Swedish Roots, Illinois Soils - Part V

by Terry Hogan

This is the fifth and last of the series. I hope that at least someone finds a relative, or a scrap of new information, or at least is motivated to get a copy of Nil Olsson's book and see what rays of light it will shed on the dark backtracking path of a Swedish ancestor. It should be remembered that I only touched on a few of the Swedes who came to Bishop Hill, Wataga, Galesburg, Galva*, and the farmland between. Thus, if your ancestor's name doesn't appear in this series, it doesn't mean that Olsson's book doesn't have it. He went through over 33,000 ships' manifests for ships arriving in New York Harbor between 1820 and 1850. After saying that, what else is there to say about the value of his work - at least for those of us who might still have a trace of the hemlandet (homeland) in our blood. But back to history.

Although Swedes continued to leave their homeland and undertake the perilous trip across the Atlantic, the ships that landed in New York appeared to have a diminished presence of Janssonists starting about 1848. More and more of the Swedes were not in pursuit of their religious zeal, but rather in pursuit a better life. "American letters" sent back home told of rich soil, cheap land, and the opportunity to succeed if one was willing to work. These later Swedes settled in Andover, in Moline, in Iowa, in Chicago, and in New York. The American letters had told them about equality, and classes built by money, not by lineage. The letters told of being able to buy white bread every day of the week, and of the ability to afford to drink coffee every day. The letters back home were a little short on the tough side of America. Cholera and death on the ships; bad water; poor ventilation; cramped living conditions; and inadequate and often moldy food were mentioned only briefly, if at all.

But the letters were from family, from neighbors, and they were passed around small Swedish communities. Word of mouth or by fragile letters, the story spread. It was a disease of hope, of opportunity, for which the land-poor Swedes had no resistance. They wanted more for themselves and more for their children and children's children. They took the first step and received their papers that allowed them to leave Sweden. They sold most of what they had, and prepared for the trip that they knew little about. Food was packed for the trip on the boat. Clothes, the family Bible, and those few items felt to be most important for the new world were packed. After arriving in America, the trunks were kept for storage and served as working pieces of furniture, particularly while furniture was still scarce. More than a few of these old trunks still remain in the families of descendants of those who dared to sail to America.

Men used to walking in plowed fields soon found themselves on heaving, slick wood decks. No soil, no rocks, no crops to tend, no animals to feed. Swedes found themselves closer to one another than any had imagined. Bad food, bad ventilation, illness, no sanitation, and children with no place to go. In good weather, they could go on deck and cook and wash clothes. In good weather, they at least could see the sky and breathe some untainted air. In bad weather, the little sailing vessels would heave in the swells, and the farmers would be forced below decks, secured against the waves. Closed hatches kept the stormy weather and waves out, but they also stifled, sealing the fresh air out. It must have been frightening below deck, largely in the dark as the little wooden ship tossed and groaned in Atlantic storms.

But the Atlantic was fickle and could also be hard on the farmers by being entirely docile. Sometimes it was too docile - no waves, no breezes, nothing to fill the sails. No wind meant no movement. The ship drifted with the current, carrying it away from America. Food and water were consumed and days passed until the Atlantic stopped toying with the little boats.

And there was always the risk of the non-manifested passenger who came on board the boat and began to kill. It killed the young and the old. It was the destroyer of dreams. It was the destroyer of families. It was cholera. And it ruled the sea and the shores in 1848 and 1849.

Charles Tottie, July 12, 1849

The Charles Tottie sailed from Goteborg and landed in New York on July 12, 1849. The passenger manifest listed approximately 225 Swedes ranging in age from less than a year old to the late 50s.

Johannes Samuelsson, a farmer from Opphem in Tjarstard Parish came to America with his family. They survived the Atlantic, but cholera was waiting for them on the shore. On their travels from Buffalo, New York to La Salle, Illinois, all five of their children died of cholera. As they traveled west, they left their own "trail of tears", and a trail of their children, buried in American soil. They settled in Ophieum, Illinois, named after their homeland Opphem. They started over. They started a new family. By the time he died in 1887, they had six children, all born in America on Illinois soil, but with Swedish roots.

Pehr Svensson, a farmer from Bjorksnas in Djursdala Parish was also aboard the Charles Tottie with his family. Like Samuelsson, they made it to America before cholera found them. Pehr's wife and daughter died of cholera. Their daughter died along the way, and Pehr's wife died shortly after reaching Andover, Illinois.

Steffan Steffansson and his family traveled safely on the Charles Tottie and settled in New Sweden, Henry County, Iowa. However, a notice in Galesburg's Swedish newspaper, Hemlandet, (Homeland) tells of the death of Stina Catharina Paulidotter, a widow (of Steffan Steffansson) and the subsequent death a week later of her two youngest sons. The notice was dated April 7, 1857.

Cobden, September 23, 1849

The Cobden sailed from the Swedish seaport Gavle, on the east coast of Sweden. The Cobden arrived in New York on September 23, 1849.

Sometimes luck made for unusual travel companions. For example, Lars Paul Esbjorn, a pioneer Swedish clergyman in America, and one of the founders of Augustana College, shared the limited space of the Cobden with two young men, G. A. Larsson and Carl Jacobsen. What made these two men notable in Esbjorn's travel journal was that Larsson and Jacobsen traveled with a keg of cognac. Esbjorn recorded in his journal that the keg of cognac, "proved to be a proverbial wellspring of trouble and disdain for God's word" (Nils Olsson, 1967). Apparently, there was no record of what the young men thought of Esbjorn.

There were a number of passengers on the Cobden who settled in or near Knox County. Pehr Ersson, a "crofter" from Vastra Kyrkbyn in Alfta Parish, is believed to be Peter Erickson from Alfta who settled in Wataga, Illinois in 1849. From there, Peter moved to Bishop Hill. Brita Ersdotter was the sister of Pehr Ersson's wife, Catharina Ersdotter. She also traveled on the Cobden and settled in Wataga.

Erik Mattsson of the Cobden's manifest was likely "Aric Matson", a Swedish farmer who was living in Knox County in 1850 and who joined the Wataga Lutheran Church in 1853.

There was also Erik Hansson of Hanebo Parish who survived the trip and likely became "Aric Hansson", Swedish cabinetmaker of Knoxville, Illinois. He is listed in the 1850 census.

Pehr, October 10, 1849

The Pehr sailed from Gavle and arrived in New York on October 10, 1849. This ship was important to me, but I didn't know it until a couple of years ago. On board were Hans Olsson, a farmer from Nybo in Jarvso Parish, Gavleborg lan (something like a county). With Hans Olsson was his wife, Carin Olsdotter (shown as "Catharina" on the passenger manifest) and their children - Olof, born February 10, 1833; (16); Kerstin, born June 22, 1830; Margarta born March 1, 1835; Carin, born December 7, 1837; Brita, born May 15, 1841; Anna, born January 5, 1844; and Hans, born May 29, 1847. Hans and his family were living in Henderson County in the 1850 census. Hans was a brother of Olof Olsson, who would not arrive in America for another year with his family. Olof Olsson and family would arrive in New York on the Swedish sailing bark, Maria, on September 3, 1850. Olof and his family would settle near Wataga, Illinois. After the death of the father, Olof, the family changed their last name to Williamson. This Williamson/Olsson line is one of "mine".

Sophie, August 19, 1850

The Sophie sailed from Gavle and arrived in New York on August 19, 1850. Numerous Swedes were listed on the passenger manifest.

One was Anders Gustaf Verner who went by the name Warner in the U.S. He traveled to Andover, Illinois. Warner joined Company D of the 57th Illinois Volunteer Infantry to enter the Civil War. He was wounded in Shiloh, and ultimately became the commander of Company A of the 63rd "Colored Regiment". This was a high-risk assignment as the South treated white officers who commanded "colored troops" the same as the troops. Many were put to death when captured. Warner survived the war and became the sheriff of Henry County. He married the daughter of Bishop Hill's Erik Jansson, Mathilda Johnson.

Another passenger on the Sophie was Anders Imberg, born in Frisbo in Bjuraker Parish, April 28, 1829. He settled in Victoria, Illinois.

Another passenger also settled in Victoria. His name was Herman J. Rosenlof, who was born July 19, 1820. He married Christine. They had seven children, with the oldest four being born in Sweden and listed on the passenger manifest. Their remaining three children were born in Illinois.

Emile, August 30, 1850

The Emile sailed from Goteborg and arrived in New York on August 30, 1850. On board were Christian Lofqvist, a carpenter, and his family, and Jonas Carlsson Brostrom, a farmer, and his wife and two children. Both families appear to have settled in Knoxville, Illinois. Brostrom became a shoemaker in Knoxville and was living there at the 1850 census.

Atlantic, September 2, 1850.

The Atlantic arrived in New York Harbor on September 2, 1850. On board was a very famous Swede - Jenny Lind. This was her first trip to America. It was sponsored by another well-known figure - P. T. Barnum. Traveling with her were her secretary and traveling companion, Josephine Ahmansson; an Italian singer by the name of Giovanni Belletti; and her manager, Joseph Maximilian Hjortsberg. One would have to wonder about the stir she created among the crew of the Atlantic. These four were the only passengers listed on the manifest. It is likely that their accommodations were somewhat more accommodating than those who traveled with one or two hundred other Swedes on a vessel.

Maria, September 3, 1850

The Maria was a Swedish bark that left Gavle and arrived in New York on September 3, 1850, with approximately 114 listed on the passenger manifest. Many came from the same parish - Jarvso Parish, in Gavleborg lan. Jarvso is located north and west of Gavle. It was reported that the ship took seven weeks to make the crossing, and was blown north, into the vicinity of icebergs (Galesburg Register Mail, 1921).

On board the Maria was Olof Olofsson (Olsson), age 42, a farmer from Nybo in Jarvso Parish. He was born in Jarvso Parish on August 8, 1808. He married Margta Olsdotter who was born in Jarvso on November 23, 1813. Olof Olsson was the son of Olof Jonsson and Kerstin Hansdotter. He was also the brother of Hans Olsson who traveled to America on board the Pehr, arriving in New York on October 10, 1849. Olof and Margta left Sweden with six children and arrived in America with seven. In route, Moses (Magnus) Ocean Olsson was born. He was listed as being 1.5 months old on the ship's manifest. The other children on board were Jonas (14), Pehr (11), Hans (9), Margata (6), and Kerstin (3). They settled near Wataga. Olof died, and the oldest son, who went by the name William, took over the family responsibilities. The family called themselves Williamson. Jonas Williamson became my great, great grandfather. The infant, Moses Ocean, shortened his name to M.O. Williamson and became the president of the Peoples Trust & Savings Bank, in Galesburg Illinois. He was also elected the Treasurer of Illinois, serving 1898- 1900. M.O. Williamson served on the Lincoln's Tomb Committee and was one of about 13 men who viewed Abraham Lincoln's body before it was placed in the Lincoln Tomb, safe from grave robbers.

This is by no means a comprehensive review of the Swedes who came to Illinois and whose names and details are available in the New York Harbor passenger lists. Nils William Olsson's (1967) extensive research has made the backtracking of many Swedish ancestor researchers much easier. Most of the information in this series of articles came from Olsson's research.

Perhaps a careful reading of these articles, and a trip to the library, will help you find that elusive Swedish link, where surnames were changed when they arrived. Good luck in your backtracking to the Hemlandet.

*Names for the Swedish seaport town of Gavle (Gefle) where many of the Illinois Swedes boarded the small wooden sailing ships for America.

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). 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.


Anon. 1912. History of Knox County. S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago.

Calkins, Earnest Elmo. 1937. They Broke the Prairie. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York.

French, Verda. Undated. Williamson genealogy. Galesburg, Illinois (Copy available at Galesburg Public Library)

Galesburg Register Mail. Oct. 18, 1921. Local banker might have been a sea captain.

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

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

Sandburg, Carl. 1953. Always the Young Strangers. Harcourt, Brace and Co. New York.

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

Swank, George. 1976. Painter Krans of Bishop Hill Colony. Galvaland Press. Galva, IL.