Swedish Roots, Illinois Soil - Part II

by Terry Hogan

With the establishment of Bishop Hill in Henry County, Erik Jansson now had the opportunity to establish his own colony for the purpose of exercising religion in his own way. To be successful, however, Bishop Hill needed Jansson's followers to relocate to Illinois, and to place their financial resources under his control. The story of Bishop Hill is complex and tainted by the views of the early writers. However beyond dispute, many of the Bishop Hill residents died of cholera. The colony fell on hard economic times and Erik Jansson was shot and killed. The colony, set up under a communal system, failed, having a fairly short life time. But this all was yet to occur. Ships continued to leave Sweden, bringing Swedes to America. A considerable number of them came to Illinois, either as followers of Erik Jansson, or following advise offered by Olof Hedstrom in New York City. Others came on the encouragement of the "American letters" written, somewhat optimistically, from Illinois to families and neighbors in the Homeland, Sweden.

Those who survived the trip, planted their Swedish roots in Illinois soil. Many flourished, bore children, and left their influence in the very fabric of Illinois culture. One hundred years later, my grandmother still baked Swedish rye bread for all the family reunions. One hundred years later, Galesburg, Wataga, Knoxville, Galva*, and many other towns had their Johnsons, Williamsons, Hendersons, Sandburgs - descendants of those who dared to cross the Atlantic in pursuit of their dreams.

King Oscar, July 13, 1846

The King Oscar sailed from Stockholm and arrived at New York on July 13, 1846. Perhaps it should be noted again, that this was long before the establishment of Ellis Island. The ships docked, manifests were checked, and passengers, if healthy, walked off into a new world. One Swedish passenger on King Oscar was listed as C. G. Blombergsen, age 35, farmer. Nils Olsson's (1967) research indicates that this was Carl Blombergsson, a noncommissioned officer in the Halsinge Regiment. He traveled to the U.S. alone. His wife, Sophia Frisk, left later, but died in route. Carl Blombergsson is also likely to be Gustaf Blombergsson who was a printer in Soderala Parish. Gustaf printed some of Jansson's books and became one of Erik Jansson's closest followers.

At Bishop Hill, Gustaf Blombergsson married Catharina Mathilda Englund on July 9, 1848. The marriage was "solemnized" by Erik Jansson. Catharina Mathilda Englund had arrived in America on March 27, 1847. She traveled on the ship, New York, that had sailed from the Swedish seaport city of Gavle. Her papers allowing her to leave Sweden were seen by the American consul in Gavle on October 14, 1846.

In 1850, Gustaf Blombergsson was one of nine Bishop Hill residents sent to California by Erik Jansson. Their purpose of the trip was to find gold or wealth by other means to replenish the financial losses of Bishop Hill. Gustaf Blombergsson died of scurvy in Hanktown, California on or about October 11, 1850.

Tricolor, July 25, 1846

The Tricolor had sailed from Christiania and arrived in New York on July 25, 1846. The passenger manifest for the Tricolor showed Lars Gabrielson, age 25, a farmer. Lindjo Lars Gabrielsson was born in Ostra Fors on November 11, 1816. He is reported to have seen Erik Jansson safely out of Sweden. He is also reported to have been the "deep pockets" who paid the passage to America for the entire Erik Jansson party. Gabrielsson traveled to and settled in Bishop Hill. He married Anna Sophia Pollock on July 9, 1848. It was her third marriage. Cholera soon killed Lindjo Lars Gabrielsson. In fact, cholera killed many Bishop Hill residents in 1849.

However the grieving widow married again (fourth time) on September 16, 1849. This time, she married none other than Erik Jansson Jansson's previous wife had died of cholera on the island near Rock Island, Illinois. She had been taken to Rock Island as it was thought to be safer than Bishop Hill where cholera was quickly working its way through the colony.

Also shown on the passenger manifest for the Tricolor were the parents of Lindjo Lars Gabrielsson. They were Lindjo Gabriel Larsson (shown as "Gabriel Larson, age 55" on the manifest) and Cari Olsdotter (shown as "Cari Olsdotter, age 22" on the manifest). Cari was born in Ostr Fors on March 9, 1786, showing that her manifest age was incorrect. Lindjo Gabriel Larsson was not to be outdone by the generosity of his son. He gave Erik Jansson the equivalent of 24,000 kronor to pay for the passage of those who wanted to move to Bishop Hill. He also hid Jansson in his home in Sweden, prior to Jansson's departure to America. Lindjo Gabriel Larsson settled in Bishop Hill.

Also on board the Tricolor were Jan Jansson (shown as "John Johnson" on the manifest) and his family. A son, named Pehr Jansson and shown on the manifest as "Peder Johnson", called himself "Peter Johnson" after arriving in the U.S. Pehr/Peder/Peter Jansson/Johnson took up residence at Bishop Hill. He enlisted in Company D of the 57th Regiment and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Company D of the 57th was all Swedish and was recruited from Bishop Hill colonists. Another, perhaps more famous Swede who was a member of Company D was Olof Krans, the painter of so many scenes and characters of Bishop Hill. Peter Johnson survived the Civil War and was still living in Bishop Hill in 1880.

Patria, August 21, 1846

The Patria sailed from Stockholm and arrived in New York on August 21, 1846. Among the passenger manifest names, there were several Jansson followers. Anders Anderson, age 39, born in Sista, Torstuna Parish in Vastmanland lan, brought his wife, Christina Jansdotter, and their five children to America. He also brought Maria Charlotta Andersdotter, age 28, who was listed as his servant.

Erik Mattson Blom, a soldier, also brought his wife and three children to America. They too, were followers of Erik Jansson. Erik Pehrsson, who changed his name to Erik Ahlin, on leaving Sweden, was the brother of Erik Mattson Blom. He also traveled on the Patria. Erik Ahlin settled in Bishop Hill and married at least twice. The first marriage listing in Henry County was to Brita Person, on July 23, 1848. The second marriage record was to Sigrid Nordin on February 10, 1850.

Charlotte, September 15, 1846

The Charlotte left Stockholm and landed in New York Harbor on September 15, 1846. Its passenger list had the names of several Janssonists. However, one deserves special attention. On board was Jonas Olsson. Jonas was the brother of Olof Olsson, who in 1845 had come to Illinois and purchased the land that would become the Bishop Hill colony.

Jonas Olsson became one of the trusted leaders of the Bishop Hill colony. On March 28, 1850, he was one of the nine members who were selected by Erik Jansson to travel to California to seek riches for Bishop Hill. The trip was not a success. And things also "turned bad" back in Bishop Hill. Erik Jansson was shot and killed at the Henry County Court House on May 13, 1850. When Jonas Olsson learned of Jansson's death, he left California and traveled by ship to Nicaragua; traveled across the isthmus of Panama. There, he took a ship to New Orleans, and then a Mississippi River steamer back to Illinois. He arrived at Bishop Hill on February 8, 1851. Jonas Olsson became the leader of Bishop Hill, assisted by six colony trustees. He lived the rest of his life at Bishop Hill, dying in November 1898.

Lars Pehrsson, his wife Kerstin Svensdotter and their son Lars, sailed on the Charlotte. They too were Janssonists, but they left Bishop Hill after a short stay. Lars Pehrsson became one of the first members of the Victoria (Illinois) Methodist Church, established by Jonas Hedstrom, brother of Olof Hedstrom of New York City. Olof was responsible for directing many non-Janssonist Swedes to the Victoria, Illinois area. (See Part I of this series for more on the Hedstrom brothers).

However, not all Jansson's followers came to Bishop Hill and found happiness and success. Brita (Beata) Maria Strom traveled on the Charlotte and then went to Bishop Hill. She arrived in Bishop Hill to find that her daughter, Anna Maria Westman, had died there, the day before. In a matter of a couple of more weeks, she saw her son-in-law and her grandchildren also die.

Perhaps even a sadder tale could be told about another Charlotte passenger who traveled to Bishop Hill. He was Jonas Olsson, born in Kinsta, June 30, 1843. As a mere toddler (3 years old), he traveled across the ocean to join his parents who had gone on an earlier ship. Jonas had been sick and could not make the earlier ship. When Jonas Olsson arrived at Bishop Hill, he found that his mother had died the day before. In subsequent weeks, his father and the rest of his family also died. Jonas was raised at Bishop Hill by his mother's half-sister and her husband. Jonas went on to become an attorney and he also served in the Illinois legislature.

Death was not a Swede, but it certainly resided in Bishop Hill, with its cousin, Cholera.

Wilhelmina, September 21, 1846

The Wilhelmina sailed from the eastern coast of Sweden, from Gavle. It arrived in New York Harbor on September 21, 1846.

On board the Wilhelmina were John Malmgren from Bollnas Parish, and his wife Anna Catharina Qvarnstrom and their three children, born in Bollnas Parish - Christina, Johanna, and Johan. They were headed for Bishop Hill. Although the ship's passenger manifest is silent on the issue, a newspaper's published account years later reported that 15 children died during the sea voyage and were buried at sea. One of the dead children was Christina, shown on the manifest to have been seven years old. The Malmgren family arrived at Bishop Hill on October 28, 1846. On December 27, 1846, Anna Qvarnstrom Malmgren gave birth to a daughter, named Mary Malmgren. She was the first child to be born in the Bishop Hill Colony. Mary was only three years old when her mother Anna died of cholera. The year was 1849 and cholera plagued Bishop Hill. More than 140 people died in Bishop Hill from cholera between July and September 1849. Her father remarried. But outliving cholera, Mary Malmgren, at the age of 19, married Olof Olsson, on December 22, 1866. Mary Malmgren Olsson died July 24, 1938 at the age of 91.

*Named after the Swedish seaport, Gavle, where many of the Swedes emigrated.

Note: Given the limitations of my software, I cannot faithfully reproduce Swedish spellings. For example the Swedish name "Strom" would have two "dots" over the "o". For those seeking the Swedish version, refer to Nils Olsson's book (see below). Most of the information for this article was gleamed from Olsson's research, which was an extraordinary gift to genealogists.


Moberg, Vilhelm. 1951. The Emigrants. Simon and Schuster. New York.

Olsson, Nils. 1967. Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York, 1820- 1850. Swedish Pioneer Historical Society. Chicago.

Pinzke, Nancy Lindberg. 1982. Faces of Utopia, A Bishop Hill Family Album. Chicago

Swank, George. 1965. Bishop Hill, Swedish- American Showcase.

Swank, George (1976) Painter Krans of Bishop Hill Colony. Galvaland Press. Galva, Illinois.