The Emigrant Journey in the Fifties
By Karl E. Erickson
Edited by Albert O. Barton (Volume VIII: Page 65)
Karl E. Erickson was born on January 9, 1828, at Christiania, Norway, the son of a teacher in a district school. He attended his father's school for several years, later went to higher schools, and finally entered Heltberg's well-known "student factory," where he continued his studies of ancient and modern languages and mathematics. There severe application to his work affected his health, and after a year he was obliged to withdraw from the university.
In the spring of 1853 Erickson took passage in the cabin of the bark "Peter Tordenskjold," and on June 23 he arrived at Quebec. From there he went to Milwaukee, and thence to Muskego, where for a time he visited at the home of the Reverend H. A. Stub. In Madison he met Gabriel Bjornson, then county clerk for Dane County, and upon Bjornson's recommendation he was engaged as clerk in a general store. In the spring of 1854 Erickson accompanied Elias Stangeland to the Wisconsin immigration office at Quebec, where he served as clerk for five months. He returned to Madison with Stangeland and in the fall of the same year assisted him in starting his new paper, Den Norske Amerikaner. Erickson continued to work on this paper until he was relieved by Knud Langeland.
Thenceforth Erickson worked both as a store clerk and as translator of state reports; at that time it was customary for the legislatures to order these reports translated into several foreign languages for distribution among settlers not familiar with English. He removed to Lodi, Wisconsin, in
1859, and to Black Earth a year later, being occupied as a merchant in both places. In 1855 he married Mrs. Lena Hoal, who died in 1857, and in 1858 he married Mrs. Bollene Erickson, by whom he had two daughters. He acted as district and high school clerk and as town clerk in Black Earth for a number of years. He died October 19, 1903.
The accompanying reminiscences were written by Erickson in 1896. They are historically interesting and valuable, particularly for the vivid detail with which they picture the emigrant journey of the fifties in all its stages and aspects. Erickson was a sharp observer and had a good memory. His narrative, however faulty in general organization, is a welcome addition to the literature of Norwegian immigration.
In the first years after 1850 a socialistic agitation headed by the celebrated labor leader Marcus Thrane was started and carried on in the southern part of Norway, with headquarters at Christiania. Many who have emigrated to America since that memorable time will remember the excitement caused by this movement, which was set on foot to expose the wrongs, real or imaginary, that were endured by the poor working classes at the hands of wealthy and powerful employers, the moneyed men, and the aristocracy in general. By lectures and through a weekly illustrated organ, Thrane and his lieutenants exposed many gross injustices, vices of people of standing, and the suffering of the poorer classes.
Against this agitation arose the Reverend H. Hailing, a young and energetic clergyman who was a very popular and forceful speaker and exhorter. He would get right up in the gatherings of the agitator Thrane and address the crowds with such force and eloquence that he won over a great many of the more law-abiding and cool-headed people to the maintenance of "law and order." He forthwith formed a society that was called Samfundet paa Enerhaugen, for the suburb in which it was first proposed. A liberal sum of money was raised by subscription and
a commodious building was erected and finished, with the country's flag raised at the entrance in token of the loyalty of the people gathered within its walls.
Early in 1853 Elias Stangeland of Norway, Racine County, Wisconsin, appeared in the city. He had emigrated to America a few years before from Karmoen, near Bergen. In America he was a country merchant selling and bartering goods at a little store at Muskego, Wisconsin, that he had built on the land of Peter Jacobson, formerly of Laurvig, Norway. Besides visiting his old home and family, he acted as emigrant agent, spreading information about Wisconsin as a favorable country for emigrants to settle in, and incidentally working up patronage for a certain line of transportation, which carried people from the port of Quebec to Milwaukee or Chicago, in which he had become somewhat interested.
Somehow Stangeland found out that large gatherings of people were being held at the hall of Halling's society, and he forthwith sought an interview with the pastor. The outcome of this was that Stangeland was given permission to make an address at the next meeting. Advertisements to this effect brought a great number of people to the place; they thronged the hall. Hailing introduced Stangeland and stated the object and subject matter of his address, adding that Stangeland, who was not used to speaking in public, had requested him to do the speaking for him. Near the close of the address, however, Stangeland spoke for awhile, acquitting himself creditably. This address had to all appearances a far-reaching effect. It ripened the notion of a good many people who had previously been considering it, to emigrate, and also determined many others who had never thought of coming to this country. It had also the effect of turning the current of travel largely over the route to Quebec, via the St. Lawrence River, instead of via New York and the Erie Canal, and it proved to be a wholesome change. For emigrants who would pass several weeks coming across the sea and expected to spend another two weeks or more stowed into narrow canal boats, this arrangement was almost a godsend Stangeland also issued a little book in pamphlet form covering information for emigrants, that was widely distributed.
Emigration from this part of Norway assumed large proportions that same spring. A greater number of people than ever before took passage and left the land of their ancestors in expectation of finding a better home in far-off America.
Before Stangeland went to the old country on his visit he apparently had made arrangements with the owners and managers of the particular line of transportation that he commended, Messrs. Maxwell and Patton of Buffalo. When immigrants arrived at Quebec they were transferred without much delay to large river steamers that carried them to Montreal, which is at the head of ocean navigation on that river. Then passage was taken on canal steamers some twenty-five miles to a place called La Chine; sometimes this journey was made by railroad. The canal has a number of locks, and the passage through them was a novel experience to newcomers. At La Chine passengers boarded large lake steamers that carried them through the Thousand Islands and Lake Ontario, in the western part of which liners were running to different landing points. One of these liners took the passengers to the city of Lewiston, and from there both passengers and luggage were carried about seven miles to Niagara Falls on large stagecoaches drawn by horses, thence to Buffalo by rail, and then on steamers over the Great Lakes to Milwaukee or Chicago. The trip from Quebec required about seven days.
In the spring of the year 1854, before the close of the session of the Wisconsin legislature, Stangeland appeared at Madison. According to the provision of the law, the governor was empowered to appoint a commissioner of immigration for Wisconsin, to be stationed at the port of New York, with a deputy commissioner at Quebec for the purpose of working with incoming immigrants, to induce them to settle in this state. The governor, William Barstow, selected a German, Fred Horn, to take charge at New York, while the post at Quebec was entrusted to Stangeland, presumably through the influence of Senator James D. Reymert of Muskego, a friend and neighbor of his.
Early in the month of May of that year Stangeland left Madison to proceed to Quebec, having first engaged K. E. Erickson of Madison to serve as clerk at his office, for which he rented
room in a building on the docks. He also hired Ole Laurensen of Madison, Andrew Olson, a shoemaker at Milwaukee, and one Halvor Nyhus, the three to serve as interpreters and to accompany such parties of immigrants as could be persuaded to take passage westward on the line of transports that he recommended. It was late in May before the clerk and one or two of the interpreters arrived at Quebec. Two or three emigrant ships from Norway had already arrived, and the passengers had been forwarded on their way westward. Of them Stangeland had secured at least one cargo for his line.
During the whole season while the emigration office was open, a constant strife and persistent warfare went on between the agents and runners of the various lines. Stangeland's most persistent rival was John Hoelfeldt, formerly of Stavanger, Norway. He was head agent of one of the competing companies, and the two had many sharp and bitter tilts. Each one claimed special advantages and general superiority for his line, and their sallies and broadsides furnished no end of fun to bystanders and loafers on the docks. At times, when a clinch seemed imminent, excitement would run high. Agents for other lines partook in the fusillade, which often quite bewildered and confused both captain and emigrants, making it difficult for them to decide what line to choose for their trip westward. As a rule the first move that a runner made was to corner the captain of an emigrant ship and try to gain his good will, for success hinged on this point. But an experienced captain was likely to have made up his mind beforehand. After the battle, when a shipload of people had finally been started on their westward course, all the agents and runners would frequently, on invitation of the victorious brother, adjourn in a body to a near-by restaurant where he would "set 'em up" in the shape of fine cognac brandy, this being then considered the regulation nectar by the local gentry. After a more or less prolonged communion they would all come out the best of friends.
Hoelfeldt had a great advantage of Stangeland and the other agents and runners in that he had much previous experience in the business from the past season, and was well acquainted and on good terms with many captains. Indeed, many emigrants,
before they sailed from the old country, had been told that the first person they would meet when they arrived at Quebec would surely be Hoelfeldt climbing over the rail of the ship, and the word proved true in many instances. "You will see an elderly thick-set man with a big hunchback and a stovepipe hat," they said. He was very active and full of push. With his wife, he usually spent the winters at Inmansville, Wisconsin. Stangeland, on the other hand, was a great talker and a bold planner, but his plans did not often turn out to his advantage. However, his intentions were good and he had a kind disposition.
Only a short time after the opening of the office at Quebec most of Stangeland's help became dissatisfied and wanted to return to their homes. The clerk, who had little to do beyond making reports of incoming immigrant vessels to the head office at New York and keeping record of them with the number of passengers, wanted to return to Wisconsin soon after he arrived at Quebec, for the same reason as the other subordinates. He did not like the work, but he found it impossible to obtain Stangeland's consent to leave on any consideration, so he reluctantly remained until the close. Andrew Olson took one party to Wisconsin and did not return. Ole Laurensen did not remain very long, but Halvor Nyhus held out almost to the end.
In the spring of 1854, shortly before Stangeland started on his mission to Quebec, he and a few friends met by appointment at the house of Ole K. Trovatten in Koshkonong, near the old East Church. For some time differences had been developing between Stangeland and several of the old-time clergymen, who had received their orders in the old country, on the question of church government and kindred topics. Stangeland and his followers thought that certain rules in vogue regarding representation of laymen in councils and conferences were unjust, and resulted in great inequality of influence in favor of the clergy and deprived the people of their due standing as members of the church. Much of this controversy was thoroughly aired in the columns of the only Norwegian newspaper in this region, Emigranten, which had been established only a few years before through the efforts of some of the clergymen, chiefly pastors Preus and G. F. Dietrichson of Inmansville, Rock County.
During the progress of this war on paper, Stangeland claimed that his articles were refused insertion in Emigranten; there was no other organ through which he could present his side of the question. This was a bad predicament for a man of Stangeland's nature, and no doubt strengthened his purpose of meeting with a few chosen and reliable friends for consultation on these matters. Only four or five persons besides himself made up the meeting at Trovatten's house, which lasted about two days.
Stangeland was the leading spirit. The sessions opened and closed with prayer and singing of hymns, church matters were discussed quite thoroughly, and resolutions were passed suggesting rules for the representation and conduct of conferences and councils and for the qualifications of clergymen. Stangeland was authorized to have the resolutions collected and printed in pamphlet form for general distribution. Accordingly, on his way to Quebec, he stopped at Buffalo and had the printing done at a German newspaper office, whence he forwarded the pamphlets to Wisconsin. During Stangeland's sojourn at Quebec Emigranten kept up its tirade against him, and as he had no means of defense, the idea ripened in his mind that it would be necessary for him and his party to make provisions to establish an organ of their own. Accordingly, on his return from his post at Quebec he again stopped at Buffalo and succeeded in striking a bargain for a small German printing office, the same one where he had his pamphlet printed a few months before. The outfit was only sufficient for a moderately-sized weekly paper, but there was no press to go with it. It was forthwith shipped to Madison and set up in a large room on the third floor of what was then the Bruen Block. This was in the fall of the year 1854.
The next thing for Stangeland was to secure an editor, as he did not trust his own competency to do the writing correctly, although he knew well enough what he wanted written. So he made a strong effort to induce his late clerk in his Quebec office to assume the additional name and work, but in this matter he did not succeed, and all he could obtain was an agreement to assist him for a limited time to get the paper started, without assuming any responsibility. Two able compositors, Charles
Weustole and Paul Melgaard, were engaged. The press work was to be done on the hand press of the newly started paper, the Madison Patriot, which was set up in the same room. This latter paper was owned by S. D. Carpenter, better known as "Pump" Carpenter, who was assisted by a gentleman whose name was also Carpenter (Professor S. H. Carpenter).
Stangeland named his new paper Den Norske Amerikaner. The first few numbers contained no allusion whatever to his "differences" with the clergy or to the onslaught of Emigranten, which had been thundering away for all it was worth. Stangeland's friends and followers pressed him strongly to open up his broadsides, and after a while he succeeded in securing editorial assistance in the person of the late Knud Langeland of Yorkville, a well-known and highly esteemed and gifted journalist and gentleman, who had experience in the work and was also well posted on the questions at issue. From then on there was fun in the hostile camps, and hot shot flying thick and fast in all directions as long as Langeland did the writing. But he also refused to place his name in the paper as editor. When after a while Stangeland found it impossible to make the paper self-sustaining, he disposed of the whole concern to a syndicate of ardent followers, who engaged the services of Charles M. Reeser (Captain Reese), a well-known Dane who had earlier been editor of Emigranten. When, a little later on, the new owners of the paper thought they had spent all the money on it that they cared to, the concern dropped out of view, to reappear no more.
During the season when the Wisconsin agency was stationed at Quebec, twenty-eight Norwegian ships landed 5,488 persons at that port. All of them came directly by Norwegian vessels, except forty who arrived via Liverpool. Nine ships had taken on their passengers at the port of Christiania, nine at Bergen, two at Drammen, two at Stavanger, two at Kragero and one at Porsgrund. The great bulk of these immigrants were laborers and farmers and came from the country districts; a small number were mechanics from the cities. Of these a few single persons who had no families, and a few young people, remained at
Quebec, where they found employment at various trades; very few proceeded to Montreal. Lovers were reunited after prolonged separation, and were made happy.
Among the passengers included in nearly every shipload were a few who had no means to pay their fare west. For these poor people provision was made by an agreement with the transportation companies, which carried them free on condition that the paying ones be sent over their line. In this way the unfortunates were made to enjoy the same passage privilege as their friends and fellow-travelers. Among the stipulations made with transportation companies was also the rule that a competent interpreter should go with each party to see that they were treated well and that the contract was properly fulfilled. This was usually a very disagreeable job, because of the total lack of insight on the part of many newcomers, and also the often indifferent accommodations found on the cars and steamers of the time. Very few cared to follow this occupation for any length of time.
On one occasion an elderly gentleman was discharged from his post as runner by a transportation company. He was without money, but wanted to go west, and to accomplish this honestly he invented a ruse. He offered his services to accompany a party west, not as interpreter, for he was very deficient in language, but as a doctor, to heal sick people. He asked no pay for this service; only free passage. The offer was accepted by a transportation company and the man took charge of a flock. He knew nothing at all about doctoring and medicine, and although it was a season of much sickness, good luck would have it that he was not called to act in more than two instances. One case was that of a young woman suffering pain somewhere about the head. He felt her pulse and declared she had the mumps. He comforted her by a strong sniff at his pocket flask, telling her that after she was cured, she would no doubt be all right. The other sick case was that of an elderly man who complained of suffering pain like a bad toothache in the calf of his leg. After careful examination the worthy doctor, assuming a dignified bearing, spoke up: "My good man, this case is a serious one, as toothache is nearly as bad to calves as to
persons, and scarcely more than one hundred per cent of such cases are ever cured. I know what will cure it, but have not the medicine and cannot get it before reaching Chicago." So he comforted him with a sniff at his pocket flask, which had got pretty dry by this time, and also applied a few drops to the sick calf. When the boat arrived at Chicago the doctor considered himself discharged from further duty and disappeared from view, leaving the sick calf to its fate.
During the summer of 1854 a severe cholera epidemic was prevalent at the seaports, and it extended throughout the western part of the country. Quite a number of Norwegian immigrants were detained and placed in hospitals at Grosse Isle, the regular quarantine station situated on the St. Lawrence River some distance below Quebec, on British territory and managed by officers under that government. At this place all incoming ships had to stop for inspection. Immigrants were there subjected to rigid examination by physicians and all sick persons were ordered ashore. A gang of men were then sent aboard from the hospital to fumigate and disinfect the entire ship with all there was in it. This done, the ship was allowed to proceed up the river to the city; the sick ones had to remain at the hospital. This was the first trial the newcomers had to endure after reaching the happy shores. Friends, companions, and often members of families were ruthlessly separated, in many eases never to meet again. Many would die and their remains be interred; those who got well often had to start on their way alone and follow their friends as best they could, often not knowing where they could be found.
During the immigration season of 1854 many persons took the cholera after they arrived at Quebec and were placed in some of the city hospitals, where they received good nursing by Sisters of Charity. Many parents died, leaving young children in a very sorry plight. The only thing anyone could do for these poor young ones was to have them adopted by some of the Roman Catholic Houses of Mercy. At these places many persons have grown up to manhood and womanhood who never knew and never will know their identity. Many entire families have thus disappeared and all records of them are obliterated.
On the passage west the same sad fate overtook not a few families. On one occasion Stangeland's clerk chaperoned a party of newcomers as far as Montreal. On the same steamer traveled also a number of sturdy and healthy-looking Germans. Among these was particularly noticed a tall slender woman walking the deck back and forth carrying a pair of young baby twins, one on each arm. Within a few miles of Montreal the poor woman suffered a severe attack of cholera, and before the steamer reached the city docks she was a corpse! The incident called forth no end of pity and commiseration for the suddenly bereft husband and children and many an eye was moistened with tears at this most distressing and heart-rending misery. But there was nothing for the father to do but to leave the twins to the tender mercy of the kind and benevolent people who maintain charitable institutions, never to see them again, for he had several more children to care for, and had to continue his way westward. Wretchedness unspeakable! Many among the Norwegians, who succeeded in reaching their destination in the west, succumbed to the dread disease and fell its victim! Verily the lot of many an emigrant was hard, especially so when exposed to attacks of pestilence among strangers in a strange land, with no home, no means, and no friends to assist!
The time required by a sailing vessel to cross the sea usually varied from six to nine weeks, sometimes less, and, under adverse winds, sometimes as much as twelve weeks. Cases of only three weeks are also on record. On ships requiring twelve weeks or even less, passengers would often run out of provisions and the ship's own larder would get short. Often the supply of fresh water would become so scant that it became necessary to keep sharp control by dealing it out in very small portions per day to each individual. Naturally such a condition would cause much suffering and often sickness, and the unlucky passengers on such ships made a most wretched and pitiful sight when they arrived in port.
Now and then a vessel, passing the Newfoundland banks, would strike a dead calm, and had to remain on the spot. Then fishing tackle of various kinds would be called into use; and a great number of large, choice codfish would be landed on the
deck and quickly transformed into most welcome and savory dishes of fresh food. Various dishes of codfish would be prepared and no one would think of touching a morsel of anything else as long as a speck of fish could be had. Many specimens weighing forty pounds or more were hauled in. This fish is an unusually rapid biter and no nibbler; the question was not whether fish could be caught if one tried, but whether one had a hook and line to throw out. Indeed, so greedy were this finny tribe that they would often bite and hang to a hook that had no bait at all.
When a ship arrived at Grosse Isle on the St. Lawrence River it would hardly have cast anchor, when men and women in rowboats would quickly be swarming around the vessel offering fresh wheat bread, buns, and other baker's goods, and fresh milk, butter, fish, and so forth, for sale. All of this was readily sold and gobbled up in short order. How the immigrants feasted and enjoyed the change from the everlasting dry and salt to fresh food was a caution.
On the other hand, when an emigrant ship started on its voyage from a port in southern Norway, it was usually noticed that most of the passengers would eat fried salt pork, potatoes, and bread and butter at every meal, settling the repast with coffee --- perhaps also with a horn or two of aqua vitae and a schooner of beer. The latter articles, however, usually gave out in a few days at most, owing to frequent application. The constant frying of old, strong fat, in addition to other conditions dubious as to general cleanliness, caused a stench intolerable to many nostrils that were accustomed to better surroundings. But relief of this condition came after a number of days; they all got sick of salt pork and a number of them became so disgusted with it that the mere odor of it was sufficient to cause them to "stretch neck" over the rail of the lee side of the ship. Seasickness also prevailed among emigrants to some extent, but in most cases it was only of a temporary nature; quite a number, however, did not recover until the ship reached smooth water or until they could set their feet again on terra firma.
In order to maintain cleanliness below deck and preserve healthy conditions among the passengers it was customary with
some captains to divide off all the adult males in the steerage into seven gangs, one for each day in the week. If there were any cabin passengers on board, one was detailed to take charge and superintend one gang for a certain day in each week. They would sweep, scrub, and clean out all dirt, both on deck and below, early in the morning when they were called out. It was not at all an agreeable job, either for superintendent or gang, but all went at it with the proper tools and they did the work fairly well.
For entertainment and pastime the younger people would get up games of various kinds, such as climbing, wrestling, dancing, "back-hitting," "hanging the culprit," "Barber of Seville," and so on. The latter play took the cake for big fun. Some unsuspecting fellow would be seated in a chair and strapped fast so that he could not move. A four-foot piece of pine board was roughly made into the shape of an open razor with edge somewhat thinner, a poor excuse for a tool, yet rather murderous looking. Then the "Barber" would appear in a flashy costume, high hat, and dull white shirt, the outside being changed from the inside for the occasion. An attendant would bring up a pail of strong suds made of green soap, which the barber rubbed in the face of the victim in more than liberal doses, blinding his eyes and applying the soap mercilessly with an old tar brush, and also putting a handful or two of pine tar into his hair. The victim wriggled and squirmed and did his level best to get loose, but to no purpose. He could not open his eyes to see nor his mouth to call for help, because of the heavy suds. Then the "operator" would apply his formidable razor, purposely scraping away a little at a time and at a slow rate to prolong the fun, meanwhile suiting the action of his tonsorial movements to a performance of some rough fantastic motions attended by songs and witticisms.
All this proved almost too much for the digestion of many country people who had never before witnessed the performance of this blood-curdling farce, and a number laughed themselves black, while others tumbled over on the deck wriggling and squirming like eels, nearly giving up the ghost. The performance was a complete success, rude and uncouth as it was, and
it brought down the house with glorious effect. The victim of the affair, however, found the result far from agreeable.
The "back-hit" was another fun-provoking diversion, requiring no special knack on the part of the performers. Someone, usually an elderly woman, would take a seat, and another young person would open the game by hiding his or her face in the sitting woman's lap and placing his open hand on his back. Quickly someone in the surrounding crowd would strike the open hand with his open hand and withdraw in a hurry. Then if the person struck could point out the striker, the latter would have to "stand" to receive a similar" touch" and take it repeatedly until he could name the right one. Occasionally one of the "jack-tars" of the ship would happen along with a heavy piece of rope in his hand; he would not fail to apply a powerful whack on the seat of a standing fellow's trousers, enough and more than was needed to draw a big blister, causing him to bound high in the air with a groan like a whipped dog, cursing the -------- "bloody tar" the best he knew how. But the crowd cheered and enjoyed the fun hugely. The blistered fellows had to stand it.
Dancing was also a favored pastime amongst emigrants on these voyages. Among the passengers were generally a few young fellows who had practice in playing some instrument or other, usually of a primitive order. The old saying that "when there is a will there is a way" would here come into full play. A certain space on deck would be devoted to this amusement, which was indulged in enthusiastically. The player would choose a high seat, generally on the roof of some deck house. In calm weather and with a smooth sea the dancing would continue all night, but if there was a stiff wind and a rough sea the vessel would rock hard and perhaps give a sudden lurch to one side. Then the whole company would probably careen over and bring up in a corner against the railing all in a heap. Before they could pick themselves up a big splash of pure Atlantic would as likely as not saturate the whole pile most effectually in the bargain, leaving but a few dry spots. But nothing daunted, the dancers would soon be on their feet again, as good as new except for the thorough drenching, and unmindful of damage to
starched white skirts and shoes full of water and dripping coats all around, and in spite of the slippery condition of the deck and the dull music from the dampened instruments. There was fun and merriment galore, and to the onlookers there was displayed a sight never to be forgotten.
During a storm, when the ships would be rolling heavily, many ludicrous scenes might be observed on board. Sometimes it was a difficult matter either to cook or to eat. Tables in the cabins were furnished with wooden frames of a size to just fit the top, divided into several square sections to receive the usual slant of dishes and prevent their sliding off during the meal in rough weather. But in spite of all this it might happen that all the dishes and their contents would be tipped by a sudden lurch, and eaters and all would be thrown pell-mell to the floor and pitched about in a most ungraceful manner. Even seamen of long experience could not always guard against this unbecoming practice of mingling with broken crockery and ruined food and of rattling about on the floor. A man has been seen holding a soup plate in one hand and a spoon in the other, tumbling backwards and spilling out the soup or mush all over himself, feet wrong end up. A bull in a china shop could play no worse havoc.
The "jack-tars" took it all as a matter of course, having a gay old time over it. But sad were conditions at such times among the people in the steerage, where pails, cans, pots, kettles, and everything else left unlashed would rattle about and create a perfect pandemonium. All that the poor occupants could do was to cling fast to the nearest post or bed rail and stay there until the rolling would cease somewhat. Oftentimes this was in intense darkness, as the hatches had to be closed to exclude the furious sea and save the passengers from drowning. All this created a confusion and a chaos that naturally tried new souls, and bodies too. After such a catastrophe conditions in the steerage would of course be most frightful and sickening to behold and also apt to cause seasickness. Experiences of this kind may be set down as among the severe trials of the emigrants.
The fitting up of an ordinary ship for carrying emigrants
across the sea was of a very plain and often quite rude nature. On a temporary floor built in the hold of a vessel a two-story row of spaces for beds was constructed along the whole length of both sides of the ship, usually wide enough for four persons to sleep in. On deck a moderately-sized shed fitted up with a number of fireplaces for cooking was erected, also an outbuilding on each side near the rail. This completed the alterations necessary for the comforts of passengers, who always had to furnish their own bedding as well as their food. Below the floor was a large room reserved for the multitude of large heavy chests packed to the brim with clothing, bedding, and other trappings belonging to the emigrants. Many of them took along quantities of seemingly useless trash; as they could not sell it they preferred to bring it with them to their distant future home, even at considerable cost, as only a few hundredweights of baggage was carried free for each passenger. In another part of the hold were stowed away many large casks of fresh water, enough to last for three months in case the voyage should require that length of time. A smaller cask was filled and hoisted on deck for daily use. The provision boxes and smaller chests belonging to the passengers were placed in rows in front of their beds and made fast to prevent sliding off.
It was a rule on most emigrant vessels in those days that passengers carry very little liquor for use during the passage; anyone having a keg or other vessel holding several gallons of the stuff had to leave it in custody of the captain, to be kept by him under lock and key and returned to the owner at the end of the voyage. This precaution, however, was not always taken, as the following incident, which took place on a ship in 1853, will prove. It came to pass on one occasion that after a ship had passed through the English Channel and was heading for the Atlantic, a small rowboat with two men in it came along. The captain invited the men on board his ship; he desired them to take the name of the vessel and a report of its passage and general condition and leave the information at some main agency to be forwarded to the home port. The visitors were French fishermen. In consideration for their services the captain presented them with a good chunk of salt pork and a quart bottle
filled with liquor and the men left the ship well pleased with their visit.
But one man on board, and only one, was severely agitated, although apparently composed, for he was sure there would be trouble if the fishermen did not get out of sight quickly; he was well aware that the contents of the bottle they received was nothing but fresh water, pure and simple. The captain, having no liquor of his own, had drawn it from a keg that was left in his custody, for he naturally believed that it was all right, and had not tasted it before drawing. A tourist who was a very witty chap and was full of pranks and resources, taking his meals in the cabin, had managed to gain access to the storeroom and, driven by a great thirst for liquor that he could not satisfy any other way on board the ship, had drawn the keg dry and replaced it with water!
No one knew of this daring act of pilfering until the fishermen were out of sight. Then the traveler told of the trick among a few intimate friends, how he had done it, and what agony he suffered for fear of punishment, should the fraud be discovered while the fishermen remained within reach of the ship. But as good luck would have it, they drifted out of sight and the danger was over for the time being. It is tolerably certain that the men carried no report this time. The captain did not find out the truth until the ship arrived at Quebec and the now hated keg had to be returned to the owner, and then it was disclosed how the liquor had lost all strength and turned to water. In order to avoid as much trouble as possible the guilty tourist came forward and confessed his offense. The captain, contrary to expectation, accepted his explanation and made no more fuss over it, but settled in money with the rightful owner of the liquor as best he could; the owner, however, would much rather have found his keg intact.
The spring of the year 1853 was a great season for emigration from the port of Christiania. At times several ships would be taking in passengers at the same time, causing great hustle and activity about the harbor. The first ship that left that spring was the "Argo." This was in the middle of April, while the ice still covered the bay several miles out. Every spring, in order
to enable ships to get to sea, it was customary to cut a great channel in the ice, and through this many ships were passed, pulled along with heavy ropes by a number of men who walked on either side of the vessel until it reached open water. It was a big job to make a channel in this fashion through solid ice from twelve to twenty-four inches thick and then pull a heavy vessel through it. Usually fishermen and idle pilots were employed upon this work, which was at that time all done by hand. The more minute details of this work could not well be given here. Such a discussion would be too far from the subject in hand.
For some reason not made known, emigrant vessels did not come into the docks, but anchored some distance away. This caused a good deal of inconvenience and expense to passengers, who were often obliged to make more than one trip to and from the vessel, and also had to send all luggage, much of which was heavy and cumbersome, over in big rowboats. And it was by no means to the credit of captains and their subordinates that the trunks, chests, and other luggage were often handled in a very rough and careless manner. It was noticed time and again that sailors and men employed to hoist packages on board vessels from boats would not use straps or ropes placed around heavy chests before raising them by tackle and blocks over the ships' sides, and properly attach the big iron hook to the ropes. Instead, presumably to save work, they would without hesitation put the hooks into the handles of the heavy chests and hoist them on board in this manner, and then roughly lower them in the same way into the hold, hit or miss. But for the great strength of these chests they would all have been broken and destroyed, and their contents damaged and lost.
A direct result of this shameful handling of people's property was, of course, that if the chests did not break to pieces on the spot, they would be weakened or well-nigh ruined. If the interested person ventured to remonstrate, he was met with cranky retorts and profane swearing. This tends to show the true situation at that time as to the relations of officers and crew of a ship to their patrons, the poor and helpless emigrants in their power. It was an outgrowth of the overbearing demeanor of the wealthy
and educated classes toward the poor and lowly, ever characteristic of the caste system of the old world.
But here is a notorious fact that cannot be successfully contradicted. Many emigrants of that and other days, after having suffered every kind of indignity and injustice before leaving the old country and having risked their all and themselves to the perils of the sea, and who after arrival at their place of destination, having commenced the life of pioneers in the wilderness, struggling against poverty, sickness, and want, and after years of toil, adversity, and privation succeeded in materially improving their condition --- these same people, so much slighted and looked down upon during their stay in the old country, have been often addressed in meetings in many settlements by emissaries of various types from the old country asking them to contribute freely out of their hard-earned money to help pay traveling expenses and a good deal more to aid and promote some enterprise or other for which sufficient means could not be raised among moneyed people in the old country!
In Norway the watchword among the better classes has ever been "That wretched and horrid country America! Who would go there to live?" or some other sarcastic gibe expressive of dire contempt. But lo! when the question arises as to how to raise money in some considerable amount for the furtherance of some object, they quickly turn westward for a solution of the problem, and straightway commissioners go forth to this "horrid country" to solicit and collect the desired funds, generally with good success. What a grand paradox! In addition, a great many more people have been enabled to remove to this country during late years through the aid of friends here, who have sent money or passage tickets to pay their fares, than have been able to come on their own resources. Opposition to emigration has ever been strong among the well-to-do classes of the old countries; but emigration could not be suppressed, and survived among those for whom a removal was a matter of absolute necessity. The beneficial result' to the emigrant, to the country he left, to the land in which he made his home, and to the world are matters of modern history.
Before setting sail, when everything was in readiness to start,
it was the custom to request some city clergyman to hold worship on board the ship. The Reverend H. Hailing of Christiania was usually called on to attend, for he was a great favorite with the people and a powerful speaker. At times, when two or more vessels were ready to go out to sea, they were drawn up, one alongside the other, and the pastor would speak from an elevated stand, so that he could be seen and heard from all the ships. Scores of relatives of the emigrants would be present to take the final leave with dear kinsfolk, whom they never expected to meet again in life. Their mutual expressions of heartfelt sorrow and grief were touching in the extreme and sad to witness.
So far as is known no entire cargo of emigrants from Norway was ever lost upon the ocean. This is no doubt largely due to the well-known and acknowledged superiority of Norwegian navigators, in whom both courage and caution seem happily blended. Seamen of other nationalities have never been able to outrank them. But a sad disaster happened on Lake Erie one season in the early fifties when a large west-bound steamer with hundreds of Norwegian immigrants on board foundered one night, and a great number were lost. Survivors of this fearful calamity are yet living scattered throughout the country.
On May 3, 1853, the good ship "Peter Tordenskjold," commanded by Captain Lugg, sailed from Christiania for Quebec, taking out some three hundred emigrants. This ship was a three-masted bark. On heaving anchor a very favorable breeze set in and good speed was made all the way out the fjord so that the farther lighthouse was made the same evening. At this point the pilot left the ship, which now stood out to sea. This vessel had a good hull and was also a good sailor, but the rigging was not considered extra. Following is a list of the cabin passengers: Fred Brön, merchant, and wife; Christ Heyerdahl, former landowner and farmer; Lauritz Heyerdahl, a brother, and Chr. Winge, the two latter printers; -------- Casperson; K. E. Erickson, a student and former clerk.
L. Heyerdahl and C. Winge, first class journeymen,
composers, and pressmen, both went to Inmansville, Rock County, Wisconsin, to work on the Norwegian newspaper Emigranten, having previously been engaged for this purpose. They remained with this printing office until long after its removal to Madison a few years later, after which Heyerdahl settled on a farm that he owned near Inmansville and became a successful farmer. Winge went out west. Both married farmer's daughters after they arrived in America, and raised families. The Brön family settled in Chicago. Chr. Heyerdahl was an elderly man and a widower; he lived for some time in Milwaukee, where for a while he worked under fish inspector T. J. Widvey at the fish warehouse. Later on he removed to La Crosse with his family; he had contracted a new marriage since coming west. He died there in 1882, and his remains were laid at rest on May 3, the exact twenty-ninth anniversary of the day he sailed from Christiania. Casperson and Haagenson, a steerage passenger, are thought to have gone into some part of Canada. Two gentlemen by the name of Billington, father and son, from Stenkjaer, a place not far from Trondhjem, were also passengers with the "Tordenskjold." Both were single men, as far as is known. The old man was an apothecary, and he settled at Chicago, where he died a few years later. The son was a pharmacist in the old country and after arriving here he studied medicine, and afterwards practiced medicine at Black Earth and later for many years at Decorah, Iowa.
A former shipmate from Christiania, Christ Joys, who was an acquaintance of Captain Lugg, happened to be present on the ship at the time of sailing, and went along with it all the way to Quebec. He was not a passenger nor mate, nor sailor, but a real nondescript. He had no luggage nor change of clothes, but he lost no sleep over this trifling matter. He was par excellence the funny man of the voyage and passengers on that vessel yet living all remember his jokes and pleasantries, pranks and tricks. He was a complete man of the world; he had been sailing for years and had gained a good deal of experience as a seafaring man, both at sea and ashore. Everyone was his friend, he offended nobody, and he always displayed a kind disposition. Soon after he arrived at Quebec he took a batch of newcomers
to Chicago. It is thought that he returned to Norway the same season and remained there.
The first mate of the "Tordenskjold," Mr. Jacobson, left the ship at Quebec and came west and has for many years been sailing vessels on the lakes. He settled at Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Captain Jacobson is a navigator of large experience and is well known about the lakes. He is sailing his own vessels.
Two children were born during the passage, one of which was a girl, who was named by the captain "Nora Atlanta." Is this young lady living yet? Two persons died on the way and their bodies were buried in the sea. It was the custom to wrap bodies with heavy canvas and weight the foot end with a piece of rock or other heavy substance in order to make the body sink to the bottom feet first. Then the whole case was sewed up with heavy cord and placed on a wide smooth board, one end of which, everything being ready, was placed on the rail or at a large porthole. Sailors would raise the head end high enough to cause the body to slide off and drop into the water, where it would sink slowly with a spiral motion into the trackless deep. A hymn was usually sung and fitting words were spoken by the captain. This closed the sad and solemn ceremony.
When the ship arrived at the Newfoundland banks, all wind went down completely and the ship was riding perfectly still in a dead calm for perhaps two days. Several French fishing vessels were noticed. These generally had on board a number of rowboats that were sent out to catch codfish in different localities. These banks have for a great many years been known as among the best fishing grounds for fine large codfish, and untold quantities are secured every season and prepared for market. The people on board the "Tordenskjold" did not neglect their opportunity, but cast out big baited hooks attached to strong long lines, and before many minutes one after another of the big finny tribe was landed on the deck. The next was the cooking and eating of it, and the way everyone "laid in" and enjoyed a meal of this savory and delicious dish was a caution. It was certainly a most unexpected stroke of good luck and a wholesome change after a six weeks' diet of dry salty fare. Before the ship entered the St. Lawrence the passengers' attention was
called to immense swarms of waterfowl soaring around an island that appeared to be completely taken possession of by millions of the birds, and seen from a distance appeared like a huge mountain of guano.
When the ship arrived at Grosse Isle, anchor was dropped for the first time on the voyage. There all incoming vessels had to stop to be subjected to thorough inspection. Here an old doctor with assistants came on board, and after investigation ordered a number of sick persons to be sent ashore, and sent a force of men out to fumigate and disinfect the entire ship. All bedding and clothing was brought on deck for airing. All this general housecleaning caused quite a hubbub on board while it lasted. A few persons were detained at the hospital, a sad experience to many, parting from friends and kindred, not knowing whether they should ever meet again.
Late in the day the ship started from the station and with favorable wind reached the city of Quebec the same evening, which happened to be St. John's Eve, June 23, 1853. The next day, while the immigrants were still on board the vessel, the captain being ashore, another danger threatened the safety of the vessel rather suddenly. An immense raft of timber happened to come floating down the stream and in spite of all efforts of the hands to steer it clear of the ship, it struck it hard on the bow and carried it along with it, dragging the anchor. Quickly as possible another anchor was dropped, but without effect. Raft and ship drifted on until the latter came very near striking a large wharf that was built way out in the river, but at the critical moment, as good luck would have it, the great strain caused the big raft to burst at the point of contact with the vessel and it floated past on both sides of it in the wildest disorder, but the danger was luckily over. The ship did not appear to have suffered much harm, but if the raft had held together, it would have struck the wharf in a moment and been crushed to pieces. As it was, excitement ran high among the people on the "Tordenskjold" until the danger had passed. The timbers of the raft kept on floating down the river, utterly wrecked.
The experience of the passengers after leaving Quebec was in line with that of other immigrants as described in another page
of this work, and all came through to their destination in the west safe and sound as far as known. But no tidings were ever received as to the fate of those persons left sick at the Grosse Isle hospital, at least outside of their near family circles.
The short stop at Grosse Isle proved after all to be enjoyable to the healthy ones among the passengers. No sooner had the anchor dropped than a number of rowboats would be coming alongside offering for sale fresh wheat loaves, milk, eggs, butter, and so forth. All this was eagerly taken in liberal quantities, and highly enjoyed after eating salty food for several weeks, except for the codfish on the Newfoundland banks. There it was that the people saw and enjoyed the first wheat bread in loaves that they had ever eaten. The old flat bread and lefse that they carried in stock were replaced by new bread for the time being.
During the palmy days of the sailing packet, before the general passenger traffic across the sea began to be carried on in steamships, all people traveling as steerage passengers had to carry with them their own provisions and also prepare their own meals as best they could. Hence the matter of providing the necessary stores for such a voyage was an important item, as they had to fit out for twelve weeks as a rule and a supply of food and drink had to be made ready, not only sufficient in quantity but also of the proper quality to resist the effects of the dampness of the ocean climate on board the ship, and to keep from spoiling. Preparations for the purpose had to begin during winter or at least very early in spring.
The experience of friends who had emigrated previously came into good use, and emigrants acting on their advice were able to make a fair success of it. Those from the country sections who intended to leave in the spring would have a large supply of flat bread made. A large part of this bread was made of oatmeal; part of it was oat and barley meal mixed. The finest was made of bolted rye, but only a small quantity of this was in use by ordinary emigrants; generally one or more female experts were engaged to make this bread for a family's use as it was necessarily slow work, often requiring several weeks to prepare a sufficient supply for a large family.
After mixing and working the dough carefully, it was rolled out on a large wooden board with a creased pin or kjævle, as it was called, in the hands of the woman expert, into a very thin circular sheet just the size of an iron slab resting over a brisk fire on the fireplace called peisen. The iron slab was named takka, or in better language takken. The thin sheet of dough was then dexterously rolled in part on a long slender stick and spread out carefully, perfectly even, on the takka and allowed to bake, first on one side, and then on the other, all the while being closely watched and kept from sticking to the slab until it was thoroughly done, when it was removed and placed on the pile. This bread was packed in wooden casks or barrels just large enough to fit the size of the unbroken sheets, about thirty inches across, and four and one-half to five feet deep; they were put together with "chimes" like water-tight casks and held together with band iron or strong wooden hoops. The sides were made straight, with no bulge in the middle. One end was left open until the filling was done, and then the cask was covered by a strong movable lid fixed with hasps and staples for locking up. In this brodbut, as it was called, was also placed the takken, which was sure to be taken along to serve the family in the same way in their future home in the western world, as it was known that such an article could not be obtained there.
So much for this part of the outfit. For use during the first few days of the voyage many people also made a lot of soft fiat bread called lefse which was prepared from the same dough as the other and in the same way, omitting only the hardening process. This was effected by some dexterous turn of a long slender wooden stick in the hands of the expert baker. This lefse was folded up like an ironed handkerchief and would thus remain soft for quite a time if properly made.
It was of little use to take baker's bread out to sea, as it would get hard and dry and spoil in a few days. Occasionally when, after inspection by the officers of the ship, the supply of bread and other provisions was judged to be insufficient for at least ninety days, emigrants had to purchase hardtack and other edibles to make up enough. An ample supply of butter was provided and packed solid in tubs, but its excellence as to
keeping qualities was often rather problematical. Next a stock of cheese of various kinds was added. Skim milk cheeses, white and brown, from cow's milk, and also from goat's milk, were used, all in smaller or larger bricks. The brown of both sorts was called primost and was made from the whey remaining from the white cheese. The brown primost made from the whey of goat's milk is a very fine and somewhat high-priced article, and if it is made right, it will keep any length of time in any climate. In recent years large consignments are shipped to this country and the article finds a ready market in the West. It is put up in square blocks and one kind is put up in tinfoil.
Still another kind of cheese, made from cow's skim milk is called pultost. It is like what is often called Dutch cheese, a soft mass sometimes seasoned with caraway seed. It has little or no keeping qualities and nearly always proved to be a tough customer at sea. As a rule it would become very soft in a few days and omit a strong disagreeable odor, which would before long grow into an intolerable stench, enough to penetrate a whole ship. It has happened that families have saved a lot of this cheese for future use, and when they would bring up a pail of it from their provision chests in the hold of the vessel and open it on deck, they would be greeted by a humid stench and instead of choice pultost would find millions of maggots joyfully swimming about in full possession! Of course it had to be disposed of summarily and given to the fishes.