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Norway to America

Norway to America: A History of the Migration

Ingrid Semmingsen
Translated by Einar Haugen
Copyright Date: 1978
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Norway to America
    Book Description:

    This book tells the story of the migration as it affected both countries and investigates the reasons for “American Fever.” The story ends with a discussion of the ways in which Norwegian-Americans retain their ties to Norway. The book was first published in Norway as Dröm og Dad (Dream and Deed), in observance of the 150th anniversary of the departure of the first emigrant ship for America. This is an excellent way to celebrate one of the strongest ethnic heritages in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8170-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-vi)
    Ingrid Semmingsen
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-9)

    Archaeologists agree that human beings may have lived along the ice-free brim of the Norwegian coast during the last Ice Age. Lapps may have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years and were perhaps among the earliest settlers of Scandinavia. As the ice pack receded other migrants came. Some were peaceful and brought new tools and techniques. Others, warlike, brought new weapons. The migrants did not settle down immediately, for theirs was a fishing and hunting culture. They moved from site to site as the changing seasons offered possibilities of livelihood in one place and then another — by the...

    (pp. 10-19)

    Norwegian emigration to America began in the nineteenth century with the sloopRestauration. It left Stavanger July 4, 1825, with fifty-two persons on board. All, crew as well as passengers, were emigrating, and they had equipped themselves with provisions for three months. In addition they carried a cargo of twenty tons of iron bars and plates. The emigrants had bought the sloop for 1,800 specie dollars, and they hoped to make a profit by selling both vessel and cargo when they arrived in America.¹

    TheRestaurationwas a mere nutshell of a vessel for an Atlantic crossing, one-quarter the tonnage...

    (pp. 20-31)

    Cleng Peerson was an extraordinary man, a riddle of a person. Even in his lifetime he was a somewhat mythical figure. Fantastic things were told about him, and the storytellers often found it difficult to sift truth from fable. It is not unlikely that Cleng contributed to the legend when telling of his own adventures, which he often did. He was nearly middle-aged when he came into contact with the Stavanger group about 1820 and became its envoy to America.¹ He had led an adventurous life. But he was taciturn about his youth: the oral sources do not say much...

  7. EXODUS, 1836–65
    (pp. 32-40)

    There are no reliable statistics on the number that emigrated from Norway in the decades following 1836. Norwegian authorities did begin quite early to gather information that would give them a perspective on the extent of the new movement. The government ordered district governors to include the number of emigrants in the quinquennial reports they were to prepare on the economic situation. The governors passed the order down through the bureaucracy to the pastors, who had to issue attestations to all who moved out of their parishes, and to the sheriffs and police chiefs who issued passports to all who...

    (pp. 41-52)

    From the days of the Puritans, America had been a refuge for religious dissidents from Europe. Quakers, Huguenots, Moravians, and many others followed in their wake, well into the first half of the nineteenth century. The Norwegian Quakers and Haugeans were a part of this movement. Several European dissidents tried to found colonies in America, to which only members of the faith would be admitted. They also tried to practice a kind of Christian socialism or communism involving a community of labor and property. This attempt to set up ideal religious communities was especially characteristic of emigrants from Great Britain...

    (pp. 53-64)

    Even today the right to cross state or national borders, for individuals or groups, is not a matter-of-course. In the Dano-Norwegian monarchy it was forbidden to ʺremove from the Kingʹs realms and dominionsʺ (an injunction that was not always enforced). A corresponding Swedish ban was not removed from the legal code until 1840.

    Freedom of movement was included in the French revolutionary declaration of human rights, and in Norway after 1814 the right to emigrate was recognized although it was not listed among the citizenʹs rights in the constitution. Migrations of considerable size presuppose the freedom to leave oneʹs homeland,...

    (pp. 65-73)

    By the early 1840s the Norwegian immigrants had advanced into Wisconsin, some from the Fox River settlement and some directly from Norway. Of the many places where they struck camp and began grappling with the oak groves and the prairie sod only two will be mentioned, each of which was to play an important role.

    One of these was the Koshkonong settlement, between Madison and Lake Koshkonong, an Indian name twisted by Norwegian tongues into ʺKaskelandʺ and by later jokers into ʺKakseland,ʺ literally ʺland of the bigwigs.ʺ This was the larger settlement, and it kept growing as new pioneers came...

    (pp. 74-85)

    In the winter of 1853–54 a Norwegian pastorʹs wife, Elisabeth Koren, sat in a log house in northern Iowa writing her diary. Her husband had received a letter of call from a Norwegian congregation on Washington Prairie, and just before Christmas 1853 the young couple arrived amid snow and icy blasts at the Norwegian settlement which was no more than four years old. No parsonage had been built yet, and the Korens lived temporarily with a family of mother, father, and two small children. For some three months the two families shared the single-room cottage.

    Elisabeth Koren never tried...

    (pp. 86-97)

    Emphasizing the significance of the Norwegian aspect of American settlement and the small units of social life may have given the false impression that Norwegians were isolated from the American society around them. It is true that the Norwegianness of the locality helped them maintain a sense of their identity and keep alive the bond between what Rølvaag would later call the ʺold Adamʺ and the ʺnew Adam.ʺ But American society forced itself upon them — it was there and the settlers had to take it into account. Indeed there is no reason to think that most of them desired...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 98-105)

    Emigration was an all-European movement, which stimulated — or as some would have it, infected — Norwegians. About 1840, when only a few hundred Norwegians were migrating each year, Germans, Scots, and Irish were leaving by the tens of thousands. All in all some 40 million persons migrated overseas in the century from 1815 to 1915, three-fourths of them to the United States. Curiously, the population of Europe more than doubled in the same century. However, this was not true of all countries: Ireland lost half its population.

    It is customary to regard World War I as a watershed in...

  15. CHANGE AND UNREST, 1865–1915
    (pp. 106-120)

    Even if the continuous population pressure is taken into account, there is something baffling about the mass emigration of the half century from 1865 to 1915. Norway was experiencing greater economic growth than in any previous period; industrialization was speeding up and machines began to take over the work that muscles had previously performed. To be sure, from a modern point of view the production and consumption of energy was still pitifully small, even in 1915. By western European or American standards the degree of industrialization was modest. Still in this period Norwegians began to use the timber in their...

    (pp. 121-131)

    Much has been written about the background of emigration, the social and economic factors that drove people out of their native surroundings. Authors have tried to evoke the complex of motives that caused a young woman or a man or a family to leave. Yet no one has managed to uncover the secret impulse that lay behind the whole migration. Perhaps there is none. Or perhaps the secret lies in the country to which the immigrants went. In any case we must not consider only the factors that drove people out of Norway; America offered much that was tempting.


    (pp. 132-143)

    Using the American census of 1920 the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics has calculated that some 1,200,000 people of unmixed Norwegian descent were then living in the United States, almost half the population of Norway. In addition it was estimated that there were about 700,000 persons who were part Norwegian.

    The American census also indicated that to the turn of the century most Norwegian immigrants married one another. Subsequently the number who married native-born Americans increased. The Bureau estimated that the overwhelming majority of these mates were of Norwegian or part Norwegian ancestry, which would mean that until 1920 about 90...

    (pp. 144-151)

    It may be said, without much exaggerationʺ William Ellery Channing observed, ʺthat everything is done now by societies.ʺ His remark echoed Alexis de Tocqueville, who in 1839 had told European readers of the ʺimmense assemblage of associationsʺ in the United States — ʺreligious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainment, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by...

    (pp. 152-161)

    In 1925 the Norwegians in America celebrated the centennial of the sloopRestaurationʹsvoyage across the ocean. For three sunny days in June tens of thousands of Norwegian-Americans gathered on the huge state fairgrounds in St. Paul, Minnesota. They had crowded the trains from Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Some had come all the way from the east and west coast, spending days traveling. Those who lived nearest loaded the family into the Ford, their new ʺstatus symbol.ʺ Minneapolis was festively decorated, with American and Norwegian flags on buildings and in store windows. The city council had even decreed that June...

    (pp. 162-172)

    When emigration began in the 1840s poets and writers — as well as authorities — were appalled. ʺAlas! The Black Death now must I recall with terror,ʺ wrote Henrik Wergeland. ʺNow as then are farms abandoned in our valleys.ʺ¹ Two decades later people had grown accustomed to it and looked on it with a kind of sober resignation. Many even suggested that given the difficult economic circumstances of the 1860s, emigration was advantageous for the country: Norway had too many people in proportion to its capital resources. This view was widespread until the end of the century, when opinion changed....

  21. NOTES
    (pp. 173-192)
    (pp. 193-200)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 203-213)