Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Swedish emigrant

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Peterson, a Swedish farmer who, as a young man, emigrated to North America, and successfully developed a claim in Minnesota, farming arable and livestock, but especially apple orchards. He is remembered today, among the 15,000 or so Swedes who also emigrated in a first wave to the US, not only because he kept a diary - kept  for 40 years - but because a 20th century Swedish author used the diaries extensively as source material for a series of popular novels, later made into successful films.

Anders Petterson was born in Vastra, southern Sweden, on 20 October 1818, into a family of farmers. He went to work as a farm hand on other farms, but returned to take over the family business when his father died in 1846. However, a few years later, in 1850, he, his sister and others from the locality set off together to emigrate to North America. They embarked from Gothenburg in May, and, after a gruelling voyage, disembarked at Boston in July. Four weeks later, they settled in the Burlington district, Iowa, to where other Swedes had immigrated.

In 1854, Andrew Peterson (as he now called himself) joined a new Baptist congregation, and the following year he moved with a group of the congregation to Carver County, Minnesota - not then part of the United States. He settled on a claim near Clearwater Lake - later known as Lake Waconia. In 1858, Peterson married Elsa Engeman Anderson, and they had nine children. They successfully developed their farm with livestock and crops; over time Peterson became well known for the quality of his apple orchards. He died in 1898. More information is available from the Andrew Peterson website or Mnopedia.

Peterson kept a daily record of his life - barely more than a sentence or two each day - for over 40 years, starting at the time of his journey by sea from Sweden. His children donated the diaries to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), where they were discovered in the late 1940s by the renowned Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg. He mined the diaries extensively for The Emigrants - a popular series of four novels published 1949-1959 - about a Swedish family moving to Minnesota in the 1800s. Two acclaimed films were also made from the books, starring the actors Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman.

Earlier this year, it was announaced that all the diaries would be translated, digitised and made available online by this autumn - see The Carver Country Historical Society and the local newspaper Star Tribune. At the time of writing this project had not come to fruition, however, here are a few extracts found online: 1856-1858 extracts from an article by Carlton C. Qualey available on the MNHS website; and the rest from a page on the Andrew Peterson website.

21 May 1850
‘Almost calm wind, but the Brigg was roling much off the waves. Less seasickness after passing Skagerack. We saw a little of Far Sund point Norway - that was the last we got to see of our old Scandinavia.’

2 July 1850
‘Early in the morning we saw Bostons lighthouses with fire, but it was far away out from land on islands. These are to show sailships when it is dark. Later came a steamboat and asked our Captain if we needed pulling assistance to the harbour, but we had a good wind, so he did not need help. Shortly after, came the pilot in his fancy boat, and he was as Captain into the harbour. Shortly after the Pilot arrived came the Quarantine - Doctor on board to see if if all were in good health, which we were. In the afternoon we went in to the dock and went upp to see the big city of Boston.’

18 June 1855
‘Bought the claim from Germans for 25 Dollar. Payed Fisser’s son 5 Dollars for his help. Per Daniel went to St Paul.’

19 June 1855
‘Hoed and planted potatoes on my claim. I had Alexander and Jonas - Peter and John to help me.’

20 June 1855
‘I went for the second time to Alexander and John to help them with the logshanty. [. . .] I was cutting gras (for hay) and did a rake. In the afternoon we had a meeting with holy communion, and decided to make a united Parish.’

February 1855
‘13th slaughtered the Swines among other things 14th morning cut up the Swines, afternoon worked in the shop.’

11 March 1856
‘Gut rails all day. Have now 2,000 rails.’

20 May 1856
‘Last night we fished. Got the boat full. Got home at noon. Then I planted potatoes and grubbed the place for my cornfield.’

23 May 1856
‘We church folks planted corn for Nilsson.’

28 November 1856
‘Borrowed Jonas Broberg’s oxen to haul logs for the fence on the other side of the maples. Alfred was here with his oxen and hauled logs. He owed me 2 1/2 days work. One day I counted off for the oxen and the half-day I counted off for the sinkers he made for the seine and the mending of the net. In the evening Nilsson and I made up our account for the last period of boarding and the 6 1/2 days of work I had done and the boards I had given that should count off when I built his cow shed because of the board I had when I built mine.’

1 April 1857
‘In the morning I went over to Johannes and we made up our accounts both old and new. We are now square except that Johannes still owes me $3.00 for corn.”

15 September 1858
‘In the morning I was over at Johannes and chopped corn-stalks. At noon John went with me home and started plowing for the wheat. In the evening at 5 o’clock Elsa and my expectations became a reality, a marriage.’

August 1862
‘20th we were frightened of the Indians so we moved out to the island in klearwater lake, and so we lay there till the 21st at night when we went home.’

March 1898
‘28th in the morning frank went to waconia with a full cart of wheat, at night the boys transported manure. The snow is now good for sleighing I am not well, I am in Bed.’

29 March 1898
‘The boys transported manure - I was in Bed - we had bright weather but not mild weather.’

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