see the fate of his other children.

The Children

William Williamson (a.k.a. Olof Olofsson) continued to prosper and to add to his 60 acres until he had put together 447 acres south of Wataga. He also had land near Henderson and 1600 acres of land in Kansas and business interests in Clay Center, Kans. His holdings in Clay Center included a gristmill and an electric power plant. He also owned a store in Moline, a flourmill in Wataga, and a store in Galesburg. William Williamson married Katherine Olson on September 28, 1855. They were married by Rev. T. N. Hasselquist, the founder of Wataga's Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church. William was on the building committee for the Lutheran Church and his children took active leadership roles in its organizations. William and Katherine were to have ten children: Mary Juliana, Joseph Henry, Margaret Amelia, Lars Olof, Amanda Catharine, Martha Ellen, Edwin P., George Elmer, Fred Leonard and Alvin Luther.

Moses Ocean (''M.O.'') Williamson (a.k.a. Magnus Ocean Olofsson) started working as a farm hand and when he was 13-years-old, tarted to learn the harness trade. His schooling was limited, attending in winter months at a log schoolhouse east of Wataga. In 1888 he went into business in Wataga. M.O. also went into politics, starting locally in Wataga-- Town Clerk, and Justice of Peace. In 1886 he was elected Treasurer of Knox County and in 1890, the County Clerk. He later became the State Treasurer. He served on the committee that oversaw the construction of Lincoln's tomb in Springfield. He was one of the last people to see Lincoln, as he was asked to confirm that it was Abraham Lincoln's body being placed in the tomb.

M.O. was also chairman of the Knox County Republican committee for 20 years. Carl Sandburg was to write in his autobiography, Always the Young Strangers, ''If you wanted a state or Federal office the word was 'See Mose.''' M.O. helped form the Swedish American Republican league and was its second president. In 1902, he helped organize the People's Trust & Savings Bank and became its president. M.O. Williamson married October 18, 1871 to Mary A Driggs of Wataga. They were to have three children: a son who died in infancy and two daughters, Adelaide F. and Nellie M. Williamson. M. O. had a large home on N. Broad St. in Galesburg.

Jonas Williamson (a.k.a. Jonas Olofsson) became a successful farmer, near Wataga, purchasing 80 acres. He married Christina Anderson, by whom he had two children, Lottie and John. Christina died in 1875 and Jonas remarried in 1879 to Annie Hedburg.

John Williamson (a.k.a. Hans Olofsson) became a fatality of the Civil War. He enlisted as a private in K Company of the 83rd Regiment, Illinois Infantry on August 21, 1862 at Monmouth but he became ill at camp. He was discharged from the hospital at Paducah, Ky. on March 13, 1863 due to disability. His mother brought him home to Wataga where he died of ''consumption'' later that year. This was the same disease that had killed his father. He is buried in the Wataga cemetery.

Peter Williamson (a.k.a. Pehr Olofsson) moved to Iowa. Williamson, Iowa was named for him.

Margaret Williamson (a.k.a. Martha Olofsson) married William C. Olson, who owned a harness and saddle shop in Wataga. During the Civil War, William Olson was wounded at Shiloh. He was discharged in 1862. They moved to Kansas.

Christine Williamson (a.k.a. Christina Olofsson) who was three years old when she left Sweden, died at an early age.

Of course the story could continue. Their children had children who had children. Jonas Williamson's son, John Edwin Williamson, had 10 children, one of whom was named Wesley Williamson. Wesley becomes ''live history'' for me, being my grandfather. Like so many of his ancestors, he spent his life a farmer. As far as the trunk, it' story continues with the family. It is currently being cared for by a great great granddaughter of Olof Olofsson who brought his family and the trunk to Wataga some nearly 150 years ago.


Anon. 1918. Anniversary Souvenir, Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wataga,

Illinois. 1853-1918. Augustana Book Concern.

Bateman, Newton et. al. 1899. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County.

Munsell Publishing Company, Chicago & New York.

French, Verda. Undated. Williamson Family. On file at Galesburg Public Library.

History of Knox County Illinois. 1912. Volume II. Published by the S.J. Clarke

Publishing Company, Chicago.

Ljungmark, Lars.1979. Swedish Exodus. Swedish Pioneer Historical Society.

Nat. Archives. 1850. Passenger manifest for the Swedish bark Maria, arrived September

1, 1850, Port of New York.

Nat. Archives. 1862-1863. Military records of John Williamson, 1862- 1863, Co. K, 83rd

Regiment, Illinois Infantry.

Olsson, Nils. 1967. Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York 1820-1850. The Swedish

Pioneer Hist. Soc. Chicago, Ill.Sandburg, Carl. 1953. Always the Young Strangers. Harcourt, Brace and Company. New


Williamson, Leroy (translator). 1979. The Swedes in Knox County, Illinois. Knox Co. Genealogical Soc., Galesburg, IL.



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