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Emigration from Land Parish to America, 1866-1875
    by Arvid Sandaker, translated and edited by C.A. Clausen (Volume 26: Page 49)

Up to the present time, very few local studies dealing with Norwegian migration to America have appeared. The historical societies in our parishes have given priority to farm and family histories or to collecting folklore. They have, to an unusually high degree, overlooked the fact that, through the years, thousands of persons left their communities in order to found new homes and new family branches in America. It is understandable that local historians in Norway have given little attention to the problem of discovering the identity of these emigrants and have satisfied themselves with establishing that, according to official statistics, so and so many people left for America. But there are grounds for criticism when scholars dealing with demographic, economic, and social developments in areas characterized by heavy emigration pay little attention to these factors.

Such sins of omission can undoubtedly be ascribed to the lack of good source material and to the fact that the local historians have not had a clear understanding of the socioeconomic conditions with which emigration was inextricably connected. Another explanation derives from the fact that scholars here at home have looked upon migration as a problem for Norwegian-American historians to explore because it was in the United States that departing Norsemen "made history." A third reason for the long neglect of the emigrants and their fate as a field for research may hinge on the fact that many Norwegians, over the years, tended to look upon those who left for America as ungrateful and disloyal persons who forsook the land which had nurtured them—and therefore deserved to be forgotten.

In time, people awoke to a realization that emigration was one of the most distinctive and interesting phenomena in our recent history, and scholars have given it due attention as a factor in our national life. {1} From the point of view of local history, however, migration to America is still being treated in stepmotherly fashion despite the fact that this exodus has left a deep and lasting imprint upon most Norwegian communities. We may even be justified in maintaining that emigration was the most potent historical factor of the nineteenth century in areas struck by the "America fever." Furthermore, this folk migration is as interesting and alluring as a historical romance.

Here I shall try to clarify certain phases of the mass movement that took place during the decade 1866—1875 from one of the Norwegian communities most deeply affected by overseas migration. I shall also discuss some of the problems encountered in using source material and make an evaluation of the conclusions that can be arrived at. {2}

The district bordering the northern end of Randsfjord is known as Land and is subdivided into Northern Land and Southern Land; together they encompass an area of 1,688.19 square kilometers. According to the census of 1865, Southern Land and Northern Land had populations of 5,284 and 4,945 respectively. Approximately 73 percent of the people were engaged in agriculture, forestry, and cattle raising. In 1845 the poet Ivar Aasen visited these areas and, even though his observations were made some twenty years prior to the decade covered by my studies, I shall refer to them here. In the first place, conditions were pretty much the same in 1865 as in 1845; second, Ivar Aasen, who came from western Norway, was not accustomed to great economic and class distinctions such as those he encountered in eastern Norway. He wrote: "There are two agrarian classes, and these differ greatly. One class is the farm owners with their families; the other is the cotters [Husmænd] who also have families, even though they may not possess much else. The farmer here is a real squire; he is no mere petty farmer like those in Hallingdal, Telemark, or the Bergen area. He is a little lord or baron. His family resembles those of the rich merchants in the trading centers, his house is as elegantly furnished, and the family’s life style seems to be the same as that of the affluent burghers. . . . The condition of the cotters, to the contrary, is not very enviable. They are the ones who are to till the farmer’s fields and be his servants. Consequently, they have to toil so much on the main farm that they can do little on their own plots. The cotter class is said to be very numerous in this area. We may probably assume that the landowners have established as many cotters as possible in order to have a permanent staff of laborers on their farms." {3} As we shall see, it was primarily the families of the underprivileged class that produced the large number of emigrants twenty years later. But before we consider the mass movement of the 1860s, it will be necessary to mention briefly an earlier migration from Land.

In 1839, the first emigrant from Land crossed the Atlantic to try his fortune in the New World; he became the founder of a large colony in southern Wisconsin. {4} In the 1840s, the urge to leave the homeland was so powerful among the inhabitants of the district that it has been described as" a kind of craze for America’s imagined and uncertain glories which has seized many people. It is apparently still spreading, because their stubbornness in clinging to a decision once formed, despite all counter arguments and reasonings, is only equaled by the eerie lightheartedness with which they leave family, friends, place of birth, and fatherland." {5}

During the 1850s the "America craze" gripped ever greater numbers. As a result, by 1865 a total of 1,000 people from the Land communities had set off for the New World. Even before the mass exodus after 1865, this district had become one of the areas of heaviest emigration in eastern Norway, both absolutely and relatively. This earlier contingent played a decisive role in the later movement.

According to official Norwegian statistics, a total of 1,812 people left Northern and Southern Land for America during the years l866--1875. {6} The printed data, however, do not identify these people, nor do they indicate what role they had played in the society they left. In order to learn something about these matters, one must study the primary sources on which the statistics are based. Only thus can the student of local history obtain a microcosmic view of the mass migrations.

Until the end of the 1860s, the Norwegian authorities did not keep exact records covering the trans-Atlantic migration. Hence the figures found in published statistics for the period prior to 1866 are minimum estimates given in round numbers based on various sources. {7} This inadequate registering of emigrants during the early period naturally makes a thorough study of their social composition very difficult. A provisional order of April 6, 1867, and a corresponding law of May 22, 1869 (still in force), stipulated, among other things, that those who recruited and transported emigrants should draw up a written contract with each individual.

These contracts had to be shown to the police officials at the ports of embarkation; the officers would then enter certain specified information about each person in so-called emigrant protocols. {8} On the basis of these data, together with the lists found in the church records for Northern and Southern Land, I have been able to identify the name, age, profession, and social class for about 90 percent of those who left Land during the years 1866—1875. The percentage of persons so identified is a bit lower for Northern Land (88 percent) than for Southern Land (94 percent). This situation is due primarily to conditions in 1866 which presented certain special difficulties in gathering the desired information. According to the church records in Land, 147 persons asked for emigrant certificates to America while the port authorities listed 305 as departing. Because, as mentioned above, there was no definite official registering until 1867, I have had to depend on the lists in the church records for the year 1866—and these are very incomplete. In a comment concerning statistics dealing with population movements during 1866, we find the following remark: "Thus it is stated concerning the data from Land Parish, that besides the number of registered persons about an equal number had emigrated without securing a certificate from the pastor. {9}

From sources in America, however, I have been able to obtain information regarding 69 persons in addition to those entered in the lists kept by the churches. But this still leaves more than a hundred people unaccounted for, and there are many indications that these and other emigrants before 1867 cannot be identified from Norwegian sources. To be sure, a law of May 23, 1863, stipulates that "the captain shall present a list covering all the persons—passengers and crew—who are to accompany the ship." But neither I nor others who have studied migration prior to 1867 have come across, in the archival collections, lists that, according to the above-mentioned law, should be submitted to a doctor and to a maritime court. The physician was supposed to examine the passengers, and the court was charged with the responsibility of inspecting the ship and of making certain that regulations covering emigrant traffic were enforced.

If 287 emigrants left Northern Land in 1866, it would mean that no less than 5.9 percent of the population left for America. It is safe to say that not many other communities in Norway can show an equally high percentage. For the country as a whole, the figure ran to merely .9 percent. Even though it has been impossible to discover all the material on which the emigrant statistics are based, the figures for Northern Land are undoubtedly correct. Of 303 on a certain ship in April, 1866, 131 were from Land. {10} The same district contributed 56 of 185 on another ship; {11} some of the 353 passengers on a third ship were also from Land. {12}

The reason why the migration from Northern Land was so great, while only 18 people left Southern Land, can undoubtedly be ascribed to the fact that an emigrant who left Northern Land in 1844 had gone back to his home district in 1865. When he returned to America the following year, a large group of relatives and friends accompanied him. {13} During the whole period of migration, both before and after 1865, the exodus from Northern Land was greater than that from Southern Land, even though social and economic conditions were much alike in the two districts.

During the period 1866—1875, a total of 1,812 emigrants left Land. Of these 1,134 came from Northern Land and 678 came from Southern Land. Even though the total from Northern Land was much greater than that from Southern Land, both in absolute and in relative terms, I shall discuss the emigration phenomenon from the two districts as a unit and only in exceptional cases refer specifically to one or the other. The urge to leave their homeland varied not only from place to place but also from year to year. The real mass movement took place during the years 1866—1870, when a total of 1,134 people left (an annual average of 27.1 persons per 1,000 inhabitants); during the years 1871—1875 only 678 emigrants were registered (an annual average of 9.4 per 1,000 inhabitants). A difference between the two five-year periods is found not only in the magnitude but also in the makeup of the departing groups.

When we study the migration of the 1860s, we get the impression that it was largely composed of people who, on their own initiative, had decided to go overseas, but the migrants of the 1870s seem to have been more passive—in a sense, they were an afterwash of the waves of the late1860s.

Of the 1,644 identified emigrants from the district of Land during the years 1866—1875, 55.4 percent were males. This figure corresponds almost exactly to the numbers from Norway as a whole during the period—55.1 percent. But when we look at the group of males between the ages of 20 to 25, we find that the statistics from Land diverge markedly from those of the country as a whole. During the years 1869 and 1871, this group composed 15.7 percent and 14.8 percent respectively of the total group of persons from Land; and the corresponding figures for Norway as a whole were only 9.2 percent and 9.4 percent. One explanation of this divergence seems to be that about 50 percent of the young men from Land had received tickets from America. We have no corresponding information for Norway as a whole, but it has been estimated that 39 percent of all emigrants departing by way of Christiania during the years 1872—1875 had received tickets from the United States. {14} Of the emigrants from Northern and Southern Land, 62 percent and 38 percent respectively enjoyed prepaid passage. The official records, beginning with 1869, give information as to which individuals had received this help. I have calculated that about 25 percent of the migrants from Land during the years 1869—1871 had tickets from the United States. American money also played an important role during the migrations of 1866—1868. We are told, for instance, that the Norwegian passengers aboard the Anna Delius in April, 1866 (almost 50 percent of whom were from Land), "brought along money in the amount of 3,920 specie dalers, of which 2,980 were in the form of bank drafts. On this ship also were found many examples of liberal aid from relatives in America." {15}

The prepaid tickets from America thus played a decisive role in stimulating emigration; they provided a concrete proof of the fact that members of the earlier group had been able to accumulate an economic surplus. Undoubtedly many diverse motives inspired Norwegians already in the United States to offer financial help. When a person is well acquainted with the blood relationships between the emigrants—as I am—he can, without any reservations, conclude that the main motive was to bring their next of kin—wife, children, brothers, sisters, parents—to the new country. This fact was made evident during the "passive" migration of the 1870s. In cases where I have been unable to establish any close blood relationship between donors of tickets and young men and women recipients, it is very probable that the donor wished to secure hired help or the companionship of people from his home district. During the period 1869—1871, a total of 79 unmarried men emigrated from Northern Land. Of these, 60 percent had been provided with tickets from America, and their destinations were either the Land settlement in Iowa or those in Wisconsin.

On the whole, the information the emigrants revealed about their destination in America, as we find it recorded in the official records, gives the impression that they were bound for already established Land settlements. If we ignore destination points such as Quebec, New York, or Chicago, we find that of 886 persons who left Norway during the years 1866—1875, some 465 (52 percent) were en route to districts where many people from Land had already settled: Rock and Lafayette counties in Wisconsin, Allamakee County in Iowa, Goodhue and Kandiyohi counties in Minnesota. {16} We notice further that, as time went by, the points of destination moved farther west. It is also interesting to note that people from Northern and Southern Land definitely tended to part company after their arrival in America. Thirty-four percent of the emigrants from Northern Land went to Lansing, Iowa, and to points in Rock and Lafayette counties in Wisconsin, whereas only about 12 percent of the people from Southern Land went to those areas. On the other hand, about 30 percent of persons from Southern Land were bound for La Crosse, as against only 7.5 percent of those from Northern Land. This situation is explained by the fact that many people from the southern district had settled on Coon Prairie and in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, during the 1850s. When we come to the migrations into the Land settlements in Minnesota during the 1870s, however, we find that these marked differences disappear: 11 percent and 9 percent of the emigrants from Northern Land and Southern Land respectively sought the settlements of their former neighbors now in America.

If we look at the social position (sivilstand) of the emigrants, we find quite a difference between those who had left before and those who left after 1865. Of the 1,644 migrants from Land that we have been able to identify from the decade 1866—1875, about 36 percent were unmarried men (392) and unmarried women (194). The corresponding figure for the total number before 1866 ran to only 22 percent, and most of the unmarried men came from the landowning part of the population. As a matter of fact, a large percentage of persons leaving their homeland prior to 1866 consisted of farmers and large families. The explanation for this comparatively large exodus can be found in the fact that these landowners could defray the costs of the long journey better than the cotters and day laborers could. Furthermore, before the passing of the Homestead Act of 1862, an immigrant had to have sufficient capital with which to buy land or be willing to work for others after his arrival. A fair number of cotters’ sons and daughters did, however, accompany the land-owning families as servants.

Even though more than a third of the emigrants during the decade 1866—1875 consisted of unmarried young men and women, the proportion of married couples with underage children was very large in comparison with the mass migration during the 1880s. In the 1866—1875 group there were 192 married couples, of whom 28 were childless. Judging by the age of these 28 couples and the fact that their tickets had been provided from America, we may assume that most of them were going to rejoin children or other relatives who had migrated earlier. The same may be said of the 32 widows or widowers who had left Norway, even though about 50 percent of them were accompanied by children. If we look at the 24 unaccompanied married men in the group under examination, we find that about 20 percent of them had been given passage and that their wives and children followed them a year or two later. We know that the traveling expenses of more than 50 percent of these dependents were defrayed with money from America, and we are undoubtedly correct in assuming that the remainder also received the necessary financial advance from husbands already in the New World.

If we turn from the family connections of the migrants and look at their occupation and position in society, we find that 70 percent of the unmarried men and unattached and unmarried (enslige ugifte) women were of the cotter class. This statistic reveals that the proportion of cotters’ sons and daughters was twice as high as it had been before 1865. But even so, in absolute numbers, almost twice as many farmers’ sons and daughters emigrated during the decade after 1865 as during the previous twenty years. Seventy-two land-owning farmers and 89 cotters went to America. Thus the farmers constituted a considerable group, even though, relatively speaking, their number declined when compared with the period prior to 1865. During the decade of the 1880s, the number of independent farmers who left for America decreased greatly both in absolute and in relative terms, and the same is true of the cotters. What characterizes the migration from Land after 1880 is the mass of unattached (enslige) young men and women without any definite classification as to means of livelihood (yrkes-status).

I have concentrated my efforts on discovering the social connections (sociale tilhørighet) of these unattached people rather than on their job descriptions. Very many of them are referred to simply as laborers or maidservants in the emigrant lists, but quite a number proved to be sons and daughters of independent landowners. If we subtract those classified as farmers or cotters, we find that 10 percent of the remaining adult male emigrants are called craftsmen. In a group of 43 such persons, 13 were shoemakers, 11 tailors, and 10 carpenters. The nonmanual professions were also represented: two office workers, one civil engineer, and five teachers. It is interesting to note that four teachers had also emigrated prior to 1865. In 1854 a teachers’ training school had been set up in Land to satisfy the expected demand for teachers when, in accordance with the school law which finally went into effect in 1860, the transition should be made from ambulatory schools to district schools. Statistics show that when the training school closed in 1867, 11 of its 158 graduates had gone to America. {17}

Why was there such a mass migration in the later 1860s? How shall we explain the comparatively large afterwash in the early 1870s? The answers can be found in contemporary American developments: the Homestead Act of 1862, the end of the Civil War, the crushing of Indian uprisings, and the boom following 1865. All these factors made the country more attractive than before. The Homestead Act enabled the landless Norwegian cotter and laborer to satisfy his land hunger. Wages overseas were much higher for workers and domestics than in the homeland. There were possibilities of becoming "self-made men," able to surmount the social and economic barriers which in the old country had made them second-class citizens.

An even greater stimulus, however, was contact with earlier emigrants—relatives or friends—either through letters or personal visits. I have referred above to the emigrant of 1844 who returned to Northern Land in 1865 and was responsible for a real exodus the following year. Another who had gone to America in 1857 visited Southern Land in 1874—1875; so also did one other early migrant who, on his return to the United States, took with him a number of relatives. The same happened when eight of the late 1860 group made a trip to Norway in the early 1870s. Such visits undoubtedly go far toward accounting for the afterwash which swept Land during the 1870s at a time when the waves of migration had definitely slowed down in the rest of Norway. It is also worthy of note that Land was visited in 1872 by a very well-known Norwegian-American, Even (Glæsne) Railson from Norway Lake, Minnesota. {18} He had married a girl from Land and, for a time, was held to be one of the richest men in the state. Even though such accounts and visits stirred the imagination and gave rise to a feeling of wanderlust, it was financial assistance from America that enabled many people to leave. Thus this help became one of the main motive forces behind the mass exodus.

Besides the forces beyond the seas which pulled and lured, there were many discouraging conditions in Norway which lent push and stimulus to movement to America. In the first place, during the 1860s Land had what might be called a migration potential greater than in previous years. The 1840s had been marked by a very high birthrate, and the children born during that decade were now entering the marriageable and employable age. Despite heavy emigration, the population of Land increased by 26 percent between 1845 and 1865 (from 8,103 to 10,229). By way of comparison, we may mention that in our century it took fifty years (1910—1960) to produce a corresponding increase in the same area. In the course of a few years, an agrarian district without any special means of economic expansion was called upon to absorb and provide livelihood for more than 2,000 extra people. Until the end of the 1850s, agriculture had been characterized by extensive cultivation (drift) carried on by a large staff of laborers. According to reports from the provincial governors (Amtmænd) during the 1850s, there was such a lack of laborers in Land that the farmers had to employ workers from Sweden in order to satisfy the demand. Wages were so high that the landowners had to offer their cotters better conditions in order to keep them. {19} The good times for agricultural workers are indicated by the books of the Land Savings Bank. Between 1845 and 1860, the number of depositors grew from 112 to 355 and their holdings increased by almost 800 percent.

In the 1860s, however, conditions were unfavorable for agriculture. In the first place, the district experienced several years of poor crops—especially toward the end of the decade. Furthermore, the farmers now began to feel the effects of competition with imported grain, because improved communications made it easier and cheaper to transport produce from other countries. {20} The farmers found that it was not as profitable as before to emphasize grain production. Rather, they shifted to cattle raising; instead of keeping a large labor staff on the farm, they turned toward the use of machinery. Gone were the days when the farmer gathered in the crops which nature yielded without giving any thought to increasing them by means of better seed, more rational tilling, and improved stocks of cattle. As a result of these changes, there was a great reduction in the demand for farm labor; in addition, because of rising prices, real wages declined. In his report for the years 1861—1865, the provincial governor of Land comments: "It is becoming more and more common, when new contracts are drawn up with cotters, to lease the plots on a yearly basis instead of, as formerly, for life. This makes the cotter’s position much more precarious because, at the least dissatisfaction with him, he may be ousted. This deprives the cotter of all spirit and ambition and is mentioned as a potent reason for the increased poor rates and the growing emigration from the districts referred to." {21}

Thus times had become more difficult for those who had to sell their labor, but, according to the governor’s report, the great majority of farmers in Land were said to be enjoying good economic conditions. In the report covering the next five years (1866-1870), however, we read that "several poor crops following a number of good years have, in greater or smaller sections of the district, caused an economic pressure that has deprived many landowners of both desire and ability to spend very much on their farms. It has also bred a belief that agriculture is not a paying business, at least not when compared with the industries that are springing up close by." The tax rolls also indicate that many farmers really were in an economic crisis. In 1860 the farms in Northern Land had an average skyld of one daler and 80 skillings. Ten years later 63 percent of the farms had a tax burden of less than one daler. For Southern Land, it averaged two dalers and 115 skillings in 1860, and about 50 percent of the farms had a tax burden of less than one daler in 1870. The sales value of farms in Land was 34 percent lower in the late 1860s than it had been during the decade 1856—1865. The average price of real estate (faste eiendommer) sold during 1866—1870 ran to only 50 percent of what it had been in the districts of Hadeland and Land during the previous decade. It is easily understood why so many chose to leave. {22}

In these deflation years, taxes increased. The school law of 1860 put an end to the old system of ambulatory schools in the country districts. Schoolhouses had to be built, more teachers appointed, and the terms lengthened. This, of course, caused greater expenses for primary education than before. The road tax also increased because of the many road-building projects then being launched. But undoubtedly the heaviest expenses were related to the system of poor relief, which after 1863 required that direct taxes should replace the earlier payments in produce. Impoverished people must also be supported in their homes and not, as previously, be sent from farm to farm as visitants or paupers. A report in Aftenposten for the year 1869—to the effect that the charity commissions in ten communities of eastern Norway, among them the Land districts, had that spring contributed 2,000 specie dalers to an emigration firm in aid of destitute families desirious of leaving for America—led me to study statistics dealing with poor relief. {23} I discovered that in 1866 every tenth person in Land was supported by the charity commissioners and that the poor rates per inhabitant ran to 1.64 specie dalers; and the corresponding figure for the rural districts as a whole amounted to only .42 specie daler. During the years 1867—1871, Northern Land collected the second highest poor rates among 23 districts in the province (amt) while Southern Land ranked sixth. During the years 1872—1877 Northern Land ranked eighth and Southern Land had climbed to fourth place. These figures show not only that relief in Land was costly but also that it was more highly developed than in other parts of the country.

The number of people on relief averaged 539 during the period 1867—1870 but sank to 450 during the following five years. A corresponding decline is also found in the number of supporters of families who received government help during the two periods: 339 and 238 respectively. We may say in general that the number of people on relief from year to year varied inversely with the number of people who emigrated. Before leaving these statistics, I wish to cite further figures which, I believe, will prove that the problems growing out of poverty were great in Land and that the high rate of emigration from the district can, beyond a doubt, be ascribed directly to them. We may add that, during the period 1867— 1871, the number of rural heads of families (hovedpersoner) on relief averaged 37 per 1,000 inhabitants in Norway as a whole, while the corresponding figure for the Land districts was 52.

Viewed from the angle of economic reports submitted by the provincial governors and from other statistical publications, we get a very dark picture of conditions in the districts under study. We are left with the same impression after reading statements about public health written by the district doctor. Here are some quotations: "Health conditions during the year 1867 must be declared to have been extremely bad. The incidence of pneumonia, bronchitis, and rheumatism, as well as the ordinary cold, was unusually high throughout both the parishes in Land." About the year 1868, we are told: "Even though health conditions were better than in 1867, they were rather poor because of the frequent occurrence of pneumonia and bronchitis." For 1870, "Health conditions were rather poor throughout the whole year." Concerning the following year, we are informed that "in Southern Land, where attacks of scarlet fever and pneumonia were frequent, the death rate was above average." With so much sickness, it is not surprising that the number of deaths for the whole period under study was unusually high. We learn that mortality in 1867 was about 10 percent higher than for the preceding decade. The district doctor’s report covering patients whose expenses were defrayed by the charity commissioners indicates that the number of treatments of such people rose from 170 in 1865 to 441 six years later. {24}

Concerning living conditions in general, we have these comments: "As regards dwelling places, reports [for 1866] from the districts of Hadeland and Land state that those of the cotter class are generally small and miserable. Very frequently the cooking stove is located in the living room." The next year the official report states: "From Land come complaints that the moral conditions are very lax, especially among the lower classes. Bundling (natteløberiet) is very common." For 1868: "The consumption of whisky is not general except in the Hadeland-Land districts." Three years later: "Intoxicating liquors (spirituosa) are still greatly misused in this district." In 1873: "From Hadeland and Land, we have complaints about the addiction to strong drinks." {25}

So as not to leave the reader with the impression that only the people of Land were in a state of decay economically, physically, and morally, it must be pointed out that similar conditions existed in most Norwegian rural areas. Furthermore, the situation was to improve in the late 1870s and in following decades. But as we are dealing with emigration, I shall paraphrase a local historian in Land who maintained that some of the farmers drank so much they neglected their work, fell upon hard times, sold their land, and left for America.

We must accept the fact that not all of those who emigrated were upright and sober people, although they undoubtedly hoped to begin a new life in the New World. I have come across a couple of unfavorable incidents concerning individuals from Land. The protocol for 1872 states that an emigrant thirty years old had spent some time in a penitentiary, and we are told of the father of a family who was arrested just before embarkation and put in prison because of debts. The account continues: "During our days, it has been quite common here in Opland that emigrants try stealthily to get away from their debts, and N.N.’s creditors— some of them his nearest neighbors—did not know that he intended to migrate until he had already left Land." We are informed that the man remained under arrest several days, during which time his wife and children left. {26}

The records make clear that the amounts of money most of the emigrants took with them were not large; the purse seems to have been about equally flat whether carried by a farmer or a cotter. This is probably explained by the fact that 90 percent of the farmers had bought, with their own money, tickets for themselves and their families, thus leaving them little cash; whereas in 1869—1875 more than 30 percent of the cotter families carried tickets provided by others. In a newspaper account from Gjøvik, 1869, we read as follows: "A number of emigrants from different parishes hereabouts have these days passed through town on the way to their various ports of departure. It seems as if the people presently leaving the country are in their best years and that they represent a somewhat more prosperous class than formerly. In this group are found people possessing sums of 5,000 specie dalers or less." {27}

This impression from a newspaper is borne out by entries in the emigrant protocols where, among other references, we find mention of one farmer who, that spring, brought with him 1,900 dollars after having bought tickets for nine persons in his group. A year later another farmer brought along 1,700 dollars. The migration thus represented not only a great exodus of people but also, so far as a few farmers were concerned, a considerable outflow of capital. It is only toward the end of the emigration period, the years immediately before and after 1900, that we can really speak of an inflow of capital to Norway—money sent to people who had remained in the homeland.

I shall attempt to analyze the results produced by the mass exodus of 1866—1875 on the home community, both at the time of migration and during succeeding years. Its greatest effect was, of course, demographic. During the ten-year period under consideration, the population of Land declined by 766 persons. This loss was both directly and indirectly a consequence of the fact that nearly 2,000 people left for America during the decade. Considering the total outflow of people from Land during these years, we learn that 88 percent of them left for America. The remaining 12 percent are accounted for by 240 people being lost through migration within Norway. I have mentioned above that the districts of Land lost an annual average of 18.2 people per 1,000 during the decennium. The intensity of the emigration can also be measured in terms of the surplus of births over deaths. For Norway as a whole, the emigration absorbed 63.4 percent of the birth surplus; the corresponding figure for Land was 156.9 percent. The number of deaths in Land during the years 1866—1875 was about the same as during the previous decade, but the number of births showed an average decline of 50 per year.

Records of the period also show a 4.7 percent decline in marriages, which is not as great as one might expect, in view of the fact that a large percentage of the emigrants were people in the marriageable age. The birthrate declined on an average of 15.5 percent per year, a situation that can be ascribed, in the first place, to the fact that a large number of the emigrants were women in the childbearing age and, second, to the declining number of marriages. On the basis of information gathered from the statistical material covering the migrations of the time, I conclude that at least 75 percent of the population decline in the Land districts during the years 1866—1875 was caused by departures for America. {28}

The statistical sources are less complete for a study of the qualitative changes in the population. But we can undoubtedly assume that the mass emigration, in a large measure, explains the shifting age and sex ratios which took place during the years under review. In 1865 there were 1,043 women per 1,000 men in the district of Land. Ten years later the ratio was 1,053 to 1,000. During the same period, the number of children under the age of fifteen as compared with the total population declined from 38.2 percent to 34.2 percent. Thus the relative decline was not particularly marked, but, if we look at the absolute figures, we find that the number of children under fifteen years of age was reduced by 17.6 percent. This absolute reduction was due not only to fewer births, but also to the fact that children under fifteen years of age comprised 27 percent of the total emigrant group, 467 of the 1,644 persons identified. {29}

Census reports for 1865 and 1875 also indicate that a marked change had taken place in the social structure of the population during the decade. The combined number of landowners and tenants was reduced from 512 to 453, a drop of 11.5 percent. The number of cotters fell from 907 to 795, a decline of 12.2 percent. As mentioned above, 72 farmers and 89 cotters left for America. These figures reveal that many of the small landowners who emigrated sold their holdings to owners of larger farms. The unexpectedly small decrease in the number of cotters proves that there was still a great demand for small plots of land. I have not run across figures for the number of day laborers and domestics in the 1865 census, but I can state that between 1855 and 1875 the figures for both men workers and maidservants remained constant and the number of laborers declined by about a third. This difference reflects a gradual shift from grain farming to animal husbandry. The demand for day laborers during "the busy seasons" gradually declined as mechanization spread to the rural areas, but the daily work in house and barn still called for a large staff of more permanent "hands."

It is difficult to say anything definite about the economic effects that mass emigration had upon the home community. Quite generally, it can be stated that the exodus left both more space and food for those who remained. In this connection, it may be added that the number of households decreased from 2,226 to 2,078 during the decade (1866—1875) and that it was specifically the number of family households that declined. As the population pressure eased, agriculture experienced a brief period of comparative prosperity in the early 1870s. A report from 1872 reads in part: "Economic conditions in Hadeland-Land are making rapid progress. The laborers are more steadily employed the whole year round than formerly and at better wages. It also seems that the poor rates show a downward tendency and that emigration is declining." The same optimism characterizes the provincial governor’s report for 1871—1875, but it also contains complaints of high wages. From Land came reports of especially good pay to forestry workers (tømmerhuggere). By way of contrast, we may point out that a governor’s comment about wages for forestry workers in the late 1860s stressed the fact that they did not provide "any reasonable income." Here one might interpolate and remark that economic conditions in the forestry industry varied greatly from year to year. During many winters, however, wages earned in the forests provided a welcome supplement to the regular income of cotters and day laborers. {30}

Thus far I have discussed rather fully the forces in both Land and America which, in their particular ways, provided the "push" and the "pull" that launched the mass exodus under consideration. Still another factor played an important part in the drama: the vigorous activities of emigrant agents. From Christianias Amstidende, we learn that during the 1860s the ship companies sent their agents to the communities around Gjøvik in order to "influence the ignorant masses." Improved communications made it easier for people, not only to cross the ocean and then proceed inland, but also to reach the ports of embarkation in Norway. During the 1840s and 1850s, emigrants from Land frequently tramped all the miles to Drammen or Christiania in order to secure passage.

It might be worth mentioning that special church services for the emigrants were held in Land during the 1860s and that carpenters were busy making collapsible spinning wheels which would fit conveniently into the emigrant chests.

I have been fortunate enough to run across some letters which were sent home to Land by emigrants who left during the 1860s and 1870s. A widow who joined her children in America in 1869 wrote: "We live as if at a feast all the time, and they call this everyday food." Another elderly widow wrote from Red Wing, Minnesota, about 1875: "You can imagine that things seemed strange to me when I first came here. Whenever we were to eat, a tablecloth had to be placed on the table—and plates and knives and forks and coffee cups because coffee is served immediately, and later came food until the table was loaded." She also noted carefully the differences between Norwegian and American foods, both as to ingredients and preparation. She added: "We do not benefit any more from the food we get here than from the food we were used to at home." A number of the letter writers brag about the food, which must have made a great impression on them.

The immigrants also tell about the good wages in America and about friends and acquaintances they have met since their arrival. Others let it be known that it was not always an easy matter to strike roots in a strange land and that they were saddened by homesickness. A young girl who emigrated in 1875 wrote two years later: "If I do not learn to like America better than I do now, I will undoubtedly return to Norway"—this despite the fact that she had found herself a fiancé after arriving in the new country. A message from Red Wing, Minnesota, on July 23, 1878, says in part: "You can’t imagine how we wait for letters every day until it almost makes us sick. We go to the post office twice a day and ask for mail. But no—there is nothing for us. There are no cuckoos here nor many other types of birds we have in Norway—but we miss the cuckoos most."

A house servant in Minneapolis reported on October 4, 1873: "There are many hard days for those poor people before they can understand the language used here." A settler of the 1870s writes in an undated letter from Wisconsin: "I ought to be satisfied in this country because in many respects we are better off here. I have a warm feeling for my fatherland, however, despite the fact that I worked my head off over there. But we are where we have been placed in the world." On the whole, the letters I have come across from this period are marked more by nostalgia than by optimism.

Bragging is more common in the letters from the 1880s. Still the writers of the 1860s and 1870s usually expressed their happiness at having come to America. Thus, a newly arrived girl wrote from Norway Lake, Minnesota, on July 30, 1869: "We are, of course, very glad at having come to America because we have already noticed that things are much easier here than in Norway." An emigrant of about 1875 writes in an undated letter from Livermore, Iowa: "I often think of my fatherland. . . but I am well satisfied with having taken the emigrant’s path to the west."

This path was not always easy, however. A young man says in a letter dated July 18, 1869, immediately after his arrival at Norway Lake, Minnesota: "During the trip inland from New York, our food and money gave out, so we had to borrow $10 before reaching our destination. I now owe about $100. I hardly believe I will be able to send my brother Johan travel money next spring because I am so deeply in debt myself." A man who had borrowed money in Norway to come to America wrote as follows from Menomonie, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1870: "I should have sent you some more money, but we cannot afford it until next spring. The crops around here were quite poor, so wages have been low." Another, writing four years after his arrival in the New World, promised in a letter dated at Norway Lake, Minnesota, on August 17, 1873, that he would send money to his family in Land, but "the overseer of the poor ought not know anything about this." An emigrant of the year 1872, whose parents and several brothers and sisters had just joined him in Minnesota, reported in an undated letter from Kerkhoven: "We like it well in America and do not wish ourselves back in Norway."

Letters like these not only give interesting information about the emigrant’s experiences aboard ship but also reveal his reactions to conditions in the new land. In addition, they are valuable as sociohistorical sources for a clearer insight into, and a more thorough understanding of, conditions in the community which the newcomer had left. When the writer tells about life in America, he often draws comparisons, favorable or unfavorable, with conditions in Norway. Or he may, through his questions and comments about happenings in the old country, throw light upon local historical or genealogical problems. Before leaving the America letters, it is of interest to consider several quotations from a report dated Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, October 15, 1868. The author, Mads Evensen, reveals clearly that America had turned out to be something quite different from what he had expected.

Evensen wrote: "While I was in Norway, it seemed to me that America letters flew across the land like a cloud of eagles but without giving the least bit of information about the country. . . . Everything is different from what you are used to in Norway. The air is heavy, stuffy, and such that you cannot see through it. . . . The soil is like the bottom of a dried-up puddle, and when it rains it becomes so miry that a person must wade in mud way up his legs. . . . The thunder is terrible. It kills both people and animals, splinters trees, sets fire to houses and haystacks, and causes great destruction. . . . The flowers are beautiful in color but generally ill-smelling. The birds are also beautiful and numerous, but their song lacks charm. There are many kinds of insects and most of them are ugly. . . . The farmers are poorly and shabbily clothed, but women here usually dress with more style than fine ladies in Norway. But they are not above eagerly welcoming their lovers at night—quite as unembarrassed as when they were peasant wenches in Norway. . . .

"In general, I would discourage anyone from coming to America who has enough to get along on at home. I can practically assure such people that they will not like it over here. Undoubtedly, it is easier to support a family here than in Norway, but a person will have to endure the hardships that make life very unpleasant. No one knows what work is until he has been in America. . . . I have seen filthy-rich farmers here toil harder than Negro slaves, because wages are very high in this country; they want to do as much work themselves as they possibly can. . . . Such are conditions as I have found them over here. I know very well that those who write home do not tell everything but merely mention what is favorable. If all happiness in life depended solely on satisfying the physical senses, and if the deepest hunger of the human heart could be stilled with the superfluity of luxuries which America can produce, then this country could verily be called an earthly paradise. But I do not believe that man lives by bread alone. I believe that godliness with contentment is a great gain.

This letter undoubtedly was read widely in Land during the winter of 1868—1869, but in spite of it almost 300 people left the district for America the following spring.


<1> The most notable Norwegian work covering the emigration to America is Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest, 2 vols. (Oslo, 1942, 1950).

<2> The present article will be incorporated into a study of emigration from Land, 1839—1909, to be published as a volume in a series titled Boka om Land.

<3> Ivar Aasen, Reise-erindringer og reise-indberetninger 1842—1847 (Norske videnskabers selskab, 1917).

<4> P. Langseth and C. H. Tollefsrude, "Nordrmændenes historie i Rock County, Wisconsin, og nærmeste omegn," an unpublished manuscript in the University Library, Oslo, dated 1914.

<5> Lillehammer Tilskuer, June 21, 1844.

<6> N. O. S. (Official Norwegian Statistics), Eldre Rekke, C. no. 1 (Folkemengdens bevegelse 1866—1875).

<7> For information concerning the primary sources, see A. A. Svalestuen, "Om statistisk grunnmateriale til utvandringshistorien," in Heimen, 15:11— 21 (1970).

<8> The full data asked for was date of appearance before the police, name, age, position in society (sivilstand), trade or profession (yrke), home address, destination, amount of money carried, cost of ticket, name of emigrant agent, steamship company and ship, papers of identity, date of departure. The emigrant protocols are in the state archives in Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansand, and Trondheim. For the present article only the protocols in Oslo were used. Oslo was the natural port of embarkation for emigrants from Land.

<9> N. O. S., Eldre Rekke, C. no. 1 (Folkemengdens bevegelse 1866— 1875).

<10> Morgenbladet, May 7, 1866.

<11> Hamar Stiftstidende, April 27, 1866.

<12> Morgenbladet, April 24, 1866.

<13> The Annals of Iowa (Third Series), 6:158 (1903—1905).

<14> Semmingsen, Veien mot vest, 2:54.

<15> Morgenbladet, May 7, 1866.

<16> More specifically, the following towns: Orfordville and Wiota, Wisconsin, Lansing, Iowa, Zumbrota and Willmar, Minnesota. Later a number of immigrants from Land settled in Richland and Trempealeau counties, Wisconsin, Humboldt County, Iowa, and Traill County, North Dakota.

<17> Helge Dahl, Norsk lærerutdanning fra 1814 til idag, 90 (Oslo, 1959).

<18> Railson came to Land to collect an inheritance for another man. Papers dealing with the matter are in the possession of Mrs. Tordis Frøisland, Northern Land. She also has America letters from 1869 and later. Those quoted in the present article are in her collection.

<19> Mrs. Borghild Melby of Hitterdal, Minnesota, reported that her grandparents, who emigrated from Land in 1857, "were offered favorable bargains to offset ‘America fever,’ as all the peasants who could possibly scare up the money for tickets went to America, and the landowners were in danger of losing too much help."

<20> In the summer of 1863, a new steamboat appeared in Randsfjord. In the fall of 1868, the railroad between Drammen and Jevnaker at the south end of Randsfjord was completed. A new road between Land and Gjøvik on Lake Mjøsa had been opened in 1858.

<21> N. O. S., C. no. 2 (Beretning om rigets øconomiske tilstand i aarene 1861—1865, 1867—1868).

<22> N. O. S., C. no. 2 (Beretning om amternes øconomiske tilstand i aarene 1866—1870, 1873).

<23> N. O. S., Eldre Rekke, A. no. 2 (Fattigstatistik 1866—1867).

<24> Report by Dr. Colbjørnsen, in National Archives, Oslo.

<25> N. O. S., Eldre Rekke, C. no. 4 (Sundhedstilstanden og medicinalforholdene I Norge 1859—1877).

<26> Hamar Stiftstidende, May 18, 1866.

<27> Aftenposten, May 18, 1866.

<28> N. O. S., Eldre Rekke, C. no. 1 (Folkemengdens bevegelse 1866— 1875).

<29> This estimate is based on the census figures for 1865 and 1875.

<30> N. O. S., Eldre Rekke, C. no. 4 (Sundhedstilstanden 1859—1877).

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