THE SWEDISH BIBLE
by Terry Hogan
It was there in a booth, in the antique mall on East Main Street. Bound in leather, covered with gold- leaf biblical scenes depicted on its cover. A Swedish Bible, published in 1889 in Rockford. On its own, it was a beautiful piece of art, surviving over 100 years, but it was more. It had the family section completed, recording a marriage in Bishop Hill and the parents of the groom, born in Sweden prior to 1800. With a little research, this is their story as it unfolded.
Peter (Pehr) Johnson (Jonsson) Hedberg left Sweden from the eastern seaport of Gavle (Gefle)* on the sailing ship New York. With him were his wife, Brita, and their three sons, Jonas, Erik (Eric), and Karin (Carin). Peter was 41 years old and Brita were 40. Karin was the oldest son, born on March 4, 1825. Jonas and Erik were born on January 13, 1828 and August 11, 1835, respectively. Erik had been christened by the Lutheran Church on August 12, 1835.
They were now Jannsonists. That is, they were followers of Erik (Eric) Jansson (Janson), the radical religious sect leader who was no longer welcome in Sweden. Peter, Brita and their sons were leaving all they knew to travel to Bishop Hill, in Illinois, in America, in the unknown. They were not alone in this search for religious freedom. The tiny New York was teeming with fellow Swedes, many from Alfta Parish, also heading for Bishop Hill and a new way of life. The Hedberg family had received its "papers" to leave Sweden on August 10, 1846. This ship left Gavle sometime after October 15, 1846 and arrived in New York harbor on March 20, 1847. A typical passage was about 11 weeks, but the actual time was variable, as were the winds that pushed these little vessels across the Atlantic Ocean.
Peter Johnson Hedberg has been a "crofter," living in Sunnaker, Alfta Parish, Gavleborg Lans, Sweden. As a crofter, which was like an extremely impoverished tenant farmer, Peter had little hope of self-improvement. Peter was the son of Jon Olsson and Anna Hansdotter. He was born on October 16, 1796 in Sunnaker. Peter married Brita Ersdotter of Alvkarlhed, also of Alfta Parish. Brita was the daughter of Erik Nilsson and Margareta Hansdotter. Britta was born August 7, 1797. Brita's father, Erik Nelson, was a "juror" ("namndeman").
Peter and Brita were leaving their home, family, and friends, on the basis of a religious belief, trusting in their God and his self-proclaimed servant, Erik Jansson. They were taking their children on a risky trip, facing death by drowning or disease. In God, they trust. Vilhelm Moberg (1951) wrote of these Swedes in his classic The Emigrants: "The emigrants had the earth's heaviness in their bodies; clay from the field clung to their feet. And their heavy footgear-their shoes of rough leather, their impressive high boots-were only a hindrance to them on the surface of a slippery deck. They had stood broad-legged and sure on firm land; there they ordered their own motions. But here on the vessel they stood on insecure and treacherous footing."
Undoubtedly each passenger on the New York had much in common and yet each had their own unique story. Not all of these stories are happy. Some of the passengers heading for Bishop Hill on this ship were only fragments of families. Families that were divided by religion. Carin Jonsdotter, wife of Jon Errson, and her daughter Brita, were passengers on the New York. Jon Errson was not. Carin Johsdotter and her daughter were Janssonists and were joining two other family members who had left for Bishop Hill previously. Jon Ersson, husband and father, stayed in Sweden, but gave the required permission for them to leave. The Swedish parish Lutheran Church records show he "...had no other choice, since the two of them, deluded by the Erik Jansson heresies now demanded with fanatical zeal to follow the rest of the sect's adherents to America" (Olsson, page 139).
This family division was not a unique story on the New York. Barbro Jonsdotter and her infant daughter Kerstin, born February 6, 1846, departed on the New York without husband and father, Nil Ersson Lindgren. The records show that she had "...for such a long time pleaded with her husband to allow her to go to America, that he finally gave her consent" (Olsson, page 143).
Jonas Eriksson of Soderala Parish, Gavleborg had his own story to tell on the deck of the New York. He too was traveling to Bishop Hill, and traveling by himself. However, he had decided to reunite with his wife whom had left in 1845. Her ship, however, had been "lost" off Oregrund, but she had been rescued and continued on to Bishop Hill. Upon arriving in Bishop Hill, Jonas presumably was reunited with his wife, although the story is not clear. He later became one of the seven Bishop Hill trustees in 1853 and after the colony disbanded, he moved to Galva.**
One of the younger passengers on the New York was Erik Olofsdotter, age 2, the son of Anders Olsson Berglund and Brita Olsdotter, both from Alfta Parish. Erik had a brother, Jonas, who also was on the vessel with the family. Erik had little to contribute for the ship's storytelling, but he was to develop his own story after arriving in Bishop Hill. By the age of 12 he called himself Bergland and was a printer's apprentice at Bishop Hill. In 1861 he volunteered as a soldier in the Civil War and was promoted to first lieutenant after the Battle of Shiloh. After the war, he was appointed to West Point, being the first native Swede to attend it. He retired from the military in 1918 with the rank of major.***
These fellow passengers had to be known by the Hedbergs. The ship was too small and too crowded and the time of passage too long to conclude anything else. Their stories were likely shared during the long trip to America and the trip from New York City to Bishop Hill. These fragments of stories can still be found, waiting to be told.
Peter Johnsson Hedberg and his family made it to America. The Bible records that Brita, his wife, died in April or May, 1847. Peter J. Hedberg followed his wife shortly, dying at Bishop Hill in July, 1847. The marriage recorded in the Bible is their son Erik Hedberg Peterson (Phehrsson) who on September 28, 1873, married Ellen Johnson at Bishop Hill. Ellen Johnson was born in Nasbyn, Alfta Parish on September 18, 1846. The Bible records that a Mr. Andrew Nordstrom and Miss Carolina Hedberg were witnesses and the ceremony was performed by E. Shogren, pastor.
Erik Hedberg Peterson and his wife Ellen Johnson have two children recorded in the Bible, Esther Peterson, born in Bishop Hill on November 2, 1874 and Selma Eilionora(?), born in Bishop Hill on September 11, 1880.
Thus ends the story begun in the family Bible, probably recorded shortly after 1890, and probably by Erik Hedberg Peterson or one of his daughters. The story w as supplemented by a few hours of additional research from other sources that confirmed and expanded the Bible records. These are not my relatives, perhaps they have no living relatives, explaining the Bible's presence in an antique store on East Main Street. However, their story is more than the dry birth, marriage, death dates that often pass for genealogy. With a little effort, they become alive and real.
If you have Swedish ancestry and know some basic information about them, the following sources may be helpful to develop their stories.
* Gavle is a seaport town on the east coast of Sweden. It is northwest of Stockholm, and southeast of Alfta. Many of Illinois' Swedish colonists departed from Gavle. It was once known as "Gefle". Galva, Illinois was named for Gavle.
** Jonas Erickson's portrait is reproduced on page 70 of George Swank's book.
*** Eric Bergland's portrait is reproduced on page 71 of George Swank's book as well as in Nancy Lindberg Pinzke's book (no page numbers)
Church of the Latter Day Saints ( commonly, and incorrectly known as the "Mormon Church") "International Genealogical Index, 1994 edition- Sweden. These computer driven data bases are very easy to use and can be found at the Family History Centers or at some libraries.
Internet. "http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Acres/1088col_p.htm" lists Bishop Hill Colonists, including Erik Hedberg Peterson. I found this by searching for "Bishop Hill" on the internet.
National Achieves. If you have information such as the name of your ancestor, date and port of of arrival the Archieves will find and photocopy the ship's original passenger list showing your ancestor's name. The fee is minimal.
Olsson, Nils William. 1967. Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York, 1820-1850. Published by the Swedish Pioneer Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois (an excellent source if you ancestor crossed during that time frame. It is much more than a list of names, it contains footnotes loaded with additional information on where people were coming from, going, and why.)
Pinzke, Nancy Lindberg. 1982. Faces of Utopia, A Bishop Hill Family Album. (If you have Bishop Hill ancestors, their photos may be included here. I purchased my copy of this book at Bishop Hill)
Swank, George. 1965. Bishop Hill. Swedish-American Showcase. PO Box 4, Galva, IL 61434. If you have Bishop Hill relatives, you may find them mentioned or pictured here and it also provides good background on the early settlement.