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The Trials of an Immigrant: The Journal of Ole K. Trovatten
    Translated and Edited by Clarence A. Clausen (Volume 19: Page 142)

“America letters” were a great stimulus to Norwegian migration during the middle decades of the last century. Many of those that were sent home by the more versatile emigrants were widely read and discussed, copies often being made for circulation in neighboring valleys. “They first brought the ‘America fever’ to the country,” comments a present-day Norwegian historian. {1}

One of the most influential of these letter writers was Ole Knudsen Trovatten, author of the journal translated below. He came to America in 1840, first going to the well-known Muskego settlement west of Milwaukee, but later, in 1843, moving to Cottage Grove in the Koshkonong area southeast of Madison. He had served as klokker (sexton) and school teacher in his native district, which went by the forbidding name of Ødefjeld (in Laardal, Upper Telemark). {2} There he evidently became a character of considerable controversy because not only was he suspected of being too fond of the bottle, but he was also accused of trying his hand at making counterfeit money. According to one source, it was the complications growing out of this accusation that sent him to America. {3}

Despite these suspicions and accusations, the klokker seems to have been held in high respect by the “common man” of his neighborhood. “By the people, Trovatten was regarded as a sage who could confound both pastor and judge when he so desired,” and, according to reports, the Tele markings traveled for miles to consult with him on knotty [143] questions. Their confidence in his judgment and veracity apparently did not decline after his departure for America. His letters to friends back home seem to have caused a minor social upheaval, as is evidenced by the following testimonial from one of the many who fell under the spell of Trovatten’s pen.

The klokker’s praise of America exerted a tremendous influence among the masses of the people in Upper Telemarken, and now for several years rich people and poor, the great as well as the humble, had talked about Ole Trovatten, some to blame and defame him, others to praise and extol him. The opponents of emigration avowed that he was a dangerous person who sought to lead people to ruin, while others took a different view of the matter and declared that they were ready to place their hand on the Holy Bible and, under oath, testify that in his home community Ole was known to be a reliable man. I shall not try to pass judgment upon his honesty, but by the common people he was generally regarded as an angel of peace, who had gone beforehand to the New World, whence he sent back home to his countrymen, so burdened with economic sorrows, the olive branch of promise, with assurance of a happier life in America. . . . “Ole Trovatten has said so” became the refrain in all accounts of the land of wonders, and in a few years he was the most talked of man in Upper Telemarken. His letters from America gave a powerful impulse to emigration, and it is probable that hundreds of those who are now plowing the soil of Wisconsin and Minnesota would still be living in their ancestors’ domains in the land of Harald Fairhair, if they had not been induced to bid old Norway farewell through Trovatten’s glittering accounts of conditions on this side of the ocean. {4}

As some of Trovatten’s letters have been preserved, we are able to sample the messages he sent to his former fellow parishioners. In one of them he intimates that people back home may think that he regrets having left, but herein they are badly mistaken: “Under no circumstances would I return to live in Ødefjeld, not even if I could be owner of half the annex. Ødefjeld is such a wretched place that one ought by no means to live there. Every inhabitant would do better by [144] selling his farm to people from Lower Telemarken. It seems rather questionable to me to abide by one’s ancestors’ ignorance of better districts and their fear of emigration.” He continues, “Fertile fields lie uncultivated in America,” and a “much better mode of living is open to every honorable citizen. . . . Every poor person who will work diligently and faithfully can become a well-to-do man here in a short time.” Soil and climate combine to make the prospects for farming very alluring. “Every man here has a large number of pigs and also chickens. There are some who have as many as a thousand chickens.” What a contrast to the hard-scrabble existence in Ødefjeld, he plainly implies. As for himself, “al though I have been sick almost half a year and have a family to care for, still I have accomplished more than a worker can do in Norway.” He had already acquired forty acres of land besides some other property, and he was earning wages of from sixteen to eighteen dollars a month with board. {5}

This optimistic report was written in July, 1842. Some time later he became klokker and schoolteacher in the Liberty and East Koshkonong parishes. {6} His neighbors there spoke very highly of him both as a klokker and as a man: “I have never before or since heard anyone who had so beautiful and powerful a voice as this man. He was, furthermore, an able teacher, well-intentioned, helpful, and kind. The newcomers always found in him a sympathetic friend and dependable advisor. . . . Many of the pioneers in this area will remember with thankfulness the name of Ole Knudsen Trovatten." {7} But [145] fortune turned against him. His wife died of cholera, probably during the late forties, and his three children apparently were carried away by the same scourge. Possibly as a result of these sorrows, he succumbed entirely to alcoholism and was eventually laid in a drunkard’s grave. {8} Ole Trovatten’s letters speak eloquently of the optimism with which people of his generation set out for the New World, and his life bears wit ness to the hardships and tragedies that many of them met in the land of promise.

The journal given below was probably written in 1842, be fore Trovatten left Muskego. As it has come down to us, the manuscript is evidently not complete. The opening sentence would indicate that some introductory material is missing- probably a discussion of his motives for migrating-and the concluding paragraph breaks off in the middle of a sentence. But, fortunately, the part of the journal which deals with the Atlantic crossing, the arrival in New York, the journey in land, and the first contacts with a pioneer settlement have been preserved. It gives us vivid glimpses of life at the time when the immigrant stream from Norway was swelling into mighty proportions. {9}


At this time I reached an agreement with Captain Anchersen about passage to New York. I was to pay $33 per person for me and my wife and $25 for each of the children. In addition there was the expense of provisions for the trip, which cost me $12 per adult and $12 for the children. Thus I paid the captain a sum of $177, independently of the “entry money,” $2.50 per person, which I also had to deposit with him. The total therefore amounted to $189.50, leaving me $16, which I changed to 39 guilders in silver-this was all the cash I had. {10} [146]

While I lay in Drammen I met many people who rebuked me for my “crazy notion” of wanting to go to America. One woman even went so far as to tell me straight to my face that my only intention was to destroy my wife and children so as to be rid of all encumbrances. She was especially horrified, she said, to think that I had the disposition to kill innocent little children, though it might be understandable that I could be tired of my wife. I assured her that I had no such vile intention, but only hoped that God would keep all of us from acts of that nature. She continued, however, in the same vein and swore that it was easy to see that there was a scoundrel concealed under my cape who undoubtedly intended to kill his family, because no one had ever reached America and it was impossible for anyone to get there. Only people intent on murder, she explained, would set off on such adventures. Listening to this nonsense made me laugh, and I asked her if she really believed what she said, which she maintained she did. I replied that it was a shame the world should bring forth people who held such evil opinions about their fellow men. I assured her again that I harbored no murderous intentions and did not expect to fall into such evil ways, since I was, God be praised, sufficiently enlightened to know better than to act the way she thought I would. Finally I advised her to keep her tongue from such abusive language in the future, for the judgment she passed on others might easily fall on her own head. This quieted her some what, but she still clung to her own ideas. I therefore left her with her hallucinations and got away as soon as possible, but I met many others in Drammen who had much that was bad to say about my venture.

At this time I also called on Pastor Jespersen, who asked me if I expected to find a shorter road to heaven from America than I might find in Norway, to which I replied in the negative. “But,” I added, “when I am removed from all the evil company and all the tyranny and oppression which is found in Norway, [147] I believe I will be able to serve God better in America and thus find a surer way to salvation than here in Norway.” He made no further comments and turned the conversation to other matters.

Finally the time arrived when we could take to sea. We boarded our ship “Emilie” on May 17, and sailed for Gothenburg, where we arrived on the tenth. During the trip everyone was attacked by seasickness except me, my oldest daughter, and a baker from Holmestrand. The captain wished to take iron aboard in Gothenburg as ballast, and this took so long that we remained there fourteen days. Thus I had an opportunity to get in touch with certain people. When we had loaded the ballast we finally put to sea again, on the fifth of June. As the wind was favorable we caught sight of Norway at Arendal on the morning of the second day. We followed the southern coast of Norway past Kristiansand, Lindesnes, and Farsund, with Lister always to the west. {11} On the seventh of June, which was Whitsunday, we saw our fatherland, Norway, for the last time.

We took the course north of Scotland, which is shorter than going through the English Channel. Seasickness again attacked practically all the passengers; only those of us already mentioned remained well. My wife was not affected much either; but my son Aslak became ill in Gothenburg and remained sick for five weeks, at times suffering so much that I lost hope for his life. Then I thought of Norway and regretted ever leaving. I felt that if this child should die at sea and be buried amidst the waves, I would be guilty of his death because I had undertaken such a journey. I was deeply grieved and felt that it would be impossible for me to endure it if the boy should die and be tossed into the sea. With each beat against the ship, I imagined his frail body being washed about by the waves. During this crisis I continually prayed that God would grant health to my child, but I did not reveal my thoughts to anyone-and, God be praised, my child regained his strength. Then I became extremely happy, so happy that I cannot express it in words.

We sailed north of Scotland, passing the Faroes, the Orkneys, and the Hebrides, finally getting out on the vast Atlantic. Here we encountered unfavorable wind, as it blew steadily from the [148] west, forcing us continually to tack towards the northwest and southwest, thus making our progress slow and cumbersome. The captain held devotions every evening and read the text for the day every Sabbath-a very fine practice indeed. On June 10 I entertained myself by composing the following poem. {12}

On June 11 we caught sight of a little island called Borra, but there was no evidence of its being inhabited. {13} On the thirteenth we saw a number of grampuses in groups of four, six, or eight following the ship to one side. They varied in size, but I judge that they averaged about three yards in length. When they show themselves you can always expect bad weather. On Sunday the fourteenth a severe storm blew up; several times the waves washed clear over the deck. This terrified us greatly, for we were unused to such heaving of the ship. The storm lasted a whole week, so we got somewhat used to it and lost much of our fear. One night, however, it stormed so furiously that it was almost impossible to stay in our beds. Finally the beds began breaking down, and a horrible commotion set in among the passengers. Amidst all this uproar, a man from Sigdal raced across the deck in great panic yelling at me, asking what in the world we should do. He was in such a fright that he could see no hope for survival. Despite my own fear, I replied that he should not be afraid but should put his trust in God and call on Him for help-then we would assuredly be rescued from our great plight. This calmed him and he went quietly back to his place. {14}

On June 22 I felt the urge to compose the following song. {15} . . . . On St. John’s Day I pinned it up somewhere on deck where [149] it soon attracted numerous admirers. Many made copies of it, and at last someone stole it, but I never learned who the guilty person was. During this week we had rather nice weather; nevertheless some of our passengers, especially the women, were sick practically the whole trip. I had my thoughts turned steadily toward God, praying inwardly to Him that He would continue to support us in his mercy and grant us zeal for our souls’ salvation so that we could step ashore in America with renewed hearts.

On July 14 we struck the Newfoundland Banks, where we tried our fishing tackle but had no luck. We did, however, get an opportunity to see numerous ships from all parts of the world that were there to catch fish. These banks are the richest fishing grounds on the face of the earth. At this point we were some twenty miles from the island of Newfoundland. Our ship held a southwesterly course and crossed many small banks where the water was some ten, fifteen, or twenty fathoms deep. On the twenty-second we reached another bank where there also were many ships-some at anchor, some drifting before the wind, but all trying to catch fish. We, too, tried our luck again and caught such a great number of halibut and cod that we filled five barrels besides what was consumed aboard. That day I was a bit indisposed because of the horrible stench from the fish- and furthermore, I am no lover of this dish. Most of the halibut weighed about 4 Ltt., but we caught one which weighed 12 Btt. and 5 mfs. {16} Several much larger ones were hooked, but they broke the lines, so we failed to get them aboard. In this area we also saw several whales, but none of them were large. We tacked hither and yon but managed to make some progress; and on August 9 we took on a pilot from New York, which cheered us very much, for we then realized that our long journey must be drawing to a close. Actually, we were then about thirty-one miles from New York.

Finally, on August 11 we reached the quarantine place near the city. Here we cast anchor, and soon two doctors came aboard [150] to examine the passengers and make sure we would not bring any diseases into the country. The inspection went well, as all of us were declared free of contagion. These men soon returned, and our captain accompanied them to the city. We remained aboard the following night, but the next day, August 12, a man arrived with a little sailboat which was to take the passengers to the pier. He had two Negro sailors with him who were so black that there was nothing light about them except their teeth and the whites of their eyes.

First we were taken to a kind of “washing house” which stood on pillars a short distance from shore. There all our clothing was examined. Also, all our chests were opened for inspection. Fortunately, everything went well. If our clothes had not passed inspection for cleanliness, we would have been forced to remain in this house several days to clean them, but this we escaped. Next we were taken to the city, where we and all our goods were put aboard a very large freighter. Here the captain again visited us and gave me useful information about many things. He asked me further to look after my companions as carefully as I could, just as I had been doing on the ship. I can speak in the highest terms about the captain because of all the solicitude he showed for us passengers during the whole voyage. To be sure, there were those who grumbled, but their complaints were groundless; they had no understanding of his great concern for us or of his upright dealings with us in every respect. I found him to be thoroughly honest and must therefore, in accord with my conscience, praise him for everything.

During the whole voyage I had lots of trouble taking care of the accounts and supervising the distribution of provisions; still I reaped nothing but scorn and disgrace from some of the unthinking dolts in the group. Many of them seemed to assume that it was my duty to perform these tasks, not that I did them out of the kindness of my heart. Their “griping” was absolutely unjust, since all of us were supposed to share alike in work and responsibilities. But I shall bear them no grudge, for they spoke out of their ignorance. True it is that the captain charged well for the passage, but it was money wisely spent, seeing that he took such good care of his passengers throughout. I shall respect him for every day and every hour we spent under his super vision. May the Lord guide all those who decide to leave for [151] America to seek passage with good ships and solicitous captains! Next to God’s aid, this is the most important factor in enabling them to land safe and sound in the New World, where they can continue to serve their Lord in spirit and in truth. Perhaps they will then discover that they can find a surer way to salvation in America than we had in Norway.

The freighter remained in New York overnight, and the following day, August 13, the captain helped us draw up the contract for our trip upcountry as far as Illinois. The charges were $13 per adult, two children under twelve years passing as one adult, while children under two years were to travel free. Each adult could carry 40 pounds on his ticket; anything over and above that was to cost $1.75 per 100 pounds. As I had only $16 left, I was forced to ask someone for a loan. The generous man let me have $39, which covered the passage for me and my family. My own money I intended to use for the purchase of provisions and for transporting our goods.

I cannot express any opinions about the beauty of New York or about its stately buildings, but it did not seem to me that this city had as pleasant a location as many other cities I have seen. New York is, however, the largest as well as the richest city in the United States. Washington, the capital, can in no way compare with it. We left New York toward evening that same day aboard the above-mentioned large freighter which, together with five others, was towed by a steamer up the Hudson River to a city called Albany. Various towns were situated along the banks. We reached Albany on August 15 and were put off on the wharf where all our luggage was to be weighed. There was a woman from Seljord who could not go any farther, for she had only $2.50 left and she had a son six or eight years of age. She therefore asked the other passengers if they would lend her $10 or $12, which no one was willing to do. But finally the man who had lent me money in New York promised to grant her the loan if she could induce me to act as surety. For a long time I refused, but finally yielded out of sympathy for her. As a result, I borrowed $12 extra from the man and took the woman up to the office in Albany to arrange matters. But the official there demanded $14, and consequently nothing could be done. We then returned to our luggage, which had already been placed aboard the canalboat. I sat down on the deck to inspect the [152] tickets and distribute them properly, for they were all in a bunch. While I was thus occupied someone stole my pocketbook containing all my money, including the $12 just borrowed, making a total of about $28 in silver together with the pouch, which I would not have sold for a dollar. This put me in a most serious situation, since I did not have a single penny with which to purchase anything.

We left the same day aboard the canalboat, which was pulled by two horses, traveling both night and day. The canal ends at a city called Buffalo, which is located on Lake Erie. This canal is called the Erie Canal and is about sixty Norwegian miles long. During the trip I was much concerned about money for me and my family. I tried to borrow some from most of my companions. But there was a scoundrel among us from Kristiansand who called himself Brandt and claimed to be a doctor capable of curing all sorts of patients. He spread the slanderous rumor about me that I had not lost the money at all but was merely trying to double-cross my creditor. He managed to induce many others to help spread his lies and thus keep everyone from lending me money. He said he could easily tell that I was a great swindler and consequently I ought to be chastened through hunger, now that the opportunity offered itself. He passed judgment to the effect that my family and I should be allowed only a nine-cent loaf of dry bread per day. This would make me aware of my shortcomings and the many vices hidden under my cape, he argued. Thus he humiliated me day by day in the most shameless fashion. Finally, becoming tired of his insults and injustice, I asked him who he was who presumed to pass judgment on a stranger. I would have to stand or fall before my own Master, I told him, and this was none of his business. “Assuredly,” I continued, “I am a great sinner before God, but it is not up to you to punish me. Look after your own affairs and leave me free to wrestle with my own difficulties.” After this he behaved somewhat better toward me. At last I managed to borrow $2 from the same man who already had helped me, and this tided me over a couple of days.

Along the canal there are many towns, some large and some small. Among them is Rochester, a very beautiful city. Some Norwegians had settled there, but there was no land left in that [153] area at the government price. {17} A short way from Rochester is a little town called Lockport which is remarkable for the many sluices mined through the solid rock. There are two parallel channels, each having five locks. Still they are working incessantly to make three channels and to heighten the locks, thus reducing the number. {18}

We finally reached Buffalo on August 23. There we were transferred from the canalboat to a large freighter, where we had good quarters. We went uptown to look about and to buy necessities for the ensuing trip. But, I, of course, lacked money, so again I was in great straits. I asked several for a loan, but all in vain. At last I did get $2 from a man from Voss, by giving him a rifle as security. Thus I was saved for a little while. On the twenty-fifth the steamer was to begin its trip up the three great fresh-water lakes-Erie, Huron, and Michigan. We were taken aboard, together with numerous other emigrants. While the great boat pulled away from the city, beautiful music was played as long as the people ashore could hear us. This did not last very long, however, because the boat developed great speed, having double engines-and it was four decks high. It was the largest boat I saw during the entire trip. This steamer usually touches at every port, either to take on wood, which is used as fuel for the engines, or to let passengers off or on. At times it was so far out that we could not see land on either hand, these lakes being so vast. When we neared the city called Milwaukee, a little steamer came to take off those passengers who might wish to land there. Practically all of our group went ashore except those from Voss, who proceeded on to Chicago in Illinois. {19} The rest of us took the little steamer for Milwaukee, which is located in Wisconsin. This was Sunday, August 30.

When we reached the pier, we had to pay a total of $10 before landing, making twenty-seven cents ($.27) per person. Here we met some Norwegians who were working in town. They were [154] able to tell us that several families from Tinn parish had settled about two Norwegian miles from Milwaukee.

As our luggage would have to be transported by means of horses, we could not leave Milwaukee at once but remained there until September 1. When I arrived in the town I did not have a single penny with which to buy food for me and mine; neither was there anything to purchase, so the prospects were more than dismal. I wished to obtain work but could hardly expect to find any because I did not understand a word of the language. Now I felt that things had become too heavy for me to bear; I regretted very much that I had left Norway and, in a mood of depression, lamented my fate. My wife, however, was a true comfort to me. She reasoned with me that I, who had always been of a buoyant spirit, ought not yield to despondency but should remember that “help is nearest when prospects are drearest.” The old saying proved true this time also. A man from Sigdal parish lent me $4, which enabled me to buy food for my family. He and I clubbed together and hired a man with a team of horses to take us out to the Norwegian settlement. This cost us a total of $4. As has been already stated, we left September 1 and arrived the next day among our countrymen who were living at Muskego.

When I got there I was broke again, but I met some people from Tinn who were willing to help me in my need. They let me and my family stay with them several days and later lent me some provisions while I was looking for work. I was first employed by one of these men of Tinn, Tosten Østensen Quisterud, to fix up his house against the cold. Furthermore, this generous man promised me lodgings for the winter, a promise which he fulfilled, besides helping me in many other ways. During the winter I worked for native Americans at half a dollar per day, which was always paid in goods, since there was a great shortage of cash in the community. {20}

Finally I entered into an agreement with two brothers to work for them at $200 per year, but I had to provide house and food [155] for my family independently. {21} I began this job on March 8. That month I bought a cow and a calf for $18. This was extremely fortunate for the family, because my wife and youngest child had been sick the whole winter, but as soon as they got milk, my wife got well again. My job with these brothers was to saw boards from various types of wood. When I had been thus employed for half a year, one of my employers became so unreasonable that I could not tolerate the idea of working for him any longer. I therefore disobeyed his instructions somewhat so as to make him angry at me and drive him to fire me. I did not dare to quit the job because that might deprive me of my wages. But I gained my point and was fired September 9, which made me very happy.

Thus life has run along until now with its ups and downs and much hard toil. I always try to keep employed in order to supply my house with the necessary food and clothing. With God’s help we have not suffered any need but have always been better off than we were in Norway. We have even managed to save a little money which, of course, is one of man’s objectives. This desire to advance in the world is also present here. Avarice rules practically everyone. I think I can say that I have never been bothered with greediness, but I have a strong desire to secure enough money to buy myself a piece of land. With God’s help, I hope this will be realized some time in the future. God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. The mind of man concocts its plans, but God decrees his fate. This has been my experience. While I was hoping to buy land and get ahead in the world, the lash of God struck us. My wife, my oldest child, and I were taken sick on the same day, late in the month of August. The disease is called “Fever Ague.” {22} It did not harass us long but passed away as quickly as can possibly happen. My wife and child were sick for five weeks, I for seven. Nevertheless, a long time elapsed before we could work again, as all our strength had been sapped away. But with the aid of good appetites we gradually regained our vigor. By January, I was almost back to [156] normal. Of course, this attack might look like a great misfortune, but I dare assume that the chastisement of the Lord always turns out for the best. Though my earthly resources may have been diminished, I have gained in spiritual wealth. I hope that God will give me strength to grow from day to day until the goal of eternal salvation is reached, which shall be my constant endeavor unless God has rejected me entirely because of my sins. I still entertain the hope that His grace and mercy have not been exhausted. The Lord has ever been gracious unto contrite sinners, and we must assume that His mercy still endures for the truly repentant.

Up to now my fortune in the New World has been rather varied, but generally I have been bowed down with hard work in order to provide for my family and myself. I believe, however, that the future will gradually ease my burdens. I feel assured that the laboring man can do well here because America rewards her workers far better than Norway is able to do. I will not deny that at present there is a great shortage of money here, but even under such conditions this country is able, within a comparatively short time, to make every earnest laborer a rich and independent man.

Practically all necessary products are raised in this country, and of a quality that is unusual to find in Norway. As far as I know, any kind of produce that you might desire can be grown here except rice and coffee, which thrive only in warm climates, climates quite unsuited for Norwegian settlers. Either winter wheat or spring wheat can be sown here, but it is usually maintained that the former does better. Winter wheat is sown during the months of September, October, November, and December. I have seen some sowing done in the latter part of December. It is usually harvested toward the end of July, but at times either earlier or later. Spring wheat is sown in March or early April and is harvested some two, three, or four weeks later than winter wheat, depending on the year. {23} [157]

Maize, or Indian corn, as well as most other kinds of seeds, are planted in May. June or July is the best time for breaking virgin soil, which must be sown to winter wheat the following fall. The charge for breaking runs from $2.50 to $3.00 per acre depending on the nature of the land. To fence forty acres costs about $34.00. Fence rails are split from oak trunks, usually eleven feet in length. It is estimated that four thousand rails will suffice to enclose forty acres. The cost of splitting rails is about $8.00 per thousand. The rails are matched in length and arranged in zigzags, eight tiers high to keep the cattle from jumping over. Usually all fields must be fenced, as the cattle generally roam about in the forests without being tended. But some of the settlers hereabouts are now beginning to enclose the pastures, as this makes it easy to fetch the cattle in the evenings, which otherwise may be quite a job.

The sheep must be well locked up, especially at night, because there is a breed of wolves here called the prairie wolf that can do much damage to the flock in case of negligence. Pigs roam around without any attention for about ten months of the year, and they get along very well. By the month of December they are at their fattest, because during the autumn lots of nuts fall from the trees and this is the best pig feed available. Every farmer has numerous hogs, so you may run into them everywhere in the woods. The meadows are not protected, but the hay is cut right where the cattle have been grazing; and this does not cause any difficulty. As Rynning said, in two days a man can cut and rake enough hay to keep a cow during the whole winter. {24}

The soil here is extremely rich because of the luxuriant grass and the vast amount of leaves that have added to the fertility every fall. The topsoil is usually black, but in places it is light and sandy. The subsoil consists partly of clay and partly of sand. Most of this region is wooded. In some areas the woods are extremely dense, but there are also open or sparsely wooded places. All the trees are deciduous. It is usually assumed that the best land is found where black oak and maple thrive, while the white [158] oak grows on much poorer soil. The climate is most healthful in the high regions, but the soil is most fertile in the valleys. The higher areas are usually stony, while the low places may be marshy. It is usually best to build your house on a high place and have your fields in the valleys.

Among the many religious sects found here, some are very different from the dominant Lutheranism familiar to us. There are numerous failings among my countrymen over here, many of whom get mixed up with various creeds, thus undermining our superior mother religion. The main causes of this defection are the following:

1. They find some other religion more conducive to their own advancement and less troublesome to their spiritual life-all of which impresses a sincere person as the greatest of vanities.

2. Some of them can become preachers in these false sects and thus find a livelihood, free from the sweat and toil which many of them shun.

Furthermore, I regret that so many of my countrymen pose as preachers and guides to others on the slippery road of life but have forgotten to speak unto their own souls with the voice of truth. I regard this as a serious evil. It is easy to realize what will happen when people pretend to hear the call of the spirit but do not live accordingly. This is a great failing indeed, and I grieve sincerely because of my countrymen’s shortcomings. Some of these men would very willingly accept appointments as pastors, and I am afraid that they may gain their objective. They do not realize how blindly stupid it would be for them to attempt to lead the young to confirmation when they themselves can scarcely read their ABC’s. I will take a determined stand against such doings, for I regard myself as a better guide for my dependents than these alchemists. I wish that all my fellow countrymen could find the one true way of salvation which leads through this life to that eternal, unchangeable existence for which we should search all the days of our sojourn on this earth. Since there are so many religions here, it is easy for the wavering to be led astray. All the people from Ireland, England, Scotland, and France, and part of those from Germany are Catholics. From Norway have come many Quakers and Haugeans. {25} There are [159] numerous heathens, Jews, and Protenstantere [sic] here, also Monotister [sic], Baptists, Mormons, and Mohammedans. {26} All the native Americans are well versed in reading and writing, women as well as men. Some of them profess a sound religion resembling our own Lutheranism, but others profess no religion at all and have no faith in the Bible, either distorting its meaning or dismissing it as a lie. They believe neither in God nor in the devil, neither in heaven nor hell, nor in the resurrection of the dead. They pay no respect to the Sabbath or to any devotional exercises. When they read, it is usually the newspapers. Most of the people are good citizens, upright in all their dealings except when it comes to religious worship. They despise all sorts of dishonesty and mete out severe justice to criminals. There are two judges in every township, chosen every year from among the best citizens. If a person wants a trial he can get his case registered and decided the same day, and if he wants it appealed to a higher court that can also be done immediately. {27}


<1> Ingrid Semmingsen in Utvandringen og det utflyttede Norge, 11 (Oslo, 1952).
<2> Literally translated, Ødefjeld would be “Desolate Mountain.”
<3> Billed-magazin, 2: 283 (Madison, 1870).
<4> The writer of this passage, Gunder Torgersen Mandt, came from the parish of Mo in Upper Telemark and settled at Koshkonong in 1843. The quoted statement is found in Billed-magazin, 2:38.
<5> A translation of Trovatten’s letter by Theodore C. Blegen is found in North Star, 2: 76 (Minneapolis, 19~20). A discussion of his influence as a letter writer can be found in Blegen’s Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 197-200 (Northfield, 1931). Other accounts are found in Ingrid Semmingsen’s Veien mot vest, 75 (Oslo, 1941) and H. R. Holand. De norske settlementers historie, 146 (Ephraim, Wisconsin, 1909). Two of Trovatten’s letters in the original Norwegian are published in Telesoga, no. 5, p. 2-9 (September, 1910).
<6> “Ole Knudsen Trovatten became the first school teacher on Koshkonong, at a salary of $10 per month”; R. B. Anderson, First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration, 427 (Madison, 1896).
<7> This statement was made by Knud Aslaksen Juvi from Telemark, who settled at Koshkonong in 1844; Billed-magazin, 2:24. In a later issue of Billed magazin (2: 283) Trovatten is also described as a man “who was always ready to reach the newcomers a helping hand. . . . Many of the early settlers speak with gratitude about his kindly services.”
<8> Billed-magazin, 2:283.
<9> The present translation was made from a photostatic copy of the Trovatten journal on file at the Minnesota Historical Society. The original manuscript was in the possession of the late Halvor Skavlem of Janesville, Wisconsin. The manuscript is unsigned, but internal evidence, as proved by Skavlem, makes it clear that Trovatten is the author.
<10> Captain Thomas Anchersen was one of the best known skippers in early Norwegian immigrant history. He brought several shiploads of homeseekers to the New World during the years 1839-44. An account of one of his trips to America with an analysis of a typical group of immigrants is given in an article by this translator, “An Immigrant Shipload of 1840,” in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 14:54-77 (Northfleld, 1944). According to the ship’s list, Trovatten and his wife were thirty-two years old at the time of this journey. They had a daughter of seven and two boys, one four years, the other eight months old. The silver coinage probably refers to the Dutch guilder or gulden, which was valued at 40.2 cents.
<11> Actually, as they sailed along the southern coast of Norway, Lister would have been to the north.
<12> The “poem” rejoices in the fact that they are on their way to the land in the west where they expect to find better conditions than they did in the land of drudgery, which they have just left. Praises are offered to God because He has given them a good captain and sailors of their own blood who are ever kind and considerate toward the passengers. Trusting in God, they hope to arrive safely in the pleasant land of Wineland the Good.
<13> This probably refers to the tiny island of Boreray near St. Kilda, west of the Hebrides.
<14> Another passenger, A. A. Vinje, probably referring to the same storm, says that “the timbers sustaining the upper berths gave way, precipitating them upon the lower ones, and the screams and cries of the frightened passengers added to the fury of the storm.” Quoted in G. T. Flom, Norwegian Migration to the United States, 200 (Iowa City, 1909).
<15> This “song” deals with the same ideas and sentiments as the poem referred to in footnote 3: they sing praises because they are aboard the “Emilie” on their way to Wineland the Good, where fate will smile more kindly on them than she did in the land of their fathers. All the emigrants should praise Captain Anchersen and his brisk seamen for the good care given the passengers. God grant that they may land with purer hearts on the shores of the New World and later continue to follow the behests of the Apostles.
<16> Ltt. signifies lispund, a measure of weight equaling about 17.6 pounds, and Btt., biemerpund, about 13.2 pounds. The translator has been unable to find any explanation for the term mfs., although this seems to be the way it is spelled in the original.
<17> A famous immigrant leader, the slooper Lars Larsen (Geilene), settled in Rochester. For an account of him see Blegen, Norwegian Migration, 27-29, 41, 54.
<18> In the original, this sentence is rather obscure, but the meaning seems to be as given above.
<19> According to the ship’s list, there were twenty-three immigrants from Voss. All of them went to Chicago, where a small Vossing colony had grown up during the previous few years. Later most of them moved north into the new lands opening up in Illinois and southern Wisconsin. They became the founders of the great Vossing settlement at Jefferson Prairie, Wisconsin.
<20> These families from Tinn parish had settled at the north end of Muskego Lake in Waukesha County in 1839 under the leadership of John Nelson Luraas. This formed the nucleus of the later famous Muskego settlement. For accounts of this migration from Tinn, see Billed-magazin, 1:6-8 or Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 87, 115, 120.
<21> The original states that he should be paid $200 per year “og skulde erholde Huus til min Familie samt proviantere mig selv” which I have interpreted to mean that he himself should provide the house as well as provisions, though it might mean that his employers were to provide the house.
<22> “Fever Ague” was probably malaria.
<23> The original reads “Foraarshveden saaes i March og i førstningen af April og dennes Høstetid bliver 23 a 4 Uger sildigere efter Aarets beskaffenhed.” This would seem to mean that wheat is harvested twenty-three or twenty-four weeks after being sown, which would make an unduly long growing and maturing sea son. The sentence is here interpreted as if a comma had been omitted between “2” and “3”; that is, that spring wheat is harvested two, three, or four weeks later than winter wheat, which is referred to immediately above.
<24> This statement is found in Ole Rynning’s well-known guidebook for emigrants, Sandfærdig beretning om Amerika (Christiania, 1838). The book has been translated and edited by Theodore C. Blegen under the title Ole Rynning’s True Account of America (Norwegian-American Historical Association, Travel and Description Series, vol. 1-Minneapolis, 1926). See pages 41 and 79 of the Blegen version.
<25> Haugeans were followers of the revivalist, Hans Nielsen Hauge, 1771-1824. There was a strong Quaker and Haugean element in the early Norwegian emigrant movement. The Haugeans were especially strong in the Muskego settlement. Both the Quakers and the Haugeans were looked upon with suspicion by the Norwegian state church and were thus often made to feel the heavy hand of the law. For a discussion of these religious movements and their relation to emigration, see Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 27-47, 160-163, 249.
<26> The terms in italics do not exist in Norwegian, but the author undoubtedly refers to protestanter (Protestants) and monotister (monotheists).
<27> A few sentences at the end of the manuscript have been omitted, since they are practically illegible and are apparently somewhat garbled. As was mentioned in the introduction, the manuscript breaks off in the middle of a sentence. It is not known whether the author broke off thus abruptly or whether a part of his original manuscript is missing.

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